Remembering an incident of violence…
I will never forget this day.. I had a graduation party for a health & wellness class I was taking. The class was teaching me how to manage a difficult illness I was dealing with. Mr. X was supposed to watch the kids so I could attend the party, but was running late so I called to ask how much longer it would be. As soon as Mr. X stomped through the door, his anger filled the room like a rising thunderhead. I don’t know what I said or did wrong that day. I do remember the yelling. Being called names. That my class was not important, that my teacher and classmates were also being yelled at from afar, called names.
This was the first and only time I tried to escape the abuse in our home. The second time I would leave, becoming homeless with two kids in the process.
Thump thump thump. The horrible scratching, long nails struggling for steady ground. The frantic yelps followed by screaming, “Fuckin’ dog!” He lifts his boot to kick the dog, whose instinct to recoil turns her spotted body into sort of a ball, propelled through the air, bouncing down the stairs.
Mr. X turns, momentarily, to watch as the dog—all 55 pounds of her—is tumbling down the dark stairwell.
In that moment an unusual swell of adrenaline hits. Run. I would usually remain silent, unable to move but this time I have an unusual burst of energy. I lift the baby, JJ, into my arms, and push my older son, DJ , a toddler, out the door. The air is balmy, heavy ropes of humidity seem to slow my every step as I run across the muddy yard. There are deep ruts of mud and water to avoid, I finally reach the red van. I tear through my pockets, looking for the car keys. The baby JJ clings to my side; her chubby hands claw at my neck. In my haste I realize I have left DJ behind, he is struggling in the mud. DJ looks back towards the house, his face is cautious, wondering what to do.
Mr. X is yelling, frantically pleading…Come back. If you love me you will come back. Don’t go. You better not leave. You are walking out on our family. No, no, no I have to focus. The keys. Unlock the door. Get in the van. Run!
Now Mr. X is yelling to DJ…Come back. Daddy loves you. Come on. Let’s go inside. Come to Daddy…come (forceful pause) on!
I wrench the door open. The baby JJ tumbles inside. As I reach for DJ he has slips away DJ is turning back towards Mr. X, taking small steps towards the stairs. I call out to DJ but it is too late. He has gone too far. At the second step, Mr. X pulls DJ up, holding the boy at his side with a tight grip. One hand is clamped over DJ’s shoulders. I am haunted by that image—the small boy, the look of rage ion Mr. X’s face. DJ’s small form; his shoulder disappearing under the large, hairy hand clamped over his shoulder. Mr. X has won, there will be no more pleading, his face is aglow with a confident smirk.
Mr. X begins to taunt…If you leave anything could happen. You don’t want to go, do you? Anything could happen. If you love me you will stay. If you love me you won’t go. His voice is shrill, almost pleading…and yet signals something else. I am so scared. All of his words jumble in my head…lovefuckinbitchyoselfishyouwillstayIhaditallplannedforyouperfectyouruineverythinglovecometodaddyyouarewalkigoutonthefamily….
I throw myself into the driver’s seat, trying to block out his voice, and skid down the muddy driveway. Only when the house is out of view do I stop to buckle JJ in her car seat. I am so scared. He has DJ. What kinda mother leaves her child behind?!? I have no money, no place to go. Anything could happen. I drove around in miserable circles before finally returning home, an hour later.
The house is silent when I return. Its faded white boards with peeling paint and gutters sliding off the roof are the only sign of trouble. I tuck JJ close to my chest and tentatively walk toward the door. One step, two step, three. My heart is hammering beneath JJ’s head, tucked close against my heart. I draw in a deep breath, mentally practising my apology. I will force myself to give him a hug, and push this whole day out of my mind.. I will only remember good things. That is how I survive.
I am so embarrassed. I missed my graduation. I will never be able to look my teacher in the face again. I will never step foot in or near that school again (to this day I have not been in that school). My teacher would see the tears gathering in the corner of my eyes. He would see that I don’t deserve to graduate; I failed. I am so sick, so tired. I don’t know what wellness is, I can’t even take care of my family! All those weeks in class teaching me to deal with chronic illness and pain means nothing. I will throw away my books and notes. Each day is a struggle. The constant nausea after I eat. How my stomach is wracked with pain, stretching and stretching until my belly is a hardened lump. Tired all the time. I want to dance again. I want to run across green grass, barefoot. I want to to jump and play with my children. I didn’t graduate. I can’t think about these things now, not ever…then I would be selfish, unappreciative, a bitch. I need to think about Mr. X more, afterall he “does everything for me” and I “do nothing”.
I drive in random circles, tears running down my face. I won’t cry when I get home. Why am I crying now? This is my fault. I thought this class would help, somehow make things better. Maybe if I wasn’t so sick all the time, there would be no fighting; maybe I could do things right, make Mr. X happy. Hope slipped away with the last light lingering in the clouds. I failed again. It’s my fault, it always is, this just proves it.
My hand grips the brass doorknob, still faintly warm to the touch. I turn the knob and the door swings in. The dog usually barks, and greets me at the door–she is hiding, and will not come out. The TV blasted from the living room. I will clean up the mess. I left in such a hurry. My purse is lying on the floor, its contents spill in all directions. My book and notes are a crumpled heap. Several coats have fallen off the shoe rack hanging in the opening cut in the wall that serves as a closet. There are muddy shoe prints on the tag board floor. The dog food is kicked across the floor, hard pellets scatter like bullets. I will clean these things. The house will look perfect again. This is how I prove myself. How I make things right.
My ears strain at the sound of his his heavy footsteps as he approaches. I take a deep breath then freeze… Can I do this? I must. Mr. X comes closer, and without a word gives a small smile. I exhale. Time for the hug–sigh–that went okay, he did not hurt me. I can come back. Tuck the kids into bed. Don’t spend too much time saying prayers or he might get mad afain. Watch TV, whatever show he wants, of course. I will sit on his lap and agree that he is best poker player in the world, ready for his lucky break–he should be on TV kicking their ass..And just forget about leaving. We are meant to be together, we have a special connection, I am the only one who understands him…now I am in my place, just as it was meant to be.
Emily Court/M21, 2005