Domestic Violence Awareness Month- Memoir of Abuse (We Survived)

For the three women murdered every day in the U.S. by current or former romantic partners, and for those still trapped in abusive situations, I share an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir Transgressions in Rouge: A Father’s Gender Rage, a Daughter’s Reckoning.

This represents a typical night in my childhood home.  Domestic abuse is family abuse.

——Christmas Eve——

     Mom did not answer, and something about her silence made me inch towards the bathroom door. It was open when I peeked in. Dad had the bloody towel pushed to Mom’s face, obstructing her nose and mouth. Unable to breathe, I watched her fall to her knees.          

     Preying on her low position, Dad let go of the towel to grab her curls with both hands. Hurling her towards the toilet, he slammed her face on the porcelain bowl three times before immersing her head in the water.  Mom moaned, her breath bubbling at the surface.

     Fed up and fuming with adrenaline, I crossed to the corner of my brother’s room where his finally useful baseball bat rested. Taking the bat in hand, I closed Robbie’s door behind me lifting the weapon over my head. My heart slammed against my ribcage as I entered the bathroom swinging. I had no idea what I might strike as blind rage engulfed me. I only knew I had to end him. The weight of the first wide swing knocked the extra roll of toilet paper with the crocheted doll cover from the partition between the sink and toilet.

     Dad ducked, releasing Mom who came up for air, gagging and spitting. My next swing landed on Dad’s arm, which he’d raised in defense. “Why are you doing this?”, he asked in the victim’s voice he slung on like a holster after every battle.  I lost my footing then, which softened the impact on my father’s hand to a mere tap. He squealed like a newborn pup, grabbing his barely bruised hand with the other.

     Mom sat on the toilet in a trance, staring at the cheap butterfly art on the wall in front of her. Dad howled, “Look what you made her do. You turned my daughter against me. You see this, you bitch?”

     I grabbed my stomach, the angry scream of the ulcer and seism of my muscles nearly bringing me to my knees. My voice ricocheted through the bathroom, “It’s you, Dad. It’s always you. You’re evil. I hate you. We all hate you.”

     Dad stopped his venomous blaming to look at me. The mask of hate melted into a pathetic mourn of false accusation. He tightened the drawstring waist of his red and green pajamas which had loosed in the melee. I raised the bat again; sure he would punish my mother for my tirade.

     Dad turned away from my hateful stare, his voice deflated. “All you had to do is clean the fucking bathroom. Now, see what you done to my daughter.” He pushed past me, leaving through the master bedroom. I knew he was headed to his chair. The sulking throne where he rocked away his perceived wounds.

     “My daughter. You made her hate me,” he mumbled over the indignant creak of the rocking chair.

     Inside the bathroom, I coaxed my mother to her feet helping her rinse her face. Patting her cheeks dry, I watched her retreat to the semi-conscious cave that was her refuge. Her eyes were open, but she did not see me.

     Guiding her to her side of the bed, I kissed her forehead before pulling the blanket over her motionless body.  She stared at the ceiling, not blinking at my father’s rant in the other room.

    “You made them hate me you bitch” Dad chanted his spent soliloquy. “You turned dem against me.”

     Confirming that Mom was breathing by laying my head on her chest, I left my parent’s room to check on Robbie. He stirred as I shut the door, “Santa?”, he asked as I caught my breath, wiping away tears to hide my upset.

     “Yes, Robbie, Santa,” I lied, wondering if there would be any gifts under the tree. Spooning my brother’s back in the twin bed, we slept five hours as the malevolence of my birthday morphed into Christmas.

     I woke with Robbie’s finger poking the small of my back, “It’s light out. Let’s go see.”


If you know someone who is being abused, find a local resource and help save them.
My family escaped to a shelter for battered women.

If you are being abused- please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Blessings for the safety of women & children everywhere,
V.L.
—————
Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
Like my Facebook page-http://www.facebook.com/vlbrunskill
Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

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Santini Shrugs- My Wound is Paternity

My wound is paternity. Southern author Pat Conroy wrote in Prince of Tides, “My wound is geography.” I disagree. Pat’s life in our low country became a healing irrigation for the legacy left by his sulfur-veined father. I believe, paternity is our mutual wound.

I once shared my life story on a Southern writer’s panel, and a fellow panelist proclaimed, “Whoa, That beats Conroy.” No one will ever beat Conroy. That’s a given. But when I tell you that my Daddy died a woman on the steps where I hoped to kill her, you might have to take a breath. I do. Living with something so true and outside, robs me of clarity, self-definition. I can hardly believe it is my story.

