Nothing tests creative leadership like a crisis of the unknown
It has been four years, seven months and four days since my mother’s internal organs quit a little after two AM. I have a red satin oval shaped box with a quilted top that sits on my bookshelf next to a one of a kind grayish abstract artistic urn in which her ashes lay. She was a bling, bling women and I thought it was appropriate. In the box are old photographs and her favorite perfume that permeates the air upon opening it. One picture is of her graduation from Empire State College and she was beaming. One thing I will always remember is her instilling in me the importance of education.
Growing up was like living in a war zone at times. My parents divorced when I was four years old and my single mother raised me to the best of her ability. My mother was the verbal abuser in our home. She had a hard time finding the right person and always fell in love with the wrong ones. Her patterns were simple. She always became involved in an abusive relationship which included physical, verbal, and mental cruelty. The screaming, yelling, punching, and the police being called daily was the norm.
I listened to the shouting from underneath my bed that seemed to increase in volume like someone turning a radio on full blast. I feared for life, my mother’s and mine. The bloody beatings my mother endured could be heard bouncing off every wall. I too suffered the repercussions of her failed decisions on many levels. It was with a broken heart that I viewed her. My sympathy ran deep, but it was my anger that ignited my passion for the wrongs I endured during the times when she would turn the other way when sexual abuse occurred in our home. She did nothing to stop a person from touching me.
Living with the enemy was difficult. Living with two made it even more complex. How do you create peace, ethical behavior and morality where there is none? How do you end conflicts and struggles that go beyond comprehension? To me, my voice was loud and clear as a child trying to tell my nightmare story of abuse and the need for it to stop, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears while it appeared to be never ending. I watched a documentary called, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell, and felt a connection with the Liberian women during the civil war and their plight for peace and equality for all human beings. Yet, at the same time I could understand the young boys with their weapons in hand using violence as the only answer to what was they thought was right.
The Liberian women also fought against two enemies, yet portrayed fearlessness in action in order to confront patriarchal commanders who were in total control during a time when it appeared there was no confidence in the future. A major concern was to not cross political lines as they were in between Charles Taylor, a brutal oppressor who was the president of Liberia and merciless Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, an organization of rebel parties trying to gain control of the country. In my case, it was not easy living with two people who wanted total control and forced different forms of abuse to achieve their goals. Helplessness is the only word to describe feelings of this nature.
One visionary leader, Leymah Gbowee told her story of how she used creative leadership and storytelling as a leader to guide hundreds of Liberian woman during the civil war and selected non-verbal demonstrations to get the message out regarding peace. In the beginning it too fell on deaf ears, to those who held the power and control in the palm of their hands. She commented that we lived in fear. You go to bed saying god please what do we do?” It was always like you go to bed and afraid that you have something different the next day. I too had similar thoughts as each new day brought a different nightmare to life in my home.
Under Gbowee’s leadership these group of women used prayer, chanting and non-violent sit-ins to meet with Charles Taylor and obtain a promise from him to attend the much needed peace talks in Ghana. The Liberian women commented how they weredetermined, and nobody going to deter us. We’re going to find a strategic point, where Taylor going to encounter us and give us some attention. And this is how we decided to sit at the fish market every day. It was their emotional turmoil, the watching of rapes and killings of the innocent that unified them and kept the fire of perseverance blazing. How does one deal with death and destruction of their inner and outer world? Either they succumb to it, bow down or fight for what is right. Gbowee led thousands of Christian and Muslim women with the strength and courage to confront their fears of the unknown making a difference and changing lives.
It was their perseverance, self-sacrifice and persuasiveness that touched others in order to become part of the greater good for all. They had the world on their shoulders as they dealt with external struggles of pain, murder, rape, starvation, and torture. Their inner fights consisted of doing what was right despite the consequences. They became unified in bringing social equality to where it was needed. Gbowee used the form of persuasion and inspiration reflecting that the women’s ethics and morality was stronger than the violence being committed. She inspired and led other women to unite against a dictator and to restore the rule of law to their country. For the first time their voices had been heard in fourteen years and they shared tears of joy instead of pain. It was one major step closer to the liberation from oppression and a great victory for all.
