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Clearing the Snow

As I am cleaning house, a familiar figure approaches.  My heart skips a beat.  It’s my father.  I can see him through the glass of the open screen, the main door to the kitchen left wide to let in the light.  He’s strolling nonchalantly, coming for a friendly visit.  He thinks.  After all, we’ve been getting together for a few months now, reestablishing contact after a long period of not having had any.

The last time he’d left me, there’d been a surprise, late-in-the season-snow on the ground.  My two young daughters and just-past-toddler son had been outside with other children from the neighboring apartments.  They’d been building a snowman and he’d joined in the fun, throwing snowballs, chasing and tossing the kids into the air amongst squeals of delight.  That afternoon had touched a warm place in my heart that had taken me back to my own childhood.

Snowfalls had been a rare thing in the northeast corner of Georgia where I’d grown up.  Our family had maintained a tradition around them, bundling up and heading out into the white stuff whenever we were lucky enough to have an accumulation.  We’d don double socks, stuffing them into our regular shoes.  Then, we’d pull old, salvaged, empty loaf-bread-bags over the entire mess and hold it all up with red rubber bands, strategically placed a few inches below our knees.  We’d pull another pair of socks on whomever’s hands weren’t lucky enough to own  mittens or gloves.  We girls would dress in layers of skirts, our religion forbidding the wearing of trousers, even at times such as these.  It would all be topped off with a button-up sweater tightened over our usual top, then the putting on of our heaviest coats, all wrapped up with homemade scarves about our necks.

Once my mother had announced us appropriately attired, and that could take quite a while since there were four children who had to go through this approval process, the whole family would spill, giggling, out the door, and into an enchanted land!

Outside, it seemed that the Hand of God had touched everywhere making all white and clean and pure!  Behind the forested acres of our farmland, milky mountains rose in the distance.  All of the cobbled together out buildings on our forty acre farm had their harsh edges softened with a dusty covering.  Snow fell into all of the imperfect dabbles of the pasture, smoothing it into swirls that were as tasty to my eyes as powdered-sugar frosting was to my tongue!  Throughout the large parcels of fencing, pearls of snow clung to the barbs of wire, and atop each round of wooden fencepost sat personal tiaras, silvery, glistening, semi-circles of clean.

The long dirt road that wound down the hill to us became a fantastic, alabaster snake.  Birds of all colors lit, outlined against the stark white, pulling at barely exposed tufts of grass, munching the tiny breadcrumbs my thoughtful mother had sprinkled.  The decorative, round hedges underneath the awnings at our windows looked like giant, green snow cones, ready for flavored toppings to be poured out by some heavenly being or other.  The branches of the huge pines in the forest held the snow, curving out and up, creating a shape like the very wings of angels.  We kids would try to copy this theme, plopping down on the upper part of the little terrace in the front yard, flailing our juvenile arms and legs out in huge arcs, making snow angels of our own.

It was always Daddy’s job to make the large bases for the snow people.  We would make a snowman and a snowwoman, and by the time we children had come up with a couple of heads, my father would already have built the large bottoms and middle sections necessary for our creations.  My mother is very artistically inclined, and it was her duty to come up with the items for making the faces, and for choosing the clothing for these newest members of the Hulsey clan.  Yes, we even put clothing on our snowpeople, I don’t think Mama would have approved of their remaining naked, and sank branches in or added extra gobs of snow to sculpt for arms.  The final result really showcased our farming roots, these strange beings of ours looking like some spooky scarecrow/snowperson combos.  We loved them, and proudly posed for pictures around them so that we could capture our creatures on film, for time immemorial!

Once that ritual had been completed, the adults would usually go back inside as we kids continued to romp and scream and play.  I remembered my mother’s fervent call from the back porch, begging us to, “Come on in before you catch your death!”

“Ah!  Mama-Mia!” we’d wail her nick-name.  “Just a little bit longer!”

“I’ll betcha’ can’t even feel your toes!” she’d protest.  “Can you feel your toes, still?”

“Yes!  I can feel my toes,” we’d lie.  At least, I’d lie.

Fun!  Innocent fun.

Innocent?  Really?  My mind “hhrrummphhhs” while I mull that thought over, sitting with the unease it brings.  All of the warm, or in this case, cold, fuzzy memories melt away as I stand as a grown-up, with children of my own, in my own home, waiting for my father to reach my door.

I had only recently begun seeing him again, having stopped a few months prior because he’d grown violent with the unlucky woman who then occupied that revolving space in my life called “step-mother”.  I’d even shown up to rescue her a few times, been the go-between, guard, communicator, whatever role I could fill between my father and herself.  My usual caretaking.

