Written by Rosie Aspinall Priest.
Last Saturday my partner received a call from my mother, my dad had died.
We were sitting in a hotel lobby waiting to go to one of my dearest friend’s weddings, and I took the initial squeeze of my heart and flush of anger that made my whole body shake and put them into a mental box to be opened in the future.
Let’s open that box right now together.
On Wednesday I was frantically calling cemeteries in the county where my dad lived to find out if they had anyone being cremated by his name on their registers. I needed to know, really truly know, that the monster that stalked my childhood, who lingers in the depths of my consciousness and pulls the dark strings of my mental health, was truly dead.
I unblocked his facebook account and found no evidence, looked through obituaries and local newspapers, I checked his facebook ‘friends’ (all 35 of them) for any news at all, I found his phone number and called it, sweating at the thought of hearing his voice. Nothing. I could not help but ponder on whether this was all an elaborate scam. He’d been diagnosed with illnesses of all kinds over the years, all of which were just facades for emotional and financial support. He took everything he could from anyone he could, by any means necessary.
This was until yesterday, his death certificate arrived as requested from the local city council.
I thought I’d feel differently. Relief perhaps, a full stop at the end of a story that has been going on for too long. Celebration even? The man who abused me as a child is dead and I am left with a vast emptiness punctuated with hot eruptions of anger and shame.
The man who abused me as a child is dead and I am left with a vast emptiness punctuated with hot eruptions of anger and shame.
I had a recurring dream again last night. My father approaches me on the stairs of my childhood home. Typically in these dreams I cannot remember what his face looks like so sometimes he has the face of George Clooney, Tony Blair, a generic man of a similar age, but on this occasion I could see his face, my father’s face, accurately. I had obviously shaken loose the memories that had been buried over decades of estrangement whilst searching for proof of his death, and his face was clear as a picture to me. As my father approaches me, I reach forward and a knife slips from my hand between his ribs, he falls down the stairs. The stairs where so many awful terrible acts had taken place when I was a child. I drag his body into the garden and set it alight. I gather his blackened bones and throw them into the earth.
I dream like this at least every month. This time seeing his face clearly I realise what is left. Anger that he never faced any repercussions for the torture he inflicted, shame at what I experienced, at how his actions to me as a child have reverberated throughout my life, and disgust at seeing his nose on my face every time I look in the mirror. I’m left with the unresolved mess he created over two decades ago.
A lot of the anger I feel now is the lack of agency I have had in telling my own story. In not telling the story of the man who would crush me under his weight, separated by just a duvet late at night with his stinking breath of whisky and weed. In saying how the only way he could control me was through perverse and disgusting acts, as I wouldn’t stay quiet like my sister and mother. I would kick, scream, bite and punch my way through a night until he discovered the only thing that made me frightened. And it’s now, 20 years since I last saw his face in the flesh that I have discovered the ability to share these things. In his death I am left with the responsibility of telling this dark and perverse story over and over in the hope that it will give me some agency, some semblance of power, some form of a knife stabbing between his ribs.
I am angry every day now, I can’t sleep from anger, breathe from anger, think from anger. What a shitty inheritance. Anger.
One crematorium I rang told me they don’t share the names of everyone being cremated, only those that are having some sort of service. She calls it a “pure cremation”. I laugh on the phone as I thought she said “poor” and say that’s not an appropriate term to use. Her broad Birmingham accent had confused me. But in that strange encounter I briefly gained more strength than I have from most therapy sessions: my father’s body was burned alone, no one stood in service and grieved, his last moments of human flesh are unloved and uncared for.
But as it turns out, that wasn’t the fate of his body: I found his cousin on the death certificate, and wrote looking for details. They played music at the crematorium, and when I read that I couldn’t breathe. They put pictures of him and my family on the coffin, and I feel a fury I didn’t know could be contained in one person. I am angry every day now, I can’t sleep from anger, breathe from anger, think from anger. What a shitty inheritance. Anger.
All that I have is the hope that in his last moments on this earth he was frightened and struggling to breathe. Just like me at fourteen years old.
About the Author
Rosie Aspinall Priest is a queer and neurodivergent interdisciplinary artist, writer and PhD researcher based in Scotland. Their work predominantly explores the experiences of underrepresented young people, and attempts to bring about positive change within the arts.
Follow on IG: @rosie.a.beast |