Her name was Kathy

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

That’s alarming.

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.

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

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Toxic Families

I recently stumbled upon an article about Toxic Families.

Looking back, I see an uncanny similarity to my childhood.  It’s funny how time can ease those bad memories, the fears, and the pain.  The wounds are still present but we forget what the discomfort felt like.  Then, when we look at the scar, we unwilling recall every detail of the past.  People will tell you, don’t look at the scar, don’t speak of the scar, forget the scar.  Some think if the scar is invisible, the circumstance is imaginary.  Nothing can be farther from the truth.

I was the youngest of three in the family with a single parent household, until my mother began dating our step father when I was a young five year old.

I was soon assessed and unequally measured up against my siblings and I didn’t fare well.  I cried too much and acted like a baby.  I sucked my thumb, wet my bed, talked too much and was too loud.  I was lazy in school, did not pay attention, did not listen nor did I perform well in school.  I was too sensitive, and too emotional.

I realize now that I was a neglected child.  I had all the classic signs that something was wrong but none of the adults would acknowledge or validate my very real and natural reactions to my circumstances.  If I were in the foster care or an adoptee, I would have been classified as a special needs child.

My needs and my disabilities were ignored, despite the absence of my father and the only child in our family who did not have a biological father to actively spend quality time with me (which I had between the ages of birth and four years old but then abruptly stopped).  Watching my two older siblings leave for the weekend with their paternal grandparents or father after us three kids were inseparable for most the time and then being told that I couldn’t go because this was “their grandparents or father” left me feeling forsaken.  Their grandparents, the Whitaker’s, did try to include me.  They started sending me $25.00 during Christmas time, the same amount as my siblings.  I would be reminded by our mother how generous it was of them to include me and how grateful I should be.  On rare occasions I eventually got to tag along with my siblings but not until I got much older.  I remember a time or two being reminded by my sister that they were “her” grandparents, not mine.  She didn’t have to tell me.  I mean they were nice to me but I was very aware that I was not their grandchild.  I felt like a guest when visiting, not family.  Even my brother and sister acted different when we were visiting with the Whitakers.  (Back then, none of us kids knew that their father is actually listed as my father on my birth certificate.)

What little scraps I got, I accepted it.  After all, I didn’t have my father or paternal grandparents picking me up or doting over me.  My paternal family didn’t have much to do with me, except for my sister Chick.  There were no letters, Christmas or birthday cards or presents, no phone calls or visits with my paternal family except on a very rare occasion.  I recall my mother taking me to a family reunion on my father’s side when I was a freshman in high school.  That was the first time we had seen each other since I was a baby.  Hardly anyone recognized me.  And I surely didn’t remember most of them.  I got to invite a friend of mine who’s Italian.  She fit right in with my Italian relatives and many thought she was family instead of me.  My paternal family didn’t know me.  My cousins, in-laws, aunts and uncles did not know me.  They knew my sister Chick, my half-sister from my dad, but they didn’t know me.  I had to keep explaining that I was Mario’s daughter.  My father, at the time, was in prison for murder.  But again, none of that mattered to my parents or family.  They didn’t feel the need to take me to a counselor or psychologist to help me cope.  My emotional or physical challenges, which began when I was a baby, were all in my head.  I was blamed for everything.

I was called,

A baby

A Bed-wetter

Squirt (Nickname), a pun on being a bed-wetter

A Crybaby

A Whiner

A Hypochondriac

An Airhead

I was accused of being too sensitive, overreacting and weak.

These labels would stick with me throughout my childhood and adulthood.

To borrow a quote from Oprah, my family didn’t see me, hear me and what I said didn’t really matter.

I will never forgot the first time I went to the state of Texas, DARS office to see if I qualified for disability assistance for my hearing impairment.  And I did.  That was first time I received validation.  It felt strange, really.  I kept waiting for someone to accuse me of faking it, since my family never acknowledged my hearing impairment or tried to provide any accommodations.  They treated me as if I was equal to my siblings (and classmates) when in fact I was not.  They all had normal hearing, I did not.

