Last week, we began a journey into understanding my relationship with my father and how I view it through the lens of the Tarot. This week, we will continue discussing this relationship and how it has shaped me into the person that I have become.
The most heartbreaking card of the Tarot and the one we will be discussing today is the three of Swords. This card is illustrated by a large heart, stabbed by three swords and bleeding, as rain pours in the background. No other card in the Tarot comes close to defining the memory of my father that I will now share with you.
One day in 2000, when I was only 15 years old, my father did something as unforgettable as it was unforgiveable. On this day, my father ripped out my heart, shattered it and never offered to replace the pieces. This is the day that my father proved he never truly loved me.
It happened on a rainy day, after school in late August. Instead of walking out of the building and finding my Granny waiting to take me home, I saw my father in his car. This was very strange to me. Funny enough, I was excited to see him. I remember there was a James Brown tape playing in the cassette deck of the car. I was wearing blue jeans, sneakers, and a fleece camel colored sweater. That last piece is important for reasons I’ll mention later.
On the way home, he chained smoked. He lit one cigarette after the other and dodged every positive thing I had to say about the day. But that didn’t stop me from trying to engage him and make him happy. Try as I did, I couldn’t seem to talk over the tension between us.
When we got home, we got out of the car and walked towards the house. “When we get inside, I want you to put your things in the room, change clothes, and meet me in the kitchen.” he instructed me. I did everything he asked of me, with the exception of changing clothes. I couldn’t waste time being bothered with that, I knew what he had to say was too important to worry with it.
So, as quick as I could, I went to meet him in the kitchen. He was leaning against the countertop, smoking another cigarette, and gestured that I take a seat in a chair that was sitting in the middle of the room. As I took a seat, I could feel my heart pounding in my ears and couldn’t take a deep enough breath. I knew something terrible was about to happen.
“Do you know anything about cookies and browser history?” he asked me. Having never had access to the internet much in my life, I had no idea what he was talking about. “Because I do and I have been through yours.” Again, I had no idea what it meant but I knew for sure what I had been looking at on the internet. “You’ve been on my computer watching gay shit, looking at pictures, reading about queers, and other shit.” He was right. As a 15 year old boy, who was struggling with his sexuality, those were the very things I was looking at. I put my head down and tried not to swallow my tongue. “You ain’t even going to deny it.” And no, I didn’t. I couldn’t even breathe, let alone form the words to lie.
He pushed away from the countertop and marched toward the computer that was sitting in the living room. He demanded that I follow him and I did. He went to computer and sat in front of it. He moved the mouse and the screensaver exposed all of the stuff I had been watching. He had pulled up every site and went through them, one by one.
With every click, he shamed me. “You are disgusting. This is sick. YOU are sick.” More than any of those, he repeated over and over that it and I was an abomination to God and evil. When he finally finished his demonstration of my filth, he demanded I go back into the kitchen. As I turned my back to him, I could feel his eyes burning into the back of my head. When I got to the kitchen, I sat back down in my designated seat.
“You disgust me. I don’t know what I am about to do to you. I can’t even stand to look at you. I want you to go to your room and wait for me. I am going to have a talk with God and God will tell me what to do.” My father often had, “conversations with God.”
I sat in that room, absolutely panicked. What would God say about me? I knew what the Bible said about what should happen to me. After all, one of my father’s favorite living room sermons was on abominations and God’s punishment for those who were guilty.
After about an hour of me crying and rocking back and forth, alone in the room, I heard him stomp down the hall. Suddenly, the bedroom door swung open and he stepped inside the room. He was livid, his eyes were terrifying. I had rarely seen his face so full of rage.
“God says you’re a faggot and that I should beat the queer out of you,” he shouted. “God condemns you and everything about you. You are an embarrassment. You are disgusting and have shamed God, me, your family, and our family name. You and your whore mother have destroyed our family. I hate you.”
He stomped and paced about the room, screaming and cussing. Occassionally, he would stop pacing and put his finger in my face and threaten my life. I was petrified. I knew he was angrier and more disturbed than I had ever seen him and that was a scary thought. He walked back to the bedroom door, “I am going back to talk to God.” he said.
This process happened multiple times. Each time he would relent, I would quietly pick up the phone and call people for help. I called everyone. I even called my mother whose boyfriend, later husband, answered. He explained that there was no room for me and my gayness at their house and that I was on my own. He said my mother didn’t want to even talk to me about it. So, I called my boyfriend at the time and I developed a plan.
It went like this… I would beg God and my father’s forgiveness and vow to never be “gay again.” I would do what I could to get through the night safely and return to school the next day. And as the night went on, that is what I did. I lied about myself, sold myself out, and begged not to be beaten. Eventually, my pleading and begging worked and my father told me to go to bed.
I didn’t sleep that night; instead, I cried and waited for the morning to come. When it did, I didn’t even change clothes. I went to school in the same thing I wore the day before, changing clothes felt insignificant. Getting out of the house in one piece was all I cared about. I gathered my savings bonds that totaled $600, whatever clothes I could fit in my bag, and left for school. My uncle took me to school that day and refused to speak to me the entire way there. Clearly, he and dad had a discussion about me and “what I was.”
When I went into the school, I felt relief. I knew I was somewhere safe, where all I had to fear were the usual bullies and not the one I just left at home. Waiting for me at the end of a long hallway stood a group of my friends. As I walked closer, they could see I was a mess and that something terrible had happened. As they got closer, I collapsed in tears and started gasping for air. When I could finally speak, I told them what happened and asked for any help they could offer me. They each said the same thing: I was in danger and that I needed to talk to a teacher.
About that time, a teacher walked up on the scene. She asked me what was wrong and swallowing my tears, I told her the whole story. I asked her if there was any way I could go to the library and look into calling social services or someone that could protect me. She said yes and encouraged me to do so.
After hours of research and multiple missed classes, I finally came across something that proved to be my liberation… filing for emancipation; essentially, divorcing my parents and allowing me to live on my own. If I could prove I had a place to go, a job to work, and the means of staying in school, I never had to return to the abuse of my father ever again.
First, I called Social Services and explained what happened. I booked an appointment with a Social Worker for later that evening. After that, I called an Attorney who seemed uneasy about doing so, but agreed to help me. And then, I called my boyfriend. I told him to collect and cash my savings bonds, get us an apartment, and find me a job as fast as he could. He did everything I asked of him.
Near the end of the day, after all of my ducks were in a row, I went to the Vice-Principal’s office. I told him what my father did, what the Social Worker said, and told him that he needed to call in my father so I could explain that I was not going to be coming home. Also, I suggested that the Vice-Principal should call the police. He did and within the hour, all parties were present.
My father walked in the room and I told him the truth: I was gay, I was going to be emancipated from his abuse, and that I was never going to be alone with him again. His only response was that he hoped how soon I would die and that he never wanted to see me again. I have done my best to make sure that I granted his wish.
That is why we can’t possibly talk about my father without discussing the 3 of Swords. The card itself is about grief, loss, and emotional despair. It so perfectly embodies that rainy day in 2000, as it does many of my memories of my father.