When we think of domestic violence, we often think of a romantic relationship between two people which has become toxic in some form. The level of abuse can vary from verbal or emotional to physical. The impact leaves one person feeling powerless and the other feeling powerful.
Statistics show that 1 in 4 women in the United States have been the victim of physical violence.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
But, we often do not think of the extension of domestic violence and its abuse on those around; the children and the extended families.
I posted on Facebook recently:
If you have been impacted by domestic violence, please message me.
Melissa shared, “I grew up in with sexual abuse and violence in my home. The sexual abuse caused rage in my sister who was three years older. My mother also ragged at us but she did not hit us, she screamed, and threw things like all the dishes in the house, or every piece of clothes out of our closets and then would not speak to us for days. My mom and sister would have physical altercations started by my sister and my sister got physically and verbally abusive with me regularly. When I hear domestic violence I think father beating up mother but I came to realize I grew up in a violent home that was not safe and it shaped much of my beliefs about life. Therapy and Unity have helped immensely.”
A new friend I met this summer said, “My first husband was abusive. I was married for five long years. It’s still hard to admit that to people but feels safer here on personal message.”
An old friend of mine, who was in an extremely toxic abusive marriage and is now divorced admitted that her current boyfriend has become abusive.
So for me, I can easily see how these alarming statistics are very substantial.
I remember my own mother getting threatened and hit by her boyfriend George, whom my mother dated for three years, was a live-in boyfriend and an acting father figure to her three young kids, me being the youngest. That relationship ended when I was five. Her next live-in boyfriend, who eventually became our step father bullied and threatened my mother and even shoved her up against the wall on a few occasions while her children watched. As a small child, to witness the rage and anger that was shown on the faces of these men (that sometimes was directed towards us children) while our mother’s face tried to elude her fears and tears unsuccessfully left us with a feeling of helplessness. We were powerless to make any changes. We had been placed in a situation beyond our control or our choosing. We had to learn at an early age how to mentally and emotionally survive on a daily basis to manage and cope in our sometimes unstable surroundings.
I don’t know when my mother started dating abusive men, but I know it didn’t start with George. While I was too young to remember, her relationship with my own father was also a toxic one. My father was good at loving his children; he was not good at caring and providing for them; or being a daily constant, reliable father in his children’s lives. But despite his toxic behaviors towards his lovers, girlfriends or wives, I never feared my father. Even after I learned of his crime, where his jury spared him the death penalty but sentenced him to hard labor at Florida State Prison for the rest of his natural life.
I found out about my father’s imprisonment and crime when I was a young teen. But I did not know the particulars, who, what, why or how it happened until years later. I grew up hearing about my abusive father from my mother, saying he left her so bruised and battered one time that when her mother came over to visit, she had to put on a long sleeve turtle neck shirt to hide her injuries.
My parents parted ways when I was a toddler so I have no memories of that time. But my oldest brother (from my mother’s first marriage) says he remembers. He remembers seeing my father abusing our mother. Once when we were talking about George and our step-father and their tumultuous and sometimes toxic relationship, he reminded me that my father “wasn’t all that great either.” I find it ironic because it is sometimes said as if I had control for my father’s behavior. Just because I am his daughter (I am my mother’s daughter, too), should I feel guilty for what he did to our mother? Even so, does that mean because my father was abusive that I don’t have the right to speak about the other abusive men that I encountered during my childhood? It’s invaliding the real issue.
Somehow, as I began to date over the years, I seemed to avoid these abusive men. Did I have an inner knowing subconsciously of what to look for without conscionously trying to decipher those characteristics? Heeding any early warning signs? Lord knows, my life has not always been in a good place which could have easily led me into these types of relationships. Or was it just plain luck?
I did have one relationship that was on the verge though. His name was Kevin. Kevin was a tall and handsome young man. He was a couple years older than me. His family was well known in our small town and their kids were very active in school and athletics. I was working at a local bar as a bartender. I was nineteen years old. While Kevin and I knew each other in high school, we never hung out. Kevin was a regular at the bar. He was popular and very charismatic. Shortly after we began dating each other, I heard rumors that he was sometimes abusive towards his previous girlfriend. I assumed they were telling me this to scare me so I would break up with Kevin and then his old girlfriend could get him back. Our relationship seemed strong and we truly did have deep love for each other. Within a few months though, I noticed Kevin would become jealous of friends and accused me a few times of wanting to sleep with his friends. He would become antagonistic, trying to create turmoil and doubt. I would assure him that I didn’t. And I truly didn’t. I had no interest in any of his friends. I thought Kevin was way better looking, had a better personality, was very talented in sports, was smart, was from a good family, and was a tender lover. He had everything I needed and wanted in a man.
