Story by Désirée Jung.
Published in the literary magazine Blank Spaces, Anniversary Issue 6, September 2022.
Published in the anthology Framework of the Human Body, Bell Press Books, 2022.
Everything said here will be true except for the fiction that permeates all the facts once they are addressed by an eye. This will be your story. This will be your life’s retelling of how, despite all contrary evidence, you will be undesired by your father before you are born. You will learn this much later, though. Your life won’t be easy. At times, you will be angry, confused. You will try – unsuccessfully – to escape the destiny imposed on you, until eventually coming to terms with its direct relationship to names.
When this testimony arrives at the tip of your fingers, you will be typing your past into the future, today. You will get here, as you know, with my aid. I will help you write the story of how you will be your mother’s second attempt to give birth, successfully this time. You will understand how she will desire what you will become – even though you won’t know that just yet.
You will also comprehend how she will know, consciously or not, the weight (and the power) this child will carry if she survives her own death, and her father’s desire never to have children. Your mother will give you a name that will help you survive his death wish, and this name will help you live, despite him not wanting you to. From this moment on, and this very inscription, you will know the truth around names – when you are ready to listen.
When you enter your father’s house for the first time, you won’t understand why you won’t feel loved by him, nor why you feel rejected instead. You will conclude there is something wrong with you.
You will accept his rules, and hear him saying several times during your lifespan, as though joking: “you are your mother’s daughter, I have nothing to do with you.” The configuration will be laid before your eyes.
As a baby, you will cry in silence, so not to upset your father. Can’t you see I am burning inside? You will want to say. Can’t you see my death in your eyes? You will attempt to hurl. You will feel this rejection coming from all parts, without necessarily knowing why.
For a long time, you won’t talk about it, or write with your own words, until here and now. But one day you will survive your father’s desire to kill you from life.
You will search for the meaning of fatherhood your entire existence, even as you watch your mother die and reflect on how she loved and desired you – despite of him.
You will never be welcomed in your father’s house, not even to this day.
You will acknowledge he was never physically abusive to any of you, though sometimes you will wish he were. You will hear this described as a terrible thing to say, especially when you don’t know yet how cruelty, coldness, and psychological oppression can also be considered abuse and attempted control.
You will understand the constellations of your origins. You will recognize your father as an imposed impostor. You will never have children, for fear of projecting this horrific rejection to another child. You will spend a great part of your life in solitude, learning how to cope with your own history. You will be able to arrive here and write this acknowledgement.
You will type this page from a much lighter place.
You will sympathize with the daughter portrayed in the movie Imitation of Life, by Douglas Sirk, who confronts her mother about the meaning of ever being born. Like her, you will no longer need you mother’s reasons to live – you will have found your own. You will retell your past. You will recognize how your mother tried to compensate for your father’s lack of lack. You will feel loved by her. You will learn how your father’s father had a fulminant heart attack when he was fourteen. You will also hear, from your aunts, how your father found his father’s body in the kitchen – an alcoholic accountant who gambled all his money and hit his son, your father. Your father will have tears in his eyes when he speaks about his father, without acknowledging the beating. His sisters will tell you the true story.
As the eldest child of a very poor family, your father will help his mother, your grandmother, to raise three siblings: his first take on fatherhood, unaccounted.
You will try to justify your father’s rejection of you based on this. You will repeat your mother’s discourse to persuade you of your father’s conduct. You will acknowledge the profound aftereffects this narrative will have on you, and you will not be convinced by it. You will stop repeating this same story to justify his behavior. You will also speculate on how your father unconsciously might have wished for his own father’s death – like you – and the surfaced guilt when it materialized in front of him. You will see how being unwanted hides another, veiled side of desire: the carrier of death and rejection. You will grasp how your birth was also predetermined by this logic.
Your sexuality will be a huge source of conflicts. For the longest time, you will try to avoid facing the love and hatred you feel around women and their relationship to men, without necessarily knowing why. Your sexual desire for women, and your affectionate love for a man that never wanted you in the first place, will cut your mind to pieces, literally.
You will not know about orgasm until much later, and yet not fully. You will tend to associate sex with death and psychosis. You will have a difficult time differentiating satisfaction from unsatisfaction, pleasure from displeasure, enjoyment, and abuse. You will have several passages through psychiatric wards. You will be held under the Canadian Mental Health Act. You will act desperate, lost, until you get here.
