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I'm Not Going On A Bear Hunt Again

By Kael Knoxton Martin

Title from Michael Rosen's "We're Going On A Bear Hunt". Content warning for abuse.

I haven’t been able to create much for the past few months.

I went through a mysterious jolt of creativity in the last half of 2022. During that time, I was able to write multiple pieces a day in my journal, and I had never reached that level of productivity before. It terrified me. I was crafted to orbit around fear - not even a concept with enough worth to be considered planetary, but rather a manmade structure, a collaborative effort built by all of the monstrous to keep my potential and happiness suspended in this circular trajectory of suffering. Other times I think of myself as their own little Laika - sweet soul, plucked from conditions she shouldn’t have been able to survive in the first place, destined to die for someone else’s enlightenment.

Either way - it was the fear that made me realize why I stopped being able to create. For my entire life, I had been vomiting my pain out of me the only way I knew how: through words. When the pain stopped - when all of the abusers were safely dead or states away, when I was finally safe - I realized that, at some point, writing stopped being an outlet and became an epic, a set of holy texts I devised to keep myself in that orbit. I had written a hymnal in praise of my trauma, a scripture where every letter piled on top of the skies I had already been forced to hoist over my shoulders for eternity until all of me collapsed, the skies dispersed, and the words that composed my sorrow turned into bloody alphabet soup and strung together new sentences. Happier ones.

I’ve written so much about the pain my father caused me that I honestly don’t want to write about that anymore. I want it to die. I want all of my pain to just die, to collapse on the gravel clutching its chest and suffocate. I want my pain to be in pain. I want to beat it up and I want to weave its teeth and ligaments together, crowning its innards atop my head. Look what they did to me, look what I did in return. Look at how scary I am and fear me. Please fear me and don’t come any closer. I ruined my parents’ marriage by being ruined. I ruined everything. I wasn’t the kid he wanted and she wasn’t the wife he wanted and this wasn’t the life ANY OF US WANTED. If I can make myself look tough, then nobody will ever want to love me and I will never have to trust anyone and I will never have to go through the pain I was forced to witness my father inflict upon my mother for years.

The funny thing is that I keep saying I want my pain to die, but I arrived just a little bit too late. The traffic gets a little nuts during the rush hours of healing. As I said: all of it is dead now. All of it. Some in a literal sense, some in a metaphorical sense; my pain in its entirety is dead. I cannot keep thinking of myself as dead. There is no trauma in my life right now outside of the trauma that has solidified itself an exoskeleton around me.

But while my pain may be dead, I’ve always been a believer in what cannot be proven. I have this dream sometimes where it was all fake - my dad went to witness protection, he had to leave me. Sometimes he’s a criminal on the run, still not learning from his mistakes. Sometimes he’s an alien, something paranormal, now attuned to a greater calling. All of this is easier to think about than the truth, which is this: he’s dead. I’ve accepted what death means in a logical sense, but I haven’t accepted that death, at least in this realm, is the end of a cycle. At the end of a cycle, of course, it just begins all over again - but I haven’t. I keep talking about ending the cycle of trauma, but really all I’ve managed to do is step outside of it. There’s no shiny ‘OPT OUT’ or ‘UNSUBSCRIBE FROM FUTURE EMAILS HORRORS’ button for trauma. The only way out is through. We’re going on a bear hunt! We’re not scared. Oh, a river. We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it…

We have to go through it.

I loved that book as a child.

If this was really true, if I got the chance to speak to my father again, I honestly don’t know what I would tell him. I wish I could tell him it didn’t hurt me, that I moved on just fine and I’m thriving now and the things he did weren’t in any way irreparable. I’ve never been a good liar. I wish I could scream at him, recount all the times I had to hold my mother as she cried, all the times I had to listen to him dehumanize her with his words, lament the role of caretaker I was forced into at an age where I couldn’t even take care of myself. I don’t know any way out of this besides tightening my grip and propelling myself forward, swimming through the entire goddamn river and into the pools of paradise waiting at the mouth of it, because if I don’t then those letters are just going to keep piling up in my pockets and anchoring me to the riverbed, sealing my death certificate with the waxed sigil of the cycle.

I think I’d say this:

You broke me in ways that neither of us will ever understand. No, it didn’t make me stronger, it just made me scared. Because of the years I was forced to watch you berate my mother both to my own face and to your coworkers’, I’ve become so protective of my mother that anything even remotely reminiscent of those days sends me into a spiral of defense that, more often than not, ends with a risk of violence to the one hurting her. Even if they’re not actually hurting her! I’m ashamed to say that. I wish I hadn’t turned into this - the self-contained puppetry production I am now - the one maneuvering all of itsselves back into traumatizing situations over and over again because it’s the only way it knows how to live, because a life free of trauma is in itself terrifying and everyone is always waiting for the boat to strike the dome and bring us into the real world - the petrifying one - again and for the first time. But when I walk through the exit and end the transmission, the truth is unavoidable: this is what you have done to me.

This is what you have done to me. That sentence was written in past tense. All sentences end after they have been realized with words and closed with punctuation. Yes, I know this is how grammar works, you don’t have to get sarcastic. I’m trying to make a larger point here, a detailed cityscape of my inner world, depicted in the aftermath of its dystopia.

I’m not going on a bear hunt again. It’s already dead, and the river is calmer now. The exit sign is flickering on its final breaths. I’m no longer holding out hope that its last words will be anything like sorry.

You’re the one who made me dedicated. You’re the reason I know I have to break the cycle and form a better future for my family and the world surrounding us. I hate you so much that I’m braving the unknown concept of Actually Dealing With My Shit (For Real This Time) because I don’t want to end up anything like you. My biggest fear in life has always been vulnerability - or so I claimed - but what frightens me more is repeating your mistakes. I hate you so much that I formed my entire self around that hatred to keep the fire burning through the winter - when we moved away, the seasons finally started changing, flora and life flitting through the air with each relieved exhale.

The clay is still pliable, though. I don’t always have to be hatred. I think I want to become something new, something unfamiliar. Something like soft.

I hate you so much, dad, that I don’t want to hate you anymore. I don’t think you deserve to be forgiven, and I will never be able to forgive you. I want to stop hating you so I can focus on loving what I have gained in absence of you - this beautiful, fulfilling life that your death allowed me to have.

I know you’ll never be able to understand.