When I was 5 years old I witnessed something in our family that would forever change my life and shape my view of interpersonal relationships. Although quite traumatic and very long ago, my memory still serves me a clear and slow motion picture of the event. I remember exactly what I was wearing, a pink dress with a blue floral print skirt, white double buckle maryjanes, and a side ponytail with a matching pink hair tie. My sister, 7 years old at the time, grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the back door of our house. We were running from something, but from what, I wasn’t sure yet. We ran out of the back of the house and into the side yard where we took refuge between the side of the house and our above ground pool. At first I didn’t know what was going on, but then I saw the panic on my sister face and that’s when I heard “the voice”. The voice that we were all too familiar with.
This was the voice that I both loved and hated at the same time. This was a voice of a super hero and a demonic villain trapped together in the same body. The voice belonged to my father. My father was my super hero and he meant the world to me. He was funny, adventurous, rebellious, charismatic, and oh boy was he charming. He could command a crowd and everyone that met him liked him instantly. He was a great provider and allowed our mother to stay at home and take care of my sister and I when we were young. In my mind as a little girl he was the tallest, fastest, and strongest man in the world. He was like looking up at Thor with his mighty hammer. He was always there to lift me up high in the sky and protect me from any bad guys. I was always in awe of him and that is the relationship a young girl is supposed to have with her father at that age. I loved him dearly and looked up to him so much.
Contrary to what people might have seen on the outside, my father was someone else also. He was an alcoholic that abused my mother for most of their relationship and at times, he would abuse my sister and myself as well. My parents fought constantly and as kids, my sister and I just thought it was normal behavior between adults. He would degrade, humiliate, and hit my mother constantly. He made her feel so worthless that she started to believe that she was in fact worthless. The cops would get called out all the time and arrest my dad or they would take my mother and us kids somewhere safe for the night. After a few days, we would all be back together again under the same roof and life as we knew it would move forward. This was our normal, however, my mother still loved her husband and we still loved our father and we were a family.
On this particular day, I don’t recollect what my parents were fighting about, but I could hear anger in his voice and his speech was slurred. I could hear that he was close by and I could also hear my mother screaming off in the distance. I crept up to the side edge of our house to see what was going on and when we peeked around the corner, we saw my father standing in the front yard with a gun in his hand. He was pointing it at our mother, who was just inside the front door.
If I close my eyes, I can still hear the ricochets off the beige stucco walls and the smell of the gun smoke. He was trying to kill our mother. My sister and I fell to the ground and covered our ears. I don’t remember if I screamed or not but I imagine that I did.
Our screams and cries were not the vocal kind though. No, they never made a sound. I screamed on the inside because I knew that if we made a sound that we might be next. This is how we always reacted and we learned it from our mother. Just stay quiet and maybe he wont notice us and he will keep his rage to himself for another day. So we stayed quiet. I remember the air was hot that day and I think that it must have been a Sunday which is why I was wearing a nice dress. Normally there was a lot of people out and about in our neighborhood but there seemed to be no one outside that day. I don’t remember seeing anyone that we could wave down for help. Where could we go? I remember holding on tight to my sister and then hearing my mothers voice. My mother was alive and she was screaming. She was screaming my fathers name. It was then that we peered around the corner of the house and saw that my dad had turned the gun towards himself. She was begging him not to kill himself.
I don’t remember much after that but what I do know is that my mother stayed with him for another 25 years. She stayed with him even though he had tried to kill her. I remember the extreme remorse he would show towards her along with the almost intoxicating promises he would come up with. He would say things like, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, I would die for you, nobody loves you as much as I do”. There were many times when she tried to find help and remove us from the situation, but help usually always came in the form of an ultimatum. Its our way or the highway our family members would say. Not the most comforting words to hear when you already live with someone who controls and manipulates you daily. My mother didn’t come from a big family and didn’t have many friends. Truth be told, I think that most of her family and friends were tired of hearing that my dad hurt her again because they knew she would go back to him no matter what. I think a lot of people judged her instead of seeking understanding in her difficult situation. I have often questioned why she didn’t just drop everything and leave him. It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I was able to see things somewhat from my mothers point of view.
