I was with my stepdad the first time I saw the mountains. It was love at first sight as I admired the rows of shadowy figures rise above the surface of the earth. Back then, I used to love taking road trips with him. He was my best friend and number one confidant. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. In fact, it absolutely terrified me to imagine life without him. I was 23 the last time we took a road trip together, and by then, the programming had worn off, even still, it was a slow awakening. I’d heard through the grapevine that I wasn’t the only one, that I wasn’t special and I wasn’t different, but I was (much to my dismay) one of them. I was a victim of abuse just like his daughter, just like them, just like him.
I spent most of the trip preparing for my speech and although it didn’t go the way I’d planned, it still went. Tori Amos ruled the airwaves for about eight hours as I summoned my girl power and resisted the urge to settle back into my comfort zone. There was no going back. I needed to know the truth. Did he do to her what he did to me? Almost twenty years later, I now know this to be true, but back then it was a new revelation that needed confirmation. We spent the night in the Red Canyon pines of New Mexico. He stayed in the car as I set up the tent, kindled a fire and prepared our campground for a heart-to-heart that would soon take place. The inevitable hung in the thin mountain air like a heavy burden suspended by the gravity of fate. There was always a price to pay. There was always the unspoken deal that defiled love and exposed the situation for what it really was. He’d held up his end of the deal, we were in the mountains, now it was my turn.
He met me by the fire and asked if I was ready, the whites of his eyes twinkling in the darkness and his chapped lips coated with whiskey. “We need to talk,” I answered. I asked him point blank about his youngest daughter, and although I’ve racked my brain trying to remember his reply, I honestly don’t recall. She said that she woke up in the middle of the night to see him sitting by her bed and that she felt like something had happened. Intuition told me there was more to the story, much more, but she wasn’t ready to talk and neither was I, not to her anyway. I needed to hear it from him. I needed to know that I’d been played a fool my entire life. I wasn’t special. I was just brainwashed from a very early age. I then asked him how he felt about “us,” if he felt any guilt or remorse. I asked if he remembered how old I was when he first touched me inappropriately. He answered wrong. “I wasn’t thirteen, I was nine,” I said. “Don’t you find that kind of sick?” He fumbled over his words before looking up at me and answering, “Really, you were that young?” In that instant, I saw a broken man, his eyes wild and trapped, his face long and diseased. Silence hung in the air until I heard a voice I barely recognized, childish and weak, my stepdad sheepishly said with a gesture, “My mom used to touch me here. She used to smile like this and fondle me when I was younger.”
“Altitude Sickness” 12/15/00
I feel as though I threw you away. Up in the clouds on a clear night with the brilliantly bright full moon providing us with the opportunity to save our batteries, I felt compelled to step across the boundary and say aloud for the first time the words I never had the courage to speak. She talked to him, and I talked to her, and he talked to them, but the source for my truth was you. I feel as though you can’t look me in the eye ever since I spoke my mind in the red canyons that July with only the whispering of the pines to disrupt our private line. I wish I had the ability…I wish I had the ability…I wish I had the ability to run.