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Revenge: A Dish Best Served Cold

A Personal Story

Copyright © 1994, 1997 by Scott Abraham


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Revenge is a dish best served cold.
          Sicilian proverb.

A good man leans his weight upon my back, breathes in my ear, wraps his arm in affection high on my chest, near my neck. He means well, and whispers words of healing neither he or I had ever heard said to us. "I'm glad you're here, son. I'm glad you're a boy."

His arm is too tight across my throat. His raspy breath is eerily familiar. I feel a cold splash of memory returning, like the first leaks in a crumbling dike presage the loosing of pent-up waters.

I break the circle of men and leave the gathering to stand alone in a dandelion meadow high up under the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. I pry my fingers from the holes in the patchwork barrier I built when I was seven. I built well. I contained this sewage for thirty four years.

Baby Scott

Scott, brother as tykes

Memory floods and overwhelms me, rushing me back to a bedroom of a tenement on the South Side of Chicago.

This time, my vantage point is not perched safely in a corner, watching a boy who looks like me being raped. I am in my body. My father's arm is tight across my throat, arching my back. He is exhaling hard, in rhythm, as he shows me why he is glad I am his son.

Twenty years since I found his body, dead by his own hand. I rage that he is not alive today, so I could strangle him with my own hands.

I hunger for a dish of vengeance, a repast of revenge. Cold around the edges. Hot as molten lead at the core.

Let us make medicine of our great revenge, To cure this deadly grief.
Shakespeare, Macbeth

My predatory, molesting grandmother died in her sleep.

The neighbor lady, at 32, seduced me at 14. Two months later, she ate a .22.

The coach who groomed me drowned in alcohol.

The apostate priest who raped me now lives down south, troubled only by the knowledge that his secret is broken.

My mother, the vilest of them all, lives a mile from me. She shares a dilapidated apartment with my brother. He is forty years old, and still lives with her. He has never married. She has never remarried. No need to. She raised her sons to be her husbands.

None of these baby-raping monsters will ever spend a day behind bars. None will pay a penny of recompense. None will know the thump of my fist, the crack of my boot. I grew to be as huge to them as they were to me. Vengeance is within my power.

Relief for my parched sense of righteousness is only a short walk down the hill from my home.

My mother lives, and she does not live behind bars.

She lives, and continues to feed off my brother, not bread and water.

She lives.

I have not been avenged.

I shall never be avenged.

Vengeance is the Lord's.....I hope.

But it is my experience that He leaves justice to mere mortals, and His servants have done a lousy job.

Wretch! whom no sense of wrongs can rouse to vengeance; Sordid, unfeeling, reprobate, degraded, Spiritless outcast!
George Canning

My heroes have always been vigilantes.

Movie heroes like Bronson in "Death Wish", Eastwood as "Dirty Harry", Brando the "Godfather": men who enforced their own brand of justice; men who ignored the niceties of the law when statute conflicted with reality; men who did not let others do their dirty work for them; men of respect. Men who respected themselves.

I never thought to question why I identified with the screen images. I was not driven to insight as I lived the anguish of Shakespeare's tragic characters. I didn't try to understand why an Irish boy was compelled to immerse himself in the medieval morality of Sicilian culture with its insistence that a man must revenge himself. I didn't know why simple folk sayings returned to awareness unbidden: like the reverberation of a village church bell marking the passing of time, such thoughts became a part of the background noise of life.

For some reason, I coveted a lupara, the farmer's shotgun with a bell shaped muzzle that spread the lead pellets in a wide pattern: it is a ridiculously ineffecient weapon, but it is the traditional tool of revenge in those dry and barren hills.

Until I began to remember, I simply enjoyed. I did not remember the heinous crimes committed on the boy I once was.

When I remembered, I began to understand why timeless tales of the essential human need for revenge held such bloody fascination for me. I understood why I wanted to be like Clint and Charles and Marlon, why I craved a family that stalked their enemies at midnight to right grievous wrongs, why my heroes have always been vigilantes.

