I stood at the door of our apartment building, unsure if I should turn the knob or step through the hole where the large pane of glass had been less than a minute before. My mom was sprawled on the bottom few steps. Her eyes were already starting to swell and shards of glass were littering her body.
As a 7-year-old walking home from the bus stop, I watched as my father punched my mom and then picked her up and threw her through the window in the door. I did not yet know my multiplication tables, and witnessing my mom’s body bust through a plate of glass was something that I could barely comprehend. I screamed and ran, unsure of what I needed to do. I longed for a grown up, but it was only me.
With tears streaming down my face, I picked some of the glass off of her and told her that everything would be okay, but my stomach was already in a knot because I knew that I was lying. Everything was not okay.
It was the first time I witnessed him abuse her, but it certainly would not be the last.
My parents, Steve and Starr, were not only fighting raging drug addictions, but they were often fighting each other. When the dope sickness started creeping in and the money was all gone, they would turn on each other, first with insults and accusations and then, inevitably, with fists.
Now, Steve and I are estranged, and my mother has passed.
But in a series of letters that I exchanged with my father, he wrote about the domestic abuse between my mother and him. Here are some of the excerpts:
“You know of all the hell that me and Starr went [thru], and the hell we put you kids [thru] was all about the drugs we were addicted to. That was the cause of all the fights, that and not being faithful to each other.
“I did my best to not take it out on you kids. I thought as long as I did not hit y’all, that I wasn’t abusing y’all, but I know that abuse comes in a lot of different clothes. I have always loved you kids more than life, but just loving is not enough, you do have to be responsible.”
Although my father is an extremely flawed man, I do not believe that he is an inherently evil man. I will never excuse his abuse, but I have learned that he was emulating his stepfather.
“My dad, as much as I can remember, was very strict,” my father wrote. “He died when I was eight. Eventually, my mom met a man, Bill. He was an alcoholic, very abusive. After he came into our life, it went to hell.”
Steve was my Bill. He is my biological father, but he didn’t come into my life until I was seven. He was an addict, very abusive. After he came into our life, it went to hell.
Life was hell and hell is harrowing, shameful and damn, damn is it lonely.
I never spoke of the violence and abuse that I witnessed at home. However, when I visited friends’ homes I tried to absorb their everyday routines, none of which seemed to include overturned furniture or combing the carpet for one of your mom’s teeth. I longed for that normalcy like some children wish for a pony or a Tonka truck.
What was so frustrating was that it seemed like a simple fix.
Just stop hitting my mom.
Just leave the man who hits you.
Domestic abuse is much like the ever-changing bruises that often spread across my mom’s face. It is complex and it is hard to look at, but we must stop averting our eyes.
“Domestic violence is something that is entrenched in our society, as it used to be legal,” Justin Perry, a Charlotte licensed clinician said. “It doesn’t discriminate by race, class, or even based on ‘type of woman’ as people think. Furthermore, most abusers don’t have an obvious look and can be superficially charming at first glance.”
As of Oct. 20, 2017, Charlotte had experienced 73 homicides. Of these deaths, 28 of them have been tied to arguments or domestic violence.
According the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by a partner and one in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year. Like me, 90 percent witness the violence first hand.
Domestic abuse is often cyclical. According to Unicef’s Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children, witnessing domestic violence is the single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life.
“Ultimately, we need to teach our children by example as well as through words what healthy relationships look like while helping them develop a self-concept that helps them know they are worthy,” Perry said.
As an adult, I am not a perpetrator nor victim of domestic abuse. I know that I am fortunate. It has not always been easy. I still struggle with feeling worthy of others’ love. I still have a desire for my loved ones to punish me when I have committed even the slightest wrong. And, there have been times when I have burned with a white-hot rage.
I now live in a home like the ones I craved in my childhood. It is a warm place, a loving place, a silly place and most importantly, it is a safe place. Life is simple for me now. However, I know that there are so many out there that are still suffering in silence and shame.
If you are someone you know is in an abusive relationship, here is a list of organizations that can help:
The Domestic Violence Healthcare Project (part of Carolinas HealthCare System): Provides free, 24-hour advocacy services to victims of intimate partner violence.
Safe Alliance : 80 bed shelter for individuals and families.
Domestic Violence Hotline: 704-332-2513
Salvation Army Center of Hope Women and Children’s Shelter: Operates a Coordinated Assessment system that connects individuals and families in imminent risk to an existing available shelter/housing.
Photos: Sosha Lewis