This is the first of a series of short stories explaining the difficulty I face in admitting the brokenness with which I was raised. I speak to the shame that has plagued society for generations, that of domestic violence. It is a human condition issue; no one is immune, and I believe each of us have been touched by domestic violence somehow. Yet, I still avoid the admission:
I witnessed, endured, and enabled physical and psychological abuse in my lifetime.
The Rooftop Blanket of Darkness
I cannot remember the weekends and holidays when there wasn’t a skirmish in my home. I disengaged when it started and dissociated long after it ended. I learned to dread weekends and holidays due to the bickering battles in my family. When my dad was at home more than a day or two, there was war. My mother was an addict, and he was an enabler. Sundays were the most disastrous with constant yelling and screaming.
Mom and Dad sat reading in the living room after dinner, while my two older brothers washed and dried dishes in the kitchen at the back of the house. I played with my toys on the floor hoping no one would notice that it was past my bedtime. Suddenly, yelling erupted from the kitchen. Mom angrily demanded Dad put a stop to their fighting. More yelling and a bit of scuffling began. My heart beat faster, and my chest squeezed. Dishes broke. Dad jumped up and headed in there with Mom behind him screaming at him telling him to calm down and let her handle it. I was not confused by that because I knew this was the beginning of something terrible. I quickly made a run for my bedroom at the front of the house. I didn’t have a closet, but my clothes hung on two rods, one high and one low on the west end of the room. Squashing my little self to the wall behind the clothes, I felt more safe. I was 5-years-old.
I listened as the screams, yells, crashes, and thuds developed into a monster so frightening that I had to make a run for it. It was late, and so dark; I feared the dark. There were so many terrible things out there, but it was more frightening in here! Dad yelled at the boys, the boys accused one another, Mom screamed at Dad to calm down, and Dad ordered Mom to be quiet. He said, “You wanted me to put a stop to this, and that is what I intend to do!” Run is what I needed to do.
The front door was right next to my bedroom curtain. (I didn’t have a door on my room). I shot out of my hiding spot behind the clothes and bolted toward the safety of the storehouse. It was in the backyard under the tree. I climbed the woodpile, and pulled myself up to the top of the old refrigerator full of tools. There were so many bugs, and they taunted me with their threats to get me. Once up there, I could easily pull myself onto the roof. I made it! Safe at last. No bugs or scary things from the dark could find me here.
I could still hear the fighting, and I could see the back door to the kitchen if I looked. The back door slammed. I flattened myself against the roof and peered over the ridge. It was Dad and brother 2 tumbled out the backdoor into the back yard. Mom stumbled out behind them hollering at Dad to stop him. Brother 2 broke away and bitterly stormed out in the dark. I did not know what to call it then, but despair was my feeling. I did not think this ritual would ever end. My heart broke because I feared that one day he would not come back. Mom and Dad went back into the house yelling at one another. She wanted Dad to go after my brother. He wanted to let brother 2 calm down.
I scrambled down because I knew the family would erupt all over again if they discovered I was missing. I snuck back into the house to perform my part in the ordinary family, and act as if nothing had happened.
Everyone went to bed as if nothing terrible had happened. Mom tucked me in, and I lay in bed with Confusion, my imaginary companion. Sleep might have come that night, but I cried for a long while, silently of course. My anxiety for my brother overtook me, as it did each time this happened. I loved him, but I feared for his safety–for his life. I didn’t know why my parents could sound so mean to each other. How could people be so mad and then quickly act like they were normal?
The next morning, brother 2 was home at breakfast, and the temperature of our home was cool as if nothing had happened. I sat in the car on the way to school in silence as I pondered telling someone what had transpired, but I knew I wouldn’t tell anyone. That was my role, to watch silently. As I walked toward the school building, I steeled myself to complete the day as a normal child from a happy family.