7 Years Ago. I just stare at the screen. Every year for the last couple of years Facebook has reminded me of this day. I usually ignore it. But this time, this time I couldn’t look away.
Judge’s word to us: This is the final chapter. Close the book. Move on. You sir, will die in prison.
We called him Pappy. Although I wanted my kids to call him Grandpa they preferred the nickname adapted by the cousins. My son knew him the longest and has memories of playing the piano with him when he came to visit us. My girls knew him from their auntie’s wedding. And of course through the cousins.
Pappy lived out of town with my younger brother and his family; my other brother lived in the same town. My sister and I made the trip to visit them Thanksgiving 2007. I was still reeling from the loss of my father-in-law to cancer in August and had just left the church. I needed a welcome break from the pressures at home and the upcoming Thanksgiving Conference. When my sister asked if I wanted to go with her so all four of us could be together for the holiday I agreed.
We had such a good time. My nieces gave us their beds (and adorable notes that I still have in my office) to sleep in. We played cards and built puzzles and designed our own “NEXT” button anytime our father would bring up our mother or stepfather, the divorce, the government, the church or the IRS. We sang along as he sang songs with his guitar that I remember singing when I was so little. I remember the night he played the song he wrote about my brother chasing his dreams of being a geologist. It was the closest thing to family I had felt in a very long time.
During this time my father and I had a lot of time together. I took him to a new doctor to get his health under control. I took him shopping for new clothes and bought him a months worth of healthy snacks. We had breakfast together and at one point he told me he loved me and he was proud of me. I felt like he was the dad I wanted for so long, ignoring the nagging in my heart. I let myself love my father and decided what had happened was really my imagination and we’d all move along.
I arranged to have our pictures taken with our father. A decision I will not regret for the rest of my life. The boys wore green shirts and we girls wore red. There are pictures of our father and the boys and one with my sister and I…a picture that I still cannot bring myself to look at. And there is the one of the four of us. It hangs in my momma’s home. In 2007 we had NO idea the monster that was among us; we were blissfully unaware.
Thanksgiving 2009 arrived and we made the trek to see the family again. I had no idea it would be the last time with our father. Looking back I cringe at things that now make sense. The house my brother had rented was perfect. Pappy had an apartment attached to the house so he had his “own place” but they could make sure he was taken care of and didn’t get into trouble. When I walked into his apartment I remember feeling my stomach flip. I now know that I sensed the spirit that resided in this place; it was the one I felt in my own home as a child. And although I wanted to trust him, deep down inside I didn’t, so I spent the entire time anxious anytime my girls disappeared and were hanging out with him. At one point my sister-in-law made a comment that the cousins didn’t like going to visit Pappy anymore, because he was mean. She started talking about how the kids were having nightmares and behaving differently. And I don’t know why, but I didn’t say what I thought. I didn’t want to believe that what I knew about him. I wanted to believe the best about him, so I did. I didn’t want to say, “Are you sure he’s not doing something else to them?” When we left I hugged my father and told him I loved him and I’d see him again in the summer. The kids hugged him goodbye and we drove away.
It’s hard to reconcile still. The man who would wrestle and say, “Hold still pillow” like the hundreds of times he did with us. The man who would talk to them in his Donald Duck voice, which made my daughter just look at him like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The man who sang “Little Brown Mouse” with my daughters, the same song I sang with him from the time I could open my mouth and sing. The man who told us how much he loved his grandchildren. The man they called Pappy, he took advantage of them and he gave them scars that they’ll have the rest of their lives. The same ones I carry. And I just can’t.
7 years ago we walked into the courthouse. My brothers, my sister-in-law, my momma I. The weight of the morning hung over us. I sighed as I gave security all I owned and walked through a metal detector. And then I saw him. The man who had given me life. The man who had been the one who was to protect me and guide me and who allowed others to destroy my soul and violated my own body was standing in front of me. My momma wrapped her arms around me. I stared. I can’t describe the absolute pain of seeing your own parent standing in an orange jumpsuit his hands bound in front of him, shackled at his feet other prisoners. Realizing I can’t talk to him. I can’t hug him. I can’t scream at him. I can’t stand there and beat my fists into his chest. This man, is now a stranger. And I just want the floor to swallow me up because the pain is more great than I can possibly describe.
We sat in the back of the court with the children’s advocate. He sat to the side waiting for his turn with the judge. I watched him. He had papers in his hands and spent the entire time reading. I shook my head. His arrogance and lack of remorse was so obvious. When they called him up, we lost it. My poor momma was doing her best to support her children, but she didn’t have enough shoulders. We were sobbing as they read the letters from the children and my brother and sister-in-law. They decided against my letter because I referenced my abuse and they didn’t want to have his attorney cancel the plea agreement. We all agreed that getting closure so we could begin the healing process was the utmost importance.
The judge asked my father if he wanted to respond or take the opportunity to say something to the family. He just laughed. I will never forget the anger and pain I felt at the same time. He had turned himself in, but he couldn’t be a man and face us and admit openly how much he had hurt us? The judge gave his sentence. He addressed us. “Make this the final chapter. Close this book and open another.” And then he faced the man who had brought us there. “You sir, will die alone in prison.”
They took him out of the court room and we left shortly after. The rest of the day was a blur. My brother wanted to be alone. My other brother wanted to talk to his pastor and took me with him. I just wanted to go home and drink my pain away. I didn’t want to remember this day. Later we drank. And although it is probably not the smartest way to respond to overwhelming pain it’s how we dealt with that day. And somewhere in the midst of our pain and anger we found ourselves laughing and hoping for a better day. I fell asleep and woke the next morning. I hugged my brothers and sister-in-laws and nieces and nephew and I got on a plane with my momma and dad-of-mine and came home to my husband and my babies. And I started the journey of healing.
It’s been 7 years and although I’ve done a lot of hard work and some of the darkest nights are behind me, the ache and pain of that day are still there. There will not be a day on this side of heaven my life hasn’t been scarred by my father’s sin. But I can look back and see that out of all that pain, something beautiful was born. Because out of that, I was brought back to life. I found myself, I found my Abba and I found my husband again. And although my father hurt me, my Abba, he healed me. And I’m so very thankful for the gift of my life this Thanksgiving and ready for the Final Chapter of my journey.