My father likes to look at women. Short women. Tall women. Fat women. Asian women. Women who are bound and gagged and chained to a radiator. Naked women beaten and burned and humiliated. Screaming, begging, pleading women, wearing lipstick and high heels. His dresser drawer is full of pictures and magazines. I read about how to tie someone to the ceiling and bind someone to a frame. I learned that liquid latex is available in a wide range of colors and it doesn’t clog your pores.
As long as I can remember I’ve been searching my parents house, combing through old shoe boxes and storage areas looking for clues to something, but I didn’t know what. And now, after decades, I found it. Next I went to his computer. That little flashlight was spinning and spinning, searching the temporary internet files, which everyone should know how to delete. Then it stopped, and 20,000 sites popped up. I saw tortureme.com, which was next to torah.com because my father is an orthodox jew. There was eatkosher.com and Eatitbitch.com. There was bound and gagged.com, brandher.com, miss pain, king of fetish, rope expert, babydoll bondage…and Bible.com.
I clicked on some of the sites and headlines screamed at me: Look at tortured slaves suffering pain and torment. Watch as these tender young girls are bitten and burned.
I remember how my father used to press his hand on my lower right side--he’s a doctor. He did that whether it was a sore throat or an ear ache; he’d press and ask if it hurt. Now I wonder if he wanted it to.
When we had snowball fights he would try to bean me between the eyes. And when we played ping pong and I hit the ball a bit too high, he would smash it back at me so it stung my skin and left a little red welt.
As I clicked on candleintheass.com, my mother called me from the other room, telling me that it was nearly sundown and I should turn off the computer. I went into the dining room and watched her make the blessing over the Friday night candles, which were shoved appropriately into the candelabra.
I saw my mother wave her hands three times around the candles greeting the Sabbath and tried to image telling her what I had just seen. The only conversation we ever had that was even remotely about sex was actually the last time I was home. She was scouring the toilet and I poked my head in to the bathroom and casually asked her if she indeed taught us that premarital sex is wrong. She looked at me quizzically, gave a half nod and I said, “Thanks. Just checking.” She’s great when you’re having a home economics crisis involving a missing button or an undercooked chicken, but she’s never taught me much of anything useful in terms of real life lessons besides “always carry kleenex for those unexpected spills,” and I’m sure she wasn’t referring to sex.
When you tell her something distressing, she has this way of angling her head, arching her neck to look away when she doesn’t want to hear something, not unlike my dog when I’m trying to get the gooey stuff out of the corners of her eyes.
I realized I couldn’t talk to my mother, so I planned to write my father a letter telling him what I had seen, but before doing the adult thing, I decided to entrap him online. So I chose a screen name: Bubby Does Bondage. (Bubby is Yiddish for grandmother). And in an apocalyptic moment, I send an Instant Message to my father when his screen name popped up online. “Is your wife home,” I typed, trying to instigate a conversation if my mother wasn’t around. Fingers trembling, I waited for a response, and I got one. It said: “No, she’s not here. But this is her brother, not her husband.” I had inadvertently sent the instant message to my uncle, who, I found out later, was snowed in at my parent’s house for the weekend and went online using my father’s screen name. So now my poor uncle Aaron thinks that my mom has an online relationship with an S&M Jewish grandmother.
So I wrote a letter to my father, told him I was horrified by what I saw and that he should seek some kind of therapy, figure out what was driving this urge. He wrote back, saying: “I am guilty…of bad time management. But work has been busy and that’s good because I can spend my time helping others. Please write soon about your pursuits and travels.”
While he’s still imprisoned by his obsession, I’m set free. After all, he can no longer berate me for leaving the faith and disrespecting him as he stands on shaky ground. However, I was recently biking through Central Park at dusk and turned onto a dark, deserted path where I thought I saw the shadowy figure of man lurking behind a bush. My heart thudded and I was paralyzed…not with the threat of an attacker, but with the realization that my father’s greatest fantasy is my greatest fear.