“Stories need to be told.” –Mom
I was 17 years old. My mom needed to get a hold of my father for some reason, so we drove to his side of town and searched for him. To the surprise of no one, we found him in a bar.
Coming outside half drunk, he tried to treat me like I was seven.
He stood on the sidewalk and leaned into the car as he spoke across to my mom. The passenger door was wide open. He thought everything was cool. He tried to push his way into the vehicle and sit on my lap. I nudged him a few times and told him to get off of my leg. He refused. I snapped. I pushed him out of the car and grabbed him by his collar as I pushed him onto the trunk of the car. I clinched my fist and raised my hand when he said, “Do it. I deserve it. I wasn’t there for you. Go ahead, hit me.” I dropped my fist and pushed him away from the car. I returned to the passenger seat full of rage and brokenness. Holding back both anger and tears, I told my mom, “Let’s go. I want to get out of here.”
We pulled away and I didn’t see him again until I preached my grandmother’s funeral 13 years later.
My biological father’s side of town. I used to swing on a swing set that was in front of this mural. Photo credit: http://rachelrabinowitz.com
Let’s rewind a bit. At nine years old I saw my mom get married to a man she met at work. He was an inmate who worked there as part of the pre-release unit out of a local prison. Hey, give her a break, there was no Match.com back then.
Our relationship was turbulent. On one hand I respected that he married my mom even though she had three children at the time but on the other hand I came to hate his alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and subsequent verbal and mental abuse. Our relationship kicked off with a bang. Not long after he moved in he tried to discipline me by tossing me into my bed and threatening me not to get up. I reached over to my dresser where there was a D-sized battery. As he closed the door behind him, I threw that battery with every intention of putting a hole in his head. Instead it put a hole through the door. He came in angry and confused when I screamed at him:
“You are not my father. I don’t have a father.
He walked out on me. I don’t want a replacement.”
I was angry. I was hurting. I was nine.
During my teenage years, life was what we would call manageable. After all, that’s what you do with a rocky home life. You “manage” it, right?
Domestic violence leads far too many families to believe that this behavior is something to be managed.
On one particular afternoon when I was 16, my stepfather started screaming at me to take out the trash. I remember thinking that I should just keep my cool and do what he’s saying, because he was in another one of his moods. My obedience wasn’t enough; I guess he had some stress he wanted to work out. I packed up the trash and headed for the back door. He started yelling at me, “Pick up your pants! You’re walking around here looking like a N****R.”
Without turning around I told him in no uncertain terms what I thought of his use of that word. The next thing I know, he tackles me from behind and we start rolling around. A few punches were thrown. I ended up in a dominant position and I said, “I am only getting bigger and you are only getting older. Don’t you ever put your hands on me again.” I still get worked up just thinking about it.
That was the last time I recall him ever trying to touch me.
When I went off to college four hours away from home, life became very complicated. The calls from my mom or sisters would often come with tears. Apparently with me out of the house, my stepfather became even more verbally, mentally and physically abusive. The police were called several times for incidents of violence, but each time nothing changed. He would convince the cops that everything was just fine. My reluctant and fearful family would back up his side of things and it would get “managed.” There’s that word again.
I can’t count how many times I wanted to come home from college to hurt this man and ensure he would never be able to cause harm to my mother or my sisters again. But I felt paralyzed. Nearly every time a domestic violence incident occurred, my sisters or my mom would beg me not to come home. They knew me. They knew the rage that was bottled up. They knew I would take care of the problem, but they were worried that they would have a larger problem to clean up after I left. Their main fear was that he would escalate things again when there was no one around to protect them.
Out of respect for them, I stayed away. I was paralyzed.
Each time I came home for special occasions, life appeared normal. I didn’t sense any immediate fear in the eyes of my sisters or mom and everyone was thankful to have the relative calm. I would be the one stirring up problems if I were to address the issue then. After all, “It only happens when he is drinking.”
