“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
In my younger days, I lived in constant apprehension and anxiety. What was going to happen? When was it going to happen? How was it going to happen? Who was it going to happen to? The fear of an ensuing battle, even when I was not the brunt of the beating, terrified me. Sometimes the fear forced me to find places in which to hide. My favorite place was my closet. I took an old baby blanket and a pillow from my doll bed in the closet and hid it among my toys. When the chaos ensued, it became my refuge.
My need to escape did not only stem from the abuse that I endured. My mother was a victim of domestic violence in her second marriage. My brothers and I lived with its effects, too. We were unwillingly witnesses on her ride to hell; We were inevitably backseat hostages.
Domestic Violence occurs in three phases. During the first phase, Tension-Building, the abused tiptoes around in order not to provoke the abuser. In my situation, I usually avoided my step-father and mother as much as possible. I tried my best to stay out of their way. My mother spent the Tension-Building phase treating my step-father like a King by giving in to his every whim and waiting on him hand and foot. She was trying really hard to win him over.
The Acting-Out phase includes the violent acts that left her with bruises, black-eyes, scratches, cuts, etc. I have terrible memories of these occurrences. One particular time that stands out is when my mother discovered that my step-father had been having sex with another woman in their bed while my mother was at work. She was furious.
She found a brush in her bathroom that did not belong to her and was foolish enough to confront my step-father with it. As a child, I was confused about why she thought he would know about the mysterious brush she found. It was clearly a woman’s brush, not a man’s. She confronted him with the anger that was normally directed towards her three children, but there was a huge difference. We were her innocent victims; He was obviously guilty. However guilty he may have been, he would never admit it. We could have easily predicted his reaction to her confrontation. I never understood why she didn’t. Or did she?
The argument over the brush proceeded as we sat there like frozen statues waiting for our supper and praying it would all be a big misunderstanding. We’d learned to stay very still, dead silent, but constantly aware. Awareness often kept us from being hit in the head with a flying object or jabbed in the stomach with an elbow. Their fights had no boundaries, so with a limitless amount of space, we were vulnerable to external forces. The screaming, the cursing, the verbal vomit that came from both of their mouths was horrifying. I’ve yet to see a film made that duplicates the horror of constant verbal abuse. Hollywood never met my mother and step=father.
When my mother asked the same question over and over, “Who’s fucking brush is this?” she got the same answer over and over. “How the hell would I know?” That was a deterrent to her line of questioning. His “denial” was often really just a question to deflect his guilt back to her. It was though she was beating her head against the wall and expecting different results each time with her repetition. My step-father became more and more angry with her interrogation. We knew that the pending violence was about to erupt.
In her frustration, I assume, she threw the brush at him and hit him across his chest with it. Like an actor on cue, I covered my ears and closed my eyes tightly as I slid out of my chair and hunkered under the table. I knew he was going to hit her back, and the vociferating would commence. My hands only muffled the noise. I could still hear her pleading for him to stop as the sound of his hand slapping her face rang through my ears.
He stopping striking her and responded with threats. He would kill her with his bare hands, he said, and he would cut her body into little pieces. Then he’d throw them all over the entire state in secluded woody areas. She may not have believed him, but I did. I knew he was capable of it.
Now she was apologizing. She was so sorry. She loved him. She believed him when he said he didn’t know how the brush made its way into her bathroom. She groveled in the midst of her sobs as if she were begging for her life. The sound of her voice was pathetic, and I was very afraid for her. But we’ve heard it all before.
He seemed to take such delight in her requisition. He was the King again… but she wasn’t his Queen. He pushed her off and said he was leaving. When she should be filled with joy, she was pleading him not to leave, holding onto his shirt, blocking the doorway, grabbing his keys. In the past, that declaration enthused us, but by now, we knew it for the ruse that it was. The combat persisted.
My older brother grabbed my arm and ushered me down the hall with my little brother in tow. He was also our savior. My older brother told me to go into my room and hide. My hideout was prepared. I curled up under the blanket and waited as the screaming and yelling, banging and knocking were distant in the background, but still going strong. At some point, it would stop. The fear was not that it was unceasing. The fear was the remnants of the battle: the aftermath.
What would we discover when it was all over? While I waited, my thoughts raced to all the scenarios that could happen. My step-father could kill my mother. He could hurt my older brother. (He never did anything to physically hurt my younger brother.) He could find my hiding place and hurt me. He could set our house on fire, and I wouldn’t know about it until it was too late. He could leave and never come back. I became obsessive with trying to analyze every outcome.
This thought generating plagued me for as long as I could remember. Unrelenting ruminations that left me in a constant state of worry and a over-inflated sense of responsibility ruled my life. My endless stream of thinking seemed to center around problems or even possible dangers and the urgent need to do something about it. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt over my inability. The guilt only escalates the obsessive thinking.
Where does this leave me today? When I am out of the situation, I realize that fear is the stem of all that infatuates me. We are all the product of everything we’ve ever thought and done. I can choose not to act as fear demands. I know that I am no longer that child cowered under a blanket in the closet. I no longer suppress my thoughts based on fear. Instead of giving my obsessive thoughts the capacity to grow, I turn my awareness in a more positive direction where I am at peace. Then I can look back at the cyclone of thought I had created and realize that it is meaningless. My life, however, has meaning.