In my home it was the lesser of the two evils that I fought against. I remember one chilly winter’s night when I was eight years old in Walnutport PA. My mother’s boyfriend lived with us and he was an alcoholic. A horrific knock down argument took place and he slashed her throat with a fishing knife. This was not the first time I witnessed bloodshed, nor the last. I only knew violence within my home environment and reacted accordingly by attacking him from behind kicking and thrashing while my arms wrapped around his neck. I was flung up against the hard dark wood paneled wall leaving bruises not only on my body, but in my mind. I had no control over my oppressor(s). Looking back I seemed to realize at a young age that violence was not the answer as I was becoming tainted. According to Aung Sang Suu Kyi, a Burmese opposition politician and chairperson of the National League for Democracy, the effort necessary to remain uncorrupted in an environment where fear is an integral part of everyday existence is not immediately apparent to those fortunate enough to live in states governed by the rule of law. I failed this task and the time had come to find a non-hostile strategy in order to bring peace and morality into our home.
I can recall at age thirteen taking a stance on what was right. Voicing my opinion that the abuse must stop. My strategy consisted of not doing my daily household chores or cleaning or cooking. It did not take long before my mother sat me down and gave me the second degree. I spoke openly regarding the abuses that had been occurring throughout the years, my thoughts and fears. Ethics and morality was on the table. It was the first time she actually listened and heard my plea. Simmons remarked, respectfully listening to someone’s story bonds you two (or thirty) together in a feeling of kinship that duplicates very old (and sacred) social rituals (188). For the first time tears of hurt and pain bonded a mother and daughter. The abuse subsided and she became more protective of me. It was a small victory in our unity, yet the pain still lingered with the anger against the enemy, my mother who looked the other way in my time of need. The job of a leader is to care about their followers. Ethical behavior is reported by Burns, Gwen, and Barbara N. Martin, “The necessity for a change in leadership is further warranted based on the need for an “ethic of caring” (Grogan, 2003, p. 25).
As the women of Liberia and I have realized our horrendous wounds may have healed on the outside, but it is our inner injuries that will last a lifetime and hopefully in time will heal too. Gbowee actively participated in the social influence process to attain a goal through trust within the group and succeeded in persuading others into the right social ethical choices to make. It was through my own personal strategy of attaining a goal, the ending of the abuse, the quiet way I tried to initiate contact with my oppressor by a slow down on chores, the introducing of a new structure in our home by opening communication which then opened the door to understanding and peace. It was these tools in creative leadership that I was able to overcome one of many crises connected with my mother.
When I was older, I alienated my mother, moved out, graduated with my Associate’s degree, and had been working towards my bachelor’s when I received a call. It was her friend stating she had been in the hospital for months and she would need home care upon being released. I am an only child. My mother suffered from severe diabetes for the last thirty years of her life. The extremes in her sugar levels appeared to go as low to 50 and shoot up to 500. She dealt with this disease and lived her life with a glucose gun always close by in case of emergency. She had a hysterectomy when she was thirty resulting in the finding of ovarian cancer and treated with experimental radiation treatments which burned all her internal organs.
Why me? I asked myself. I remember the war zone in childhood, the pain and anguish it left behind in my heart. I tried to confront my fears in order to trust again and because I did really did love my mother despite the abuse. I still feared my mother and can recall the abuse as if it were yesterday. How could I overcome the trauma and treat her with kindness? I read a speech called, “Freedom from Fear” by Aung Sang Suu Kyi, a spiritual leader who told stories of violence committed on the innocent. She spoke about how fears must be released in order to move forward, and too not only forgive your oppressor, but help those in need. It is through sacrificing, having compassion, and in trusting one another that her beliefs defined the meaning of finding the courage to take responsibility for others.
I reluctantly took the responsibility of being a primary caretaker for my mother and withdrew from all of my on line courses immediately. I moved from Oklahoma to Florida within two weeks. I was scared of my mother and feared the unknown of not only living with her again, but how to test sugar levels and administer insulin. As a child, I would run out of the room screaming, “I don’t want to see needles.” The day she entered her home after months of being hospitalized I began my researching everything I could on the internet regarding diabetes. Knowledge was power. I had to confront my fears in order to keep my mother alive and perfect new skills. Leadership relies on change. Burns noted that the transformational leader creates significant change in the lives of people and organizations. This type of leader motivates followers and changes their expectations and aspirations.” (Andreescu and Vito, 2010, 576). This journey was about to change both our lives forever.