To have my vengeance, I would have to become a vigilante, for society and the law would not give me justice. Like my heroes, I had a choice: to allow vile crimes to go unpunished, or to mete out simple judgement myself.

For hardwired into my soul is the archaic codes of the warrior: a real man does not complain about a grievance or whine to the law. A man righted his own wrongs, or he wasn't a man.

Even so my bloody thoughts, with violent pace, Shall ne'er look back, ne'er ebb to humble love, till that a capable and wide revenge swallow them up
Shakespeare, Othello

Children hang off me as if I was a jungle gym. They laugh and giggle, Lilliputians who would fell a friendly Gulliver in the safety of the yard of their home.

The birthday boy, proud of being seven, triumphantly sits on my chest, his friends pinning my arms and legs, and feeds me, his captive, a slice of his cake. He smears the cherry frosting around my mouth as he had on his own face, and as I gaze at the mask of red laughter, another memory returns unbidden.

I cannot escape to greet my past alone, not without cheating the children of their triumph. So with the smell of fresh mown grass, the giggles of joy, the weight of children upon me, I welcome the ghost of another seven year old boy to the safety I provide. He wants to finish a story. His name is Scotty. We know how the story started, and we know the middle. He's taken a year to tell the tale. He's always known the end, and it is time for him to share it with the man he will become.

A year ago as I mark time, a seven year old boy stood between a grown woman's open, naked thighs. Four months later, hands jammed his head into the place that gave me birth. Six months ago, I heard my mother's voice cursing "This is what your father should be doing" as she shuddered in orgasm.

I hold my smile, so these innocent children do not know I have left them. With a backdrop of clear blue sky rather than peeling paint, the birthday boy's face becomes Scotty's, the smile a rictus of terror, as I gaze in the bathroom mirror of the slum apartment that was my home. It is not cherry frosting that drips from my cheeks.

It is my mother's blood.

Thirty three years later, I scrub the stain again. It seems indelible, like a tattoo. I wonder if I shall ever feel clean.

If you prick us, do we not bleed?....If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

I still want them dead.

I'd be willing to compromise. Ten years in the penitentiary, with murderers and drug dealers for company. There is a rough form of honor among thieves. Baby rapers are loathed by inmates, and suffer a modern form of ancient retribution, meted out not by the courts, but by men.

An eye for an eye and a rape for a rape.

Simple justice.

There are still times that I'd prefer to kill them myself.

With my own hands. Gun. Knife. Rocket launcher. Acid. Noose.

The fantasies are vivid and welcome, but fantasies they shall remain.

I shall not kill them. There will be no justice for me. My rapists shall never be punished by man, or by this man.

The urge is powerful. A real man doesn't get mad. He gets even.

I won't get even. I won't even try, and I'm still mad.

Whoever said that living well was the best revenge never watched his rapist walk free.

I live well today.

It is not good enough, and it has to be good enough.

But it is not what I thirst for. It is not vengeance.

All the while thou studiest revenge, thou art tearing thy own wound open.
Thomas Fuller

The courts offer scant recourse for survivors who, like me, repressed their memories for years or decades..

Due to a recent change in the law in my new home state of Washington, I have a few months left (there is a three year stature of limitations after the return of memory) to decide whether to sue my mother. I could immerse myself for years in a tangle of torts, a morass of depositions. I could expose her to the examination of a competent shrink. I could confront her from the witness stand, and detail her vileness in open court with clinical detachment, while she was forced to listen.

Chances are I would win-after all, in his attempt to defend her, my brother would be my best witness-but then what?

I'd have a piece of paper that confirms I was abused. I know I was abused, and I do not need the court's judgement to believe my memories. I'd have a judgement I couldn't collect. The award would probably be in the range of twenty to fifty thousand dollars, but mother has no money, not even enough to cover the paltry settlement I would receive. I would have to pay the butcher's bill, then hound her for what remains of her vile life to squeeze a small portion of the blood gelt she owes me.

