Survival Skills 101- 1st place SUHSD Poetry Competition

Poem transcribed as performed.

I can’t remember the last thing he ever said to me. I’m starting to forget what he looks like, maybe that’s why I decided to write this because I can’t remember what my father’s smile was like. I have had enough, enough time and enough misery over a man that has probably forgotten the name he gave me. When I think back to the now fading image of my father I am told what I remember of him is not true or that it didn’t happen like that. Others knowing my story more than I have known my own and telling it to me enough that I swallowed myself whole finding a safe place to hide, smiling over the scars. This is my truth, the awareness people thought I did not have and these are the survival skills needed to save you from brutal men named dad.

Skill #1- You avoid going to supervised visitation the same way you used to avoid going to church. The places almost holding silent judgment, a standing choir not always giving praises. The holy spirit on cold Saturday mornings felt more like strapping on a broken seat belt. No protection from the impact if he decided to skip the comfort of slow talk and go right into the quick soul-wrenching downfall that is his existence. Because he would rather go straight to business than use protection. You hope you catch him on a good day, where he offers to get ice cream without complaining about child support payments or will play tag with you even though you’re way too old for it. The way you see other girls play with their dads at parks who don’t have to with a strange lady holding a lime green clipboard writing notes as she watches you cope.

Skill #2- You’ve heard stories of what happens when social services comes for a stay. Do not say much, don’t even open your mouth because one call and they will take you from home. In time it will stop becoming a necessity to keep silent. Yes, I know he is hurting mom but do not step in, It’s not his home but you know he owns it, his fist is still buried in the wall, the front door has caved in from his kicks, you can’t understand how he thinks it belongs to him when he doesn’t even own a key. Remember that sometimes the silence is louder than screams.

Skill #3- A father’s love has many forms, it is not always a game of catch out on the lawn or a goodnight kiss, sometimes it is like a dark hollow room, that echoes with the sound of smothered cries. Sometimes you would rather be lonely than loved.
Skill #4- Learn the difference between I love you and I hate you, eventually there will be no difference. Know that his warmth is his cruelty that he only acts this way when others are watching and that no man will ever be as quick as him to give his flaws reasoning. Making it easier to ignore the faulty lines he created inside you every time he blamed you for breathing. I’m sorry you know I love you, maybe if you could have been-could have done-I’m sorry that I never knew what it was like to be a dad- And out of sympathy, you will try to carve away at the things he called rotten just because you are ripening.

Skill #5- Know that it is not declared kidnapping if your parents can’t agree to custody. You stay awake hoping someone will come save you. That years later you still feel like you are stuck on his living room floor staring at the locked door and too small to reach for the bolt. You can’t even save yourself so how could you protect anyone else. Shoveling down anything to make yourself feel full and holding onto thin blankets for warmth. Too young to know what it means to escape.

Skill #6- Snap out of it! He is killing you! You keep falling back into his traps even though you know all his tricks. He’s coming! Find a place to hide he’s walking up the steps quicker and quicker his body swallowing you up like a shadow. His hands morphing into something less than welcoming hands, choking you with what he deemed love. And why do you still hold his secrets, the ones whispered on dark nights in stark rooms, ones that have never been told? The ones that have buried you alive as you tried to empty yourself of him. Even after he vanished from personal documents and father-daughter dances.

Skill #7- He will disappear one day and you will try to act like you are not affected by abandonment, that it is just another word for deserted. You will feel dehydrated and scared in the middle of a steaming sandstorm, watching as he walks away, wanting to tell him not to go but crying because you are not strong enough for him to stay. While the years pass you will see him everywhere as a haunting mirage, knowing him more as the monster than the man. It’s not him, it’s not him, it’s not him.

Skill #8- Avoid loud sounds, the clink of a belt or the pounding on the door, you will find yourself crying on your bathroom floor. You lie when you say you are okay, but it will always be easier this way because there is no way that you could go into details, that you could explain the tornado spinning inside you until you finally fall apart, opening your mouth in need of help only to take in and destroy everything you love, as they discover what churns inside you. You try to become numb through letters, use synonyms instead of the actual words as a way to make your life seem more colorful than it actually is. Telling friends that you are just feeling blue when you are really suicidal, bright red alarm signals and dark afternotes. Like mores code transmitting your suffering into a series of tones, lights, or clicks hoping there is someone who understands the sequence. Sees the signs before you find yourself swallowing orange medicine bottles, getting better and better at the language you have been practicing since you were a child.

Skill #9-Your sister will make a father’s day card one year and ask your mom where she can send it, but you don’t even have an address. Making up lies to make herself feel better and you feel like a volcano about to blow, your fire scorching her memories. Forgive yourself for being tired and spilling your secrets, filling her once half full glass with venom. Watch as she tears her card to shreds, tears damping the figments, her mind denying what she knows. That the fake road trips and movie theater sittings and the ice cream he got her that one time is melting. Unsettling enough you remember the things she forced herself to forget.

Skill #10: STOP Take a deep breath in, some things are better left unsaid, So simplify the list, do not drown others in your sorrow, even though you have learned how to breathe underwater.

Skill #11: Forgive him. It sounds so simple just 2 words but almost as abusive. Because in some way you will figure out how to forgive yourself… for not being big enough to slay the Giant. For being too small and too thin and too scared and for stop not being enough. Learn to let the pain go so that one day you can look at the sun without thinking of how it burns. I, this is about me, but it seems easier to act like it didn’t happen to me, that I did not survive this. So I’m speaking to you, the little girl from my shattered childhood, the one who wished there was someone there to help her or tell what to do as the walls caved in. I’m here, know that I am here and that he did not destroy us that we made it out and we are so much better than what he deemed us. Escape the playground, the block, and the apartment that felt like a death sentence. Smile in the mirror when he stares back, And even though you’re broken hope love can last. And let go because he is just too heavy to carry anymore. And hopefully one day you and I will find a love much greater than the one we were taught. I remember my 8-year-old self, terrified and trembling as my father sat down beside me and held my hand tightly, proclaiming “I do this because I love you” And I looked up at him and pleaded, “Daddy please don’t love me so much.”

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