I performed injections on a sunshine fruit. The sweet liquid oozed out at my first few attempts. The orange was my first patient. I pricked it over and over until my hands stopped shaking. I gained confidence quickly as my fears began to dissipate. Even though I honed the skill of giving shots I still stated, “I’m sorry for hurting you” every time I injected her. Compassion took precedence in this situation and self-sacrifice was a given. I put my life on temporary hold for nine months. Aung Sang Suu Kyi mentioned, at the root of human responsibility is the concept of perfection, the urge to achieve it, the intelligence to find a path towards it, and the will to follow that path if not to the end at least the distance needed to rise above individual limitations and environmental impediments. The bottom line revealed my mother, a woman who could not survive without help and my call to duty in leading the way.
The next greatest challenge was in controlling her sugar levels which had never been done in thirty years. I read Michael Useem’s story, “Eugene Kranz Returns Apollo 13 to Earth” and it discussed a leader’s story about planning and organizing a strategy to a problem that has never been dealt with in the past. I used organizational leadership as Michael Useem mentioned it being the exercising of change and development of other people (91). I needed a plan, had faith and was determined in finding the answers as to why her body was in constant extreme mode, either too high or too low. My quest began with logging everything in my own personal medical journal. I was focused on answering my own questions and finding a solution to make the situation right. The first week of recuperation I watched her eat whatever and whenever she chose. I took on the role of the laissez faire discipline in which leaders avoid involvement (para Malloy and Penprase, 2010, 716). I tested her sugars and logged them three times a day and administered the doses of insulin accordingly. I posted medications and food intake plus her nightly sneaks to the kitchen for a midnight snacks. After a week, the results were in. After reviewing all of my sources I came to the conclusion that her environment, eating junk food and overeating played a major factor. I took control of the solution the only way I could think of, to cook healthy. One week later I was able to tell her what her sugar level would be in the mornings. I explained that, “Her new environment consisted of living with me which meant new ways of controlling her diabetes.” Creating a new structure of how to live healthy promoted communication as we both learned what made her body tick. In turn, my mother told me stories of the circumstances leading up to the need of a glucose gun and what would occur prior to the event. I learned what to look for and to be more observant in her behaviors. Storytelling is significant in relation to leadership and is a social activity in which communication can teach/learn, share knowledge, discuss dilemmas/crises and solve problems as Medina commented, Wenger extends this idea in saying that leadership is essentially a social activity and can best be learnt in “a community of practice”, where engagement in social practice is the fundamental process by which we learn and so become who we are (75).We came together, inspired one another and shared our knowledge to obtain a life goal.
I ventured into the unknown, confronted my fears, made decisions based on research and persevered to make positive changes resulting in keeping my mother alive. As Useem commented, the almost incredible feat of a safe return would have been impossible were it not or the steady nerves, courage and great skill of the astronauts themselves and the NASA network whose teams of experts performed miracles of emergency improvisation (93).
Nine months drifted by of playing the Florence Nightingale role and the time had come for me to leave. I picked up where I left off with my education and immediately applied for the up and coming semester. All was well for three months and then the call came again and again for twelve years. It appeared a never ending cycle. During those years I dropped everything in my life when the call came to be a primary care taker for my mother as she had a quad by-pass, pacemaker, hip replacement, was in a near fatal car accident that shattered both knees and had giant tumors removed. I was there for her, but I never gave up on myself or my educational future in returning to school. After having long bouts of hiatuses I would take two courses only to drop again due to my mother’s illnesses. I never gave up hope and with every ample opportunity I made sure I was in school.
My goal was set from the moment I graduated with my Associate’s degree. I refused to let circumstances beyond my control let me lose sight of the path I chose to be on. I was determined to do the impossible, at least in my eyes. My mother was my inspiration for attending college. When I was younger I watched a single mother going to Empire State College for a bachelor’s degree in social work. There were times she could not find a sitter and so I accompanied her to some of her classes. I enjoyed the experience of knowledge being shared and I wanted to be a part of the collective learning within a college environment.
In my opinion, life challenges you with crisis. How do you handle it? Will your actions speak louder than words? How do you resolve it in a manner that is not filled with fears or anger? For me, I faced my fears, used selfless actions, non-violent communication, organized a plan for problem solving, used compassion and diverse leadership disciplines to succeed in my vision. In May 2009 I received my Bachelors of Science degree in Business Management. My mother passed over before I graduated, yet I felt she was looking down and smiling when I held my degree in my hands.
