So here’s my art, I’ve tried to make something that’s very ugly beautiful, so we all can see it.
October is domestic violence awareness month.
I didn’t know about domestic violence when I was growing up. It wasn’t that I was shielded from it, I wasn’t. But I just thought it was quite normal for grown women to get beat up by their men. Because in my neighborhood it happened quite regularly.
We kids would sit on the front stoop and listen to the noise and yelling that filled the air. And it didn’t seem odd at all, that in the twentieth century men were acting like troglodytes, pulling and beating up on their women.
Ironically, I didn’t see it much on television. Ward Cleaver never beat his wife June, on the “Leave it to Beaver” show and although Jackie Gleason always threatened to punch Alice to the moon, he never once actually did it on the “HoneyMooners” TV show.
Still I thought it was commonplace, and that it happened it everyone’s house. And I knew that there was a shame around it, no one spoke about beatings, because there wasn’t anything to be proud about. As I grew older, we still weren’t talking about it, but I began to notice that it wasn’t cultural. I thought it was. And as I grew wiser, I thought it was economical, that domestic violence only happened inside of poor homes. Untrue. And for years, I thought it was normal, part of a healthy relationship. It’s not.
But then again, there wasn’t national awareness of domestic violence when I was growing up. So what I saw, was what I knew.
I now know that Domestic Violence isn’t limited to gender and it can occur in any relationship. I knew a woman who was regularly beat by her wife. And the thing that stood out for me, was that she wouldn’t leave her wife. Which threw me for a loop, because in my mind women are suppose to be nurturing, patient and kind, but I was wrong.
I was probably in my early 30’s when I discovered by watching Oprah Winfrey, that domestic violence is a vicious cycle, that children who witness domestic violence, will in al likelihood grow up and be violent themselves, at least once.
It explained things about my own behavior that I hadn’t understood, for instance why I didn’t limit an argument to my words. It was because I had grown up seeing domestic violence from my crib, as if I was watching a movie in a theater. And it wasn’t limited to my mother, those beatings extended to my sister and brother. My parent’s marriage ended when I was four years old, but the impact and the damage had already been done.
It seems only natural that siblings squabble and fight, because that’s what children do. But when I was eight years old, my older brother began to teach me how to box and that’s quite a different thing.
He taught me how to stand, how to duck and how to cross my arms to protect myself from being hit. He also taught me to throw a closed fist punch. “Girls always slap,” he instructed me, “but slaps won’t stop a guy who’s beating up on you,” he explained, then punched me hard.
After a few more jabs and some more solid punches, he bloodied my lip and laughed. I asked why he was hitting me so hard, “To toughen you up,” he said. “Because, I’m not always going to be there to protect you.”
A decade later I would better understand my brother’s instructions and I’d be grateful for the lessons he taught me. Because of him, I was able to defend myself against the boys who came into my life to love me. Because of him, I was able to strike first during an argument and not be limited by my words.
To look at me, you might not know my early years were filled with violence. That my mother, who had three small children would face the fight or flight, instinctive response to a threat, her husband, my father. And that in order to survive and save her children from the vicious cycle of violence, she would take us away and leave family and friends behind.
You wouldn’t know any of it, but I’m sharing it now because the more we talk and tell our stories, the more we know.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
If you need help, or want additional information: https://www.thehotline.org/identify-abuse/understand-relationship-abuse/
If you’re in an abuse relationship it’s not ok. There is help.