About My Father, My Own Personal Monster

(Trigger warning: this post contains disturbing material. Proceed at your own risk.)

My father, Daniel Lee Marsh, was from Jonesboro, Arkansas, and was alive from 1933 to 2010. At almost nine years after his death, there are still several things I cannot figure out about the man. Why did he do the things he did?

When he finally reached his long-delayed, long-anticipated expiration date, I had already been eagerly waiting for that day for years. I was utterly confused that my mother and sister reacted to the news of his death by becoming upset. He was finally gone. He could hurt no one, ever again. This was, in my view, an occasion for celebration, not mourning, for his long-awaited death meant he could harm no one else. They reacted with tears, while I was euphoric, and demonstrated that euphoria with hysterical laughter. I think I confused them as much as they confused me.

My father was a pedophile, who targeted young males, and horribly neglected the females in his life. Several of my childhood friends were molested by the man. He was also a teacher (as I am), and abused that position to find new victims. He was never punished by the criminal justice system. I did report his behavior to police, late in his life, but he had successfully hidden all evidence of his crimes by this point, and the police came to conclusion that my report was false. My surviving family had tried to convince me for years not to report his crimes, as a shameful family secret, but I eventually reached the breaking point, which means I had to act, which I did — not that it did any good. The police dropped their investigation, and then harassed me, as if I had filed a false complaint.

I have no biological children, having always being afraid to become involved in a pregnancy, for fear I would turn out like him. I do have two stepchildren, whom I love as if they carried my own DNA. I fear this is as close to fatherhood as I dare come. I have a strong memory of his cruelty — many, in fact — but one sticks out from when I was six years old. I was angry at him for something (I don’t remember what), and he handed me a scalpel, then invited me to stick it into his head, just behind his left ear, which he told me would kill him quickly. No six-year-old should experience that.

For a time when I was young, I had a roommate, a college student named Jerry. I had no idea that Jerry was secretly my father’s primary sexual partner, only learning of that years later. My mother discovered this, but did not divorce him immediately, staying in that hell of a marriage for the sake of my sister and myself. Much later, she did divorce him. I reacted by legally changing my last name to my mother’s maiden name, just to show whose side I was on.

Can you imagine being a teenager, and having your own father molest your neighborhood friends? I don’t have to imagine it — those memories are burned into my brain. I’ve had to go so far as to be tested for HIV, just in case I was a direct target myself, for it is difficult for me to trust my memory. Fortunately, the test results cleared me of worrying about possibly contracting AIDS.

There’s more. When the two of us were going somewhere in the car, he would often masturbate, while driving, to the point of orgasm, in full view of me, under the guise of “sex education,” in my tween and early teen years. I did not realize until later how harmful this was to me, but now I know this is one of several reasons I have to deal with PTSD for the rest of my life.

There’s also the matter of religion. My father hopped from one religion to another every few years, and tried his best to drag the whole family along with him each time. The new “word from on high” was in effect, and previous revelations were abandoned. These religions varied from the ultra-conservative Church of Christ, to a degenerate form of Buddhism called Soka Gakkai, to his own version of a Native-American-belief-based magic-mushroom cult, and many others. He was quite charismatic, and never had any trouble attracting a small group of “disciples” to follow him along whichever pseudo-spiritual “path” he was on. I grew up, unsurprisingly, with the attitude that all religions were both harmful, and deeply flawed. If you want to raise a young child to become an atheist, there is no more effective approach than what my father did with regards to religion.

The inconsistency of his “parenting” was horrible. One year, he would be providing me with age-inappropriate hard-core pornography, such as Hustler magazine — and the next year, he would mark as “forbidden,” in the TV Guide, any movie which contained nudity. I can’t explain this. It makes no sense.

This is not a complete list.

He’s gone now, but my PTSD remains. If you have kids, please do not torture them, as my father did. If you know of any situation like this going on around you, please report it to the proper authorities. Monsters in human form do exist, and it is the responsibility of all of us to stop them.

