The Memory Game

Warning: this post may contain triggers for sexual abuse survivors.

“What do you do with all the good memories of your dad? That would be weird.”

Someone asked me this after hearing about my story. Or at least the parts I’ve shared. It’s actually an easy answer.

There aren’t any good memories of him anymore.

Everything was a sham. He was a fraud. I have no good memories of my dad anymore, because all the things I thought were good, well, they were lies.

When I was little, he got rid of our tv and we played games every night. It used to be a fun memory. Family Time. But now, I see it for what it really was: grooming.

That’s a word I didn’t even know before I remembered my abuse and heard a detective use it. And then I started to realize how much of my childhood was a chapter from a textbook.

We acted out plays of Bible stories. Under big sheet tents and forts in our living room. He would tell me what to say and do, paraphrasing the Bible, and we would all laugh and eat popcorn.

Fast forward a few years, and very different things were happening under those sheet tents.

But he had groomed me. That horrible word with an even more horrible meaning.

And I had learned that he was in charge. And I couldn’t question, because I wasn’t the one holding the children’s storybook Bible and calling all the shots. He no longer had the Bible, but it didn’t matter. He was still in control.

He had already had two affairs when he got rid of our tv. Of course we didn’t know that. We thought we were a happy, healthy family. I remember him telling my mom that the tv was just a distraction from family time, and we needed to spend more time learning about God and having fun together.

All of it was a lie.

He controlled me for decades. But it all started with little things. And sexual abuse often starts with spiritual abuse.

And taking away your daughter’s Mister Roger’s Neighborhood so you can be the center of all the attention and the sole provider of entertainment in your household is messed up.

In college, it was still a great memory. I shared it in a Comp class. This really gorgeous guy who sat a few chairs down said, “That sounds like crazy shit. What the hell was he trying to do playing with all those sheets all the time? I woulda run away fast.”

I was so embarrassed, but came to my dad’s defense. Because I was a good daughter and he was a great dad. I stood up for him.

If only I could’ve remembered then. And I wonder if gorgeous-guy-whose-rough-drafts-were-painfully-exhausting-to-edit will read this and think, “I was right.” But no one takes pleasure in being right about these things.

All we can do is look out for the next group of kiddos growing up with the fake dads who are very good at being evil. And see if we can be their voice, because they don’t even know that they should be running for help. Abused kids will often speak up only once.

I waited years for my moment to speak up, and then chickened out. Then blocked it all out. Then had to remember everything in waves.

But it’s easier to relegate the things I do remember to the evil pile than it is to move the things that seem good to that same pile. Because the stuff I forgot was so bad it can’t even be justified. But the rest of my life falls into gray areas.

So I chop photographs. I toss birthday cards. I remove him from stories. I won’t ever pretend he never existed, but I keep him separate from the actual good things of my childhood. Which is easy. Because almost all of them didn’t involve him anyway.

I have more great memories of my mom and siblings and friends than I have horrific memories of him. I can’t throw away 30 years of my life for one narcissist. But I can’t ever become so far removed that I forget to watch out for the next generation.

There are no new sins under the sun. Only new sinners. Who think they’re smarter than the rest of us. But they’re just repeating what’s already been done. And I know the tricks now. So I have an obligation to keep my eyes and ears open. While, somehow, still protecting my sanity. And holding onto the actual great memories with the people I love who were real and really loved me.

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