“I must have been three or four. I remember my father chasing after me. His flat palm made contact with my small pale back.”
Sentences from the first few pages of this 2017 memoir set the tone for the book by now-adult essayist and editor Jessica Berger Gross, herself the mother of a young boy.
Berger describes how a childhood of physical abuse by her father and emotional abuse by her mother led her to a determination to never see her parents again. She made her decision in her late 20s, and she does not regret it. She does not deny to her son that he has grandparents, but she tells him they are like the parents in Hansel and Gretel or the mean stepmother in Cinderella and that he will not meet them.
In this riveting memoir, Berger details the years her father hit her as a child and as a young woman, and then the years his screaming and anger frightened her enough to send her into deep depressions during her college years. Her mother, aware of the abuse, stayed with her father. Her mother admits to Jessica that she stayed for appearances and for financial security although many times her mother made more money than did her father who lost jobs due to cheating and falsifying records.
Berger life of fear extends into adulthood, even though her family supported her financially into her late 20s. She did not want for material goods and is a Vassar graduate. Her two brothers strove and mostly succeeded in forgetting their past. Some evidence in one of her brother’s lives suggests that he, too, was guilty of hitting and acting aggressively toward others. Berger struggled with relationships, feeling for many years that she was not worthy of being loved and choosing men who sometimes mirrored her father’s behavior.
I know adults who have made the decision to cut off all contact with parents and sometimes siblings, and I know adults who have managed to maintain a relationship of sorts with abusive parents. I believe the former would welcome this book that would validate their decision to leave familial ties in the effort to establish whole relationships with others and to move forward without the terrible memories they take with them.
Perhaps this book would help abused children—become adults find a way to forget, if not forgive, their abusers. “Estranged” is a memoir that addresses a topic not often found in other narratives.