Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Behind Closed Doors - abuse is not confined to the spouse part 1

A true story by an abused survivor from behind closed doors ... part 1 of 2  ...
The horror of the recent earthquake in Haiti is much like the horror of growing up in an abusive home with an alcoholic father.  You never knew what was going to happen next…would you be safe, would you be fed, would you have a place to live, and would there be someone you could trust to help?
My first memory was when I was four years old, just old enough to begin to understand what was happening around me.  There was an emotional fire-storm going on the street in front of my grandparent’s home.  My mother and father where in the midst of an emotional melt down.  My father was drunk and about to drive away.  My mother was pleading with him to stay.  The screaming and crying bolted me into my first memory.  I was hysterical with fright.  My grandparents were holding me back as I fought to get to my parents.   That began my life…living in an earthquake zone where the ground could be ripped out from underneath me at any moment.
My father was an alcoholic from the day I first remember him. His temperament was to be known very well by me in the years to come. My dad was 21 years old, my mom 16. She was but a child herself. My dad was in his second marriage. His first one failed, but he had a child from it who did not live with us.
Controlling my mother and his children were top priority for him to feel safe and self-confident.  My mom could not be independent and make decisions for herself.  He made sure of that. What his family felt was not important. He owned them. They were in this world for him. For example, he would require permission for my mother to go to the store. He would check to make sure she had not left the house or had spent money on something he did not approve.  His rules cascaded to his children, with severe penalties for transgression.   A wide strapped belt hung over the door, always a reminder that he was in charge, that the family had better watch their step, and he would use it on anyone.
If I catch you cheating on me, I will kill you - a clear message and one he meant, was repeated often to my mother.   He wanted to make her feel powerless and subservient to him.  “Don’t bother calling the police because I have friends that are cops and they will swear that you are cheating on me.  I also have friends that will swear that you slept with them.  No one will believe anything you say.”
When I was six, the little table in the kitchen allowed three of us to eat at one time. I was sitting down and in the middle of a meal when dad came home from work. Mother was standing. He intervened and told me to stand up so my mom could eat. I said I was eating. He took that as “talkback” and slapped me to the ground, knocking me and the chair to the floor. This became the typical scene in our home.   His abusive control continued to worsen.   
That year, he abandoned all of us. He left our little house where I slept in the living room along with my brother and sister.  For three days we were without any money for food. We had to live on what little there was in the pantry.  We had no car and no means of support. This was another recollection of mine – how he played the game of dependency and taught the lessons of his supreme position in the household.  An aunt came to our rescue and paid our bus fare to travel from Texas to Illinois. She was such an angel to help!
 Over the next three months, he called and pleaded with my mother to return.   In time, she gave in and we returned to Texas.  She made him promise that if we returned, he would buy us a home.  After all, she did not have a means to support three children. He relinquished and made the deal.
Now we had bedrooms and privacy. Some level of stability came to my life. Each day, I looked forward to school.  School provided me with a life away from the abuse.   It was a temporary reprieve. Any break from the verbal and mental abuse was enthusiastically welcome.
My father couldn’t go any more than two weeks without an episode of all night drinking.    A typical weekend might be one where we would hear him returning in the early morning from a night of drinking.  His tires would screech as he sped around and around the block where we lived.  We knew the hour of reckoning was to come. I would place myself between two pieces of furniture to shield me from whatever violent act he would dream up.  He was mad, mad at the world, mad at us, mad at mother. He needed relief and that would come in some form of violence. I could do nothing but shield myself.  It could be verbal or physical abuse. Each time we felt his wrath. One night in a drunken stupor, he pulled out his gun and shot bullet holes in the walls of the house. Home was not a refuge but a place of wrongful reckoning.
One night he came home, felt the sheets on his side of the bed and accused my mother of cheating on him. His side of the bed was warm. His rage was instant and out of control.   We felt helpless. He threw her on the floor and kicked her over and over again with his boots.  We simply had to hide and wait for them to come to terms.  We could do nothing. This type of behavior occurred even when we had visiting relatives.  No one, not even his mother, his brothers, or his sisters would confront him. Everyone was afraid of him.


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