I couldn’t sleep this morning. A new viral video kept playing in my head.
Watch this. Warning, this is going to be disturbing.
I watched this video in mouth-covered horror. At the end, my first calm thought was: damn I wish I had had a video camera when I was young. And that’s what’s so striking about this video to someone who lived through that sort of violence. It’s SO commonplace. A scene like that could have been recorded any day–though not every day–of my childhood. The swirling feeling of incipient violence and helplessness. The awareness that your life is under the control of a man who can turn into a beast.
Yeah my specifics are different. My mom didn’t play that weird game of semi-protective, semi-enforcer participation. She played a game of ‘get as far away from it as possible and maybe be able to pretend it wasn’t so bad’. Dad’s favorite weapon wasn’t a belt, it was a hammer handle or a length of PVC pipe. By the time we were 16 the physical violence had more or less stopped. Age 15 was the last time he attacked me in a rage. Our Dad didn’t use the word “Fuck”.
But so many of the other fragments are so heart-rendingly familiar. The blaming of the victim by both parents. (It was always my fault that he hit me. Everyone in the family told me so. If I didn’t make him so angry none of this would have had to happen.) The unpredictability of the man’s rage-fueled violence, spiking and subsiding as he channels it. The first time I watched that video, it’s terrifying because you just don’t know how far it’s going to go. You think it’s over then it’s not. You keep wondering if it could get worse. The fact that the girl knew to tape it tells you how regular this was. The way she recovered from sobbing so quickly tells you how used to it she was. I know, because I recovered that fast too. There’s no doubt in my mind that this was not the most severe beating she ever took from him.
Yes, so familar. If you see his statements yesterday, he’s still blaming her, just as when I was 23 Dad was still blaming me for why he hit me so much. Her mother left after 22 years of marriage, as my mother did, and sacrifices the “family secret” of his “addiction” being the source and cause of this rage. The daughter expresses some regret for exposing him. She wants people NOT to blame her mother. She says she didn’t show this video for 7 years because he still controlled her life, and she was afraid of being hurt in his inevitable backlash. All of those statements could have been made by me at the age of 23, and the reason I waited until then to cut Dad out of my own life.
Because my father was a fine upstanding community pillar who clearly loved his children, no one would believe the “spankings” I reported were abuse. Because no one saw it, no one heard his raging or our screaming, any teacher or coach I tried to tell thought I was exaggerating and told me that my father loved me. If anything, I didn’t have the bravery or language or distance to express anything close to what it was. And it was before the laws that require reporting.
So yeah. I wish I had had a video camera. And the fact that this girl did have one, and published this, is so empowering to all of us abused kids who had no voice, no proof that the Dr. Jekyl they called Dad was a Mr. Hyde when the doors were shut. Though my memory is playing scary clips from my own childhood today, I am pleased to feel no resonating personal anger. Affirmation to myself that while the truth is not forgotten, it does not swing me like a belt anymore.
And a long overdue conversation about real, volatile child abuse–not the predictably paced domestic violence that Hollywood serves up–will have its 15 minutes in the 24-hr news cycle.