You will have a long road ahead of you, when you decide to talk to someone who listens. Your work with her will last for several years (still unfinished) and this labor will bring you back to words. You will anchor your fears in your writing, and you will learn how to express yourself. You will talk about your sense of rupture. You will re-experience your feeling of rejection. You will reconnect with the profound feeling of desire you received from your mother. You will be more tolerable and understanding towards other people’s sufferings. You will start to see how many people, not just you, feel likewise. You will relate this uneasiness with fatherhood.
You will find examples in literature, in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical fiction, where he describes drinking sour milk with cereal for fear of displeasing his father as a boy, swallowing that terrible taste in silence. You will identify with his eagerness to be loved by this father. You will retell the metaphor of the sour milk and its unsettling taste as the perfect match for your feelings around your own father. You will realize your father’s horror before your efforts, unaware of why you underwent such extensive pains. You will learn how to say no and not pay any price in exchange of love. You will know this truth after recollecting several painful events you experienced intimately.
You will recall when you tried to say no to a boyfriend who forced himself on you, raping you the first time you ever had sex with a man. You will find it difficult to rewrite these events as they truly happened. You will also remember other men you had sex with, without truly wanting to, partially because you didn’t know how to say no. You will also recollect a relationship with a woman, who was physically and emotionally abusive to you. You will question yourself on why you held the role of the victim.
You will associate victimhood with fatherhood. You won’t take these answers for granted, and you will suffer a lot to understand the meaning of all this. You will realize that only by naming your past, you will be able change your relationship to the future, despite the hurt it may inflict on you at times. You will be comforted by the memory of your mother’s stunning beauty and kind eyes. You will also recognize her Medusa-like presence, paralyzing and unspeakable, turning men into ashes before anyone could name them. You will reflect on her power to stop words midair, at her own liking, even if that silence could cost her life in the end. You will become aware of your mother’s unconscious revenge against patriarchy, imposed and inherited on her as well.
You will also have the chance to meet her serpents, whom you will take a liking and get to appreciate quite well: crawling from head-to-head, unwanted, and yet traversing generations without stop, before entering yours, while your father will remain a lifelong believer of universal truths, a true mathematician. One day, reflecting on the possibility of being his most irrational number, you will hear a laugh surfacing the deepest parts of you. This laugh will be a mysterious and unheard voice. You will welcome it for the first time, meeting the unaccounted dead baby girl living inside your guts.
Before she can speak her name, you will apologize for never acknowledging her existence before. You will tell her you are ready to listen, knowing how the pain of her rejections and unbearable truths will affect you. You will hear her laugh again, this time with truly excitement. And you will smile back at her with an open heart.
You will become the first woman in your family to invite a dead baby to your bed, just to listen to what she will have to say. You will open her eyes as she lies lifeless inside you, slowly awakening to life just because you desired to listen to her stories, in and out of your dreams. You will get to know her deepest wishes, her greatest strengths, and you will learn how they are all tied together to your collective fears. You will also be delighted to finally have had the chance to greet her, while she will be enchanted to finally have had had the courage to voice herself out to you. You, too, will tell her about your secrets, and the fright you’ve always felt on being a woman. With her help, you will learn how to trust your feelings, and let go of her protective, but deadly placenta.
You will name the effects of your childhood and their self-produced punishments. You will see how numb emotions are like needles under your skin, a mass, a colorless acid lactic formed like sour milk and produced in the muscle tissues during strenuous exercise. You will tell her: “no wonder I have been feeling physically exhausted lately,” to which she will reply, “no wonder memory has a bad taste, the return of nausea from your own birth.” You will love her to death, until she will become part of you. You will grieve her loss in your letters. At last, you will remind yourself to always breathe deeply, but especially at night, not conceding to your father’s deadly wish.
You will not let him devastate you to the grave, nor let your desire die, like many other men and women before you. You will know about your death from inside out, and that will be your source of light. You will be pleased by life’s small pleasures, like the gold sunshine glow of the first days of spring. You will carry your history with pride, despite the sorrows it contains within. You will know the meaning of your name by heart, comprehending how to move beyond your mother’s graph. You will be here until you are not, for this is not up for you to chart.
Story nominated for the 2023 Pushcart Prize.