Last Tuesday's Guardian ad Litem training session continues to unfold. The audio tape of a young girl's call to 911 for help triggered not only my adult experience with domestic violence, but also my experience as a child. I flashed on the incident in which Mike came to my sister and I and begged us to come into bed with him because he was afraid our Dad was going to hurt him. He had been the one to make the call for help when our parents got into one of their "incidents". I remember my Mom screaming for him to call our grandma. I realized today the depth and the quality of Mike's terror. He figured that our Dad wouldn't hurt him if his sisters were in the room. He was safer with us than by himself. He slept in a bedroom which shared a closet with our parents room. He must have heard everything that happened in their room. My sister and I slept down the hall, far enough away that we were out of earshot. I remember hearing my Dad's parents arrive and every one's voices getting much quieter. From my bedroom I called for my Grandma, but my Grandpa was the one who actually came upstairs to check on us. I don't remember how or when we got in our own beds. It was the only time I can recall that I had direct contact with that Grandpa. My memory is that he was gruff, distant and harsh. Except for that one time when he appeared tender, nurturing and sad or apologetic.
As the timeline progresses forward I remember my two year old son standing between his Dad and I, while I tried to cover my head to protect my face from his blows. And I remember my glasses flying across the room, looking down and thinking, "He's going to get hurt. Go!" I was in shock, and numb, yet wanting to reassure my kids I tried to act normal and deal with their needs, before I attended to my own. I got them ready for bed, going through the usual rituals. Assuring them that they were safe now, without knowing if it was true. After I was sure they were asleep I went to get help. Looking back on it now, I realize I was numb, exhausted and not thinking clearly at all.
When I asked my Mom about the incident in which Mike called our Grandparents she remembered her father-in-law asking her what she had said right before my Dad started hitting her. He advised her not to say it in the future. My mother became an expert in hostile silence. The silent treatment: if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all. It doesn't work for kids. They don't understand and they just think it's their fault. And she used me as a scapegoat and a hostage in her war with my father. Just as he used Mike against her. A family divided. I identify the coping mechanisms: alcohol, drugs, television, workaholism, compulsive obsessive behaviors, all combined with poverty and a very real struggle to feed and cloth us. It is no wonder she just wanted to get rid of me. And no wonder she resented my demands. Perhaps my expectations were unreasonable, but at the time I was a child. Do I have unreasonable expectations now? Of myself? Of the people around me? Or do I just like challenges, testing the limits and is that such awful trait? Something to be ashamed of?
The only way out is through. Domestic violence isn't going away. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the process if one is willing to take advantage of the opportunity. Gandi says we must be the change you wish to see. Embodiment of the lesson of domestic violence in as much depth as we can muster/master. It is our only hope for illuminating the journey for those who are coming behind us, through the same dark tunnel, and into the light.