Andreescu, Viviana, and Gennaro F. Vito. An Exploratory Study On Ideal Leadership Behaviour: The Opinions Of American Police Managers. International Journal Of Police Science & Management. 2010. Web. 16 Sept. 2012.
Burns, Gwen, and Barbara N. Martin. Examination Of The Effectiveness Of Male And Female Educational Leaders Who Made Use Of The Invitational Leadership Style Of Leadership. Journal Of Invitational Theory & Practice. 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2012.
Malloy, Terry, and Barbara Penprase. Nursing Leadership Style And Psychosocial Work Environment. Journal Of Nursing Management. 2010. Web. 16 Sept. 2012.
Medina, Marc. Leadership And The Process Of Becoming. Existential Analysis: Journal Of The Society For Existential Analysis. 2011. Web. 30 Sept. 2012.
Is there any correlation connecting trauma that an individual has experienced and their capacity to learn while functioning effectively in today’s society?
In today’s society it is difficult for traumatized individuals to find a place where they feel secure, sheltered and protected. Dictionary.com (2012) definition of trauma is “A body wound or shock produced by sudden physical injury, as from violence or accident. The condition produced by this; traumatism. An experience that produces psychological injury or pain. The psychological injury so caused.”
Traumatic events occur when there is bodily harm, emotional anguish, or impairment. It is an experience that is a threat to one’s safety or to the stability of one’s world. These types of disturbing events may involve: physical injury or illness, anxiety, fear, loss of trust, humiliation in childhood, violence, war, terrorism or a mass catastrophe. After a traumatic event, memories of the suffering can bring out feelings of vulnerability, fear, or a sense of reliving an incident over again called flashbacks.
Our world is filled with child cruelty, crime, interpersonal violent behaviors, sexual mistreatments, mental/physical abuse and war. A victim’s life is filled with the emotional aftermath and worries on a daily basis due to the potential of being harmed by another, whether it is a family member, a stranger or even reliving post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms of war. Not only does this affect the physical side of living but a person’s emotional and mental stability as well.
Psychological trauma is a stressful disorder. It is a breakdown of the nervous system that contributes to mental, emotional and physical ailments including apprehension and depression. Emotional traumatizing events can take a severe toll on individuals who are involved even if the event did not cause physical injury. Numerous stress responses signal trauma in adults including hypersensitiveness, hyper-reactive conduct, hypervigilant actions and shutting down called “tuning out” behavior. Neural systems appear to trigger changes as an individual portrays a hypervigilant state of arousal and constant anxiety mode. Traumatized victims will have a hard time retaining information in a classroom setting due to the different aspects of the brain controlling its performance.
Fragmented attention (memory deficits) occurs when an individual’s memory of a traumatic incident becomes inaccessible in the unconscious which enables the anguish of that moment in time to be locked away in their mind. It is at this time that seclusion begins to exist in their body and mind. The next phase for a person is to experience missing the executive psychological process of thinking and reasoning. The extreme side of this condition is when there are identifiable time frames of dissociation, separating and zoning out. What appears to be learned in this condition is separated as grouping of the mental processes from the rest of the mind, causing them to lose their normal relationship. When disconnected, anything that is described behavior or knowledge acquired through training or experience rather than being instinctual remains constricted from the main cognizant mind that is capable of thinking, choosing, or perceiving.
Several reactions may take place due to a feeling of being threatened. One type of effect on an individual is the fight-or-flight reaction due to the feeling of being in jeopardy by someone or something. Also, in the beginning phase’s one response could be the alarm reaction which destroys a person’s academic inquisitiveness and puts a constraint on their learning capabilities. It is at this stage that the mind and body begin to journey towards the arousal continuum where individual functioning begins to change. Perry (2003) discusses this outcome by stating, “During the traumatic event, all aspects of individual functioning change – feeling, thinking, and behaving” (p.3). During this phase a person has reduced competency in the learning process and using the cognitive side of the brain.