Purple: Connecting Fiction, and Personal Trauma

Purple is not my favorite color (black is, but that’s another story), but it is a significant color for me, for complicated reasons I shall try to explain here. In some regards, this blog-post can be seen as a review of Netflix’s new series, Jessica Jones. My opinion of the series, in brief: five stars — watch it!

Do not expect watching this show to be easy, though. Like Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, it plumbs the depth of human depravity, through the character of Killgrave, also known as The Purple Man, a character who has existed in comic books since 1964, when he appeared in issue #4 of Daredevil.

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[Art by Tom Grummett; image found here, and from a comic book cover other than Daredevil #4.]

Killgrave’s skin is not purple in the new TV series, but he’s every bit as horrible a person as in comic book stories. He has one superpower, but it’s a nearly-impossible one to overcome: when he tells people to do things, they immediately do what he says, even to the point of killing themselves or others.

I was interested in Killgrave (and Jessica Jones) from the first time I saw either of them in a comic book, long before this TV series was planned. However, about halfway through the first season, I suddenly realized why Killgrave held such personal fascination for me as a truly horrible character — and why I hated him so intensely. It’s the fact that he controls the minds of other people, using his voice.

My father did the same thing, although he certainly did not have purple skin, and never, to my knowledge, killed anyone (but he did leave a string of damaged people in his wake). His voice had a hypnotic quality. There are people, to this day, who will claim to have seen him float straight up into the air — because they were told to see him levitate. I never saw that, but I do have faint memories, from a very early age, of seeing other unreal things, at his verbal suggestion, such as four or five finger-to-finger “ribbons of energy” called “orgone” connecting my hands, held in front of me, at night. Other children my age were with me; they saw these “orgone energy ribbons,” and more. I got away from this insanity as quickly, and as often, as I was able to do. Avoiding my father became my habit early, and often.

Many people have had horrible things done to them, due to abuse of this ability. In fiction, Killgrave, The Purple Man, is the best example of such a monster using his voice as a mind-control weapon. In reality, my father (and others with a similar ability, such as leaders of religious cults, a role my father did play, more than once) is another example.

When I realized the similarity between Killgrave and my now-deceased father, I had to stop watching Jessica Jones for about 24 hours. Having been a survivor of mind control left me (in real life) and Jessica Jones (in fiction) with PTSD, and I had to have a break from watching the show for this reason.

During this 24 hours, I remembered something about my father (who died in 2010) and my mother (who died less than two weeks ago): a story my mother told me, many years later.

Apparently my father hated the color purple, although I have no idea why. She was under his voice-control for years. So was I. We broke completely free of this manipulative monster at about the same time, in the mid-1980s. She left, and then divorced, him. I came up with my own way to “divorce” him as a parent, myself: I legally changed my last name to my mother’s maiden name. These things I knew already; the new thing Mom told me was what she did to celebrate her breaking free of his influence: buying a purple dress, and going out, wearing it, to celebrate her freedom.

After remembering this, I was able to watch the rest of the first season of Jessica Jones. I will not leave specific spoilers here, but I will say this: watching the rest of it helped with the ongoing process of recovering from my own “purple trauma.”

Rebecca West, on Feminism — and My Own, Personal Reasons for Calling Myself a Feminist

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Of my two parents, one (no longer living) was a misogynistic, manipulative, abusive monster, with a list of surviving victims longer than this entire blog-post. My mother, however, is living, and has always been a feminist. I was raised by one loving, feminist parent, while constantly doing mental, verbal, and sometimes even physical battle, in self-defense, against my other parent — as a matter of survival.

This accounts, I am certain, with the fact that, to this day, it is far easier for me to form friendships with women than with men. Simply put, it is difficult for me to trust men. Men commit an overwhelming majority of the murders which happen, as well as virtually all of the rapes, and it is male politicians, as a rule, who start most — perhaps all — of the world’s far-too-numerous wars, both in the present, and the past. When one’s earliest memory is having one’s mother save one’s own life, from death by shaken baby syndrome, at age 2 ½, inflicted by one’s own father, there is no escape from lifelong psychological fallout from such a traumatic event. This is my earliest memory, and one of the causes of my PTSD, with which I will have to struggle with for the rest of my life, for this condition, unfortunately, has no cure.