I'm tempted. Torment her with garnishments rather than the leather straps she used on me. Trouble her dreams with fears of poverty: though not as painful as the awareness of impending rape I carried, I would have watered-down version of the red wine of revenge. Perhaps it would be enough to take the edge off my thirst, but it could never be enough to satisfy.

For the courts and the legislatures will never give me a measure of criminal justice. A rational voice reminds me that the only evidence is my word and my life, that there are no physical scars, that any attempt to create a body of law that could enable such a complex prosecution would be impossible: the statutes of limitation describe far more than the passage of time. A newer voice, that of a healthy man, reminds me that I have disowned my family of birth to create a family of choice. An ancestral voice reminds me of revenge and demands justice from her and the society that claims to protect its children.

Yet if I wish to reject the legacy I inherited, can I act in the traditions of my forebears and manage to separate myself from those generations of rage?

If I consume myself questing for revenge upon my mother-as my mother took revenge upon me for the crimes committed against her-am I not like them?

Revenge is a season in hell.
Old Sicilian proverb

She cowers before me. No where to run, no where to hide. She still tries.

She denies. She blames. She attacks. She whines the perpetrator's song.

I now know I shall never hear her admit to her crimes. She will never say she is sorry.

My fingers bend into claws, my nails into talons. I could rip her heart out, and she could not stop me any more than I could stop her when she crawled into my narrow bed.

I am no longer a defenseless little boy; I am a man, six and a half muscular feet of righteous rage.

Vengeance doesn't seem worth the cost.

She isn't worth it.

If her blood is to be spilled in retribution, hands other than mine will tear out her throat.

It is time to go forever.

I pause at the door. I no longer believe in heaven or hell, divine justice or retribution, but for a moment I allow myself to hope, and speak the last words I will ever speak to my mother.

"Burn in hell, bitch."

To refrain from imitation is the best revenge. Marcus Aurelius

Happiness is the best revenge

I do not wish to be like my parents, and their parents, and their parents. I do not want the sins of the fathers and mothers to be visited on any more generations.

Never again. It stops here, it stops now, with me.

If I seek vengeance, I remain a part of the family I have disowned. If I spill their blood, I will still be of their blood.

What stays my hand is not forgiveness. I doubt that I shall ever completely forgive. I don't need to, nor do I think I have to. The crimes committed against me do not deserve or demand forgiveness-they demand eternal condemnation.

I have not been gifted with saintly compassion or humility-I could in good conscience and moral certainty assume the roles of judge, jury, and executioner-for my verdict is in. Guilty as charged.

Nor is it a spiritual awakening or a miraculous enlightenment, that commutes the sentence I would like to impose.

It is enlightened self interest.

I do not wish to carry the burden of guilt, the albatross of knowledge, that the revenge I envision would inevitably yoke about my soul.

I am not like them. I do not want to be like them. Therefore, I cannot avenge myself on them, or anyone else.

I've made my choice.

I rarely feel the blood lust today, and the righteous rage that once threatened to engulf me has burned down to coals. I still feel the heat, but I no longer stoke the fire.

To contemplate revenge keeps my own wounds green.

I shall not avenge myself.

I desire a life as free of the fetters of the past as possible, and I am the only human being on the planet who can strike off these chains.

Doggie and Scott

If I am to heal, I must walk away, in full knowledge of my choice. To walk away from them, I must allow them to walk away from me.

Where they go and what they do matters little-finding my own path is all that is necessary.

I'm walking.

With each step, I choose to heal.

Related stories:


Take Care of Your Mother - Or Else, by Scott Abraham.

Be Gone!, by Scott Abraham.

Survival and Living, by Scott Abraham

My Story, by an anonymous author

"False" Memories, Repressed Memories, by Scott Abraham.

Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse: Book Reviews, by Scott Abraham.

Yes, Women Do Abuse, by Scott Abraham

John Lee on Anger, an interview with John Lee

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