Trauma can drastically hinder one’s learning potential as this anxiety can lead to a lifetime of constant mental learning impairments as well as emotional disorders including feelings of despair. Significant findings have proven that individuals suffering from any of these disturbances could actually have changes within the composition of their brain. The frontal cortex (where higher thinking capabilities occur) and the limbic system (where cognition and survival develop) unite causing functional irregularities. There are numerous cognitive symptoms of psychological trauma that develops in individuals reflecting their ability to learn. This leads to feelings of being distracted, trouble in making decisions, recollection lapses, a lack of ability to concentrate/focus, reduced retention as well as short/long term memory deficits.
In summation, to answer the question: Is there any correlation connecting trauma that an individual has experienced and their capacity to learn while functioning effectively in today’s society? After researching this issue, it is my opinion that the relationship between trauma and learning is significant since physical or psychological damage is a main contributor to learning deficits. Trauma and the adult learning process must be examined through the learner’s internal state of mind. To accomplish positive learning capabilities the educator needs to create and provide a safe, secure and trusting atmosphere in order for an individual to properly retain classroom information and to succeed academically to build a better life for themselves. Sandra Kerka (2002) states, “To overcome these constraints and to help learners regain control, connection, and meaning, educators might adopt a comprehensive, multifaceted approach that includes the following: a holistic perspective, creation of a safe learning environment…” To give the essential sense of feeling protected to traumatized victims means building their confidence to learn through fostering encouragement while being sensitive to their state of mind.
Every woman who thinks she is the only victim of violence has to know that there are many more. ~ Salma Hayek
The main character is a young and naïve women going through her own personal torment not knowing that she has become a statistic. Just as the quote depicts there are many women going through similar pains every day.
In 1971, it seemed like the beginning of a never ending roller coaster ride with its highs and lows. My mother, a short chubby, dark haired Jewish woman always chose men after her divorce that neatly fit into the category of abusive drinkers, hitters and verbal abusers.
“I think I put out a vibe,” she would say.
The family crisis center basically defined physical abuse as, “Spitting, scratching, biting, grabbing, shaking, shoving, pushing, restraining, throwing, twisting, slapping (open or closed hand), punching, choking, burning, and using weapons (household objects, knives, guns) against the victim.” Then there is the verbal abuse which can make someone slink out of a room like a scolded animal.
“You’re nothing but a piece of shit,” I heard men say to my mother.
Mom always looked for someone to fill the black icy hole that lived deep in the recesses of her heart. As I grew into my own womanhood I became more aware of children and the effects of domestic violence in homes which in turn, has taught me more about myself and how I was not alone. The UNICEF: Child Protection Section commented on the domestic violence in the home, “… is one of the most pervasive human rights challenges of our time. It remains a largely hidden problem that few countries, communities or families openly confront. Violence in the home is not limited by geography, ethnicity, or status; it is a global phenomenon” (3).
Data suggest that young girls who witness maternal abuse may tolerate abuse as adults more than girls who do not. I will admit I am one of those girls. These negative effects may be diminished if the child benefits from intervention by the law and domestic violence programs (Clark County website). But, in the 1971 there were no laws to protect women from domestic violence or programs to help them in their time of need.
Domestic violence didn’t even have a name, let alone a legal identity (Fratini). At 27, my mother was still naïve to the evils in the world with her big chestnut eyes and large black framed glasses that she hid behind. It was two years since we moved out of John’s house which was a block away from the beach in Los Angeles, California. The situation became too much as his alcoholic binges, screaming matches and physical violence escalated on a daily basis.
“We’re safe now, no one can hurt us I promise” mom tried to console me.
My mother didn’t know that, Domestic Violence Statistics have shown, “Every 9 seconds in the US a woman was assaulted or beaten.” She didn’t know that Peace Over Violence, a social service nonprofit agency was created and dedicated to the elimination of sexual, domestic violence for all forms of interpersonal violence. It was established in late 1971 as the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women. (Praw 1) It’s an agency that would have provided her with crisis intervention services, violence prevention education and counseling services. She was not aware that domestic violence, a crime committed by domineering men against vulnerable women was hitting the public arena through feminism activities. She did not know that current societal concerns for domestic violence resulted in, “Erin Pizzey opening the first refuge for battered women in Chiswick, London, England” (Corry). Also that Rob Washington reported, “Early on in her work at Chiswick, she noticed that many of the women coming to her shelters were “violence prone.”
She did not know the mantra that the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse reported being chanted by women, “We will not be beaten” had become the saying of women across the country who was organizing to end domestic violence. A grassroots organizing effort that began, transforming public consciousness and women’s lives(Edleson).
