– Anonymous, Montreal

Abuse doesn’t always mean a blow to the face.

We are a society so used to hearing frightened whispers of a tale as old as time. We all know of the leagues of drunken men who slur their words and clutch belts in their hands like a prizefighter would hold up his trophy. We think of weapons, and right away we think of hands, hands curled into fists.

My father had a different kind of weapon, and his weapon was words.

Abuse doesn’t always mean a blow to the face.

But he beat my brother and I down nonetheless, with the corrosive poison of his temper. Our rooms became prison cells that we were sent to for laughing too loudly… for asking him to look at our Lego tower while he was on the phone…for being children. In the dictionary of my father’s brain, punishment is the #1 synonym for parenting.

Abuse doesn’t always mean a blow to the face.

Yet his words left scars in the shapes of the insults that I still see sometimes when I look in the mirror: useless, stupid, disrespectful, fat.

My friends are baffled by my fear of enclosed spaces because few of them know about the hours I spent hiding in the closet, praying I could fly far, far away.

Fear was our teacher in his austere academy, and our lessons were given in the form of threats. We were tiny insects just below his hovering boot.

You don’t want to be taken away from your mother, do you?

I don’t have to pay for you to go to your school, you know.

I don’t have to give you any dinner tonight.

Abuse doesn’t always mean a blow to the face.

His screams stung like the whip in my Indiana Jones book that he took away as punishment, when he saw how happy it made me.

“Dad, I’m having a lot of trouble in math. Can I please have a tutor?”

“You fucking ungrateful twerp, I give your mother child support already. Do you think I’m made of money?”

No. Not made of money, made of cunning, sneakiness, wit. Because he hides this side of him so well that no one believes my story. To the rest of the world, my father is charming, charismatic, caring.

People are so quick to provide praise: “What a wonderful father you have, you’re so lucky.” Yeah, don’t I know it.

Abuse doesn’t always mean a blow to the face.

Sometimes it means a blow to the heart.

Note: After the situation escalated and I reached my breaking point, my father lost custody of me. I was in tenth grade, and I did not see him or speak a single word to him for six months. My mother finally tried to push me to see him again, but in public spaces and on my own terms. I would get to choose where I go, when I go, and when I leave. It’s much better than feeling like a prisoner in his house, but there have been some rough patches since. There’ve been months where we have no contact at all. When I do see him, I don’t enjoy it. The sound of his voice usually causes an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and with emotional abuse from my mother. But I will never give up. Through therapy, good friends and a lot of struggling to get my mental health in order, I have made a lot of progress. I sing at a music school and work as an editor for a student run paper in my spare time. I have great grades. I have not won this battle yet. I cannot say that all this is behind me. I am still fighting, every single day, to put my anger behind me and to love myself…to be happy.

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