He woke up suddenly, eyes snapping open, fluttering around frantically for a moment. His panting returned to steady, even breaths as he realized he was no longer in the dream. The room was still very dark; his alarm would not sound off for several more hours, so he might as well try to go back to sleep. He rolled over and realized he had sweat through the sheets. Dammit, he thought, not again. I just ran these through the wash two days ago.
He stared at the wall, the visions from his dream replaying themselves in his mind. To tell the truth, it was less of a dream and more of a memory…or a series of memories all slammed together.
He was just a child when it all happened, far from able to defend himself from your attacks. All the bruises you made him cover up, and the cuts and welts he had to lie about, all the scars that would never go away. What the hell was wrong with you.
His whole life since then, he’s had to live with this…thing, growing and living inside him. It’s not quite fear, and can’t really be called hate. There’s no naming it, no label to be slapped on it. It’s just this underlying darkness that shades everything about him, from his happiest moments to his quiet nothings. It’s like a faraway storm cloud, casting a deep shadow on the landscape below, but not close enough anymore to rain heavy upon him.
He rubbed his aching shoulder. He told people it was an old sports injury, but he never really played any sports. The truth was much more sinister. The fact of the matter was you threw him so hard against the wall that you dislocated his shoulder. Twice. And now, on top of an injury that refused to heal properly, even after all these years, he had to carry around the hidden shame that the one who was supposed to protect him from the dangers of the world was the greatest danger he had ever faced.
His mind had settled in this dark space, and in the safety of his quiet room, in the middle of the night, he let himself relive those memories. He walked himself through every painful second of that time you slammed his head against the sink, over and over and over again, remembering how he only wished he would pass out one of these times so that he could escape, even for a moment.
Or the time you threw him across the room into the dresser, where he gashed his head open. He remembered with a soft, bitter laugh what you said when you saw the wound. “Shit, boy, don’t you DARE bleed on this white carpet. I’ll make you REALLY bleed then.”
There was the time you knocked him down on his face and sat on his back, grabbed his chin, and tried to snap his neck. You would have killed him if someone hadn’t rang the doorbell.
Or when you beat him so bad with that aluminum bat that he couldn’t walk for two weeks. And when he finally could walk, you went at him again because you thought he was faking.
Or the time you woke him up in the middle of the night and beat his face in because of something that happened in your dreams.
Or when…god, the list just goes on. And every time, you said the same thing: “Be grateful I don’t give you what you deserve.” Jesus, some of the shit you pulled would have been considered cruel and unusual by Saddam Hussein. How on earth did a little boy deserve anything like this? What could he have possibly done?
A lot of years have come and gone since all of that happened. The scars and the aches have become a part of who he is. You accidentally made him strong by trying to tear him down. You tried so hard to destroy him, and now…now, nothing ever could. The pain of it all has mostly faded, but there is one thing that still infuriates him; you tell people how great you are, saying how you raised a good man. You ain’t done shit. He raised himself. He decided a long time ago that he was going to be nothing like you. He wasn’t going to become any of the things you said he would be. He set out to prove you wrong, to make something of himself. And here we are, he’s somehow turned into a functional human being, and you’re standing there trying to take all the credit. Why do you think he wants nothing to do with you?
When was the last time you talked to him? When was the last time you asked how he was doing, or came to see him? You know the only time you ever call is when you need something from him, and it’s a god damned miracle that he even picks up the phone, let alone gives you what you want. You literally haunt his dreams, and you broke his body more times than anyone would be willing to count, but when you call, he’s enough of a man to help out when you’re in need.
You refuse to acknowledge any of it. You pretend like it never happened. You sit in your church pew, whispering about all the sins of the people around you, and you’re the biggest hypocrite of them all. You’re disgusting.
It was embarrassing enough that it happened, but what made it worse was there wasn’t even an excuse for it. It would have been so much better if you were simply an angry alcoholic. But no, instead, you were just…cruel. Violent and sober, terrifying and terrible.
But enough of that. The hate, the resentment, they aren’t who he is anymore. He let it all go. He’ll never forget; to forget that would be to forget who he is, to lose so much of the strength he has built up. Perhaps, in a sick way, he should thank you. Thank you for the broken bones, the isolation, and the shame. Because overcoming all of it made him damn near indestructible. It made him sympathetic to the plights of others. It made him find his own way, and in doing so, he gained a lot of wisdom and experience in a short time.
You don’t deserve it, but thank you for the sleepless nights like this. Thank you for the nights I wake up screaming, for the flashbacks, for the vivid memories that will never go away and never leave me alone. Not because they “built character.” No, from the burning wreckage you left in that basement all those years ago, I built a man. So suck on that.