Memoir Poem: Survivor’s Guilt by Association

Aileen David,

Because I thought I didn’t suffer enough

I wore guilt as a shield

Can’t shoot me down if I already shot myself

Can’t ridicule me if I’m better at it

I practiced consistent self-betrayal.

Survivor’s guilt is a heavy burden

with guilt by association

the two are related like cousins.

Father didn’t hit me (just once or twice)

but in comparison it was nothing

to their ongoing suffering.

He said I was his favorite

the golden, shy, accidentally abandoned

youngest child Princess

with a hole-in-my-heart condition that never healed.

What monster would beat an invalid?—

That was my safety net and crime

I was and still am— an escape artist.

I felt cursed to be spared each horrific time they almost died

I was an unwilling accomplice to their derangement

their drama saturated execution of love.

Mother sent me to him as a peace offering dove

serving him his favorite ice cream

in a bowl in my cupped geisha-in-training hands

My purpose was as a tiny referee

a living charm and catering company.

I was sent as an ambassador armed with dessert

to calm him down

to remind him of goodness

in the middle of their uncivil war.

Mom never realized that I was scared each time.

She didn’t think I was in danger

maybe I wasn’t, but I thought I was:

a big crybaby, a coward, a disappearing wall-flower

crying in the hallway while they fought

a knife fight of words and slaps and dragging by the hair stunts

the atrocities of familial war petrified me

made me prematurely age in my child body

I thought I was selfish to survive by hiding

but really all I was

was innocent.


  1. This is an absolutely brilliant poem. Hair-raising, horrific and heart-rending in the harm it reveals, but stunningly beautifully written; compassionate, sensitive, innocent… everything. It’s amazing. 💛

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Christopher. I’m not sure if I have good or bad karma but this lifetime has been challenging. I do think it’s given a lot to process, fuel for writing, maybe that’s a positive from the awful negatives.

      Liked by 1 person

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