My father, a man whom I adored, looked anything but loving as he towered over my mother's shaking body. This was a man who sang me You Are My Sunshine and made me feel as if I was his favorite. This was a man who bought me a horse at the age of ten simply because I "really" wanted one. He was my favorite person in the whole world. Yet from his very hands came hard blows to a woman who wouldn't fight back. As a young girl I saw in one man both sweet, doting father and vicious, tortuous husband. I never understood why. I only knew that I loved him the way every girl should love her father. And I feared and hated him in the same breath. It took me years to forgive him. Surprisingly, it took me years to forgive my mother as well.
As the oldest of four children, I always felt responsible for my siblings when our parents fought. When the beatings started, I'd gather them and we'd huddle in a corner. There was even a time (I was maybe 8 or 10) when my youngest brother, who was somewhere between 3 and 5 at the time, ran out of the room to go to our mother. I ran after him, not wanting him to get hurt in the middle of it. Trying to pull him away, he screamed as we watched our father repeatedly kicking our fallen mother. I don't remember how but I recall my little brother's finger was hurt during this. I may have grabbed him too hard or he may have hurt it against the wall. I just remember kneeling down, holding him as he held his little pinkie with tears streaming down his face and witnessed the beating of our mom. My heart hurt for him then. And it was then when I decided that it wasn't just my father who was hurting my brothers and sister. It was my mother too.
"Why doesn't she just leave him?"
Watching our mother suffer ached and angered us. We kids would lay in bed while the arguments went on. We wouldn't sleep until we were sure she wasn't getting beaten so we laid awake talking, trying to drown out the raised voices. To distract each other, we'd play little games like drawing on each other's backs with our fingers and seeing if we could guess what the image was on our skin. We'd talk about silly things like TV shows or dogs. Then when we'd run out of things to say, we'd fall back on what was really on our minds. When was it going to stop? Why doesn't our mother just leave him? Why can't we be free of this?
We eventually did leave our father. We stuffed trash bags of clothes into our mother's station wagon and drove away in the middle of the night while he slept. We'd stay in hotels and we kids would make believe we were in a different world. We laughed and jumped and cheered that we were away from our home. But it didn't last long. Our escape was merely a short vacation. A break. But it broke our hearts when we found ourselves back home. We left our father many times. And we went back many times as well. Over time, we didn't even get excited when we left. Instead, it was even more depressing than not leaving at all. We knew we'd go back anyway. But after some years our mother eventually made the final decision to leave for good. And I didn't know at the time what it took for her to finally turn her back to that marriage, but she did it. It took us a while to believe we had left for good. But kids are pretty good at adjusting and we did just that.
Earlier I said that it took me years to forgive my mother. It actually took me even longer to realize I needed to. As the oldest child I felt responsible for my brothers and sisters during those dark days. While I saw my mother's pain many times, I saw my siblings' pain much more. As we went back and forth between freedom and imprisonment, I began to feel anger toward her. I felt as if she had this special power that could take us all away from this horrible, dark life. I felt that she could do it if not for her then for US. I hated that she drug us back and forth while my sister was busy dealing with depression and anger issues, my first brother pent up all emotion whatsoever, and my youngest brother a ball of raging fire. I saw my siblings suffer and wept for them over my mother. Didn't she see that it wasn't just her that felt pain? Didn't she see what it did to us? We weren't just furniture in the house who moved when she did. We were children who were learning what was normal in a relationship and what was not. And this dysfunction, this poison, was what we were taught. We drank it and as a result this infection spread from her to us and into our own adulthood.
I won't talk about how my siblings lived with this violence in our veins. I will, however, say that all of our relationships were a cyclic rush of emotions and turmoil that brought us back to our childhood darkness. As adults, we would continue to be those four children holding each other in a corner, weeping and screaming as we listened to the destruction of our future.