top of page

There’s Always Hope

By Faith Ho Russell

For as long as I can remember, I have waged war against my father. He is an erratic force that I cannot predict, and whose power I cannot control. From when I was born, my enemy began weakening me. At the time I was perfectly susceptible. Because of that, I am forever disadvantaged. My father had a perfectly curated mix of affection and cruelty. He had a way of terrifying me to my very core and hurting me like no one else could. He also, however, made me feel like the most special and loved girl in the world. Because of that, my soul held onto him even if my head told me to let go. I walked up the stairs at the summoning of my dad to see him pacing back and forth at the foot of his bed. My heart began pounding, and as soon as he saw me at the top of the flight, his angry eyes locked on me. He started towards me. “Why did you tell your sister I hurt you last night?” My father demanded. “Because you did...” I made a concerted effort to keep my tone as calm as possible. His face contorted angrily at this. “No, I didn’t!” “Yes, you did...” I insisted, weakly. My will to defend myself had already faltered. I looked past my dad in the doorframe, to see my mother sitting in their bed behind him. She had a blank stare, and if there was any expression, it read unimpressed by the situation. My blood boiled, because she was there the night before. She had seen him choke me, and chose to do nothing, once again. “If I did, maybe I just put my hands on your neck a little, I didn’t hurt you or nothing...” He said, barely leaving space between his words. I was 13 years old at the time of this incident. I was not a bad child. I never did anything to deserve such hatred, and violence. In this war, my dad had forged alliances already. With my mother, who couldn’t be bothered to defend me for reasons my younger self couldn’t fathom, and with my sisters, who believed me a liar because he would never let me tarnish his reputation with the truth. And why would they turn their backs on, or come to question him, after all? He was the one who provided for all of us. He was the one to be the most grateful for, as my mother did not work, and he made such grandiose gestures, as well, to keep up appearances. There was only one other person who knew the truth about my father. It was the middle of a cold winter in California. I was 15, now, and I took refuge for the season in the home of my only ally. Grandma. However I, of course, did not make it to this destination without a fight. The highway was windy, and it had snow that was recently plowed on either side. My father navigated through it carefully. I was in the backseat behind him, and I could see in the rear view mirror that his facial expression was tense. “I don’t understand why you don’t want to spend the holidays with your family.” My father said.

“This is a good thing for her. Maybe she can learn a few things about how to behave properly–the same manners we were raised with.” My mom chimed in. “Right, because that’s her intention.” He snidely remarked. I felt bold that day–I was about to be dropped off at my grandma’s house, and escape them for at least two weeks. I was praying for another set of snow days so I wouldn’t have to go to school–or back home. I was also still young enough to think there was a chance at changing them, or a point in trying. “Have you ever thought maybe the reason why I don’t want to spend time with you guys is because you’ve done wrong to me?” “Done wrong?” He began muttering under his breath in disbelief. “What was wrong about the way we parented you? Was it all the vacations? Or the electronics?” “I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the fact that you get so angry and scream at me or hurt me over every little thing.” “Every little thing? There’s nothing minor about how ungrateful, how disrespectful you are. And hurt you? You’ve always been so exaggerative.” My eyes began to well up, and I felt what I had many times before. Once again I spoke my mind, but the reception I got made me wonder why I even tried thereafter. A few silent moments passed. We reached a straight stretch in the road, and I peered out the window, admiring the tall, green pine trees that lined the road. All of a sudden, there was a swerve in the car. My mother, who sat dormant in the passenger seat till now, gasped. I surveyed the windows of the car frantically, looking for the danger that caused this sudden disruption.

Nothing. No other cars were in sight, no deer or its fawn had crossed–it was just my dad, trying to scare me. And it worked, like it did every time. “You wanna know what it’s like to be hurt?” He grumbled, furiously. He turned back in his seat, letting go of the wheel–completely negligent of the car’s direction. He was utterly insane. My mother grabbed the wheel, and he grabbed me. My father was much bigger, and stronger than me at this time. His hands grappled for my legs, in places that would later have bruises where his wretched fingers were. In a clumsy and poor attempt to protect myself, I shifted my knees towards the other side of the car to get them out of his reach. Little did I know I was doing myself no favor, because he chose to grab onto my arm instead. He twisted it violently, just enough to cause immense pain but not break it. I sat quietly for the rest of the car ride, and swore to myself I’d never talk back again. I collapsed against the inside of the car door and shuddered heavily, keeping my crying to a quiet minimum. My father hated it when I cried at his accord anywhere else. He thought it to be me victimizing myself, but now that no one was around but my mother, he seemed to gain satisfaction from it. When we reached my grandma’s house, we unloaded my luggage from the trunk and rolled it towards the door in silence. My dad was pleasant, polite, but I knew my grandmother could see right through him, and I know she could see that I was hurting even though I smiled. It was late. When my parents left, I went to sleep next to my grandma. We exchanged only a few words that night, but I felt safer and more connected to her than I ever did anyone in my house.

The next morning, I came downstairs to see her already at the table, waiting for me. I sat down and she poured me a cup of tea in silence, before asking. “What’s wrong?” She gestured towards the large purple and blue bruise on my inner elbow from my father’s outburst the day before. “I noticed that while you were sleeping, dear.” I could feel my eyes getting hot as I struggled to maintain my composure. “Yes, he did it.” I confirmed what I knew she already suspected. “And I’m starting to think he’ll never change.” “Unfortunately, I think you’re right about that, too.” My grandmother replied, sullenly.

“What do you mean?” “I never told you this before, because I wasn’t sure if you were mature enough to understand the concept of a secret. But I think you’re ready now. If I tell you something, can you keep it to yourself?” “Yes.” “You wouldn’t be the first one your dad has put his hands on.” She said, and her expression dimmed. “Who? Well, it’s definitely not my sisters, because–” I realized who she was talking about, and looked at her. She simply nodded in response. “Mom?” I asked. “Now, I tried to tell her not to marry him, I knew it couldn’t go anywhere good–but there was no stopping her. Her love for him was too strong, and there’s no getting through to someone like that–once they’ve been manipulated.”

That conversation with my grandmother made a lot of things make sense. I knew why my mother never defended me—she was scared of him herself. And I knew why she seemed to take joy in me going down at times–it was better me than her. At 18, when I graduated from high school, I broke away from all of this. I had been working and selling most of my belongings for about a year at that point, with intent to make it on my own. It was not easy, but it was doable. I had to sacrifice many privileges to be able to support myself, but it was worth it to be able to go my own way and enjoy the life I was living. I am 20 now, writing this, and in a much better place. I committed to a dream school of mine, and although I will most certainly have to go into debt, I can cross that bridge when I come to it. I live in a house with other girls who wouldn’t think of laying a finger on one another in the face of conflict. In my age and many years of thought dedicated towards my upbringing, I learned a few things. I will always be a product of my environment to some extent, even if I cannot choose what I am born into. It is true that my situation changed the trajectory of my relationships greatly, and determined the rate at which I developed, but it stops there. I cannot and will not allow my abuse to define me, or have my parents choose the outcome of my life.


bottom of page