At her urging, my current step-mother and I had enrolled in a local support group for women who were being abused.  The support group would have been of more help if she’d actually stayed for the meetings.  She kept ditching them in order to run off and be with my father.  The whole thing had made me throw up my own hands, and succumb to that need inside of me for having a relationship with some sort of father again.  Until now.

Now, I am angry.  Angry about the rank tint that my dad has spread over all of my memories of yesterday.  Angry about his unacceptable actions in the here and now.  I also feel stupid.  Stupid that I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable to him again; that I’ve allowed myself the fantasy that I might just be a normal daughter interacting with a normal grandfather to her normal children.

As my dad approaches the back door, this simmering anger welling up inside of me becomes more keen.  I swallow it back down, hard.  I need to keep the upper hand in this.  I have to keep a clear head.  After all, nothing can be done to change the past. I note how stark the contrast in my feelings toward this man when I compare my naïve youth with what I know of him today!

In my mind, I travel back to that day, years earlier, when I’d stood in my father’s kitchen trying to decide whether or not he should die – by my hand.  I had thought myself the only person in the world capable of killing him for the right reasons.  I could get close enough.  I would be doing it as an act of mercy – for the sake of others, but also for his own.  It must be miserable, I thought, to exist, all broken like that.

I’d turned and walked away from him that day in his kitchen, simply walked away, his calling after me, “What the hell’s the matter with you?” and my ignoring him.  I’d not cut off contact then, and that sin had been one of an even more personal nature than this.  Still….

The door squeaks his entry, bringing me out of my revelry.  I look up at him.  The air is thick with tension.  My tension.  He’s as cool as a cucumber.  “Daddy,” I say, “I don’t know if I want to see you, or not.”

He just looks at me, shocked, as I stand there in my kitchen wielding my broom.

“I can not BELIEVE that you keep doing such horrible things!  I keep giving you chance after chance, because I love you.  I want to be able to see you, have a relationship with you – but you keep doing these things!”

“What?  What in the hell are you a talkin’ ’bout?” he asks, seeming actually confused.

“You had no sooner left my house last time than…. I KNOW, Daddy! I know what you did to my sister, okay?  She called and told me.”

“Why I ain’t even talked to that little bitch.  What was I s’possed to a said?”

“You see!  You see, right there!  Now, why in the world would you call her a ‘bitch’?  You called HER and asked her to give you a blow-job!”  My knuckles are white on the handle of my broom as I channel my energies there.  “As soon as you left here, after just playing with my kids, you call my step-sister and talk dirty to her.  WHY do you do these things?”

I pause in my, now, furious sweeping of the floor and stare into the eyes of my father.  My breath is coming in fast, shallow bursts.

He stands, just looking at me.  As we lock eyes, my mind wanders, pondering the evidence.

My father has never been convicted of molesting a child.  My father has never been convicted of raping a woman.  That doesn’t mean that he’s not guilty of both of these crimes – and more.  Many girls, many times over, have suffered at his hand – and other parts.

From the moment of my parent’s separation, women began to come out of the woodwork to confess abuses.  Their ages didn’t matter, their looks didn’t matter, nor their stations; my father was a consummate user of women, an equal opportunity abuser.

Once things with my mother were finished, my father married often, or simply “took up” with women, gifting me numerous sisters and brothers of the “step” variety.  With the sisters, it was always the same story.  Sooner or later, usually sooner, he’d have them caught somewhere.  It might be in a car while giving a driving lesson.  It might be in a bedroom at night while their mothers were working.  It might be while taking them with him on some work trip or other to the many flea-markets through which he sometimes made his living.

The fact that he never stopped sickens me.  The fact that he has never been charged with any of these crimes never ceases to amaze me.  Somewhere, in my mind, I want to be worth his being better.  I want him to stop, not just for himself, not just for his victims; I, selfishly, want him to stop for ME.  I want a father.  I want a father that I can be proud of.  I want a father who doesn’t hurt people – partly because he knows that his acts will distance him from ME.  I want a father that it is okay to love.

I think it must be like a drug to him.  Some people drink.  Some people gamble.  Some people light a crack pipe.  My father pins some helpless female against a wall.  Or bed.  Or ground.

Once, one of his wives shared a story with me that left me flabbergasted.  She’d been brought to my house and introduced as my new step-mother, and we’d been left alone in order to get acquainted.  The years had not been kind to her.  Her face probably had been attractive in her youth, because she carried herself in a way as if she expected people to find her beautiful, which only made her come across as somewhat sad.  Her grey hair was sprinkled with a faded brown that washed out her deeply lined face around non-descript, brown eyes.  She seemed shy and awkward, there on the sofa in my usually cozy home.

“Uh, oh!” my internal sensors had blinked.  “She’s in for some real trouble!”

“I just love your daddy!” she’d said, in school-girl-crush fashion.  “I’m so glad that I’ve reconnected with him after all of these years!”

