This is difficult to write about. I have been pondering for a long time about what story of mine is best to share, and at once all memories and no memories crowd my brain. My brain is really good at whitewashing the memories, making them seem fuzzy and better, much in the same way people view the past as the "good old days."
Yet I do remember them. All it takes is a trigger. Something I do, something someone else says, something I witness, all can bring up a surge of memories that wash over the breakwall that keeps it at bay, waves of vivid memories crashing into each other and churning up forgotten emotions, and causes fear to course through my body as I brace myself for an onslaught of more psychological and verbal abuse. This is a post-traumatic stress reaction.
I remember when my dad gave my mom a book as "a joke," "How to Change Your Husband," which is ostensibly written by a Catholic person. It is actually about how women should completely and totally submit to their husbands, even when their husband is bashing their head in with a hammer. It was written by the leader of the Catholic cult, Caritas of Birmingham. That was when my mom changed. She used to try to stand up for us kids in small ways when my dad became Mr. Hyde, and then after she read the book, she started teaching me about how I should submit to my husband when I'm married, and how to change my husband, I would change myself so I become the woman my husband wants me to be. I knew, when my mom got the book, that I had "lost" her.
When I was in high school, I started hating walking on eggshells, not knowing when my dad would snap. My mom tried to excuse his behavior, comparing it to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When my dad is Dr. Jekyll, he's nice. When he's Mr. Hyde, we just need to forget about his actions and just love the Dr. Jekyll dad. I didn't bother to argue with her that Dr. Jekyll dad was a dad of fear--we didn't know when we might upset him. He would be "tense," as if he was barely controlling his anger, until we stepped wrong, left a crumb on the floor, or moved the wrong way, then he would unleash a stream of verbal assaults.
I remember having a hard time understanding low male voices on the phone, including my dad's. Once he confronted me about it when I came home. "You don't like talking on the phone with me, do you? You secretly hate me, do you? You just don't want to talk to your old dad, do you?" After all the accusations, I told him honestly, "I just have a hard time hearing the low male voices on the phone. I even have trouble understanding Jeff." My dad's feelings were greatly hurt, and he didn't speak to me for for a few days. I don't know whether I liked the yelling or the silent treatment better.
My little brother, Tommy, is also hard of hearing. When he was in Cub Scouts, the meetings were always noisy, and it is difficult to follow conversations. People would try to talk with him, but my brother just smiled back, not knowing what they said or how to respond. My dad ordered him to reply to the questioner. Tommy was afraid. How can he respond intelligently if he didn't understand what the person was asking him? If he responded in a stupid way, Dad would be mad at him for making him look stupid. If he didn't respond at all, Dad would be mad at him for not responding.
My dad yelled at Tommy on the drive home from Scouts, and when they got home, he spanked and then yelled at Tommy even more, before grounding him for a few weeks with no TV, desserts, or books. He would also be working his ass off doing chores to teach him not to be a spoiled brat. I gathered up my courage and stood up for Tommy, explaining that it's difficult to hear in noisy situations, because it's what I do, too! My dad yelled at me, saying Tommy was a spoiled brat. When I got a chance, I snuck back to the boys' room and gave my brother a big hug, and tried to explain that it wasn't his fault, it was Dad's for being that way.
For an April Fool's joke one year, when my oldest little brother and I were preteens, my dad thought it would be funny to pretend he was in BIG TROUBLE. He called for Cameron, and yelled and yelled at him for some made up some sin he had done. He never yelled exactly what it was he was mad about. It was all bluff--just that Cameron is a spoiled brat too big for his britches. After yelling for a good several minutes, he told him to bend over the side of the couch for a spanking. Then my dad said, "April Fools!" My brother was so confused, scared, and angry about it. My dad still jokes about this as family lore. I call it a mock execution.
On a trip to Disneyland, my Grampy died. We couldn't make it back to Colorado in time for the funeral. My Grammy was still going to hold a party for us all to see all of our friends since we were going to be in town only for the night, but as it was my siblings were all battling the stomach flu. Two of my siblings had to go to the ER to get fluids, while I stayed home and helped Dad with the other sick kids. I was the only one who wasn't sick. Grammy had gifts for us, so when she found out we couldn't go to the party after all, she called saying that she was at the hotel and was coming up to give us gifts. My dad yelled and yelled at me for not turning Grammy away, how selfish of her to stop by and give us gifts! He was still ranting when I opened the hotel door for Grammy to come in, and she heard some of it. He didn't know she did. When he realized she was here, he switched over to a concerned parent mode. I hugged Grammy, took the presents, and wished I could vent to her, but I couldn't.
In my senior year of high school, I was in the midst of a major depressive episode. I knew I needed help. It took me months to get up the courage to tell my mom I was depressed, and she said, "Tell your dad." I was afraid of him getting mad at me, but my mom reassured me. "He's in a good mood. You can tell him." So I did. "D-d-dad? I've been doing a lot of research, and uh, I've been feeling really depressed for several months."
My dad flew into a rage. "You're not depressed, you're just too damn big for your britches, you're a Goddamn spoiled brat! You have no damn reason to be depressed! I'm spending a lot of money for your graduation, I worked long and hard to come up with your homeschool lesson plans, you have great brothers and sisters, I buy you all sorts of nice clothes! You have no reason to be depressed--you have a roof over your head, I work long and hard so Mom can stay home and homeschool you kids. I'm working my Goddamn but off to goddamn buy you those god damn expensive hearing aids! I worked 3 jobs, and nearly died on my feet and walked home during a blizzard and almost died of pneumonia just to afford your hearing aids!" You get the idea. This went on for a long time. I had to nod and say, "Yes, dad" and sometimes I couldn't because I was crying so much. I glanced at the clock twice during his rant. Once, several minutes into it, and once at the end of it. He had yelled for at least 20 minutes. At the end, he said that I wasn't depressed, I had no reason to be. He also said that all the antidepressant pills cause teens to commit suicide. (I didn't dare tell him I fantasized about death a lot. It was only my Catholic faith and fear of Hell that kept me from ever doing anything.) Later, he told my mom to tell me that if I wanted treatment, he wouldn't pay for it, it would be all on my own money, and he wouldn't allow me to use insurance to cover it. I don't know why he didn't want to tell me in person, but now that I think about it, he didn't speak to me for days. So it was part of the silent treatment. He did often use mom as a messenger.
I have many many more memories, but it's much too long to all fit into one post. My point is that domestic violence is not purely physical. Psychological and verbal abuse are just as dangerous and damaging to people as physical abuse, except the wounds are invisible. Each word, each action, leaves a scar on the psyche.
If you are suffering from physical, sexual, psychological, and/or verbal abuse, either from a family member or a spouse, know that you are NOT crazy, and you do NOT deserve it. You can seek help. There are many resources you can turn to for assistance.
If you suspect a child is suffering from physical, sexual, psychological, and/or verbal abuse, please please please report it to Child Protective Services.
Filed under: Abuse