Our Secret Family Legacy

Our Secret Family Legacy

The Rumpus: Not the end of the Internet, but you can see it from here.

Ashlie Kauffman, Senior Poetry Editor

Half my life ago, when I was twenty-one and in my first year out of college, my father brought his new girlfriend back home to Baltimore to visit. It had been over four years since I had last seen him, yet after a lifetime as an alcoholic, he was far from pleasant. We met for dinner at the house of a couple in whose basement he’d lived in before leaving town (I more accurately should say before he had to leave town, because of his then illegal activities). His friends and girlfriend doted on me almost parentally even though we’d just met: the wife, in fact, insisted on giving me four rolls of quarters for my laundry—all three of them engaging in the kind of codependency in which they tried to make up for the frequent offensive statements that my father was dishing out.

The drunker he became, the more personal these statements got, and the more vitriol he loaded into them. He was bragging about things about which anyone else would feel guilty or ashamed, in order to fluff himself up—some things that even now I would never repeat to my mother, for how deeply they pushed the knife. He was enacting the typical bully, typical alcoholic blaming-and-judging behavior: making himself feel better by putting others down. In front of his friends and girlfriend, he criticized my mother for divorcing him and called her, multiple times, “a whore”; then he called her mother—my grandmother—”a nigger.” To prove his point, he slurred, with a knowing tone, as if he were somehow enlightening me, “Your grandmother had nigger lips.”…

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