Living in the shadow of fear


[Content warning: suicide, domestic violence, self-harm, disordered eating, abuse]

On Sunday night it took me a while to doze off. There’s construction going on nearby for the new Skytrain, and they’re doing it all night. I have to sleep with my window open when it’s so hot, so at night my bedroom is full of the sounds of heavy machinery beeping and men shouting at each other.

Eventually, I did start to fall asleep.

And was immediately waked up by a shout of terror from my mom’s room. I got out of my bed in blind panic, stumbling through the apartment to her room, one thought going through my sleep-fogged brain: he’s done it. He’s finally found a way to kill her.

When I was 9 the divorce got started, got put into motion. The litigation from it lasted until I was 20. It was named the second-worst divorce case in BC history.

My father, my mom’s ex-husband, is abusive, violent, and unpredictable. He’s also a gun-owner*, which is not a happy mixture. Living with him is walking on eggshells. You never know what will set him off.

For a long time, I was deadly afraid of him — I was afraid of what he could do to me. I feared he’d succeed in gaining custody of me. I feared the abuse. When he got really angry, I feared he’d snap and kill me.

Eventually, the fear of what he could do to my person faded. I became an angry, jaded, bitter adolescent, and I was suicidal. I no longer thought he’d kill me; often I’d fantasize about killing myself to show him who was in charge. I dyed my hair and got piercings and tattoos, because I was exercising control over my body. After spending a lifetime with one parent trying to exert complete, absolute control over not only your physical person but your thoughts, your emotions, your beliefs…I grasped onto anything that could give me a sense of control again, and I held on hard.

I cut myself. I binge-ate. I starved myself. Mom tried so hard to keep me healthy, but there was only so much she could do without becoming another controlling influence in my eyes; without losing my trust. She did the best she could with what she had, and in my eyes that makes her the best mom in the world. She’s the reason I didn’t kill myself.

The fear that I had of my father didn’t go away, however. I spent years appeasing him, years trying to keep him happy with me, because I feared he’d kill my mother.

He hated my mother. Every time I visited him there was some ranting about what a horrible person she was, how she was making me fat and lazy and all these other things that meant I’d never be loved by anyone else. How I was just like her and this was, of course, a terrible thing. And though he never realized I knew it, I could hear the comments, I understood what he meant with his veiled barbs: he wanted her dead.

So for years I tried to be the daughter he wanted. I tried to be the trophy he wanted to keep on his mantlepiece, perfectly under his control; when I couldn’t do that, I tried to at least not piss him off so much.

It was a losing, uphill battle. My very existence troubles him — he once called me the most expensive mistake he ever made — because I am so much like her. My mother. Because I remind him of her; because I came from her; because he hates her.

Sunday night mom’s shout of terror brought me tearing out of my bed and down the hall, not even grabbing a weapon, hoping to beat him back with fists and claws and the pure rage of a daughter who’s spent zir life trying to protect one parent from the other. I was convinced he was there, in the apartment — he knows where it is, after all; my Oma owned it for 20 years before she died — I was convinced he had finally come to off my mother. A final revenge for when I cast him out of my life last year because I was finally done entertaining his clumsy, toxic “love”.**

Mom, of course, is fine; it had only been a bad dream. Her screams didn’t even wake the dog, who was fast asleep in the living room. I think he would have started from sleep had a new smell entered the house, and he’s not exactly fond of tall, widely-built men.

I, however, took another hour to get back to sleep. My heart didn’t stop its rapid pulse for at leas 45 minutes; I breathed rapidly, straining my ears for any sound, any indication that what I feared may actually come to pass. That night I had terrible nightmares all night that kept me tossing and turning; nightmares about him.

It’s like terrorism. Living under the fear of your abuser, living under the fear that he will come back and hurt you — it is a special, personal type of terrorism. And for me, until my father dies I will be living in the shadow of that fear — the fear that he’ll take away my mom, the most important person in my life.

He’s already tried and failed to take away my sense of self-worth, my ability to be loved, and my autonomy. My mother is the last thing he can take from me, and I’m afraid I won’t have the power to stop him if he decides to try.

And that fear won’t go away, unless I let him back into my life and try to keep him happy. Unless I sacrifice my own mental well-being. Unless I decide to accept the suicidal ideation, the worsened eating disorders, the fear he’ll invade my space yet again on one of his “spontaneous trips” to my town. Unless I decide to make myself miserable just so I can keep him happy, and keep a well-trained eye on him, and keep him away. from. my. mother.

That fear stays. Because mom and I have talked about it, and we both agree — nothing is worth the way he hurts me. Nothing. And even if I did do all that, it wouldn’t be a sure thing. There would always be a chance he’d do it anyway. In a situation like this, there is no such thing as security.

I refuse to give up my liberty for a false sense of it.


*This is not an attack on gun-owners. However, my father is USian and he did bring with him said attitude towards guns. He frequently disobeys Canadian gun laws, because he thinks he’s above them, and once — when I was young — he almost shot me while he sleptwalked. So while I do have friends who are gun-owners and don’t have anything against guns per se, I’m not too keen on them being kept by an abusive, violent, arrogant man who believes he’s above the law and talks frequently about “hunting” women.

**I’m sure he does think he loves me, in his way. It’s still clumsy, toxic, and abusive, and I deserve better.

2 thoughts on “Living in the shadow of fear

  1. Stephy

    There’s a lot of my story in there, and I can sympathize. I still have nightmares about my mentally-ill, abusive gun owner of a dad, too, and I’m not in a position where cutting him out of my life wouldn’t hurt innocent people whom I can’t stand to upset. I understand a lot of where you’re coming from, though not all of it, and I’m around if you ever need an ear.


Comments are closed.