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Revenge is a dish best served cold.
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.
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
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.
My predatory, molesting grandmother died in her sleep.
The neighbor lady, at 32, seduced me at 14. Two months later, she ate
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.
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Revenge is a season in hell.
Old Sicilian proverb
She cowers before me. No where to run, no where to hide. She still
She denies. She blames. She attacks. She whines the perpetrator's
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.
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.
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.
With each step, I choose to heal.
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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