When my parents (finally) divorced, around my 20th birthday, I actually went to the trouble (and expense) to legally change my last name to my mother’s maiden name, and I did this to show everyone whose side I was on — and to shed a surname which I associate, to this day, only with negative things in my life. I regret nothing about this decision. I am glad that the monster found out about this name-change, shortly after I did it, for he deserved the pain I deliberately inflicted on him by this action.

I can follow exactly half of the Biblical commandment to “Honor thy father and they mother” (Exodus 20:12), but I cannot follow the other half, for this particular monster had no honor, nor did he deserve any, now, or at any time I can remember.

I also regret nothing about the fact that my deceased parent — the monster — is no longer able to hurt anyone, since what’s left of him is, well, underground, in the literal sense of the word. I did not attend the monster’s funeral, nor was I saddened, even in the slightest, when I learned of his death. He is completely unmourned by me — and I make no apologies for any of these things.

I do not speak, nor do I write, my original last name. There are over 1400 posts on this blog, and that name appears in none of them. The reason is simple: it is not my name.

I completely agree with Rebecca West’s perfectly-reasonable definition of feminism, shown above, and, since I do subscribe to the “radical notion” that women are actually people, I see no problem whatsoever with applying the word “feminist” to myself. I’m male, after all, only as an accident of birth, and am not going to let that “coin-flip” keep me from adopting labels of my own choosing. “Feminist” is a label I wear with pride, and for highly personal reasons, as explained above. I always have been, and will remain, opposed to any efforts (such as those from the radical religious right in America) to oppress the female majority of the population. If those efforts end up destroying the Republican Party in America — which will happen, unless they reform themselves first — then Republicans will have no one to blame but themselves, and their willingness to tolerate extreme misogyny among their own ranks.

Daredevil Fan-Fiction: Why Did Matt Murdock’s Mother Leave His Father?

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I will start with an introduction, to set the context of this story.

In the issue of Superior Iron Man shown above (#4, published in 2015), Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man (having had a “moral inversion,” or good/evil reversal), is the villain of the story, while Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil, is the hero. It isn’t a typical comic book, for, in this story, the bad guy wins. Stark uses advanced technology to overpower Murdock, and then this happens, near the end of the issue.

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In the next panel, Matt wakes up, in a hospital, with no memories of the conflict with Stark.

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It is important to note that, earlier in this multi-issue story, which begins in Superior Iron Man #1, Stark restores Murdock’s ability to see. Realizing that the price of this is far too high, Murdock deliberately shuns this “gift” from Stark, and voluntarily allows his blindness to return.