In 1973 it happened again one gloomy winter’s day. Mom came home from work as I playfully made snow angels in front of our tiny trailer. The new snow was light and cold. I shivered as I stared blankly at the overcast of the gray sky. I know it is Friday which means no school tomorrow. Ten minutes later my cheeks were cherry red and I couldn’t feel my nose. I felt like a cherry flavored ice without the stick. When I got up I slipped a couple of times before deciding to crawl to the front door. I went inside where mom was waiting to have a little talk.
She met a man in a bar at the top of the hill from our trailer court which consisted of twenty diverse looking trailers, big and small. It was a small run down bar with one pool table and five small tables that the locals frequented. I went in a few times with mom when she would case the place for men and I would down two or three Shirley temples. At that age I thought because I was in a bar that I was being served alcohol. What did I know except 7-up and cherry syrup sure did make for a yummy cocktail?
“I know you’re going to like him,” She smiled as her tone appeared giddy. “He’s coming over for dinner,” she said.
Then it seemed like a faucet was turned on and off as she changed her tune and sternly gave me an icy stare, “Don’t do anything to screw it up, ok?”
I was told, “Only show your best behavior.”
When I met him, I had a strange feeling. I just couldn’t explain it especially at that age. Marvin Merski was tall, had a huge Jewish nose, balding with a black bushy unkempt beard. I tried really hard not to gaze at the biggest nose I had ever seen.
Mom always told me not to stare, but once we saw a woman at the grocery store and mom whispered, “Damn that is a big schnozzola,” meaning a big nose in Yiddish.
My mind wandered as I couldn’t look away, it looked like a giant hook had taken over his face. He didn’t need a fork to eat, all he had to do was lower his head to the plate and let the hook shovel food into his misshaped mouth, at least from my perspective. During the course of the meal, I served him broccoli, refilled his drink several times and smiled constantly. They talked about his job as an engineer and how he still lived with his mother at age thirty five.
It’s almost 10:30 pm and he finally left.
“He’s not a nice man and I don’t like him,” I whimpered as tears began welling up in my hazel eyes. “Please don’t see him again,” I cried.
But, what did I know, I was just a kid. These are the graphic details that linger in my mind from when I was seven in 1973 living in a small rural town in Walnutport, Pennsylvania in a single trailer. The kitchen was right there as I entered. To the left was the living room, my bedroom and then mom’s sleeping quarters. I had a bunk bed, but I never knew why. I was an only child who had no friends. My back yard was the lush green cornfields that shimmered as I marched through the four foot high stocks and large leaves in hopes to hide from the world. The smell of dirt was comforting although, I’m not sure why. The blue skies were my dreamland. It was a place that became my haven from the violence that seeped into my life.
He turned out to be an alcoholic who physically and mentally abused her every day for three years from the moment he moved in with us. I spent as much time as possible in the corn fields. I would lose myself in the calmness of nature, the birds chirping, the bees buzzing around my head and the sweet smell of fresh air and earth knowing in the back of my mind, the nightmare awaited for me at home.
Mom did not know that the Domestic Violence Resource Center reported, “…over 50% of all women experience physical violence in an intimate relationship, and for 24-30% of those women the battering will be regular and on-going. If these are true statistics then, if Marvin didn’t beat her, then the guy next door must be beating his wife or girlfriend at least occasionally. And the woman living with the guy two or three doors down is getting beaten at least once a month.”
It was the same evening ritual living in the small secluded trailer court. He would drink to get drunk, physically assault my mother which always resulted in my running out of our home sobbing uncontrollably only to stand outside in the nightfall reviewing whose door I knocked on the night before for help in calling the police.
I remember a moment in time that I am not proud of which is now and forever engraved in my mind. I lost it completely when he attacked my mother one hot July evening around 7 pm.
“Leave my mother alone you bastard,” I yelled with every ounce of courage could muster up in my three and a half foot body.
Mom did not know that The Clark County website stated, “Studies suggested that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually. Children who were exposed to domestic violence, especially repeated incidents of violence, are at a higher risk for many difficulties, both immediately and in the future. These include problems with depression, aggressiveness, anxiety and other problems in regulating emotions; difficulties with family and peer relationships; and problems with attention, concentration and school performance. That was me rolled up in a nutshell. Mom didn’t know the harm it could do to a child, to her only daughter. We lived in a home where domestic violence saturated our existence.”
