Just another statistic
His knuckles white in the grip on her shoulders, he tugged her back and forth in short, hard strokes like a dog shakes a limp animal. A face red with rage and puffed by alcohol screamed into hers that’s only defense was to turn away and not look into the eyes of her children. It was sunny outside as I witnessed with my eyes what my ears had only heard up until that point.
I’m not sure which memory came first, witnessing the abuse of my mother first hand, or hearing her cry herself to sleep between gasps for breath because he had punched her in the ribs. She often sought refuge on my bedroom floor come bedtime. Other nights I heard a heavy thud against their bedroom cupboards as he shoved her into them. The memories are jumbled and dispersed between lengthy periods of empty blackness, periods of my life my mind won’t let me remember just yet.
My mother was transformed by her divorce from my father. Like a butterfly struggles to free itself of its chrysalis, so she fought with her own emotions until she was free to spread her wings. She found her footing, she became strong; she became my role model. And then he entered her life one fateful night, swept her off her feet and a whirlwind romance ensued. It was not long before we moved in with him.
There were signs, precursors if you will. I was not allowed to close my bedroom door, even when dressing. He was forceful and domineering, and he liked his drink; sometimes he liked his drink a bit too much on the weekends. I distinctly remember being too scared to sleep there when my mother would spend the weekend; and not scared as in there’s a monster under my bed, but purely terrified to be there after dark. Thinking back the cause of that terror still eludes me.
I’m not sure when the physical abuse started, as I’ve said, this period of my life is viewed through glasses that are cracked, smeared with dirt and the wrong prescription. I do remember when I first witnessed it though; it is a memory I will never forget no matter how I tried to cut it out with broken glass, drown it with alcohol, blur it with prescription painkillers or burn it out with cigarettes on my skin in later life.
The overall experience threw me into a deep, dark hole. At first, I simply curled up in a ball and willed death to take me. I had no interest in making any attempt to climb out. After that didn’t work, I grew frustrated and angry at what was inflicted on me, on my family; and the childhood that was taken from me. I thrashed at the bottom of the pit, shredding myself against the sharp rocks protruding from the pit walls.
Then I met my husband- he threw a rope down into that dark hole and beckoned me to come out. I was reluctant; being in that pit had become a part of my identity and every time I looked up at the sky, a small circle above, I saw him standing beside my husband. But my husband won my trust and I started to climb out, scrapping myself along the sharp pit walls occasionally, but being soothed by my husband’s words every time. Years later and I’m still not out of the pit, but I’m close to the top and I no longer see him standing at its edge, waiting to push me back in. I know I still have some way to climb, but the journey up and out has strengthened me so far. I accept that one day I will be free and my time in the dark pit will be a memory that can’t hurt me anymore.