616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Criticisms, Judah ben Israel, Maurice Eugene Washington, Personal Attacks, Public Criticism, Silence, Writing
For the past eleven years, I’ve worked on this blog (albeit, not so much the past couple of years) to talk about my past and how it made me, well me, warts, lesions, and all. That has meant putting as many aspects of my upbringing under an electron microscope as I could bear. Everything from physical and sexual assault to ostracism and bullying. It has meant looking at my friends, acquaintances, enemies, classmates, my mother, father, idiot ex-stepfather, my older brother, and my younger siblings and trying to understand them. Most important, it has meant me constantly interrogating myself, my motivations, my challenges, my -isms, and my other bullshit. I’ve taken nothing for granted since my first post in June 2007, and for as long as I continue to blog and write, I hope that this attitude remains.
But since my blog’s second month, one group of people have consistently poo-pooed my blog and the experiences I’ve talked about here. Mount Vernonites, especially the ones who saw me, but from a distance, during my Boy @ The Window years. Not necessarily my immediate classmates or family (although I know a couple of siblings have had issues with a post here or there). Mostly, it’s been folks who grew up around me, ones who obviously saw me as strange, and used that as an excuse for never attempting to get to know me.
I accepted long ago that this group of Mount Vernonites would be a group I could never placate. But it’s been surprising over the past eleven years how so many have come out of the woodwork to complain about me publicly airing my experiences. About two-dozen in all have found fault with my blog. Their complaints have come in several forms:
1. “Mount Vernon’s a great city with a rich history — how dare YOU (of all people) ever type a word that shows us in a negative light!”
2. “You should never say anything bad about [so-and-so]. He/she was a great person to me — how dare you!”
3. “Donald, it wasn’t that bad. You wouldn’t be the person you are today without Mount Vernon and Denzel Washington.”
4. “You have no right to talk about [x-person]! You should never say anything in public about your experiences with them!”
As I noted in talking about my blog’s tenth anniversary last June, the first missive I ever received was from someone about how I “deserved” my stepfather beating me up. Given the specificity with which the person spoke about my “defiance,” it was likely my late ex-stepfather Maurice responding to my first post about his abuse of me. Too bad I never saved that comment!
This week I received a new comment on an eight-year-old blog post about the man from one of his other kids (from one of his other unions). I won’t post the comment, because her complaint doesn’t really deserve a full airing. “What ever you have with my father should be kept private…No one should be exploited like this. It’s unethical and childish. Seek therapy and consult God for your pain and issues,” she wrote. I guess she doesn’t get that I mostly write non-fiction. At 48, I’m also too old to be told what to do by someone who’s a stranger to me.
But that’s not my main point here. Silence kills people from the inside out, often long before the blood stops pumping through our veins. Bringing abuse to the light of day isn’t exploitation, it’s necessary. Especially if it helps us move on. If a writer like me cannot be honest about the people who were in my life growing up, why bother writing at all?
For the Mount Vernonites who’ve expressed their issues with my blog, let me say this one last time. This blog has never been for you. In so many ways, this blog hasn’t been for me, either. It hasn’t been cathartic, nor has it helped me exact revenge or a pound of righteous vindication. It’s been about the hundreds of comments and emails I’ve received over the years from people I don’t know and will likely never meet. The ones who’ve had similar experiences with abuse, poverty, systemic racism, not fitting in, graduate school, their parents, and in their marriages and parenting. The kids who decided to give college another try. The adults who’ve found their way to a career, or who’ve worked out some problem in their life. The ones who’ve occasionally found their way to God, or conversely, decided that God wasn’t for them.
After nearly 300,000 views and 970 posts, I’m secure in the fact that whatever I’ve said here over the years, my words have done far more good than harm. Or, at least, they have made folks think about a variety of issues differently than they would have otherwise.
It would be all too easy for me to wish that life at 616, in Mount Vernon, and in New York had treated me much more gently between 1969 and 1989. But it didn’t. It would’ve been easier to write everything I’ve typed here over the years as mystery novels or horror graphic novels. But that’s not me (at least, not yet). I don’t regret a single word. On the other hand, I do regret my dropped words (and dropped “s”s) and other grammatical errors.