Author Robert Goolrick’s powerful story of sexual abuse, and carrying the weight of it all.
–Editor’s Note: Trigger Warning
But I told my grandmother, and she listened, and then she said, “Don’t ever tell this story to anybody else. If you tell this story to anybody else, something terrible will happen. Something terrible will happen to our family.” And then she had a lot to do.
My father drove my aunt to the church. He walked her down the aisle in a white jacket and gave her away. He gave her away because her own father was dying. My mother stood beside her sister in a rose dress and hat and looked serene.
I’m told that, on the way to the church, my father stopped the car and got out and threw up on the side of the road. My mother always said he had a hangover.
The rest is just life, just the story of a life deformed. The rest is just a life in which nothing else, no other moment, really matters.
I don’t know if it happened again. I think it did. I don’t know if it ever happened to my brother or sister, but I don’t think so.
I think it was just an accident. I think it was just bad luck. But afterward, my mother and father and my grandmother and I were locked forever in a secret, each knowing, each silent. I don’t know how they felt. I don’t know how something couldn’t have been broke that was whole, how something that was lovely could ever have been lovely again.
It happened to me on a September night when my parents were drunk, and I never forget it. Every time I looked at my father, I could feel his hands on my nipples and his fingers down my throat.
I went on. I pretended to be a child. I knew I was pretending to be who I was; I was constructing a good-humored fiction so that I might appear to be the way other children seemed to be: polite, winsome, and funny. I didn’t feel like I was any of these things. I felt I was copying the smiling face, that I was an imitation. I was a faker, and a fake.
She knew. She had seen it. He knew. He had done it. My grandmother knew. It had been a full stop in the music of a happy day. And I knew and I could talk and I could tell. And so they were afraid of me, and took their revenge later in extraordinary scenes of hatred. I don’t think they ever knew that I had told my grandmother, on the day of my aunt’s wedding.
How did we go on?
I know I wanted my parents to like me. I wanted them not to be afraid of me. I know I wanted us all to be safe, and we all knew we weren’t. We knew we were lying all the time.
I am told my father screamed at me in public. I am told he called me a pig. I am told he screamed that I ruined everything nice. I am told that their friends begged them to buy me a bicycle like my brother’s, even offered to lend them the money. My brother had one. My sister had one. I don’t remember any of these things.
I knew, I always knew, that one day I would find somebody I loved enough to tell this story to, and year later I did, one cold morning, lying in bed naked in Philadelphia while his wife was away at work, I knew I had found somebody I loved with all my heart, and I told him the story. I told every detail.
In the telling, I thought, would be the expiation; but it didn’t make one bit of difference. It didn’t make one goddamned bit of difference.
When I was twenty-two, when I was in love with my first real girlfriend, I made an appointment with a doctor I’d never been to. I told him I was convinced I had a sexually transmitted disease, that I might have given it to others. He asked me what symptoms I had, and I said none. He looked at me oddly, he looked at my penis, he held it in his hand and looked at it, and I was afraid for him, touching it, I was sure he would see it, that there would be visible proof of some raging infection, but he said nothing. He gave me a blood test, a Wasserman, and called two days later to tell me that all the results were normal. I was perfectly healthy. Of course. He must have thought I was insane.
And it didn’t make one bit of difference, not one goddamned bit of difference.
A drunken bed in the white-hot dark of a September night with my grandfather after whom I was called dying three days away. My father, my mother, and me. My father fucking me in the night. My mother watching. It’s a sad story for everybody.
I live alone now. I have lived alone for twenty-five years. No one touches me, there are no lips to kiss. Once a doctor asked me if I snored and I had to say I didn’t know. I was at that moment humiliated by the whole history of my life.
Everything is dark now. Something terrible will happen.
My mother was beautiful, my father handsome. He had such charming hands, my father.
Such charming hands.
Robert Goolrick’s The End of the World as We Know It is available on Amazon.com: