My father bought me AirPods. I cried.
They found out when my sister saw the Instagram story and my mother phoned me, confused.
“Your dad sent you something this morning. It was meant to arrive today,” she told me.
“What is it?” I asked, trying to keep my tone light.
“He says it’s a surprise, but that you should go and get it. And send over your new address.”
I agreed that I would and then hung up with no intention of doing so. The music that I had been unpacking to suddenly sounded bubblegum-bright, fake, unnatural. I turned it off and called the grandmother that I had been living with and asked her to open the package.
They were AirPods Pro. I cried myself to sleep.
You may have guessed by now that this is not a story about being ungrateful. If you had told me that morning that I would receive a surprise gift of some $250 wireless headphones, I would have been ecstatic. But these were not gifts. My father does not give gifts.
My father did not even call me on my birthday.
On the rare occasion that we even acknowledge financial abuse, we only tend to discuss restriction. It is true that my father took my mother’s debit cards and prevented her from accessing money. It is true that he gave her only enough to do the food shopping and then checked the receipts to make sure that she wasn’t siphoning any away. It is true that I spent my childhood with my own mother taking me aside to “borrow” my birthday money because she couldn’t let her husband find out she had spent anything on herself.
But in order for this kind of abuse to go unacknowledged, abusers have to occasionally do the opposite. In fact, to this day my grandma cannot comprehend that her former son-in-law could ever have been abusing any of us because he was such a ‘generous’ man. ‘Why do you hate your dad so much, Lydia?’, she asked me after I left home. ‘He clearly loves you. He paid for you to go on holiday.’
The holiday in question had materialized the morning after I stopped breathing in the night, and he got out of bed only to tell the paramedics that they were talking too loudly.