I moved out of my parents home when I was 16 and I swore that I would never let a man treat me the way my father treated my mother. Lucky me, I found myself in a similar relationship to that of my parents, only two weeks after I moved out. I found a boy that was my moon and stars and I was the same to him, or so I thought. He had a bit of a rough up bringing just as I did. We clicked immediately and fell in love. He was full of life and charm. He was that sexy quiet rebellious type that went against the grain almost always. He would hold me in his arms and fill my love cup all the way up to the brim. He promised he would never hurt me and that he would always protect me. He even said that he’d die for me. He reminded me of the good qualities of my father, in fact, he was a lot like my father.
The very first time he abused me was only two months into our relationship. Mine and my mothers circumstances were similar in that we were both abused by someone we dearly loved. But they were different in the fact that I wasn’t married to him, we didn’t have any children together, I was financially secure (for a teenager), and I was extremely strong willed and independent. My mother didn’t have any financial means of supporting herself or her children and she didn’t want her children to grow up without a father. I stayed with my boyfriend for two and a half years. In that time he was emotionally, mentally, financially, and yes, even physically abusive to me. It was rare that he would hit me but sometimes I preferred a slap rather than an emotional beat down because it was over quicker and he showed more remorse. When he was remorseful, he reverted back to his old sweet self that I loved so much and it was like I got to keep that side of him to myself for longer. It was soothing and familiar since I had been raised in an environment that supported this behavior.
One day I looked in the mirror and it was pretty cloudy but I could see my mothers eyes staring back at me. I could understand some of her reasons for staying with my father now. One of the main reasons I stayed with my boyfriend was because I loved him. As much as a seventeen year old girl is able to love, that is how much I loved him. I gave him all of my love, every single drop of it because I didn’t know any better. Isn’t that what you do when you love someone? Even when the abuse started, I still gave him all my love. The fact of the matter is that you cant help who you love and love is irrational.
Love is so irrational in fact that humans and even animals will instinctively ignore their own self preservation for the ones they love. Take a mother for example. If a mother saw her child walk out into traffic and observed a car heading straight for them, you can bet that without any thought of consequence, that mother would gladly risk her own life to push her child to safety and take a head on hit.
This brings me to the next reason for not leaving my boyfriend. I loved my boyfriend so much that I thought I could save him and protect him from himself, even if that cost me my own life. Why? Because I had lost part of my ability to rationalize my own value and self worth. He pulled me down so far to the ground that I thought I was nothing, and I believed that my situation would never get better. I couldn’t even recognize myself anymore. As strange as it may sound, the only thing that would keep me going is the thought that my purpose and duty in life was to keep him safe. I felt needed in some crazy twisted way and that made me feel good. When something made me feel good, you can bet that I held on to it. At times he would abuse me and then at the first sign of me trying to leave or remove myself from the situation, he would become incredibly remorseful and beg me to stay. He would tell me that he couldn’t live without me and that if I left him he had no reason to live anymore and that he would end his own life. Silly as it sounds, during times like this I clung to him like a small child clings to their parents when they feel insecure with their environment. I was raised in a home where you don’t give up on the ones you love, and I wasn’t going to give up on him.
His abuse continued much longer than it should have and my turning point was 2 years later when the police were called to my work by an unknown bystander, because my boyfriend had hit me in the parking lot. He had blocked my car in the parking spot with his truck and tried to take my keys so that I couldn’t get away from him. I felt trapped with no way out and I was afraid someone at my work would see and so I froze and remained quiet. Then in the distance I heard the sweet sound of sirens. It was the police, coming to help. I denied that my boyfriend had hit me and they let him go but I remember something that the cop told me when he saw a bible laying on the floorboard of my truck. He knelled down next to my truck where I was sitting in the drivers seat and he said to me, “You think you can save him but you cant. You cant even save yourself and that’s why we are here”. Then he pointed at the bible on the floor board and said, that is the only thing that can really save you.” I believe it was at that time that I started the process to “get out”. I was tired of paying the consequences for things I hadn’t done.