Then one day, we got in an argument at his parents house. We were alone in the house and in his bedroom. All of a sudden, he threw me on his bed, straddled on top of me, pulled his arm back with his hand in a fist and was ready to cold cock me in the face when I said, “Go ahead. Hit me if it makes you feel like a man.” Don’t ask me what possessed me to say that. That could have very easily been an invitation or an instigation for him to follow through with his intention. But he didn’t. He stopped. It wasn’t too long after that our relationship ended. And in many ways I am thankful.
A couple years later, Kevin began dating a good friend of mine. Although I had moved away, I heard about their sometimes toxic relationship. This was not surprising news to me. I came to realize the warnings I had heard about his previous girlfriend were probably true. Part of the issue with Kevin was his drinking. He could not control it. Once he had one drink, he usually drank until he was drunk. I recall my grandfather, who was a recovering alcoholic, asked me to ask Kevin if he wanted to go to AA with him sometime. I asked Kevin but he never took up the offer. And to be honest, I don’t think I took it that seriously either. But my grandfather knew the signs. He could tell that Kevin was an alcoholic before anyone else could. I remember my grandfather telling me that an alcoholic is not someone who drinks every day. Some alcoholics can go weeks without having a drink. But when they do drink, they cannot control their drinking and will usually drink until they are drunk.
So one night, Kevin and his girlfriend had been out drinking. On the way home, they got in an argument. My friend was driving and Kevin was in the passenger seat. Suddenly, Kevin grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it. The car crashed. They both were seriously injured but my friend, a single mother, was left as a paraplegic, and her life was changed forever in an instant. It was devastating news for the whole town.
I could not help but think, “Wow. That could have been me.”
My dear-longtime friend Lee was in an abusive relationship during our senior year in high school. Lee remembers, “That was a dark time in my life.” Most times, the incidents of her abuse didn’t happen when others were around. That’s the thing about domestic violence. And why it goes unnoticed and unreported all too often. Or the victim is ashamed to come forward believing that he or she has caused the abusive behavior or that it is warranted somehow.
Lee’s boyfriend, Pat, had jealous tendencies among other issues. One night, Lee, Pat, and I were walking down the city street of our small town. Something happened and Pat pulled Lee aside into a dark alley way. I think it was something that Lee and I were talking about that made him suspicious. I stayed on the street sidewalk and gave them their privacy for a few moments. But then I saw Pat starting to get upset and domineering. He began pointing at Lee with his finger close to her face and then shoving her. I began to get worried about what may be coming next. So I shouted at them and told Pat to leave her alone and let’s go. And he did.
Sometimes we only have a split second to decide or choose something. We quickly follow our gut instincts or heart. So many things can happen in an instant. Pat could have taken his anger out on me. That’s the scary part about dealing with toxic people; you just don’t know what they are capable of doing.
Which brings me to Kathy, my father’s girlfriend back in 1967.
At fifty-three years of age , after reading my father’s book about all his lovers, girlfriends and wives, and the string of children he left behind, I have finally come to know Kathy. All these years, I never knew anything about the woman my father murdered. Later, I would find out that Kathy was an eighteen year old high school teenager who fell in love with my then thirty eight year old father. She was a waitress at the local Howard Johnson. She got pregnant by my father. She considered having an abortion. She wanted and needed out of their toxic relationship. And… her life was taken away with five shots fired to her head because… if my father could not have her, no one would. That’s toxic, the domestic violence abuse.
Kathy’s story has deeply touched me. Her short-lived life and tragic death has been hard for me to overcome this past week. She was a young impressionable teen in love with an older man who she thought would love her and protect her. When I think of Kathy, I sometimes get emotional and cry. And while I was reading her story through my father’s eyes, I still have come to know a piece of her. And oddly, knowing more about her and the circumstance that lead to her death has helped me to heal. I was four years old when Kathy’s life ended. I had no idea at the time. That moment not only changed Kathy’s life, her families, and my father’s, it also impacted and changed everything for his children too.
The truth is, anyone can be impacted by domestic violence, a man, a woman or a child. And it impacts more than just two people in a relationship. It’s a ripple effect that can have lasting consequences.
I think for many reasons, that is why I chose to remain single and not go from relationship to relationship and drag my son, Jaren (who’s now eighteen years old, the same age as Kathy was) along with all those “possibly the one” relationships that had a 50/50 chance of succeeding or failing. The risk of him being abused verbally, emotionally, sexually or physically greatly increased anytime I dated or brought another man into our home. That wasn’t a chance I was willing to gamble on. I had a responsibility to protect me and my son.
Children at higher risk in nontraditional homes
This post is in honor of Kathy, and dedicated to her family, my siblings and to all the victims of domestic violence.
If you think you are in an abusive, toxic relationship please call this hotline for help.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline