Updated: May 28, 2020
I think the lingering shame is the hardest awareness. Even now, after leaving him, our marriage, and the life I had built for our small family in Prague nearly a quarter of a century ago, the shame lingers. It has taken a new shape, and a new soul, a willing prisoner, my son. He falls effortlessly into the execution of the plays his father ran two decades before. The baton is passed beneath my line of vision, the act impervious to my constant vigilance and incessant fears. There is no elegance or beauty in this transfer of personage, but it is skillful nonetheless. The ugly becomes irresistible, as if its relentless insinuation of itself into every cranny could necromance fiction into fact, a beating into a caress.
Could it be that I always knew? Not in my consciousness, but in my marrow. It was never a clearly defined thought, or even a whisper in my head. It was a foreboding.
In the faces of others who lived it with me, there was no subtlety. They squirmed and winced, wishing to be anywhere else, and yet they stayed, most never calling out the public humiliations and belittling. I looked pathetically for someone to give it a name, confirm I was not the pitiable, unhinged wretch with which he deigned to contend. It’s not kind. It’s not possible, that others see it and say nothing. Because they say nothing, it must be my misapprehension, the paranoid delusions of a lessened lady. There was no other explanation. Only the Prague godmother said he lessened me.
To my further ignominy, I might never have left that vulgar cycle, had it not been for my child. I could allow myself to endure it, but not him. NEVER him.
So in the finale, perhaps my son is my pseudo-savior. He embodied the pain, the abuse and the shame so that I could dedicate myself to shaking off the mantle. He bore the surname, I do not. Most who know me now have no idea that I was once an "ova", even if they knew how to pronounce the odd Slavic feminine form of my former surname.
In the beginning of his life, I wanted to protect him from experiencing the abuse and gaining the knowledge that sociopaths are real, and often given the red carpet and the gilded keys, at least for a time..... Now that he is an adult, there is no longer the question of him not knowing the extent of the rot, and his biological connection to it. What remains is my terror that the putrefied rot has ultimately and permanently separated my son from me with a Cuban cigar-stained grin. I have had nearly 25 years to go through my grief, and I have arrived at today's familiar acceptance of what I already foreboded.
But I did my own reshaping of reality. In that, his father was not the only necromancer. My son became my kind boy on a pedestal, destined for goodness and integrity. Any other outcome was unspeakable. It simply could not be.
Like his father, I never let facts keep me from my determination to envision and achieve the only reality that I found survivable. He would not be his father.
The exhaustion of the relentless, polite questions: “Does he have any relationship with his father?” or “How often does he see him?” “Oh really, that must be so hard for your son”.
Why all of the same interrogations, guised as caring, innocent queries into the emotional health of my child. I always answered truthfully: “No.” And “His father doesn’t see him often”, and later: “My son has chosen not to see him.” Someone needed to be truthful. I was the designated carnival barker, announcer, spokesperson, truth translator for this abomination of patrimony, that existed only in DNA and people’s careless queries, but never in a bond of affection or commitment.
How can I explain that? If I explain it, my tongue is raw, rough, uncouth, vulnerable as it shames the boy who never chose to be ignored or parried like a pawn. I stand up for myself and my right to live apart from the constant bullying and degradation, and the father's sycophants' parry with “well what about the child?”.
It was my undoing. To weaponize my son’s vulnerability was the shrewdest move made in the game amongst the headstones. His father could threaten, then do nothing, and lose nothing, all from a distance like a drone strike from a Czech satellite, or a Nazi Blitz bomb.
But every jab and merciless threat made my dance with madness increase its droning tempo. I could not let the cruelty touch my son. I had to stay strong, devoted and positive. I could never explain the depths of the contempt his father felt for us, because, who could hear that and survive, fully whole?
I knew it from facing it down and leaving him and it in Prague 6, with its feet on the couch and a beer on its belly, but could not voice it to my children.
Tyrants always go for the Achilles' Heel, and mothers will give their lives to make Achilles wear sturdy shoes.
I had to keep going, whistling a thready tune through the graveyard. Ghosts can survive in graveyards.