Its not so easy to just up and leave someone that you love and that you have formed an unhealthy attachment to. Its a process and it takes time. It takes incredible bravery to leave everything behind that you’ve ever known and walk into the open not knowing what your future holds. Asking an abused woman why she cant just leave, is like asking an intoxicated person to walk a straight line. You cant see clearly until you're out of it and well. I think it may have been easier for me than it was for my mother because I wasn’t married with children. Never the less, I found my way out eventually and I was finally able to see clearly how I had been living my life and I have flourished ever since.
My mother was finally able to leave my father after 30 years of marriage. He had hit her for the last time and she called for help and I said that she could come and stay with me as long as she wanted. I never thought in a million years that she would actually stay but she did. She never showed it, but I know it was tough for her. Like myself, she still carries evidence of shame and guilt like most battered woman do, but she has done well to move on and try to find herself. She is one of the strongest woman I have ever known and I look up to her a lot and I love her very much. It is not every day that a woman can endure as much as she has in her lifetime and be able to get up every single day and function, much less move forward.
Unfortunately, my mothers departure from my fathers life was something that he couldn’t live with. He had alienated everyone who loved him because of his alcoholism and abuse and he was left alone. No matter how hard we tried, we could not save him and he eventually ended his own life. Even after all the things he had put us through, after all of the dust had settled, we can all still say that we loved him. We loved him dearly but we just didn’t know how to show it in a healthy way that would help him. I am so sad for the loss of my father and I pray that he made it to heaven and that God has offered him mercy and unending rest.
I have learned several things in my lifetime about domestic violence and I will share a few of the most important things that I hold on to. The first thing is about love and what it truly means to love someone and be loved in return. Love is the only thing on this earth that will always make you feel good. Love will make you laugh, feel joy, and lift you up. If you have a healthy relationship, these things are exchanged equally and regularly. If you are experiencing anything associated with love that evokes the opposite emotions or leaves you in fear, then the chances are 100% that it is not love that you are experiencing. It is probably more along the lines of resentment, contempt, or jealousy, but I can assure you that it is not love. I hate the expression “Love Hurts”, no it doesn't. I will refer to the good book for the most righteous definition of love: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7”. Try replacing “love” with your partners name in that passage. Does your partner reflect these characteristics? If they don’t meet even one, then you can be sure that it is not love that you are receiving.
Another lesson I have learned from my experience with domestic violence is that it is does not discriminate. It can happen across any demographic that exists and you need not fit into any category to be at risk. Abuse comes in all shapes and sizes and can happen to anyone. I have learned that I have to be especially cognizant of the signs of domestic violence in my relationships because of my history with it. I have to be extremely cautious in my relationships and I have learned to speak up when someone isn't treating me right. It takes a lot of support to overcome an unhealthy relationship and I don’t blame woman for fearing the unknown and not wanting to leave. I have been judged by many people who have referred to me as weak, passive, pitiful, insecure, dependent, and selfish. I can assure you that none of these terms relate to me. I just went through a bit of hard life and I am thankful to have come out of it alive and thriving.
The final lesson that has completely changed my life is that of compassion. Compassion to know that there are two sides to every story and that empathy can go a long way. My mother was abused almost her entire life but that is not reflective of the woman she actually is. She will not remain a victim her entire life because of her past. The same goes for my father. He was abused during his childhood and started drinking at age ten. He behaved horribly at times and hurt a lot of people, but that is not the entire person that he was. He could also be described as a good friend, a strong worker and provider, and even a HERO to some. The point is that humans are all fallible but still valuable. We all make mistakes, we all sin, and no ones life is greater than another. We all fall short and if we could show each other more compassion and empathy, we may get a little further with each other. I pray for forgiveness and mercy in times like these and I know enough now to know that love is the only way through. This is my story and I am not afraid to share it anymore.