How Could My Hero Also Be A Brutally Physically Abusive Man
I heard the bone in her leg crack as she hit the floor.
We sat on the couch with a ring side view of my uncle treating my aunt like a tv villain and him acting like Bruce Banner turning into the the Incredible Hulk after seeing an extreme injustice. But there was no injustice here. No crime was committed. No happy ending with the villains heading to prison. Just my tiny barely 5 foot tall aunt begging for her life.
"Shut up or I'll do the same thing to you!" I grabbed my cousin, his daughter, closer to me as if to protect her. Me being 7 years old and she being only 5, we were no match for him and did what we were told. We didn't know what she did to warrant such cruelty, but as he attacked her he called her "whore" and "bitch" so we assumed it had something to do with those words.
She looked at us, reached out her hand and tried to crawl to us as she was begging for us to go get help. We were paralyzed with fear. His brutal attack on her did not stop. I can still hear her voice, pleading. I can still see her face, the terror in her eyes. She needed to be rescued.
We don't know what finally made him stop, but by the time he did, she had a broken leg, rib and nose. There was blood splatter on the walls and pools of it on the floor. It looked like a bloody scene from a horror movie.
I don't remember how she got into the bed and under the covers or when all the neighbors and the police got into the house and surrounded her bed or when my cousin and I moved from the couch. I just remember that the humiliation continued. Watching my uncle tell everyone a made up story about how he came home and found her like that was excruciating. Him pacing back and forth and pounding his fist into the wall vowing to catch the criminals that broke in and beat her up without saying a word to us or taking anything was an oscar worthy performance. He kept yelling "who did this to you? Who was it?" He actually looked at my little cousin and I and said "did you see anything?" I don't remember what we said but clearly it was not the truth.
I know I was only 7, but one of my biggest regrets in life is that I did not speak up for her. That I did not lend my voice to save her and protect her. This woman who had married my brutal uncle, babysat me every weekend, loved me and cooked wonderful meals for me, deserved to be rescued. Worse, my relationship with him did not change. I still loved him unconditionally and thought he was the most remarkable man ever. He apologized to me and I forgave him. We went on as if it never happened. My cousin and I never spoke of it. My aunt never mentioned it and we all stood around watching with glee as my uncle cut the cast off her leg weeks before it was ready to be removed.
We went on like normal. Well, our version of it. It was not until years later when I realized she lived in a constant state of abuse. When I was younger, her black eyes, slurred speech and body bruises were a common thing. When I was old enough to understand what was going on, I still said nothing. I was 12 when I realized my favorite uncle was a monster. I still loved him.
They eventually moved out of state and I was no longer witness to the abuse. Out of sight, out of mind? Not really, I suppose. Every now and then when I would see her, I hurt for her but I did not know why. I never knew why seeing her and knowing she was OK gave me such joy. I never knew why I longed for her and why she was the aunt I looked forward to seeing each time I traveled to see the family.
I think in some way I have always felt guilty about protecting him. I protected him by staying silent; by going on with life; by laughing at his jokes; by jumping in his arms and giving him a big hug every time he came around; by loving him in spite of.
Yes, I know I was only 7 and I should not have been subjected to such horror, but I still hurt for her. I'm even sadder now that this memory was buried until recently when the footage of ex-Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée Janay took over the air waves and awakened many of us to the hard brutal facts of the scrutiny women face for staying in such relationships. Until then, I had forgotten. Another disservice to her.
I won't try to pretend as if I know why she stayed. Poverty? Fear? Her children? Lack of self-respect? There could be many reasons and I will never know why. I will never know her story. She passed away from heart failure years ago. I will never know what compelled him to behave so violently toward her. He passed away from heart failure a few years after her. He had long left her for another woman before her death, but she was still mentally enslaved.
Sharing this story hurts more than I ever thought it would. I don't know why I was witness to this at 7 years old. Why it was hidden for so long. Why it hurts like it occurred yesterday. I hope that in some way, a woman reading this story realizes the toll that abuse takes on children and is encouraged to get help. I hope that others who are aware of children witnessing abuse speak out for that powerless and voiceless child. I hope the adult that lived through seeing abuse regularly can now help others. I hope...
To learn more about abusive relationships and reach a trained counselor 24/7,
contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
What's the D-I-S-H?
DEFINE your DILEMMA
I am filled with guilt from that day. I know that there was nothing I could have done, but the memory of the fear in her eyes, the hurt in her voice and the sound of her asking me for help haunts me. She survived, I guess we all did. Or did we? If I would have spoken up, would that have prevented the next attack? The next several attacks? If I would have run out to get help, would he really have hurt me? Could I have saved her? What would saving her have looked like? Could she have saved herself?
IDENTIFY your INSPIRATION
This is difficult for me because I'm grappling with so many emotions that I did not know were present. I have a strong passion for helping women escape abusive relationships. I volunteer endlessly at shelters for abused women and children and I'm a loud champion for women who have no voice. I wonder if my inability to see another woman in pain without stepping in comes from the lingering shame I feel for not speaking up for my aunt. Am I trying to save my aunt by saving others? Am I trying to correct the past? For each woman I stand up for now, is that my way of asking my aunt for forgiveness?
SHARE your STORY
My uncle was always my hero. Ask anyone who was the most important male figure in my life and they will tell you that they have heard me go on and on about my uncle. Growing up, he helped to take care of me. If he hung out with the boys, I was with him. If he walked to the store, I was his shadow. If I needed ANYTHING, he made sure I had it. He was a big strong alpha male and I was fearless when he was around. If my mother had a boyfriend that ended up being less than polite to her, my uncle was the one to take care of teaching him manners. He was nothing less than the man I loved most in the world. I'm sure this is why I was blind to the other side of him. I saw my aunt quickly become someone I did not recognize, physically and spiritually. When he was not around, she was funny, happy, creative, joyous and loving. But whenever he entered the room, she took on a more subservient role and acted as a member of the staff serving everyone and only speaking when spoken to. I think I remember noticing this but not really being concerned because my attention was all on my uncle. Even when I misbehaved, she was powerless to punish me for fear of upsetting him. While he was protecting me, who was protecting her? He was this violently abusive man, but this side of him was ignored or unrecognized by me. I only saw the side of him that took me to the park, took care of my every wish, protected me and loved me like I was his own daughter. I won't deny loving him till the day he died and still mourning him now, but I'm ashamed that when I was older, I did not use my voice to stand up for my aunt or to challenge his behavior. I doubted if it was fear of being hurt physically by him, but more of being afraid of him not loving me anymore for speaking out.
HEAL your HEART
I can't change the past. At this point I'm having difficulty reconciling what occurred that day because I was so young and I am no longer able to ask my aunt. I'm still ashamed. My aunt was a beautiful victim. She was an invisible victim. I think she eventually forgave him because long after they split, he would periodically stop by her house for a meal and it was a happy interaction. But I wonder...For now, I'm still trying to heal by helping to spread the word about available resources for women and children in abusive relationships and using my voice LOUDLY to protect those that have been silenced.