Abuse (noun): treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.
Father. In Urdu, we say Abba, or Abbu, maybe even Baba.
I wish I could add “I remember” but I can’t.
It’s terrifyingly present-tense: when my father gets angry,
all of us cower.
His rage transforms him, laughing bearded skull-capped man,
now here, a blink and gone like a mistake, replaced by someone
who tells me he will kill me, as he throws me around
like a ragdoll, and I stay silent like one,
pliable like one,
because everything in me knows he means it.
It’s so easy
to think these are two different people: one
would carry me to bed when I fell asleep, crow loudest when I won,
his whip-smart daughter, Zoha, with a trophy that shone
as bright as her name, so proud,
little immigrant boy who still misses his mummy.
The other has all my bones locking into place
from the stiffness of defiance; I will never let any man, let alone
one as depraved as this, see me cry, though
my throat stings until I check my spit for blood, though
my mother, with eyes to match mine and a will
that birthed me and mine, stills around this stranger, skulking in
our home like he belongs here, barking orders like
the dog he is.
I hold my ground, godless breasted David, now son
of Goliath, and am repaid with a slap that has my teeth rattling,
enamel castanets sounding the music of the self-doomed,
a Red Heart pinned onto my cheek for
my display of unheard-of disobedience.
Thunder away; I have never been scared of storms.
It’s easy to shush the self that cries
foul, denies she carries this scum in her blood, refuses
to have any part of a man so ugly in a body she has fought to reclaim,
with the consolation that they are not the same people,
so I never have to consider the possibility of waking up
to see the same grimace I see on my father’s face in the mirror.
But my mother has bent enough in the rough
iron fists of this dictator, and I refuse to be made
a marionette, too.
I am through with my silence, with this half-life
like a surrealist nightmare, all the colors
of toxic masculinity, ugly tradition.
There is liberation in my laugh; my father fears
the reckoning already.
Daddy dearest, I will match the rage in your Kashmiri blood
drop for drop, qatra qatra baraabar,
Heed this curse in both our genes: I have your anger twice over,
One for nature, one for nurture, and the resilience of women
from centuries of silent suffering, habit woven into DNA.
Essentially a cat with anxiety and opposable thumbs, Zoha is a Pakistani intersectional feminist who’s into trolley problem memes and jewelry. She tweets at @nightwitchling and blogs at spitgreenfire.wordpress.com. Her work has appeared in Heather Press, Rising Phoenix Press, Thought Catalog and Feminism in India. Currently studying for her A-Levels, she’s working to ensure no kid is as shaped by abuse as she is.