Hating my father was easy. A New York City iron-worker, he was a tall drink of water with a leathered, fists-up attitude and a penchant for killing cats, dogs, and (if rumors hold true) men. Kids ran from him, coworkers fell from bridges he worked on. His size twelve work boot left an indelible mark in my mother’s ribcage. He was that ugly, domestic monster you hear about and pray your daughter does not marry. I came to my father’s home in the arms of a social worker.

To exit the womb on Christmas Eve and fight jaundice without a parent’s love was easy because it transpired before language. In the fleshy dialogue exchanged since I found my biological family, the reality of my given home singes. I spread roots in assigned cement, only to watch it crack under the constant pummeling of my adoptive family. So went adoptions in the 1960s. In the best interest of the child, they sealed me from familiarity and set my feet on fire.

Dad could not love the families he decimated. There were two. Ours and another secret clan, which ran from him changing their names for safety. Dad could not stop his angry tornado from pounding us into a shelter for battered families. His storm formed in the windswept years of his youth, while stealing women’s underwear from a laundry line in College Point. Gender was a given, so German mamas punished with rank sternness, and German papas crushed any hint of girlishness from their sons.

Act like a man, I told my ten-year-old self as I sat in the hall closet, clutching my father’s weapon.  Risking death if discovered, I reminded myself that Dad wouldn’t hesitate. Just kill him, I thought. Faith and femininity ordained my failure that day. I chickened out at the sight of the marble crucifix in the hall. Did Jesus move? Dad’s malevolent masculinity would always win in my teary eternal truth.

The truth, not beholden to scared little girls or damaged women, held its tongue for five decades. Dad died in 2015, on the stoop of the three-bedroom prison I once called home. He wore rouge and the full form of a female. The vile man who spun to toss my baby brother against the dining room wall died a woman.

Hyper-masculine behavior? Madness born of hiding her truth?
A risk too painful to take until it was too late?

My wound is paternity.  Daddy’s was her gender.
My forthcoming memoir explores both.

Blessings for healing of all wounds,
V.L.

—————
Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
Like my Facebook page-http://www.facebook.com/vlbrunskill
Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

 

 

The Placement Poem

Familiarity slips away, noticed.
Metallic taste-buds pant milky.
Silent Night nurses wave, embracing end of shift.
Shrill-voiced newcomers mingle, pipes untested.

I wait, finding my way from yellow to white.
Retinas flash, sad for the unnamed.
Fingers swish down sallow cheeks, cooing songs from someone else’s childhood.

Cold wool. Leather gloves. Pen scratches paper.
Tucked and whisked in borrowed things.
Yellow cab. Four journeys- clandestine.

Slats surround. White walls.
Looming lookers, feed, change, retreat. No tethering. Foul foreign breath.
Floating without- what?

Eight months on.
Curly nose tickler. Silly smile.
Lace bonnet belonging.
Kisses on top, bottom, front.
Mom.

 

Blessings,

V.L.

—————

Follow me on Twitter- @RockMemoir
Like my Facebook page-http://www.facebook.com/vlbrunskill
Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

Jekyll Island Club Resort – A Writer Retreats

Last week, I retreated to Jekyll Island Club Resort where I completed my book about growing up in an abusive home, having a transgender father who hid his truth until he reached his seventies, and finding a way to forgive her and myself.  I had planned to share a pictorial of my writing residency and not get too wordy. However, when I opened WordPress this morning, I found a draft of this blog entry. So it is with gratitude beyond measure that I share my Jekyll retreat.

There is grace in an ancient oak tree, creaking entry doors, and floors so old they weep and moan as you pass over them. I arrived at Jekyll Island Club to find myself housed at Crane Cottage in a room with a majestic view of the Intracoastal waterway and a courtyard garden. Spiral stairs led to my room at the end of the hall where inside a jetted bath, and comfy-as-a-cloud bed awaited me.

Dinner in the Grand Dining Room found me alone in the front dining room and waited on by Ola, who works three jobs and still finds time to smile. At least when she’s not sad, which she had been of late. She lost her son last year and can’t seem to get over it. Can anyone ever get over losing a child? We agreed no one could, or should.

After dinner, I headed to one of my favorite spots at the resort, the rocking porch. Newly decorated with comfy wicker seating, the club has moved its famous white rocking chairs forward to give guests a better view of the spectacular sunset.

There, I met six-year-old Sarah, whose family was visiting Jekyll to celebrate her 7th birthday. An only child, like my now 19-year-old, Sarah told me she did not like Junie B Jones books, and that she liked St.Simons Island better than Jekyll for its restaurants and for visiting friends (who she called family). What a joy it was to recall my daughter at Sarah’s age as we watched bats spin through the night nibbling up pesky insects. Sarah was sure that at any moment the bats would dive into the pool for a tasty beverage.