Now that the stage is set, on to the fan-fiction, which takes place, mostly, in the mind of Matthew Murdock, who is also an attorney, in-between the two panels shown above.

~~~

Matt Murdock was blinded in a childhood accident, so he is used to darkness — but the darkness now enveloping him is far emptier than usual. His enhanced senses are gone. Hearing nothing, smelling nothing, tasting nothing, feeling nothing, and his “radar-sense” gone, he is now blind — really blind. Deprived of all sensory input, he also has no idea what is going on. However, he can think, and can also remember.

The first thing he remembers is a single name: STARK!

That name triggers a recent memory: the brief, recent period where one of Tony Stark’s inventions restored his sight. For a time — an unknown amount of time — he simply watches, as if watching a TV show, the things he saw during this short time. The show plays itself out, as if on a large screen. His anger at Stark forgotten, Matt watches the show of his recent memories, as one might passively watch a movie. He feels he is floating, in a void, as he watches. As this “movie” plays, there is a sudden freeze-frame: the pictures stop moving. Context is immediately forgotten. All he sees is a single image, which is what he happened to be looking at when the “movie” of his recent memories was suddenly, and unexpectedly, put on “pause.”

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A jar of peanut butter? Why did the images freeze at this spot? What’s going on? Did I see this in a store? Did I see it in my home? Where did I . . . ?

Daredevil is popularly-known as “The Man Without Fear,” but he’s always known that this description is inaccurate. For example, he fears the possibility of those he loves getting injured, or killed, by any of his numerous enemies, because of his exploits as a costumed hero — for that has already happened to him, more than once. He also realizes that he fears something else, but only if he sees it: peanut butter.

Peanut butter? Why that, of all things?

An earlier, strongly-repressed, memory then surfaces, and a great many things fall painfully into place for Matthew Murdock.

Oh, no . . . anything but this . . . . 

He is no longer seeing recalled memories from a few days ago, but from early childhood — before the accident that blinded him. He was very young, had a bad head cold, and could smell nothing, explaining why the smell of peanut butter never triggered this memory before.

Young Matthew looks around. He sees the kitchen of his childhood home. His parents, Jack and Margaret Murdock, are still together. He is wearing the clothes of a toddler, because that is what he was at this time. He’s on top of a counter in the kitchen, having climbed up there, using chairs to make a crude “staircase.” And there, on the floor, is a five-pound jar of peanut butter, surrounded by shards of broken glass. 

Matt, as a toddler, had only been looking for some cookies. He had not meant to knock his father’s gigantic glass jar of peanut butter off the counter, but the deed was done. The jar was broken, and could not be unbroken. There was broken glass in the peanut butter now; it could not safely be eaten. His family didn’t have much money, for his father’s career as a professional boxer was going nowhere, and his mother only made a little money, at the elementary school down the street, working as a substitute teacher. “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock, whom the adult Matt Murdock had idolized for years, was eating as much peanut butter as he could, simply to gain weight, and protein, in the hopes that this would, somehow, make him a better boxer.

The crash of the glass jar hitting the floor echoed throughout the family’s small Hell’s Kitchen apartment. With his earliest memories now unlocked, he knew what was coming next. Matt tried desperately to stop the memory-playback.

He failed, and his mind filled with fear.

Loud footsteps . . . Dad? No! Please, please don’t . . . I don’t need to see this happen again . . . not again . . . . never again . . . .

“MATT!” His father had just burst into the room, having heard the crash. He saw the broken jar of peanut butter on the floor. His son started to cry, afraid of what he knew, in hindsight, was about to happen. “You clumsy little %$#@! Do you have any idea how much that jar COST me?” An incoherent, deep-voiced, roar of rage followed — and the noise from his father seemed louder than anything the adult Murdock had ever heard, even from his arch-enemy, Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, and even with his enhanced senses taken into account.

Matt’s father, already drunk, in the middle of the afternoon, kept yelling at his son: “I’ll KILL you for this, you worthless little son of a &*%$#!!”

And, with that, the enraged “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock grabbed his only son, by both shoulders, with his son facing him, and started shaking him as hard as he could. Young Matt’s head flopped back and forth, rapidly, just like a worn-out rag doll. Matt heard a sharp “crack!” sound from one of the bones in his neck. The shaking continued.

The adult Matt Murdock then remembered a legal case he had refused to take, over ten years earlier, defending a man who was then put on trial for murdering his son via shaken baby syndrome, which can kill children up to the age of three. Later, he learned the man had not only been convicted, but eventually put to death — the last legal execution in the state of New York, for killing his 2½-year-old son . He remembered smiling when he learned of this, but had not known, at the time, why this news had made him happy.