Excuses. Victims of abuse often make excuses for the aggressor.
Today my (now former) stepfather is serving out a 30-year prison sentence for his second attempted rape conviction. I do not know the second victim, but I absolutely love the first–she’s my mom. My mom tried to separate from my stepfather. There was even a court order. He stalked my mother for months. During this time, I was married and living in Texas.
It was horrible to hear about him sitting in his car at exits to the highway where my mom had to travel. Other times he would call my mom to tell her what she was wearing. Insane stuff. Ultimately, one day he broke into the house and attempted to rape my mother.
Many people get angry and assume that the women in these situations are “stupid” or “weak” or “complicit.” The truth stands opposed to that ignorance. The reality is that women who are victims of abuse are hurting, ashamed and afraid. It is very rare that a woman in an abusive relationship will actually come out and define the relationship as abuse. Remember: manage, paralyze & excuse.
Abuse is mental before it’s physical.
A woman trapped in domestic abuse has been conditioned to hold out hope that one day he will change and all the love she pours out will be reciprocated. In many ways she believes if she can somehow take responsibility for his problems, life will be better. It nearly never happens. A domestic abuser takes no personal responsibility but instead creates an irrational world where the victim is responsible.
Mental abuse is the worst form of abuse, because it leaves no bruises on the outside. The bruises are found on a woman’s self-esteem, on her broken heart, and in the fading of her once vibrant dreams.
Domestic abuse kills off the spirit if not the body.
How can you help a woman or children caught in domestic violence?
Please visit http://www.thehotline.org/ and learn more about how you can help. If you are trapped in a domestic violence situation you can also call: 1.800.799.7233.
As a culture we have to engage ourselves in situations where we see domestic violence. We’ve become a nation of cowards who say, “That’s not my problem.” Wrong. It is our problem. Domestic violence is a cultural and societal problem. Any man who believes he can hit a woman without consequence will continue to do so. It eventually took two 20-year convictions to finally stop my stepfather from harming another woman.
National Domestic Violence Hotline | 1.800.799.7233
I sent my mother the above text and told her I was considering this post, but since it involved her, I would not share any of this publicly. I do not have a motive outside of helping others who may need to know that they are not alone. Below is her response:
Stories need to be told. I don’t mind you telling it. I almost commented the other day on a post by (church member), but I didn’t out of respect for you. I sent it to myself instead.
I stayed because I always thought it would get better, because I didn’t think I could handle it on my own financially, because we would separate and he would behave a couple of months and beg me to go back, and after 1996, because of the birth of our daughter.
In 1993 he was charged with assaulting me, and I invoked marital privilege to keep him out of jail. When he attacked me in 2003, with a protective order already in place, he disconnected the house phone and took my cell phone. The only way I knew to get help was that you were on AOL IM every morning. I was able to reach you, and tell you what happened. I believe you called the police and I think a neighbor did too, hearing me scream.
I’ve always hated that it must have hurt you being so far away, to get a cry for help from your mother. I felt it must be so conflicting for you to be a Pastor, and yet want to hurt him for what he did. I’m sorry I put you through that.
After this attack, I had enough, and was determined to prosecute him. I couldn’t let my girls think this was ok, letting a man get away with doing this to you. He got 20 years for that attempted rape charge, with 10 suspended. He served 6 years, paroled in May 09, then was charged with rape in Dec 09, and got 20 more years for that, plus then 10 years back from my case. (That is how he’s doing 30 years now).
You did help me immensely though. Through the aftermath, you made me see that I needed to cut off all communication with him and stop accepting his phone calls. That cut off all of his control over me. Once I did that I was able to really begin to heal and grow stronger. I know I am strong now, because I will never, ever, allow anyone to treat me that way again.
Thank you for consulting me, and considering my feelings. You can tell as much of the story as you want. As a family, it didn’t just happen to me, it happened to all of us.
I love you.
I love you too, Mom. You are an amazingly strong woman.