The exorcism of Eve Ensler

Till recently, every time she opened her mailbox, she would fantasize about a mail from her father. A detailed account of his amends.

He had sexually abused her from the time she was 5-years-old till the age of 10. When she could start resisting, he would beat her up, almost murdering her twice.

The father may have been dead for more than two decades but that did not stop her from waiting for that elusive mail.

But now, playwright and author Eve Ensler, who wrote the internationally acclaimed play ”The Vagina Monologues” in 1996 which has been translated in 48 languages and performed in more than 140 countries, says that she is ”free” from the wait of that mail now.

Her latest book ”The Apology”, a letter she has written in her father”s voice has in that way freed her. “When a person invades your body, he occupies you, lives inside for several years. Sometimes, we know our perpetrators better than ourselves. Writing this book, I discovered that my father had been inside me for more than two decades. A lot of contouring has come into the book on the basis of knowing him so well. After all, I carried so many of his feelings – melancholy, sadness – feelings that had been erased out of him. You know, my life has been driven to prove my father was wrong, to prove he couldn”t destroy me or take my body away. The moment I finished ”The Apology” … it was like… over – I have nothing to prove. My father is gone. The book was absolute exorcism.”

Ensler pauses for a minute, says that with the new book, she has taken over the narrative of the story, of her life. That”s it”s no longer her father”s story. “A time came when I thought that it was high time that I write the apology to myself that I longed for. Why not say the words to myself that I long to hear? And maybe create a template or blueprint that other men might look at as a possible way to begin to not only free their victim but also themselves from the terrible deeds they had committed. Certain parts I knew, certain pieces I made. No, it”s not that I don”t remember the abuse, just that it”s not in me anymore. It”s not occupying me anymore, not driving my life anymore. It feels I am in a new world — a space that is a little disorienting, but I like it.”

Stressing on the fact that writing it in her father”s voice had helped her deeply and turned out to be excruciating for many reasons, she elaborates, “For many years, I felt my father hadn”t earned the right to feel his pain but I was very connected to him through my rage. Writing this book also allowed me to understand what made my father the person he was. Remember, there is no justification for what he did. I just wanted my father to explain to me what as a child happened to him, what did he go through that turned him into a kind of man who radically abuses his daughter? By beginning to allow myself to hear that, it was a huge liberation. When the book begins, he is a monster, and by the end, an apologist. The start sees him as a terrifying entity. He is a broken little boy by the time it is over. Of course, imagination is our superpower. I made up a lot of his story. But the process of doing that was an incredibly liberating experience. I don”t have all the answers. This is an offering, a tool. Writing this taught me to look at the anatomy of an apology. It”s not – ”I am sorry I hurt or abused you” – that”s a write off. I just hope it becomes a template and blueprint for all the men who have abused women and they begin to look inside and join us in our movement.”

In Delhi on Tuesday and Wednesday for the India and Delhi chapters of One Billion Rising (OBR), a global campaign, founded in 2012 by Ensler, to end rape and sexual violence against women, the writer talks about the time when the book was being written, a time when the world and the country was swept by the #MeToo movement. “My deep concern is what has changed? Have these men come out and admitted? Are they working on themselves? We will of course keep calling out, but what if they don”t use this as a moment to look inside and understand what patriarchy has turned them into?”

Talking about her late mother, Ensler said, “By the time my father began to manifest who he was on the level of monstrous behavior, she had three children and nowhere to go. At a certain point when I finally confronted her, she admitted, ”I realise that I sacrificed you – I could not bear to be poor and had no place to go with three children.” Yes, it was a devastating thing to hear, but I also knew it was true. She did make a lot of amends to me before she died, she owned her behavior. When she left this world, we were very much at peace with each other.”

No, for Ensler that men are not born monsters. Believing that growing up in patriarchy destroys a man”s souls, she added, “When you”re told not to cry, not to feel and asked to cut off your heart, what can you expect? It”s the toxic combination, put together with power and privilege. We haven”t really uncovered the kind of abuse of boys undergo in their childhood. It”s just beginning to surface. Maybe it turns out that boys are actually more fragile than girls. This is the theory I have been thinking about more lately. Men are physical, they have power, what they do with their pain is that they go outward. Women go inward — they attack themselves and rip themselves apart.”

For someone who is against capital punishment, ”forgiveness” is not really a cherished word. “It comes across as quite ”mandated” for victims. It proves to be more damaging because you”re going through this artificial ”forgiveness” thing that you are not feeling. I believe in the alchemy of an apology. When someone truly searches his soul and goes through different stages, it is only then you get relief from your bitterness, and betrayal. By the way, the victim may choose never to forgive.”

As the conversation veers back to ”The Vagina Monologues” and if she has ever felt the pressure to write another hugely successful play, Ensler laughs, “Not anymore. My father is gone. That play was a phenomenon. In the end, it was so far beyond me. It had to do with moment, time and women. I feel ever since it was born, I have been in service to it. Well, I am profoundly grateful to it for it has allowed me to see the world. Also, everything one creates has its own life and does its own healing work in the world.”

She never wrote ”The Letter” while her father was alive… “But back then, I was in complete rage. It has taken me several years to even consider doing this. Of course, I would have surely done it now if he was still alive because I am not afraid of him anymore. But it took me a long time not to be afraid.”

So, at peace now? “With myself, yes. But not with the world.”

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