No, It’s Not About Dad

DARTS

You wrap a piece of tape
Around my heart
And say I’m fine
Laughing as your friends
Throw darts you gave them
While holding my hand
Under the table
When no one’s looking
You kiss my nose
So I stay
Pretending not to notice
Blood seeping through
Your cheap bandage
Laughing as the darts
Hit their mark
Because at least you’re
Holding my hand

“That’s so sad.” Pause. “Is it about Dad?”
Not the reaction I was expecting. Of course, it’s not about him! I got the idea from my granddaughter playing veterinarian with her stuffed animals. She took a roll of tape from the desk and used it to carefully wrap a patient’s tail. Naturally that led me to think you wrap a piece of tape around my heart. That’s how poems are born.

Later, I reflected on my own reaction to my daughter’s reaction, and I realized that it bothered me to be cast in the role of the person who stays despite the abuse. This poem couldn’t be about me any more than it was about him! Right?

My husband challenged me to go deeper. He said once that everything I write has a connection to something within me—every dark thought and sad song resonates with something inside me. If that’s true, then what is this about?

I didn’t figure it out until yesterday. It is about me. All of me: the dart thrower, the bandage-wrapper, the nose kisser, the silent abuse-taker. I do it all to myself.

What parts of myself do I secretly like, but am ashamed to admit in public? What darts do I hand over to others, hoping they don’t notice how much I really care? How often do I join in making fun of myself, of what I like, of what I do, of how I look? How cruelly do I speak to the person staring back at me from the bathroom mirror? How often do I sit quietly and let my mind rage at me, taking it all, never standing up for myself? The little gestures when no one’s looking? That’s my version of self-love. It does little to counteract the abuse.

My husband, who would never treat me this way, is just as bad to himself. So I guess I have to change my answer, Kiddo. It is about your dad…and your mom, just not the way you thought. Don’t let it be about you.

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