I’ve spent my entire adult life, it seems
to me, in a state of profound culture
shock. I wish I were unique in this, but
I’m not. You may not be afflicted with my
misapprehensions, and I may not be
afflicted with yours, but none of this
starts “tabula rasa.” We all distort what
we see. We all have to struggle to see
what’s really going on.
Some of you are going to spend the whole
rest of your life in culture shock, and
what I’m saying today is that I think all
of you should.
– Joan Didion, 1975
What would it be like to witness
inappropriate affections between
dad and daughter over the years,
over your lifetime, and then one
day listen as the now young
adult daughter, vulnerable,
confides in you, her mother,
her siblings, aunts, cousins, one by
one, that she remembers her father
molesting her at age 3? As if it
were news. News to her. A new
Like waking up.
“Tierssa is waking up” an aunt,
otherwise estranged, had
How would it feel to pair the
public weirdness that you
witnessed and ignored, with this
direct confrontation on your way
of life? Not that it’s your way of
The people in the story closest to
Tierssa mostly relied on fear and
pride which presented as
denial. Coping by remaining in the
toxic soup. Paralyzed.
I saw a video of such
inappropriate affection between
dad and daughter from when Tierssa
was 11 years old.
Tierssa was in her thirties when
it surfaced, surreptitiously, at a
family vacation. She had no
recollection of the interaction
that unfolded in her and everyone else
in the room’s view: mom step-
dad, siblings, step-siblings, in-
laws, their children, her
She remembered – the clothes she
was wearing; light turquoise
sweater with colorful yarn designs
in square textured patches. She
loved that sweater – but never
interacting like that with her
father, there, at that age. Not at
Also in the video’s frame:
lighthearted horseplay between her
A therapist commented to Tierssa:
“Watching that video among family
must have felt humiliating.”
UNCERTAINTY & DOUBT:
Instant heat pushed up gut to
cheeks, surprising her, in
protest. She felt validated, her
brain said. How dare this woman
assign her a feeling she didn’t
want? Now there was evidence.
Everyone could finally believe
her. Treat her better.
A moment later, that the video
surfaced a couple of years ago set
Suddenly she remembered when her
mom accused her of forging her
signature on her student loans,
post-confrontation, pre video.
Then she thought of how she asked
her mother weeks after the
vacation for the home videos,
casually. Lots of them were of
Tierssa after all. Playing piano
at school talent shows and other
events. Tierssa had enjoyed
watching. Reliving those memories.
And then that one.
I don’t know where they are
anymore, her mother’s spaced out,
if not cheerful voice replied.
This thread of thoughts gave
humiliation piercing powers that
Tierssa’s pride, fear and denial
could no longer withstand. She
would have resisted longer if she
could have. But, the shape of the
relationship, its edges, had come
into full view.
Some months later, she got word
her dad had died. Condolences,
then wisecracks and memes poured
through via an extended family
group chat, alienating Tierssa’s
sense of estrangement.
Tierssa was appointed the
responsible party, required to
interact with authorities to file
for the death certificate, etc. It
would have been her mom, but her
dad had fled the family, landing
in the Philippines after she
She had a couple of fears:
- that he was not really dead and
- If he was or wasn’t dead, that
signing things would perform an
essential punishment of
indebtedness or other unknown. For
Though reluctant she submitted her
passport and signature. Then Covid
shut-downs happened. And exposure.
Everyone to everything. More
personally, to her unique
isolation. To her feelings of rage
ACCEPTANCE & RECOVERY:
Tierssa took the opportunity to
remove herself from the group
chat, send all burial
contributions, meager as they
were, back to people. She stopped
communicating with everyone in her family.
Then she changed her name.
Kadie Kelly is an interdisciplinary artist born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and living in Oakland, California since 2005. She has a small business, Superpower of the Song, and enjoys writing, composing music, and spending time outdoors with her two sons. Kadie holds both a bachelors and masters degree from Mills College in Public Policy. She is a published poet and was recently featured in Wild Roof Journal.
Recently out in paperback…Have you read Thrust?