I am three years old. I am in the bathroom. Somehow, I knock over a bottle of shampoo. The cap pops open and the bluish liquid begins to descend into the bath tub and makes its way to the drain below.
I stare in fascination. Where is the shampoo going? How does it know how to get there? What’s waiting for it when it goes down the drain? I wonder. But my thoughts are cut short as my mother looms behind me.
She’s big as a tree and twice as large to my eyes. She’s like a giant and as she stands over me her face starts getting red. Then her hands come down, slamming against me.
Her hands are heavy and they hurt. They hurt when they hit me. I cry. I want to tell her to stop but I can’t. And if I do, even at that age I know she’ll just hit me harder and make me cry more.
This is the earliest memory I have of my mother.
I am an older child now, about to become a teen and my mother is entertaining friends. “I’ll never forget it,” she says, a grin on her face, “but when Silvy was six, I had to help her with her homework.” I feel my stomach begin to tie itself into knots.
“Well, I kept telling her to head her paper but she’s so damn stubborn,” my mother continues, “that she won’t do it the way I’m asking.” I remember that day and my mother wasn’t asking. She was demanding, demanding that I head my school paper completely backwards, the total opposite of how I had been shown in class. To my mother I was talking back and needed to be punished. But I can’t say anything as my mother’s laughter interrupts my thoughts.
“She just kept saying ‘That’s not how we do it in class’ and she starts crying. I got so damn frustrated that I just hauled off and slapped her across the face.” At that, my mother bursts out laughing at the memory while I struggle to keep a neutral expression on my face. “And I’ll never forget this,” Mother continues, “but she looks me dead in the face and says–without a sniffle–‘Why’d you hit my face?’ She says it just as serious as can be. It was the funniest thing!”
My mother is roaring with laughter, as are her guests. In the South it is common to share stories of “beating children”. The adults in the room find it hilarious. Yet I can feel shame and humiliation blooming across my face and sliding down my neck. I want nothing more than for the floor of our home to open up and swallow me whole, so I won’t have to hear anymore of this. I want to say something, anything, to make everyone understand that it wasn’t funny, it was never funny but I know that I can’t.
If I say something, it’ll just make things worse.
I am fourteen. My mother is insisting that I clean out my room. She starts taking everything out of my bureau, pitching it into black garbage bags.
There’s only one problem. She’s thrown out a unicorn folder that is filled with my writing. I have stories and poems in there. I want to keep them.
I take the folder out of the trash. She puts it back, demanding to know why. I tell her that I want to keep the folder–it’s in excellent condition, not a mark on it–because I like it. But to her, it’s little more than trash and it has to go.
The argument escalates. It always does. My mother is trying to drag me away from the garbage bag. I feel her arms around me, squeezing my chest and I throw my weight back to get her off of me.
Then I feel her hitting me. I run, but back to my bedroom where I am trapped.
What she screams at me, I do not hear. All I remember is the sensation of her hands around my neck and the fear that she might kill me. I want to scream but can’t.
She lets me go and says she can’t trust me. She calls me a kid. I want nothing more than to call her out on this but I know better.
If I do she may shut me up for good.
I am an adult. I have moved out of my parents’ home and am now with my husband. I have had little to no contact with my mother for the past few years; I actually find it a bit liberating to not have to worry about saying something that might “earn” me a spanking. However, a part of me is still restive, as if I know something about myself, something I’ve kept quiet for the past three decades, too afraid to speak.
I go to Google and type in “How do you know if you were abused as a child?” I am led to an online domestic violence quiz. I have to mentally change the wording but I take it anyway. Some questions don’t apply to me–as they deal with sex–but the rest are painfully familiar: being humiliated in public, having to walk on eggshells as to not upset anyone, feeling like it was all my fault, being told that it was my fault for being struck. After ten minutes and with a few fits and starts, these are the words I see on my laptop’s screen:
Final Score: You answered 16 items out of 20 Yes.
I raise an eyebrow. Then I keep reading.
Your score is 80%. The higher your score the more likely you are in an abusive relationship. If your score is 25 percent or less, domestic abuse is unlikely. 25-50 percent, abuse is possible, and if you score more than 50 percent, it is very likely that your relationship has become abusive.
The air is completely sucked out of the room. My head spins. Suddenly, everything makes perfect sense. Everything, in one moment, clicks into place and I realize it now, I understand it all now.
It wasn’t discipline. It was abuse.
I rest my head in my hands, too stunned to even say those words.
Were you abused as a child? Not that I can see.
I am reading a rant that is directed at me but on another blog. It just so happens to be written by my best friend in high school. She has her own blog and I mine and we communicate by leaving comments on each others’ posts.
Only this time, it’s all I can do from touching the keyboard. What I want to say would be hurtful.
This comes on the heels of my own exploration, of me trying to peel back the layers and find my voice. I had been trying, a bit earlier, to blog about my past. It was coming along slowly, as I was hesitant to reveal too much, too fast. Some may not understand what I was doing or worse, they may try and dismiss me.
In a grand total of six hundred twenty-eight words, she berates me. I’m making it public so she has to do the same. And oh, by the way, I’m throwing a tantrum, according to her.
I feel stunned, hurt and exceptionally pissed off.
She goes on to say that my mother left her alone, anyway. Of course, what she didn’t know was that I took the fall for her several times, as I hated the fact that someone else may have to suffer as I had. That feeling of humiliation is never fun. I had to deal with it more times than I want and I felt the need to spare others that. But that’s not what bothers me.
She didn’t even try to understand anything that I had posted. As she has done in the past–even though I see the patterns I hope that she’ll break them just this once–she skimmed over my words and came to her usual snap judgement.
I want to post a follow-up on her blog. I don’t. There is absolutely no point; she wouldn’t even try to read what I may write with an open mind, so I leave it. I just leave it. Nine years and six followers and I leave it all. All I wanted was to be heard by someone who I thought was a friend, who I thought might be capable of understanding. Only now I’ve learned the bitter truth.
I can’t post on that blog anymore. My words will fall upon deaf ears and I’m so tired of it all.
It’s May. The Duggar case has taken over headlines. There are blogs almost everywhere that speak about child abuse and its damages. But some posts deal with the same situation that I have: the idea that abusers are all evil monsters, that one can be spotted at fifty paces by even the most gullible of human beings. Suddenly, I begin to read other blogs and the tales are similar–the tales of spanking and harsh discipline, of knowing that the family you are being raised in isn’t quite normal. Suddenly, I’m not alone.
August arrives and I start over, afresh. Now I place my hands on the keyboard and type, knowing that I’m no longer alone, that what I experienced wasn’t part of a normal childhood.
I sit and I type, silent no more.