Now, all at once, he knew.

Luckily for Matt, the toddler, help was on the way. School had been dismissed, and his mother, Margaret Murdock, was just arriving home. She walked in on the most horrible scene she had ever witnessed: her husband attacking their only child.

She didn’t hesitate, and had, fortunately for her young son, entered the apartment unseen by “Battlin’ Jack.” She ran at her husband, a trained boxer, jumped onto his back, and began clawing at her husband’s face with every ounce of strength she could find, screaming as she did so. Not only that, but it worked — she saved her son’s life. 

“You rotten little %$#@*! This is all YOUR fault!” She had saved Matt, but only by getting her husband to redirect his fury at the only other target available — herself. This was not the first time Jack Murdock had beaten his wife, but it was the worst beating she ever took from him, and it was also the last such beating.

This was the last time Matt Murdock ever saw his mother — and, until many years later, as an adult, this was also the last time Matt heard her voice. Unknown to her son, or her monster of a husband, she escaped, to a shelter for battered women at a nearby church, but was unable to take young Matthew with her — her husband changed the locks after she left, and she was not able to gain access to him, in order to rescue him. She did, however, make contact with a friend who worked with New York’s Child Protective Services agency, and begged her friend for her help. She was (incorrectly, she later found out) told that, with no hard evidence available, there was no point in calling the police: an arrest of Jack Murdock would be, she was informed, impossible. However, she did convince her friend to have CPS keep an eye on the situation, for years, in order to ensure her son’s safety.

The toddler Matt, of course, knew none of this. In fact, even as an adult, he never did find out about the CPS-monitoring which his mother had arranged, for his protection.

As his mother was savagely beaten, young Matt laid limp, on the floor, his neck forming a very odd-looking angle, as the result of the trauma he had suffered. He could not move, nor could he speak, for he was in shock for over an hour. He could, however, see and hear. He heard his mother crying, and screaming, as her husband continued to beat her. He saw two of his mother’s bloody teeth fly across his field of vision. He heard some of her bones break, but could not turn his head to see which ones the monster of their lives had broken. He saw a calendar on the wall, and his adult self did the math, and figured out how old he had been when this happened: two and a half years old.

This was now Matt Murdock’s earliest memory — but not for long. The weapon Tony Stark had designed, built, and used against him was programmed to seek out (and record) a person’s most traumatic, but still repressed, memory, and then force them to relive it, vividly, and, next, allow that person to suppress the memory once again — and then keep going, wiping out all memories for several days before the device was activated. When Matt Murdock awoke in the hospital, he remembered nothing about either the conflict with Stark, or with his father. However, Tony Stark examined the recorded data about Murdock’s childhood, and filed it away, in case he ever decides to use it. And, of course, Matt Murdock’s earliest memory is not gone, but merely repressed. If Stark’s technology ever fails, which is certainly possible, these memories could always come back.

Tony Stark now understands Matt Murdock’s prime motivation for putting on a devil costume (despite the fact that he is Catholic), going out almost every night, and selectively beating only those people who seriously deserve to be beaten, and Stark enjoys knowing that he is the only person in the world with this information, to use however he sees fit, at any time.

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~~~

CREDITS

I took the picture of the jar of peanut butter myself. All other images in this post are from Superior Iron Man #4, published by Marvel Comics, written by Tom Taylor, penciled by Yildiray Cinar, and with cover art created by Mike Choi. For other credits, I refer you to this comic book.

The “fuzziness” of the comic book images is deliberate, and done with the intent of avoiding copyright infringement, while leaving the dialogue readable.

While writing this short story, I made every effort to keep it consistent with the decades-long story of Matt Murdock / Daredevil, a work which has involved dozens of talented people. Without their work to build on, I could not have written this story.

The information in this story regarding Shaken Baby Syndrome is factual, as of the date of publication. A search of medical sources with Google will reveal that it does kill large numbers of babies, as well as children up to age three. Everyone needs to know this: shaking can kill babies and children. In this story, Matt Murdock survived. In real life, the author of this story survived; it is my earliest clear memory. Not everyone lives: 25% of us die, and of those who survive, 80% have to deal with permanent damage.

Obviously, I’m among those who survived, but I’m also among the 80% of survivors with permanent damage. PTSD doesn’t just “wear off” once you get it, either . . . or at least, I haven’t found a cure for mine yet.