“Not all men are rapists,” my Dad would grunt as he scrolled through his friends’ Facebook profiles and read the articles about sexual assault they’d posted.
“Not all men are abusive,” my Dad would mutter as he did research to disprove the domestic violence statistics that bothered him so much.
“Not all men are like him,” I’d mouth to myself, as Dad threw Mom across the room for having the temerity to contradict something he’d said.
After hurting her one night, he came to my room a few hours later. “You’re a sweet boy,” he told me. “I know you’d never harm a woman, no matter how much she deserved it. Not all men are like me. You don’t have a temper.”
I did have a temper, though. And I seethed.
Years later, I left for college an angry, confused young man.
I started off as a good student, but things began to decline as news from home trickled into my inbox. “Mom had to get stitches,” my sister wrote one day. “I’m off to the dentist to have a tooth capped!,” Mom wrote another time, leaving out all context about why. I knew.
I started drinking. My grades slipped. Depression spiraled, and while my rage remained internalized, I knew things were getting bad. I resented the women who turned down my advances. I’d say things about them behind their backs – terrible, unforgivable things. My loneliness and isolation worsened. I sought out violent, misogynistic pornography. I hated myself for enjoying it as much as I did. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was what turned my father on, too.
At the end of the semester, I was looking forward to Christmas. I’d hoped the break from school would help ease the tension I felt. I wanted to be home with my family. I knew I’d be going back to the source of all my problems, but I didn’t care. Familiarity was preferable to being alone.
It turned out things had only gotten worse. Without me there, my father was out of control. Somehow my presence had been a kind of mediator without my knowing it. In some ways, he hadn’t wanted to disappoint me, his only son, by acting like how he truly wanted to when I had been living at home.
There were no brakes on that ride anymore.
Dad drank more than ever. Raged more than ever. And it seemed almost like second nature for him to push my mother or my sister out of his way with little regard for the force he used or where they’d end up as a result.
At Christmas dinner, we were gathered around the table. The family seemed to be in a decent enough mood after a day of Dad being on his best behavior. They were using the opportunity to enjoy the day. They were laughing and joking and celebrating. I couldn’t, though. I was overwhelmed by the stress. Stress from school. Stress from loneliness. Stress from my family. For the first time in my life, I felt like I might be losing control.
I did my best to put on a facade of good humor. I smiled and faked my way through dinner and most of dessert. Then my sister said something that I couldn’t laugh off. Something that stuck with me.
“I heard your ex Kayla is with Kevin Davis now. Talk about an upgrade, right?” She, and everyone else, laughed.
In any other situation, I would’ve laughed too. Kevin Davis was gorgeous. I had no residual feelings for Kayla, and I should have been happy that she’d gotten with such a good-looking guy. But all my feelings of rejection from the past few months bubbled to the surface. I started to breathe heavily. The room spun. Years of constant stress and anger and fear condensed in a wave, and everything went white.
Seconds later, when my vision returned, my mother was screaming. Dad had backed away from the table and was staring at me with fear and bewilderment. I looked at my sister. The remains of my sister. Half her head had been sheared away. Brain matter oozed onto the table and mixed with her plate of Christmas cookies.
Mom was hysterical and had rushed to my sister’s side. She was trying, with no success, to push the brain back into her daughter’s skull.
I felt hollow. Confused. The whole thing was so surreal that part of me thought I was in a nightmare. But then my father started to speak. Reality rushed in with a sickening jolt.
“You have a gift, Frank,” he told me. He spoke slowly. Methodically. I realized he was frightened. I’d never seen him like that.
“I didn’t know you had it,” he continued. I don’t. But your great grandfather did.” He paused. “Not all men can do that,” Dad whispered. “Not all men are like you.”
“Not all men.” The words swirled in my head and I thought back to every time he’d uttered those words. I felt nauseous. I flashed back to him sitting on the side of my bed, knuckles bruised from hitting my mother, saying that not all men were as horrible as he was. Yet here I was. Even worse. I closed my eyes and everything went white again. I felt a warm spray hitting my face. In the distance, there was another shriek from my mother.
I opened my eyes. My father had disappeared. The room was dripping with his blood. Steaming entrails stuck from the ceiling and, piece by piece, fell onto the table and saturated carpet.
Mom was huddled in the corner, sobbing. I got up from the table and she shrank back, muttering “get away from me” over and over and over between ragged breaths.
I surveyed the carnage. Then I left and never looked back. I’ve been on the run ever since. All day, every day, I hear my father’s voice echoing in my mind. “Not all men are like this,” and “not all men are like you.” I had believed him. Now, no matter where I go, when I see mens’ faces, I can’t help but wonder.