TW: description of gruesome death, addiction, gender-based violence and abuse
On the 28th of December, 2019, I walked into my father’s home and found him face down on the floor. His neck was visibly stiff, turned to the side, and fluids dripped from and lay drying on his mouth.
There was no sense of urgency in my body—no screams let out; no ambulances called; no panic that set in. The inevitable had come to pass, though under rather unfortunate circumstances.
I had just turned 19 at the time and had spent a few years prior to the aforementioned event, actively distancing myself from my abusive father. The only reason I was in his house, under his roof was a favour to my trauma-bonded mother who for the first time in years, had taken a well-deserved break to attend a function at her natal home.
The notion of wifehood and motherhood—its associations with caregiving and sacrifice—are so deeply ingrained in our culture, that even after multiple violent and graphic separations, two decades worth of humiliation, fear, uncertainty, and terror, my mother still felt an obligation, or rather the need, to look after and finance my father, and by extension, his relationship with alcohol. Hesitant to take the short trip, she was afraid something might happen in her absence—and her worst fears came true.
She loved him, or perhaps an idea or part of him that she held onto. She delivered him home-cooked meals (god-forbid he learned how to cook for himself) and had her evening cup of chai with him. Apart from a few glimpses that surfaced of him from time to time, the intelligent, well-groomed, well-spoken individual no longer existed. They had been replaced by an abusive man that I had for a father growing up, someone who spent their days passively drinking away their sorrows.
It’s funny to me now—the many attributes that bubble up when men are held responsible for their actions. Be it a minor or someone who has already climbed up the ladder of adulthood, the apparatuses of the state and society work hand in hand to ensure men are not robbed of their power and their futures.
The intelligent abuser, who is awife & child-beater.
The charismatic actor who raped his co-star.
The athletically talented rapist, too young to be ruined by the consequences of his misdemeanor.
The academically gifted scholar who simply drugged his classmate.
Just the potential of men being productive members of society is enough to keep them away from consequences. What about the potential of their victims? Are we not robbed of our futures and the right to a dignified life?
By 2017, I had ceased all communication with my father. I could no longer find the energy to pick up the broken pieces my parents had sowed. I worked hard to remove myself from the equation, sought a parental estrangement of sorts, only to be dragged back in two years later.
After multiple pleas from my mother, I agreed to accompany her on a visit. My father had started to drink throughout the day; the blood in his body had turned into water, his liver was on its last run.
I suppose that by being estranged from my parents and removing any expectations I had from them, coupled with the feminist lens I was actively trying to put on and learn from, allowed me to observe my parents in isolation. That year I really saw my father—just how broken, empty, and self-hating he was. I saw that he had been struggling with mental illness for years. He was an abuser who didn’t know how to stop or even acknowledge that he needed help.
The world has just started to live in isolation; my father had been living in it for almost a decade. He spent his days alone in a three-bedroom home, drinking his regrets and cementing himself in the memories of me that he cherished. I couldn’t find myself feeling rage for the person I saw then–someone who is too inebriated to tell the difference between the drawing-room table and the toilet seat.
I had no pity for him either. It was clear to me that he was set to leave us soon, and I just wanted the entire affair to be done with. When the day did arrive, I didn’t experience relief as I had hoped, but a feeling of emptiness that I now call home.
It gets harder to hate and blame people and situations as one grows up. At least, that is the case when you make an attempt to introspect and understand the layers of misplaced trauma in those around you in order to pull yourself of it it.
As a little kid, who just needed to be held, loved, and guided, who was deprived of a safe childhood, I wish I never saw him like that. I wish I never understood. I wish I raged on unbothered with resentment, instead of finding myself unable to breathe 2 years later on the day of his death. For how do we grieve the loss of someone we wished, even dreamed, dead, for the entirety of our lives? How do we grieve someone, something, we never had? While one is supposed to get guidance and protection from a father figure, I got a bag of addictive, abusive, impulsive tendencies, which I’m still trying to get rid of, handed down to me.
There is no time limit set on grief, if grief is really what this is. There exists no expiration date–no emotional roadmap to get over the loss of someone who was an extreme source of trauma and pain.
The ambulance finally did arrive and the driver confirmed what my neighbours were in denial of—my father had been dead for a few hours. When we tried to move him and lay him on his back, a pungent smell filled the room and I found myself chuckling.
I guess it’s only poetic that even in death, he took a shit on the people trying to help him.
Perhaps I’m grieving the fact I never will get closure. No answers as to why he kept on doing the damage he did despite hating himself for it. Perhaps I grieve not for him but for myself, and the stability and safety I missed out on. The grief is intertwined with my own self, the kind which can never really go away–but one that pulls you in and drowns, or one that pushes you to shore, depending on the day.
Most of all, I think I still grieve for the structures that produce and normalize these abusive behaviors. I grieve for the gendered expectations and norms that made my father an emotionally stunted person and forced my mother into a readiness to accept his abuse. I grieve for a culture that simply cares about capital and the picture-perfect family, while invisiblizing mental illness.
I grieve for this supposed ‘normal’, kept in place by a range of subtle and violent apparatuses; the tools that uphold hierarchies of class, caste, and sex. I see how it has been internalized, far from any state of equilibrium or ‘normalcy’; painfully constructed.
My queerness stems not from desire or love, but from a need to dismantle heteronormative roles which lead to violence when unfulfilled. It stems from the fact that the only future imaginable for kids like me is one that has rid itself of binaries—where expectations and consequences are genderless—where abusers are held accountable and survivors are treated with support, not shame. I stand for a queer planet, where one brings life into the world solely when one is equipped to take care of it.
But here I am, 2 years later, highly dysfunctional, dependant, and fucked in my own right, mourning the death of someone I wished dead for the majority of my life, carrying a burden that was never mine to carry.