My stomach still tenses and my palms still sweat when I recall, and relive, a time I was mistakenly accused of something I didn’t do. Forty years have yet to erase the fear and confusion I felt the night my father woke me from my sleep while hurtling accusations and threats at me. In my half-awake state, it took me too long to realize what was happening, and when I eventually denied any wrongdoing, the timing made anything I said in my defense seem like a lie. That night was the fatal crack in the foundation of my father’s relationship with me, and one that was never repaired.
My neighborhood, once mansioned and gracious and occupied by physicians and factory owners with Southern manners, was still mansioned, but it was neither gracious nor well mannered. The expansive homes, far too large for a single family when they had been built in the late 1800s, had been partitioned into apartments during the Depression Years. Often four or six families lived in divided sections of the grand older homes on the street my family lived on.
When friends would drive me home from school or a party, they were always impressed by the looks of my house. Its exterior was certainly impressive, but I seldom invited anyone inside. I didn’t want to explain that my family’s apartment took up two rooms on the second floor of the stately house and two more rooms carved from attic space. I knew it wasn’t right to be embarrassed by my family’s home – it was clean and cared for, it had all the essentials – and yet at 14, I would rather have lived in an architecturally barren 50s ranch with no character. I longed to live in the neighborhood I tended carefully in my imagination – no ‘hoods gathering in the alleyway, no fist fights breaking out in the dim backyards, no strangers prowling in the hallways of my home.
I was a good kid at 14. The kids I hung around with were good kids too, all smart, ambitious, college bound. Instead of drugs or alcohol, we brought guitars to our parties and we played our music and sang. Not rock ‘n roll either. We sang our share of Beatles’ tunes, but we also sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Kumbaya.” We also protested the Viet Nam War, not by throwing rocks at store windows and setting American flags on fire, but by wearing MIA bracelets on our wrists, with earnest promises that we wouldn’t remove them until the soldier whose name was inscribed on our bracelet came home from the war.
On that pivotal night, the night of the false accusation, my father returned to the apartment late. He had been drinking. This was a major source of stress in my family, and I often was awakened in the middle of the night by my parents’ arguments in the next room. But on that night I became a major player in the drama.
I was startled awake by my father who came storming into my room. He began hurtling accusations at me. He claimed to have found a bag of marijuana in the garage he rented behind our house. He wanted an explanation. He wanted to know what else I was hiding from him.
I stammered my innocence, but he refused to believe me. Repeatedly he asked me what drugs I used, who gave them to me, what else did I do that he wouldn’t approve of. When he pulled off his belt and started thrashing me, I burrowed deep under my blankets, trying to hide from his verbal and physical assaults. I shrieked, one loud, hysterical scream.
He stopped hitting me then, and left as quickly as he had come in, and for much of the night I stayed awake wondering what had happened. I wanted to pretend it had only been a vivid nightmare, fabricated in my dreams, and yet, the night silence was punctuated by angry bursts of words from my parents’ bedroom. I knew it was not a nightmare of my creation.
I never saw the marijuana I supposedly was hiding. It was never discussed again.
There was never any resolution. That, I think, was the hardest part about the entire incident. The accusation remained a silent wall, thrust up in the middle of a single night, and never repaired or torn down. I think now, if we had talked about that incident, we might have lessened the damage it did to our relationship. But he was a man of few words when he was sober. He was not one for talking through a problem.
And so, with a wrong accusation, a father-daughter relationship was irreparably harmed.
-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This Writing Topic refers to three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each. A red Ravine reader, who wished to remain anonymous, also sent us a piece, based on a 25-minute Writing Practice on the second question, Have you ever been accused of doing something you didn’t do?]
-Also related to posts: PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE — Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? (by Bob Chrisman); PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? (by ybonesy), and PRACTICE — Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? (by QuoinMonkey)