The Mark of a Man
by Christine Donegan Segall
There would be a fresh mound of dirt at first to mark his grave, but soon the grass would grow and no one would be able to tell it was even there. They would see Sarah Higgins, nee O’Malley, Blessed Mother and Daughter, to the left, and Thomas Fairmont, Beloved Father and Grandfather, to the right, and a plot of grass in the middle. No flower, no stone, no name. My father, erased. That was what I wanted. For him to be erased, annulled, never to have existed. This would be a display, finally, of my control. I would no longer be at his mercy; his memory would be at mine. I would have the power now, the power to sentence him to nothingness, meaninglessness, as he had done to me. Yes, I would wake every morning and go to sleep every night thinking about it and congratulating myself on my cleverness.
But then I thought:
No! He would be lost to the world, but my torture would never be acknowledged. So I will put a marker on his grave, but it will be one that tells of his crimes. Why should I pretend that he never existed? It would be like pretending my own pain is not real. No, no, I will shout to the world what he did to me, list the ways he tormented me, taunted me. Why should I be the only one who knows? It will take a very large headstone, to be sure, and still there will not be enough room for all the pain he inflicted on me. There is not enough room in a lifetime of nightmares for what he has done, not enough room for the light of ordinary days. No, there is not enough room for a list of every cruelty, but I will put something, something to sum it all up, so that when it is read over and over by those visiting the graves of kinder souls, they will gasp in horror and condemn him to hell or eternal unrest each time. Perhaps I will be aware of each such condemnation by a ringing in my ears, or a flash of light, or a silent knowing, and take note. Maybe I will write down the numbers in a log and glance at it before bed. But how do you sum up all the ways a man tells a son he is not loved and empties him of his wonder and beauty? No, I wouldn’t, couldn’t, be satisfied with an abbreviation of his hatred. That would miss the point.
So I thought and thought and then I realized:
Every day, when I awake and look in the mirror, it is my father’s narrowed eyes and twisted mouth I see reflected back at me. Every day, I interpret myself in his language and punish myself with his switch. I wear him on my body every day that I dress in the wounds of his making and, in the deathly quiet of night, when I dream the repetitive dreams of a childhood killed, I destroy myself.
So, yes, yes, I will put a stone on my father’s grave. But the name it bears will not be his. It will be my own.
Christine Donegan Segall is a poet, a writer of fiction, and an artist. She is a former New Yorker, now living in Southern California with her husband and youngest child. She has studied at NYU and worked as a copy editor. Her poetry has appeared in Tiferet Journal.