The yelling went on for over an hour.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” mom said trying to catch her breath.
“The money, my fifty dollars is missing bitch. Give it back or else” He went nose to nose with her as he spit his words onto her cheeks.
The stench of alcohol lingered for too long as his pungent sweat made her nauseous. Rage filled the room with no air to breath. Marvin struggled with my mother and chocked her from behind with his forearm at one point before she let out a deep groan and in slow motion collapsed onto the green and blue pastel living room rug. Droplets of blood from the side of her mouth stained the carpet forming abstract shapes.
I jumped him from behind as he bent over her while she lay on the floor. I held onto his neck like I was riding bronco kicking him frantically.
“Stop please your hurting mom,” I screamed.
He griped my shoulders and squeezed with such force that I released my hold.
“Stop it that hurts, mom help me” I screeched.
I felt him pulling me off as the pain shot through my shoulders and he thrusted me in midair before I hit the hard surface of a wood paneled wall. I felt stabbing pains shooting from my toes to my head.
The day before he bought a hunting knife and placed it on the living room bookshelf. I wasn’t quite sure why he made such a purchase since he didn’t hunt. Did he have an ulterior motive? Marvin grabbed the knife and tightly held it in his sweaty palms. He was a crazed man with an evil mind and intentions.
“You fucken bitch, I’ll kill you!” he said.
The light hit the long sheath of filigreed metal and for a brief moment, it was blinding. He quickly pulled out the gleaming knife. My heart was pumping out of control as I ran to my mother’s side. Slowly he walked over to my mother and stared at her with ferocity in his eyes.
“You need to be taught a lesson bitch just leave my shit alone!” he said in a chilling voice.
Mom leaned over me, to protect me from the monster. She closed her eyes for a moment as if to pray or ask for strength. He bent over her wielding the blade moving it back and forth like a pendulum.
“You’re making me do this, just give me the money back,” he growled like an animal ready to pouch on an innocent prey.
“I didn’t take it,” her voice barely audible and trembling with fear.
And then he slid the blade across her neck following her jaw bone. I froze in terror. I watched Marvin cut her lightly enough to strike blood but, not too deep to kill. I observed the blood as it trickled down her chest staining her yellow flowered blouse she had bought the week before on sale.
Mom didn’t know that Domestic Violence Statistics reported, “On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. Could she be the next victim?
Her eyes opened wide as a deep curdling scream echoed off the walls, “You bastard!” she said with a voice I had never heard before. Was that my mother?
My mother saw red as fire seemed to engulf her being. Suddenly she had the strength of ten men as she rose from degradation to victory. She fought back hard as fists were flaring, wild punches thrown and then kicking between his legs until Marvin collapsed to the floor. He dropped the knife during the scuffle. Mom grabbed the blade from under the beige sofa as he clutched her wrists. It was a power play and somehow mom struck blood too.
“Get the hell out of here, you psycho!” she said in a deep, serious tone.
The knife slit his skin deeply under his right eye and blood squirted out quickly like someone turned on a faucet full blast.
“You bitch, you are going to pay for that,” he moaned.
Blood was everywhere. Eventually, the nightmare stopped. Within minutes he left the trailer bleeding from his wounds, but felt compelled to leave his message behind.
In his own blood he wrote the words, “Whore lives here” on the front door for the world to see. It took us weeks to remove the blood stain from the white metal door.
In 1973, every night it was a different trailer door that I knocked on and pleaded for assistance. The police were called every time, our saviors in the darkened night. Two officers in blue uniforms would arrive and always proceeded to escort Marvin off the premises to a holding cell followed by being released the next morning.
“Sorry ma’am this is a domestic violence call which is not a crime,” an officer once told us.
That scenario went on for three years between Pennsylvania and New York. The nightmare was over in 1976 when mom’s girlfriend threw Marvin down a flight of stairs ending his tyranny. We never saw him again. There still isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t glance over my shoulder in a momentary lapse of fear. That was just one of many epics in my life that turned me from an innocent child into an adult, maybe before I was ready?
Domestic violence was seen much differently back in the day. Mom passed over in 2007. She finally knew that she was not alone and that other women also felt the wrath of the drinkers, hitters and verbal abusers that entered their lives. She was one of the few lucky ones to live and tell about her experiences. How many women through the years were not so lucky?