Enemy is published by Penguin
Enemy by Ruth Clare is a book written by a daughter about her troubled upbringing with her father, a Vietnam veteran. Like so many who came back from that war, and every other war for that matter, Clare’s father suffered from PTSD, and like so many other families, Ruth Clare’s family suffered too. In the years following the return of these soldiers, PTSD was not an acknowledged or defined condition.
One of the most quoted sentences in this book is also the very first sentence in the book, “I was born into the war still raging inside my father”. Ruth Clare was born in 1974, two years after the war ended. She has two siblings, one older and one younger. Clare tells of the knife-edge existence they lived, as her father tried to live his life dealing with his internal, unacknowledged torment by imposing his control over his family, verbally, mentally and physically abusing them when they stepped out of line.
It was only after Ruth Clare had her own family that she began her journey to try to understand her father, someone she felt she felt she hated, but could not let go of. In seeking to understand, she hoped to come to terms with her own trauma. Clare tells the story of her search for understanding alongside the story of her growing up – a time marked with fear, anger, and a constant need to try to protect a mother who could not find the strength, or will, to defend her own children. The way Clare describes her heart-wrenching anxiety as her siblings and mother tip-toe about trying not to do anything that might tip her father over the edge into cruel verbal and physical abuse is so vividly described the tension is almost palpable.
Anyone who knows someone with PTSD, or someone who cares for a person with PTSD, will connect, perhaps uncomfortably, with the feelings Clare so clearly describes: the ache in the chest, the hypervigilance, the constant state of high-alert for any tiny changes that could spell an explosion of violence, and the feeling of worthlessness and emptiness that comes with all of that.
Although, this is a tragic story of a broken man and a broken family, Clare takes the reader along with her to understanding and empathy as she shares her own journey to reconciliation with her past through therapy, research, and her interviews with Vietnam veterans.
Not an easy read, but a recommended one.