“Uh, huh,” I had replied politely, “me too!  I’m happy for you.”  I hadn’t really meant that, and looking back, probably should have said something different.  We women, though, we are really fools when we think we are in love, I felt that it would have been pretty futile to say anything but that.

“You see,” she continued, “your father and I knew each other when we were kids.”

“Uh, huh,” I said again.  “Is that so?”

“As a matter of fact,” and with this, she had struggled from the confines of the plush sofa in order to lean in with the air of one revealing a confidence, “I used to be scared to death of your daddy.”

At this point, my brain and my mouth said very different things.  My brain had said, “Smart woman!”  My mouth actually spat out, “Really?!” my eyebrows raising in feigned surprise.

“You see, your daddy was the first man to ever have sex with me.  When we were little, we used to all play in the woods together, my brothers and sisters and his brothers and sisters.  Your dad used to tease me.  One day, he chased me down into the woods, away from everybody.  He had scared me real bad, so I ran deep into those woods with him right behind me.

“Well, he was a faster runner than me, and he eventually caught up!  He threw me right down on the ground and had sex with me.  He just did it, right there in the woods!  I was screaming, and screaming, but I guess nobody could hear me, or they didn’t care, or thought we were playing.  I had never been with anybody before and I didn’t know what to make of it!  I guess I was about nine and he was ten or eleven years old.  After that, I was always afraid every time I saw him.

“So, you see, I’ve been knowing your daddy for a long time.  Who would have dreamed, back then, that I would grow up, be widowed, and then marry the first man that I ever had sex with?  I think it’s helping me to understand it all, being with him now.  It’s funny how life works out like that.”

“Yes! Yes, it is!” I’d replied.

Funny, alright – but my kind of funny and her kind of funny were completely different kinds of funny.  I couldn’t believe that she’d just dispassionately shared a rape story with me, that she’d fallen in love with and married her rapist.  I sat in the awkward silence that followed her, now, still voice, and prayed that she had no daughters, granddaughters, sisters, nieces, cousins, no female potential victims of any sort, ripe for my father’s pickings.

I always made sure, in dealing with my father, that I told women to stay in the company of others, particularly other males, when he was around.  I had some warped idea that I could, in that manner, keep them safe and still have a relationship with the man, still have him be a part of my life.  But – situations always arose that couldn’t be planned for, and then, my Viper Father would STRIKE!

As we are standing in my kitchen, I’m finding it hard to continue to meet the eyes of the Viper, and tears are beginning to well up in my eyes, as I come to a slow acceptance and realization that I can’t keep women safe from my father.

As if he can read my mind, and see the pictures running through it, my father speaks, interrupting our shared silence.  “I su’pose you’re gonna say I molested you, too.”

“I don’t remember your doing anything to me, Daddy.  I don’t remember anything.”

We stand at a familiar impasse, sizing one another up.  His hands are on his hips and his stance defiant.  My hands are still wrapped around the end of the broom.  I am slightly leaning on it and thankful for it’s solid round of wood in my trembling hands.  It helps to lend a sense of reality for me.

“Shit!” he exclaims at last, throwing his hands into the air, turning and marching out the door.  I watch as his back disappears.  He climbs into his car.  He doesn’t look back.

Loosening my grasp on the broom, I intake a deep breath, and turning back to the mundane tasks of my life, I slowly, determinedly, start to sweep the filth away.

~ ~ With special thanks to the persons within me who have come forward to help me in the telling of this particular tale, for the words here are an amalgamation of several voices, and I’ve not written them alone.

Posted in My Inheritance.

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11 Responses

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  1. Yvonne says

    Powerful stuff, Deneen. It is sad to think no one would have blamed you had you decided to kill the man who fathered you. Since he does not fit my idea of a father, I have difficulty calling him your father. I am sure there is a special place in hell for parents who abuse their children in the manner he did you and others.

  2. Mike Bernier says

    I echo Yvonne’s sentiments exactly. You tell this story very powerfully, but with an eloquence that enhances the emotions surrounding what happened all the more.

    This story reveals your father is little more than an impulsive child who didn’t have a grip on reality. In his mind, the “reality” told him that he was God over all and that women should bow to his wishes. In one very small sense I could actually feel sorry for him, but only for the fact that he missed out on the richness of living that having a truly loving and caring family brings to a man’s life. From what I can tell, that didn’t really exist in his world; in his mind, women only existed to serve him at his every whim. I would be hard pressed to say your father could even be called a real man. Real men respect women for who they are, and don’t treat them as objects that exist purely for their amusement.

    I am very proud of you for having the courage and strength to share this story with the world. I am also very proud for your taking a stand where no one else could, or would. It is unfortunate that your efforts at the time were unable to help the others you loved; perhaps your efforts now will be of help to someone else, be it a relative, a friend, or a total stranger.

