It’s Saturday and classes are over. Time to take stock again, it seems.
This week was difficult. Most weeks are. Not harder because I’m here, but harder because I am the one here, and my mind came with me along with my luggage and the cold virus I immediately surrendered to after I arrived.
I have been grieving for a sense of belonging. The grief has to do with accepting my history and my past and with accepting not only the events that occurred, but the dynamic and the social meaning of what happened.
My father is a criminal. He’s never been locked up, let alone charged but he has nonetheless broken a number of quite serious laws on a regular basis. He is a felon. And what he did involved all of my immediate family, either as victims of crimes or as perpetrators and sometimes as both. At another level, he also violated the moral codes of society and forced the rest of us to break them as well.
So I grew up with a profound sense of living outside the bounds of normal, decent society. We all have some sense of identity based on the groups we belong to: our culture, our race, our linguistic group, our ethnic group, our religious group, our neighborhood, our family. Some of my sense of identity is derived from that sense of living outside the law, outside society, and inside the shadow world of sex trafficking, sociopaths, and madness.
I still have some of that because of what I remember and understand now as a result of my history. For example, I am fairly certain I understand what it feels like to be a psychopath better than I understand what it feels like to be psychologically healthy.
I know what it is to lie and cheat and steal your way through life because that is the only way you can. I have lived by that moral code of cunning, trickery, dishonesty, and sleight of hand. It’s not the way I choose to live, but I can live that way. I could live that way when I had to. In the same way that I can survive here in a different culture with different customs and values, I could live in my father’s world when I had no other choices.
So that sense of not belonging to the world I have chosen to live in is still there. I am still trying to sort out what to make of it now, but I do know as I child my sense of belonging to another world was terribly painful for me. I wanted to belong. Specifically, I wanted to belong to a good world where I could be good, where I did not have to be bad or do bad things and where my mind wasn’t filled with bad thoughts.
In the past, I think I have responded to that feeling by finding ways to deny it. I am not bad. It is not my fault I did bad things. Those people had nothing to do with me.
Those things are true, but they elide certain social realities: that the group of people I spent much of my time with was bad, they did do bad things. My father was bad and still is bad, and we all did bad things along with him.
He was my father.
My mother raped me.
My sister raped me.
My father took me out to sell my body and my mother allowed him to.
My sister was sometimes there too.
Those are the facts.
Those people were my family. They had something to do with me. They will always have something to do with me. And, in some way, I love them. I even love my father, who I truly believe should be put to death because as long as he is alive he will find some way to cause suffering to someone else.
I can’t simply reject them or the world they forced me to live in. It is all much more complicated than that, because the worlds we occupy become a part of us or at least a part of who we think we are. That world and those people are a part of me.
They are my history. If I deny that world, I have no history. I have no real place anywhere, because I don’t entirely have a self. A self is formed not just out of the individual but from the groups we belong to now and the groups we belonged to in the past.
I am ashamed of that world now. I imagine I was ashamed of it then also. I think this shame is something that needs to be embraced. It is definite, real, present. It says the world was real. It is still real. That world exists and I have a feeling about it.
I don’t think this is unlike what other children who grew up in socially transgressive groups feel: if your parents were gangbangers or beggars or thieves, you might feel the same way I do. You might feel both painfully locked out of mainstream society even after you have really joined it and ambivalent about the world of your past. You have left it and yet it’s part of you. You don’t like it. You feel ashamed of it, but you cannot just cut it out of your head like you’re removing a tumor. The past is over and yet it remains.
In one sense, I think the end result is a sense of a dual identity. I belong to both worlds. I have chosen to remain in one of them, but both worlds inform my experiences. I can deny that, but denial returns me to my roots in a life of deceit. I cannot do that. I choose not to do that.
But I am still working all of this out. I don’t exactly know.