Back in my room, I contemplated the story at hand. The one that had given me hives (literally). The one that Ola said must be written for all the “hiders and heartache” in the world. Contemplating Ola’s wisdom and the task of completing the second draft of my story, I stepped out on the balcony amid a cacophony of cicadas. There in the grass, nearly camouflaged by a massive oak,  meandered a mama deer and her fawn. I watched them munch on the lawn or whatever they found so delicious, and quieted my breathing for fear I might rush them from their meal.

For the next three days, I saw less of Jekyll. Immersed in my luxurious room, I wrote for seven hours one day and eleven the next. As I hit save on the completed book and headed to the balcony for a private toast, the phone rang.

It was my mother, and she was sobbing. My dear Aunt Shelley had died. A cherished friend of our family for 40+years, Shelley and her husband Ronnie, were the rescuers of my childhood. Celebration turned to sorrow in an instant.

While I will mourn my Aunt Shelley for all my earthly years, I find some solace in the fact that she will live on in the pages I completed at Jekyll. She was there in good times and bad. Mostly bad, when she would stop whatever she was doing to come and get my brother and me. When Dad had Mom committed to an asylum after he beat her into delirium, I called Aunt Shelley. When the parents in my life could not parent, I lifted the phone to dial her number.

Transgressions in Rouge is complete. Aunt Shelley is gone.

My writing residency at Jekyll Island was a bucolic, heartbreaking slice of life. The whims of fate are fickle. But in the end, all that matters is that we love deeply and share our stories.

Blessings and heartfelt thanks to the Jekyll Island Club Resort,

V.L.

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Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

Sibling Bonds- Formed in the Belly of The Beast

I had a surprise visit from my baby brother over the weekend. Spurred by a recent health diagnosis that is not life-threatening but is life-altering, my brother decided I needed some cheering up. So he hopped on his motorcycle for the five-hour trek from North Carolina to Savannah. It was the best gift I’ve received in some time, for along with the familiarity of family, his visit gave me a new insight into suffering.

As most of you know, my memoir Transgressions in Rouge in almost complete. I’ve been working on it for eighteen months. It’s the story of my adopted father who beat, blamed and denied our family without remorse. It is the story of the family secret that made fists fly and turned suppressed identity into constant rage. My father Joe became Joann in her late seventies and died on the very spot where I had planned to kill her. His gender was my family’s albatross.

But, was it also a gift?

My brother’s surprise visit convinced me it might be. Re-framing the darkness of our childhood in the calm of sibling care, I found a long overlooked purpose for our suffering. In addition to a life estranged, the evil of my childhood gave me a life attached.

As I chatted with my brother about work, health, life’s struggles and triumphs, I found myself listening. I mean the most beautiful kind of hearing; an audio experience that transports one from inner ramblings and into the cosmos of another. I find that of all the people in my life; I listen to my brother best. Mostly because once upon a time, the ability to sense his state of mind and body was essential to avoiding death.

This weekend, I rode the waves of our conversation keenly. My brother’s presence calmed me. He was aware that it would. To have my brother nearby enveloped me in the same peaceful state I felt at ten years old, sitting behind my bedroom door, peeking through the crack, on guard for Dad’s approach.

Sibling love, when born of shared experience and years living under the same roof is a powerful bond. No other relationship can compete with the sharing of childhood wishes, secrets, survival tactics. We never have to explain the past. We know its scars and escape routes. Adopted from two different families, we are closer than any siblings I’ve met. Like Sully’s Hudson survivors, we faced what we knew was the end and survived.

Thank you, Rob, for visiting and for reminding me that sometimes suffering breeds miracles.

V.L.

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Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

Disappointment Day (a.k.a Father’s Day)

Here it comes. In shades of blue greeting cards, barbecues, and goofy tee shirts proclaiming World’s Greatest Dad, Father’s Day is upon us. At any minute, Facebook will overflow with gushing remembrances and salutes from little girls (long since grown) who adore their daddys.

I envy them. I envy all women loved by fathers who showed them respect, love, adoration, selflessness. I envy their happy memories of a daddy’s arms- safe, warm, tucked in.

Father’s Day is the saddest day of the year for me.

As an adoptee, a cat-drowning, wife-beating, son-of-a-bitch father raised me. Yet, I’ve spent a lifetime aching for his love. As a child, I tried to be a better daughter by appealing to his masculinity. I thought if I grew harder/more boyish he might like me better, or at the very least, stop trying to kill my mother and brother.

