The earliest memories I have of my father are of him yelling at me and hitting me.
The lesson I refused to learn as a child was “keep quiet, stay out of his way, don’t say anything to piss him off.” My siblings, who were close enough to each other in age to grow up with each other’s support, evidently were able to manage this to some extent. I, on my own with only an elderly mother, a sister who despised me, and a rebellious spirit, somehow couldn’t grasp this.
I was aware, from a very early age, that the things my father was doing were wrong, that other kids didn’t have to put up with this crap, and that it wasn’t fair. Why should I have to sneak around just because I made friends with the black kid down the street? Why did I deserve to get beaten for greeting the Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on our door? “It’s not fair,” I growled into the mattress over and over at night.
Fairness can be a terrible thing to teach children. Play fair, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, turn the other cheek, don’t cheat, don’t bully the younger kids. Sure, great advice, but the moment when you begin to realize that those rules don’t apply to everybody else is a moment of impotent rage when you’re a kid. And if you weren’t taught how to deal with the unfairness of the world at the same time you were taught to be fair, well, that snotty little “Who told you life was going to be fair?” crack that people can’t seem to help making, it’s like spittle in your face.
The fact that my father was allowed to get away with the things he did to me only fueled my percolating bitterness. It was years before I was able to separate the notions of simple unfairness and outright injustice, and sometimes the line is still hopelessly blurred for me.
I remain baffled, to this day, as to why my brothers and sisters never made any attempt to shield me from what they knew I would grow up with. Presumably, having survived and successfully escaped, they assumed that I would too, without doing the math and taking into account the fact that I was alone, whereas they’d had each other. When I finally went to the police at the age of sixteen, they resented me for the embarrassment, for my failure to just grit my teeth, keep quiet, and accept the unfairness of it all until I could move out. I’m still not sure whether their rejection of me was unjust or simply unfair.