    I also pray that you find more peace in your mind as you go through this process. I knew you had traveled down some difficult roads in your life, but I never imagined how difficult they were until you began to share your story. I feel even more honored now to say I know you and to be able to call you a dear friend.

  3. Brenda Williams says

    My dear ,dear Deneen…bravo dear one for making the choice to free your voice and your story. I am sure it will touch many lives. How ironic that just today I penned: “Where do the Predators Hide?” I am cleaning up the rough draft by taking it with me on a writing retreat at the coast. I have a little unfinished business in freeing that piece before I post it. I will post it when I get back and I will let you know. Another ironic confirmation today was when another woman confirmed that her daughter was molested at the hands of a relative. Where does it all stop? That is what my piece will cover on a much larger scale. Your voice is so passionate in this piece…thank you my sistah…I know it wasn’t easy but pieces of yourself are coming home…Welcome back little one.
    Love ya, Brenda Williams-Sacredflower

  4. Deneen Ansley says

    Yvonne – To this day, I struggle with the idea that I have let numerous people down by NOT taking my father out of this world. I felt that I owed it to my children to try and stay out of prison. If not for my children, I know in the depths of soul that I’d have chosen to walk another path.

    One of the things that I try to make sense of when unraveling all of this, is the fact that my father wasn’t born a monster. He became a monster. If we can get to the bottom of how that process occurred, furthermore, if we ever COULD discover how to undo it, or if this proves impossible, to isolate it, taking it out of commission at the source, at least the creation of more victims would STOP.

    This is not an isolated problem. It’s also not a problem that develops in a vacuum. I want to understand the problem, TACKLE it, and deal with it – with eyes WIDE OPEN. If we all can but dare push through and past the pain, and shame, and open our mouths against the silence….

  5. charlene says

    wow Deneen. i’m sitting here, trying to find words for how this piece affects me, and its very difficult. it is very intricate, in the storytelling itself, your life with such a man as your father, and the struggles you talk about within yourself. i loved the beauty in the beggining, i’ve been the child running out into the snow (with bread bags on my feet!) and i smiled all the way through your remembering. but then to read of how hard it was for you to have to deal with being the child of your father, what you suffered watching and knowing others suffered…well, know that my heart hurts for you. i don’t know what it is like to have a father like that, my father was a very good man. but you know i have another parent with ‘issues’. so i do know what it is like to wish for a parent to be proud of, one that it feels good to love. something else we have in common, huh?

    thanks again, brave girl. just keep writing, and i know this helps you heal, as well as others.

  6. Julie Carriker says

    Wow! You tell this very well. I admire your courage in opening all these wounds.

  7. Deneen Ansley says

    Mike – Your kind words are much appreciated, and I also hope that by the telling of my story, I can reach out to and help other women – and men. I also want to heal myself.

    One thing about which I remind myself regarding my father is that he is also a human being who was created by the circumstances that affected him. I’m sure that his being a victim (and I’ll never know to what extent since he never talked about it) set the stage for his victimization of others. As I’ve before said, explaining his behavior doesn’t in any way excuse it. After all, my environment did not make me into a user of people, so I think that our basic makeup also plays a role in what we ultimately become. As a people, we mustn’t underestimate the factors that environment and the lack of emotional support DO play in shaping the adults that we are growing for release upon the larger world.

    I am convinced that only by breaking our silence can we claim our true power to take care of and protect ourselves as a society, that only the unraveling of the “how” can prevent the horrible “becoming” of abusers.

  8. Deneen Ansley says

    Brenda – I’m so blessed that you are sharing this journey with me, and that you are lending your voice in empowering women all over to defend their rights, and the rights of their children to have happy and abuse-free lives. My sistah – we have been given gifts in our ability to take up arms with our stories and our words. May we remain brave enough to wield them forever!

  9. Deneen Ansley says

    Charlene – I’m amazed that you all were wearing bread-bags out in the Midwest! I thought that not only a Southern tradition, but unique to my family. Yes, your life and my life have held many similar parallels – but I am so happy that having an abusive father was not one of them. Sadly, my story echos that of many women, not just across the South, not just across America, but across The World.

    It is a difficult juxtaposition, dealing with the beauty and the horror, all within the same scene; sometimes, within the same being. Such is life as I have known it. I think I’ve got the hang of it now! I guess these writings will bear out in the end if I have…or not!

    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing in my story!

  10. Deneen Ansley says

    Julie – Knowing you to be the great writer that you are, your words of encouragement are always more appreciated than I can properly express! Having people like you in my life, well, that’s why I can afford to be courageous! I’m so good to know that you are here for me, as a colleague – and as a friend.

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