Later, it became apparent that toughness would never have appealed to Dad. His free-wheeling fists camouflaged a hidden gender rage that would blow up my life. My father transitioned to become a woman in her seventies. She died in 2015 on the very spot where my terrible, twelve-year-old self, planned to kill her. (My memoir Transgressions in Rouge coming soon).

My biological father, a retired Delta Force officer, whom I found after a five-year-search, is very much alive. At least I think he is, as we have not been in touch for years. He decided that rather than engage in the healthy father/daughter relationship I crave, he would continue to live in a paranoid state of distrust.

When I first found Delta Dad, he was ecstatic. It soon became apparent that he was still fighting the wars he survived. He raged at me like a mad dog one day, and I walked away choosing to distance myself from any further dysfunction. I reached out to Delta Dad again recently, and he decided again that he’s not interested in a relationship. I say again because he also denied me when he found out my birth mother was pregnant in 1963.

Having spent a total of 12-years (pre-internet) searching for the biologicals (closed book NY adoption in the 1960s), I am quite attuned to my needs. I always knew that I needed my history, my story, and the story of my ancestors to feel complete. I searched and found to become solid, defined. Before finding my blood relatives I could not focus on what I would be. I was far too busy finding out who I was.

Likewise, I see patterns in my behavior that reflect the blank space of lacking a father. I need one, and because it is unattainable, I find myself drawn to friendships (or fanships) with men of a certain age. I find solace in their respectability, honor, achievements. I guess they look to me like father material. Desperation casts fatherly shadows over strangers.

Fatherlessness is my wound.

I share my disappointments this Father’s Day for those who have a decent dad to hug; for those who recall tender moments with their father. You have my one missing thing. Love him, embrace him, keep his memory close, share his stories with your children. Make his love your legacy.

Blessings that my disappointments light your way,

V.L.

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Buy my novel Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill

Decades after Reunion- What Bond is This?

I lead a blessed life. My family is healthy. We have a roof over our heads, and we are free from hunger. Having known times with my adoptive family when this was not the case, I appreciate everything. I am content and feel pretty darn accomplished…until I call my first mother.

Twenty-five years after the reunion, conversations with her turn me back into the given away infant in the photo I keep on my desk to remind myself how far I’ve come.  firstphotoI know this is my wound (Primal, I guess), and an issue I really should have worked through by now.  I do use the brilliant coping exercises in the book Adoption Healing by Joe Soll, which gave me the background chant I use when first mother contact spirals me into an infantile turmoil.

“It’s not happening now. She is not leaving me. That was a long time ago.”

I can hear readers of this blog (especially those who are still in search) clucking their tongues at my daring to deflate the bliss of knowing who bore me. I get it. I am sharing this as a warning, a guidepost to help you understand the feelings of woe that often surface long after the honeymoon of reunion ends. (To be fair I must mention that there is nothing she can say or do to change this. She is kind to me, and giving.)

Despite the effectiveness of Joe Sol’s Adoption Healing exercises,  I still wallow after our conversations in a strange limbo of being an alien in her made-up world.  I belong to my first mother by blood, but unlike her other children (the kept ones) I cannot experience the true/unconditional state of her motherhood. Unconditional love is a feeling I understand and define by my adopted mother.

If you ask me what makes conversations with my first mother so debilitating, I would say it is that she reacts to the kept siblings in a manner consistent with shared experience. While I have shared two adult decades with my first mother, the essential bond of being present in my formative years is missing.

We have all witnessed the ribbing, joking and comfortable behavior of family units. Most have a relaxed, informal way of acting around each other. This family interplay is a representation of years spent living together, agreeing, disagreeing, and seeing the world through shared experience. They are a unit.

As an adoptee, I can never be an ordinary member of my first family. No matter what is said or shared, she raised my siblings. She acts differently around me, less comfortable, more formal, guarded. For years, I thought I imagined her awkwardness when we visited, and the opening blossom of her real self with my half-siblings. Only a close family friend’s comment assured my that it was the truth when he said, “she acts so differently around you.”

I am a grown ass woman and a long-reunited adoptee. Still, the ripples of my relinquishment tear at my heart in ways I was sure reunion would settle. Bonds stolen at the moment of separation can be yearned for, but never fully repaired. I am still happy that I searched, but hate the awful truths that adoption has cast on my life.

Blessings for reunion and healing,

V.L.

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Buy Waving Backwards for Kindle $4.99 at Amazon.com-amazon.com/author/vlbrunskill