I am not sure that I slept without the hallway light on until I was 14. The darkness seemed to inhibit my much needed hypersensitivity to noises. After all, if I fell fully asleep, I might not hear the shouting, screaming or cries for help. I had to remain aware at all times to try to help her, to save her, to make the beatings stop.
I think I first realized the severity of the situation when I was five. It was just past Christmas. I remember the tree was still up, the lights blinking in a mesmerizing fashion, my eyes drawn to them like a magnet. She sat quietly on the couch weeping. I grabbed the Kleenex box from the washroom, handed it to her, and sat down by her side. That was when I first became the caretaker, the protector, the parent. She went into detail of the events that occurred…
“Daddy got mad at Mommy, spanked her and Mommy has a bruise on her bum”.
“But why Mommy? What did you do wrong?”
“Mommy made Daddy mad. Mommy needs you to keep her company right now.”
“Are you sad Mommy?”
“Yes honey, Mommy is sad and scared.”
“Don’t worry Mommy, I will help you.”
And so it began. My life as a child ended and my life as a protector, as a small adult started.
I don’t recall the exact number of occurrences. Every incident was so damaging, so traumatizing, they seemed to blur the days into weeks, the weeks into months I do remember the nights she crawled into my bed, perhaps out of fear, perhaps for support. The dresser seemed so heavy when we pushed it against my bedroom door. The single bed making for a tight fit, a sense of security for us both. We bought a lock…the old style with the chain and put it on my door. The lock, I thought, would ensure our safety, would allow us a nights sleep, maybe even with the pleasure of the lights off, however the chain did not hold against the force of a kick. I tried to hold her foot as he pulled her across the carpet and out the door, but my small hands failed. Limbs were flailing and in the midst I felt the sharp sting across my face followed by my first taste of blood, as it trickled from my nose, mixed with my tears and dripped slowly into my mouth.
We moved to my Nan’s house. A week later we moved home.
These memories are burnt into my mind like grill marks on a steak. The times I sat outside their bedroom door crying, screaming that I was sick or hurt…anything to make it stop. The time he thought I wouldn’t hear if he dragged her to the basement. Wrong. The first time I called the police and hid in my closet, terrified of the consequences that I knew were coming. The night I was brave enough to ignore the shouts to go away and opened the door, walking in on the rape.
We moved again to my Nan’s house. Two weeks later we moved home.
The cycle continued, like a tornado destroying trees from their roots. The beatings, then the gifts, followed by a brief cessation of violence, like life had suddenly turned into a play with everyone acting their respective parts.
The play ended, the beatings resumed, the play began.
With every instance I lost trust, stability and hope. The memories locked into a vault in the hope of one day being forgotten. I gained strength and courage. I tried to stand tall, take care and ward off the evil in my home. I tried to get in the middle, to shout and scream, to cry and bang on the walls. I tried to mouth off, to say “I hate you”, “I wish you weren’t my father.” “Please stop hitting Mommy”. They all failed. All my attempts had been in vain. I could not save her any more than I could stop him, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t spend the next eight years trying.
I was when I came home from a friends house. My mom lying in her bed crying softly as she told me that “Dad had moved out”. The relief flowing through my body and mind like the rapids of a river. I kissed her, gently stroked her back and assured her we would be fine, just the two of us.
I turned the hallway light out and slept peacefully and without fear for the first time in my life.