When DARS recently sent me to a new audiologist for a hearing test to reassess my hearing and to see if I qualified for new hearing aids, the doctor, who is also hearing impaired asked me when I was diagnosed.  I told him when I was in the second grade.  So his next question was assuming that I got hearing aids at the same time.  I explained to him that I did not.  He said his parents, who were both teachers discovered his hearing loss which was approximately about the same as mine as a child.  He said his speech and learning progress didn’t match up to his older sister so his parents knew something was wrong.  I told him that was funny because it was actually the teachers that discovered my hearing loss and noticed I was not speaking or learning at the same rate as my classmates.  But for whatever reason, even after I was diagnosed with permanent hearing loss (mild right ear and moderate left ear), my parents chose not to pursue hearing aids or any other type of assistance to help me with my hearing impairment.  Despite the repeated comments on my report cards that stated, “She does not listen, does not pay attention.  She day dreams a lot,” they still didn’t get it nor did they go to school to defend me or explain my situation.  The comments from my parents on the back of my report card are proof of that.  Now, I realize my parents were not rocket scientist or college educated at the time, but my goodness, the proof was very apparent and yet they ignored my diagnoses and even blamed me as the reason for my grades and behavior in school.  Not only did they ignore the diagnoses but they never took me to an audiologist for the remainder of my school years to have my hearing re-tested.  Think about that.  Can you imagine your child being diagnosed with a vision problem and not buying him glasses nor getting annual exams to see if his vision got worse.  More often than not, once you’ve been diagnosed with a vision or hearing impairment, over time, your ability level will decrease.  My mother said, “The school tested you every year.”  But sadly, it’s not the school’s responsibility to monitor our children’s health issues; it’s our parents.

In addition, schools do not always catch a child’s ability to see or hear or monitor their progress.  My co-worker told me a story about her nephew (her brother’s step son) who is in the third grade.  She said after the school suggested their son have an eye exam, his parents learned that their son has a serious visual impairment.  She said his glasses were so thick.  She commented at how he used to squint all the time (for years) and no one ever thought anything of it.  She said the first time she saw him with his glasses on; he was smiling, talking and seemed so much more confident, a big change from his previous behavior.  Imagine that.  Just obtaining glasses and being able to see better made him more confident.  His parents felt really bad for not noticing earlier and she said they kept apologizing to him over and over again and treated him extra special.  As parents, we are not perfect.  We miss things.  But when we learn that our child has special needs and there is a valid reason why our child may not be performing the way we expect (age appropriately) and we have an opportunity to help them perform better but choose to ignore it, that’s neglect.

So instead of my family validating my impairment or emotional needs, they scapegoated me.  I became an easy target and easy prey.  I was weak.  If something happened to me, they responded, “Well you should have known better,” or “you should have done this,” or “you should have learned.”  Then as I got older, the comments would continue as such, (actual comments copied from emails or facebook), “You are reading too much into this,”  “I think you’re over analyzing situations.”  “Don’t make problems where none exist.”  “Feeling sorry for yourself.”  “Don’t make a big deal about it.”  “By all means, do whatever you can to help others and yourself. Just remember, others need positives to move forward….not negatives or rehashing. It might work in a therapy session, but not here! No audience!”, and lastly,  “LOST CAUSE….LOST SOUL!!!”

I have to admit, the last one hurt real bad.  I don’t think I could ever say that to one of my children.

And if that wasn’t enough, my family would recruit other members of the family and some friends to chime in and bash Karen and then forward me their email.

This was from my uncle after reading My Storybook Father, “A lot had it worse than she did growing up.  I can recall Colleen’s pouts,” and “Surviving the Sisters of St. Joseph who must of been trained by the Nazis.  Also boo hoo…..my cousins and my two best friends moving away before I even got into high school.”

Some people will never see you or hear you or validate you.  And some will.

I had another uncle share this, “I have a better understanding of what she went through in life. My life was a walk in the park compared to what came her way. With God beside her she has done an amazing job.”