Late-night AM radio paranormal talk show host George Noory famously quips, “There are no such things as coincidences.” While I do not necessarily believe that, and I understand the phenomenon of confirmation bias, my life appears to be afflicted by a theatrical sense of timing. My personal journey of the past two years — leaving the extended adolescence I occupied for over a decade, weighed down by anxiety and depression — climaxed this past weekend with my appearance at MSP Comicon. One year ago, I tabled there with a meagre pile of my mini-comics; a shrinking violet, timidly hawking my wares. This year, I commanded a full table in the centre of the convention floor, surrounded by a stable of friends; lip syncing and dancing shamelessly for two days straight, and doing virtually anything to bring a smile to those passing by. Triumphant, it was the most actualized, confident, and self-assured I have ever felt.
On Monday night, I received news that my father had shot and killed himself. In one final act of cruelty, another person was witness to his suicide.
My father was a profoundly angry, and, at his core, unhappy man. He worked taxing, physical labour in a trade he did not enjoy, and found himself trapped there when plans to take over the family business fell through. Violence and misbehaviour eventually lead him to never consume alcohol. The sheetrock in our garage was littered with holes in the walls made by his leathery fist. The oldest child, my most vivid childhood memories involve being chased through our hallway, his voice bellowing threats at my heels, or being strapped with a leather belt. I rarely understood what I had done to deserve that. My father was a large man. There were plenty of happy times, of course, but I learned to fear him and his temper quickly. I recall many incidents of him cursing at my mother and refusing a meal because she unknowingly cooked something for dinner he had had for lunch. I watched her react and, unconsciously myself, became trained to do or say whatever it takes to avoid that anger. As a child, I fought tirelessly to earn his approval and recognition. It seldom came; more often I was punished for failing to meet his standards or be what he wanted. Therein lies the seat of my identity issues and insatiable desire to please.
As I grew older, I became an angry, disturbed, and poorly-adjusted teenager. The overt violence ended, only to be replaced by undercurrents of threat. My activities and socialization were severely restricted for most of my high school years, stunting my emotional development and ability to connect with others. Both of my parents were obsessively controlling, consistently eavesdropping, violating my trust, and invading my privacy. I had a violent psychotic episode at age 14, which resulted in the screws being tightened further. They falsely accused me of drinking, using drugs, and prostitution. My makeup, clothing, weight, and interests were mocked and criticized. My attitude was somehow always the ruination of our family outings and vacations. Day after day, I was reminded of all the things wrong with me. I should state that — for whatever reasons — my two younger siblings did not receive this treatment.
Outwardly, we appeared to be the ideal nuclear family.
Friends charitably helped me escape this toxic environment those many years ago, before I descended into self-harm, or worse. I remained in Minneapolis for one year, then in Buffalo, NY, very briefly, before returning to Texas. When I came back, my parents charged me a small amount of rent, and were then mostly-able to treat me as an independent person and less judgmentally.
However — my father became more emotionally distant and unavailable over the years. Communication was always on his terms, despite my requests not to be alienated by his politics. He continued to express little to no capability for compromise. He continued to lecture and talk to me like a small child, and he expressed little interest in my life and none in my work. He was incapable of apologizing or owning any responsibility for damage to our relationship. He put only the most minimal of effort into maintaining the relationship. I realize now that I have been intoxicatingly attracted to men displaying these same unhealthy traits in my romantic partnerships. (Never Matt, though!) Affection withheld as punishment and returned as reward, being deliberately ignored, being dehumanized by name-calling like asshole and crazy, having my feelings marginalized or invalidated, and threats of abandonment are all things I have endured. I will no longer suffer others’ perceived failures and insecurities.
I set aside all my grievances when my mother’s breast cancer metastasized to her bone marrow. Initially, I cleaned my parents’ house once per week for token payment. As her illness progressed, I became her daytime caregiver. It was during this period where I felt the most connection to my father. United by the common objective of caring for my mother, we functioned together as a team, and he would occasionally confide in or seek advice from me. It was I who researched hospice care, and who ultimately helped him accept it when that time came. It was I who spoke with the hospice representatives, when he could not face them alone. Unfortunately, after her death, things returned to the status quo. He was never the same, and neglected to seek help.
My mother did apologize to me, unsolicited, before she died.
One day in the kitchen, while planning my mother’s funeral, my father looked at me and said, “My children were all disappointments — you know? I wanted doctors and lawyers. But I guess I didn’t give you the genetics for that.” And, immediately realizing what he said, he attempted to take it back. But I knew. Our relationship mostly consisted of me visiting, staring at the television for a few hours, then returning home. Dinner conversation typically involved his life or whatever he had heard that week from Rush Limbaugh. When he became abusive about including an unwanted and inappropriate third-party in one of my birthday celebrations, I decided to sever. His violently slamming down the phone on me was the last time we spoke. The silence lasted for many years, though I did attempt to reconnect before leaving Texas last September, which he declined. My feelings about his death are understandably mixed.
Over the past two years, I have worked tirelessly to address my flaws, make amends with those I have hurt, heal my old wounds, and purge my heart and mind of ugliness. Am I perfect? Absolutely not!!! But I have made a conscious decision and effort to learn empathy, to build my undeveloped social skills, to connect with and love others, and to forgive my past mistakes. I had to learn not to expect abuse, neglect, and pain as necessary companions of love. And I now have the largest, most robust support network of friends and adoptive family that care about me and want me to succeed, that I have ever had.
And I treasure every new person that becomes part of my life.
I have lost over 60lbs, relaunched my art and comics career, relocated across the country, and restarted my life. I am standing alone, on my own two feet, for the first time. I have a steady paycheque doing work I enjoy with people I am happy to see every day, and who are in turn happy to see me. I have an unsteady paycheque doing creative work that brings me personal fulfillment, and delight every time I make someone laugh or think. I work hard. I have a nice apartment, new car, new phone, and a future to look forward to.
The chains that have bound me are falling away.
Matt has been very supportive through this process, as I feel we have slowly begun to rebuild our friendship. I am appreciative that he has been available through this and other recent traumas. I will close with some advice he gave me weeks ago: “You have to let go of the self-loathing — it will kill you.”