I’m taking a little break from my ‘series’ on Job to address another issue. This afternoon I will be attending the funeral of my cousin, Tammy. On Thursday afternoon she lost her life at the hands of her boyfriend, who choked her to death during a physical altercation over keys to their apartment. She was 40 years old.
I am not particularly close to my family so I can’t speak on Tammy’s specific situation. I would only venture to guess this wasn’t their first time to get physical. What I can speak on is my own story.
My father was an abusive man towards the women in his life. He abused my mother during their 10 years of marriage until she’d finally had enough and left. When he won custody of myself (10) and my younger brother (6) his only way to continue that abuse was through us, so that’s exactly what he did. Two years later when he forced me to walk outside and tell my mother we no longer wanted to visit her, his focus shifted to me.
My abuse was not as bad as many – it was certainly not as bad as Tammy’s became – I want to make that clear now because I don’t want to dramatize my own experience nor devalue someone else’s. My father wasn’t a black eye or visible bruises kind of guy. As with most abusive situations, it started small. He would only spank me, which became more frequent, then it became more violent. He started throwing things, once putting a hole in my bedroom door and once busting the glass out of my bedroom window. Another time he hit me in the head with the phone – this altercation started because he thought I told my mother I loved her.
The whelps and bruises fade and go away. The emotional abuse is what leaves the scars. I was constantly called names, told I smelled bad, and told no one would ever love me. He once carried all my clothes outside and threw them in a pile on the ground threatening to kick me out. When his rage was over he allowed me to pick them up myself and ‘move back in’.
Silent treatments were a regular occurrence in my life. Some lasted days, some weeks. They would end when he gave me a gift. No apology, just a cheap necklace or trinket. I can’t remember my father ever telling me he loved me, but he threatened to kill me 6 times in those two years.
Because my father wouldn’t allow us to talk to our mother, I began sneaking to call her. I hadn’t had a relationship with her for two years and he’d spent that time trying his best to fill my head with horrible stories about her, but she was my mom. One day after learning about his abuse, she told me I could come live with her. I went home and thought a lot about that offer, and I prayed. I made a deal with God that if my father ever hit me again, I would take her up on it.
It took two weeks, which I remember being an extraordinarily long time, but one day he finally did hit me again. I will never forget that day. We were in his mother’s house – my father, my grandmother, my brother, and myself – laughing at something on the TV. Suddenly my father jumped out of his chair and crossed the room with fists clenched, face red. He stood over me and said through gritted teeth, ‘Laugh. Go ahead. Laugh.’ Genuinely confused, my response was, ‘Do you want me to laugh or not?’ My father slapped me with all his force across my left cheek, then finished up with a backhand on my right. The next day I used the school phone to call my mother and accept her offer.
I share my story because I want everyone to know I’ve been there, but this is what I want you to hear. At 14 I looked back over the last two years – just two years – and I could see the pattern. I could see how he went a little farther every time. If you are in an abusive situation, look back and see your own pattern. I have no doubt it’s there. See it and realize it’s not going to change, it’s not going to get better, and Stop. The. Cycle.
Before I left I had decided one of three things would happen. Best scenario, my father would get help and things would be better than ever. Scenario #2 was my father would kill me or himself. And scenario #3 was that he would never speak to me again. He chose option #3.
I’m not telling you it won’t be scary. I’m not telling you this decision can be made without some doubts about whether you are making the right choice. I’m telling you – from someone who has been there – it is necessary. A person cannot live under those circumstances. If you don’t wind up losing your life like my cousin, you will at the very least lose the person you are.
My life wasn’t suddenly rainbows and puppy dogs when I left my father’s house. I had a whole other battle or eight to fight. Little did I know I wasn’t moving in with the same mom who lost custody 4 years before. She was broken and I guess just never could see me the same. I fought for years to be good enough before I realized the problem wasn’t me and our relationship is non-existent these days.
Not only did I lose my mother, I lost my father’s entire side of the family – my aunt, my uncle, both my cousins, Tammy’s two daughters, and the most painful of all, I lost my brother. I lost friends whose parents were friends with my father. I lost, I lost, and I lost some more. I’ve lost more in 19 years than some people lose their entire lives but let me make this very clear – I do not regret my decision.
For all the things I lost that day, what I gained is what was left of myself. I don’t know if I would have stayed if my father would have ever made good on his threats to kill me. What I can tell you is this. He broke my mother. He knocked her down and as much as I don’t think she sees it, she never truly recovered. He knocked me down too. Took me out at the knees. But he will not…he will never…break me. I get a little closer to standing every day of my life, and one day I promise him, more importantly I promise myself, I will stand up again.
Tammy is in a better place now there’s no doubt about that. Her pain is done. Her abuser can’t hurt her anymore. But he did take my aunt’s eldest daughter. He took her sister’s only sibling. He took their mother from her three daughters aged 20, 18, and 12. He took the opportunity for God only knows how many memories that would have been made.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. I will stand again. You can too. Please, stop the cycle.
1971 – 2012