616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Child Abuse, Fatherhood, Forgiveness, Manhood, Maurice Eugene Washington, Maurice Washington, Open Letter, Psychological Scars, Self-Discovery
It’s been a good decade and a half since the last time we had contact. Not that I’ve ever really wanted to. I’ve spent the past twenty-six years of my life undoing most of the damage that you brought to my family, my brother Darren, my younger siblings and me. It’s been a long hard road, and though I know that I’m near the end of my journey in reclaiming myself, past, present and future, I also know I can’t finalize this without speaking my piece and finding it with you in the process.
You see, even though it’s been a good twenty-two and a half years since the last time you put your hands and fists on me in anger, I still bear some of the scars from those episodes of abuse. Some of my dental work, to be sure, is a result of one too many punches to my jaw and a few too many chipped pieces off of my two front upper teeth. A small but thick and dark scar remains on my right hip from the time you literally whipped me when I was twelve. And the constant stress of living in the same apartment with you is likely the single biggest reason for my irritable bowel syndrome.
My psychological scars are even deeper than my physical ones. Even with me forgiving you so long ago for all the horrors that you caused, your face still symbolizes evil in my nightmares. For the first ten years after my mother’s so-called marriage to you ended, I could count on you showing up in my dreams about once every six weeks. It was a brief reminder that no matter how well things might have been going, that I shouldn’t be but so happy, so content, so at peace with myself and my world. Even as a man who’s been married for eight and a half years and has a truly wonderful five-year-old son, I still occasionally have to fight the evil that you represent off in my scariest of dreams.
Yes, I forgave you ages ago, soon after you left 616 for the last time, the summer of ’89. I didn’t forgive you just because the Bible says to do so. I certainly didn’t forgive you because of the rare occasions you might have done something good in our lives. I forgave you because I knew that I couldn’t live my life, that I couldn’t begin trusting others again until I let go of my hatred toward you.
But because of the mind that I’ve been blessed with, I can’t truly forget all that you did. I can’t forget how you allowed me to be mugged by your good-for-nothin’ friends just so that you could “make a man outta me.” I can’t forget how you knocked my mother unconscious in front of me. I can’t forget how I discovered that you were a overeating, womanizing, abusive asshole who used being a Hebrew-Israelite–the most bizarre cult that anyone could possibly join–as an excuse for your misogyny and violence. Despite forgiving you, I still have a part of me that has yet to heal from you snatching my childhood away.
Yet you know what I’ve come to realize? That forgiveness is a choice that I have to make everyday if it’s to mean anything in my life, especially when it comes to you. It’s like being married or being committed to raising your children in the best possible way. It’s a choice that allows me to grow as a person, as a husband and as a father. It’s a choice I simply cannot afford to ignore.
And in the past two decades, as I’ve continued to make the hard choice to stand in forgiveness, I find myself feeling sorry for you. Not so much because of what made you who you were back then. More because you have numerous opportunities to make the right choices in life for yourself, your children, and for my mother, and chose instead to make the wrong ones. There are many things in life that aren’t black and white, but most of your choices were, and yet you still chose evil over good. The single worst choice you made in life was to delude yourself and attempt to delude us by believing that becoming part of a wacky Afrocentric Judaism would make you a better person, a benevolent father, a beneficial husband.
By not getting to the root of your issues, your emptiness, your contempt for yourself, your fear of the world outside of your definition of the so-called streets (as if Mount Vernon was South Central LA), you came to us in the spring of ’81 to start a wave of terror that could only end with me leaving for Pittsburgh and my mother finally standing up to you six and eight years later.
For me, the cruelest irony about those years was that my alcoholic father and my late eccentric AP History teacher Harold Meltzer served as better role models for manhood and human hood than you did as a sober kufi-wearing and Torah-quoting descendant of Abraham. Yet you spent as much time as you could telling us how to be men, even though you didn’t know how to be one yourself. From what my younger siblings have told me over the years, you’re still searching for an identity as if you can go to Madison Avenue and West 47th and buy it as the latest and coolest fashion. Luckily, I did learn quite a bit about what not to do with kids from your example. Maybe that’s a part of the reason why Noah’s thriving as much as he is.
So my plan from here on out is this. Just because I find myself liking something that you may like or might have liked in the past does not mean I should automatically hate it myself. I’ve picked up a new appreciation for martial arts in no small part because of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Just because you used your fourth-degree black belt in Isshin-ryu karate to knock out my mother and put a knot on my forehead doesn’t mean I should shun the idea of spiritual balance and finding peace within myself.
Just as I need to rededicate myself to forgiveness in order to save myself from time to time, I also need to continued to resolve to both be at peace and enjoy life. All without the gnawing sense that something or someone will betray me and take those things away from me. So, for this piece of hard-earned wisdom, if nothing else, I thank you.