I don’t remember how old I was the first time I witnessed domestic violence. I was very young, maybe around six. My younger brother had just been born and we were in California visiting family and seeing the baby for the first time. My grandmother and grandfather went on a second honeymoon of sorts and I was stayed with my aunt and uncle. I hated it. My uncle was very controlling and ran his house like a military base, with the only civilian being himself. He snapped his fingers at his wife when he wanted his glass filled, and forced his children to eat oatmeal every morning while he enjoyed Frosted Flakes. He didn’t like oatmeal. Neither did his children.
I begged my grandparents every day I saw them or spoke to them to let me stay at their hotel with them, but everyone refused. I complained about not being able to eat what I want, about my uncle threatening to spank me for being disrespectful, about my cousins being mean to me. I didn’t complain of having to listen to my aunt’s screams and uncle’s yells coming from their bedroom everyday, or of the bumps and bangs of her body hitting the walls and floor.
I remember that I sat on the floor playing puzzles with my younger cousin during one particularly long fight. I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing, every sound from upstairs made me jump, but not my cousin. She assembled her puzzle, seemingly unaffected by any of it. It was normal for her. During that fight, I learned to ignore it as well. Pretty soon, my puzzle was finished and it wasn’t until I’d stuck in the last piece that I realized that the violence was still going on. When my aunt came downstairs, her face was dry but her eyes were red. She didn’t have a scratch on her that I could see, but when she reached up to get something, she whimpered and clutched her side.
My aunt and uncle are still together. He has spoken to me in contrition of the way he treated his wife in the past, during our discussions of my own marriage, but I don’t know if he changed.I have no idea if he still beats her, but he still keeps her under his thumb. You would never know it; from the outside in they seem like a fine couple. They joke and laugh and talk and it’s only in family settings or if you pay close attention that you’ll see the signs. He still snaps his fingers at her.
Another time, I think I was 9, and I was in California again, this time on summer vacation. My grandmother was forcing me to spend time with my mother, which I didn’t want to do. My mother was still with my younger brother’s father, and they fought like cats and dogs. It had been just arguments, until one night. I sat on a futon watching, listening, as they yelled at each other, and my brother’s father kicked my mom in the back when she turned to walk away. Hard. She fell, but jumped right back up, and he knew what he was in for, and ran out of the door. She didn’t chase him, but later on that night he yelled at her from outside as he was slicing her car tires and she ran out of the house with a crow bar or tire iron or some other sort of long metal rod. I couldn’t see what happened in the parking lot, but she came back unharmed. Seething, but unharmed.
When I was 12, my younger sister was born, and I moved to New York with my mother. I don’t remember exactly why. My sister’s father was abusive and a drug addict. During my mother’s pregnancy, he sold all of her furniture and robbed her of everything else so she had to move in with relatives. As soon as she had her home back in order, she let him come back. My sister’s father treated my brother, who was then 6 years old, awfully. He called him names and bossed him around, he made it well known that he didn’t like the boy.
My mother ignored it, other than reminding him to call her boyfriend daddy, rather than by his first name. Her boyfriend tried to puff up his chest at me, but it never worked. I was always a tough, stubborn little fuck, and he would have had to break me into pieces before he could have broken my spirit. He left me alone after a while, and that was to his own benefit, because I’d decided pretty shortly after meeting him that if he put his hands on me I would slice his throat in his sleep.
I moved back home after a while, leaving my brother and sister and mother behind, gladly. A short while later, my mother moved down to North Carolina with us, nursing a broken wrist. Her boyfriend had pulled back to punch her in the face, she blocked it with her arm, and his fist hit her wrist so hard that it broke. I remember asking her about it and her telling me “well he was going for my face, imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t put my arm up?” with a laugh. And it wasn’t a compensating laugh, it was a real laugh. She enjoyed the fights – she started many of them.
He followed her down to North Carolina and I lived with them again, off and on, during my early teenage years. It wasn’t so bad, they were pretty tame, save for the one time my mom asked me to call the police because she was losing this battle, pretty badly, but I couldn’t because her boyfriend had ripped all of the phones out of the walls. She hit him with the car that night when he was trying to leave on a bicycle. I was used to the fighting after awhile. I chose sides; I yelled at them both to stop it when it dragged on particularly long and I was trying to get some sleep; I distracted my younger siblings. It became normal to me too – it’s actually more odd now that they are finally broken up for good.