My last post about domestic violence was a report—passing on information I learned in a recent class and some of my observations from my law practice. But in the course of discussing that post with V, she jolted me into a realization that this subject had touched my life and is, perhaps, touching it still.
As most of you know, V and I have been friends for 57 years (oh, Lordy!), and we lived right next door to each other as children. I moved away when I was about 8, although our parents had the great, good foresight to be certain we saw each other frequently (this friendship has been a life-saver for me in these later years).
As some of you also know, I grew up with a brilliant but alcoholic and womanizing lawyer father. I loved him very much and miss him even now, but he was a mess, and he brought that mess down on his wife and children. He would often come home very late at night, reeking of alcohol, women would call our home…you get the picture. My brother and I grew up in this kind of turmoil.
I can remember being quite young (5-ish?) and awakening in the night and hearing the sounds of a party. My parents occasionally had parties in their home, tucking my brother and me in bed as the guests arrived. I knew the sounds of gay conversation and laughter and the tinkling of ice in the ubiquitous high-ball glasses. On this particular night I vividly recall that it was the ice tinkling that jolted me awake and then the loud party voices brought me to full consciousness.
I remember my puzzlement, thinking, “Are mom and dad having a party? I didn’t know about it…” and walked down the hallway to check it out.
Well, it was not party. The tinkling ice sounds were of glass breaking. The “party voices” were argument. It was a full-blown fight. That’s all I remember—I don’t remember their reaction to me. I don’t remember how that night resolved. But I sure remember the episode. Which brings me to…
As V and I discussed my last post, she brought up another incident. “I remember that awful night when you, your mother and R (brother) had to come to my house—and it was snowing outside!”
I have absolutely no recollection of this, to V’s astonishment. She went on to say that my mother had come across the snowy yards with us two kids, banging on the door for help. She well recalls my mother lifting her shirt to show her parents the bruises up and down her back.
I was astonished! I have no recollection of this. V was shocked at this because it made such an impression on her.
The next day my brother and I were visiting at the office. He and I practice law together so we are together daily (our sister is a paralegal there, so all us siblings are together every day). He asked about my continuing education classes, and I told him some of the domestic violence statistics I had learned. Imagine my surprise when he said:
“Gee, C, remember when Mom had to take us to V’s house in the middle of the night? I was just little, but I can remember the police coming and we had to leave to go to V’s. At first I remember that it was very odd and fun to walk in the snow with no shoes….and then when I saw the bruising on Mom…”
When he mentioned the bruising, I got a flash picture in my mind of my mother’s bruised back. That’s all: just a flash of my mother’s bruises.
Here’s the point: I was there during that episode, no doubt. And, no doubt, this was a traumatic experience for us all. It made an impression on V and R that they carry with them today. Where is the impression on me?
Oh, I know the impression is there, alright—somewhere in my spirit. For me this is an up-close-and- personal illustration of how children (and adults) can repress things that are so hurtful and traumatic that it’s just easier not to know about them. It makes me wonder how this has played a part in shaping my life (gives me yet another excuse for how screwed-up I am).
It is a deep lesson, I think, that all parents ought to take to heart. Don’t do things that cause so much pain to your kids that they can’t even bear to know about it…and there is very little that is more painful to a child than one parent hurting another. Even verbal battles are damaging. It rocks their foundation.
As V and I talked, we commented on the fact that both of us are children of domestic violence…I’ll let V tell her own story when she’s ready, as it has a different twist than my own. But it just lets you know that the problem is rampant in our society and the effects are deep and shadowy.
Please take heed. C.