In a piece for the current moment, Dominic Bucca reflects on his self-isolation experience and extends his thoughts and attention to those who may be experiencing COVID-19 while quarantined with an abuser. With great gentleness and consideration for his audience, Bucca invites readers to sit with him in the midst of trauma that is both personal and global. As a survivor himself, Bucca shares the story he would have hoped to hear years ago, and offers new hope to those who may need it most in these difficult times.
by Dominic Bucca
Lately I find comfort in solitude. I’ve spent the last several years working on a book project, a memoir of the sexual abuse I experienced at my stepfather’s hands as a child. Writing is naturally a solitary endeavor, so I’ve had plenty of practice. Today, my wife, Kate, and I are self-isolating in our half-finished house on the beautiful shore of Prince Edward Island, where Kate is pursuing her PhD. We have no children, and most of our family is (hopefully) safely self-isolated back home in Vermont. Kate’s a writer as well, and we’ve been spending our days reading, writing, cooking, watching binge-worthy television, and planning the remaining renovations our house needs this summer.
The news is a constant stressor, of course, and with all the uncertainty in the world we must pay extra careful attention not only to our health and hygiene, but also to our finances, such as they are, and in all of this I’m reminded of my incredible privilege. I am healthy, warm, well-fed and cared for, and my home, despite its bare subfloors and exposed insulation, is the safest place I could possibly be.
That isn’t the case for everyone. On this eye-splittingly sunny March Saturday, as I sit in perfect comfort on my covered porch watching the snow melt while sipping coffee and taking time to write this, I am painfully aware of the juxtaposition between my own lucky place in these circumstances and the plight of those who cannot enjoy such comfort. Because for all too many, home is not a place of safety, but of suffering.
I’ve been imagining what it would have been like to be isolated at home as a teenager, back in the early 90s. Back when my mother was still married to my stepfather, back when my sisters, his daughters, were still young enough to demand just about all of our mother’s attention, back when my stepfather’s mother was still alive, living in the in-law apartment off the kitchen and suffering her own manifestation of my stepfather’s abusive nature. What would it have been like to be forced into confinement together? With the distractions of “normal” daily life largely removed, what might this Saturday have looked like?
Luckily Stepfather liked to sleep in. Mom was an early riser, however, which presented an opportunity for some quiet time with her between the hours of 5 and perhaps 8am, when the girls and Grandma would begin to stir. Then there’d be another hour or two before he began loudly calling for his coffee, which my mother would have ready to deliver upstairs. On any other Saturday, they would discuss an outing. Perhaps a hike at the nearby nature preserve, perhaps a visit to that cool little town in the Berkshires, the one with the great coffee shop and bookstore.
But he wouldn’t want to leave his mother alone for too long. And there were chores. No worries, Dominic doesn’t mind seeing to those. My mother would agree that I should stay behind, mow the lawn, and look after Grandma. Should we get dinner out?
Normally, this would be the ideal solution to the dreaded family Saturdays of my youth, allowing me the opportunity to have the run of the house, absent the threat of my stepfather’s mercurial moods, for the better part of a day. My stepfather had stopped sexually assaulting me a few years earlier, around the time I turned twelve and suddenly became taller than him, but that didn’t resolve the issue of his seemingly endless rage.
I could never know what would attract his ire as a teenager. Sometimes it was something I’d done wrong, a failure at school or a missed curfew, but more often it seemed random, perhaps the result of a bad day at work or simply a manic shift in his mood. Whatever caused his anger, one thing was sure: given enough time and exposure, it would come out. And when it came out, it would need to be directed at someone. I most often filled that role in our home, but we all felt the brunt to some degree. Especially Grandma, his own mother, whose emphysema-induced frailty seemed to enrage my stepfather almost as much as my own failures as a child.
There is no universal recipe for an abusive home, but it always begins with the presence of an abusive person. Those of us who’ve been exposed to such a person for any length of time understand that an abuser must be carefully managed, and avoidance is generally the best tool in doing so. So what to do when avoidance is impossible?
This Saturday, I’m thinking of those who are unable to avoid their abusers. I’m thinking of all the families attempting to manage the many stresses of the pandemic compounded by the existing stress of their homes. I hope that this Saturday goes well, that the mood is good, that there’s comforting food and a cozy book or movie and no illness and that perhaps our common viral adversary has created common cause so that any rage is directed beyond the home, away from those occupying it.
I hope for Saturdays free of stress in your future, and I promise that such a Saturday is possible. In the meantime, inadequate though it is, this Saturday I’m thinking of you and wishing you well.
Dominic Bucca is the author of Faculty Brat: A Memoir of Abuse, winner of the 2019 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction. A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, he lives in Vermont and Prince Edward Island, where he’s currently working on his next writing project while renovating the century house on the red sand shore he shares with his wife, writer and educator Kate Bucca, and two perpetually hungry cats, Barney and Snack. He can be found online at www.dominicbucca.com. Follow him on Twitter @dominicjbucca.