Author: Anonymous Small-Town Northern MI Resident
As a child five years of age, I remember sitting on the small cement porch of our home with tennis shoes on, and my best friend by my side. Morning dew permeated the air as the rays of sun streamed through the trees. My Dad stepped out the door, then swiftly back in and grabbed a flyswatter. As he stepped back onto the porch, he mumbled about my shoes not being tied, and began repeatedly smacking me with the flyswatter. My hands were red and stinging as I fumbled to tie my shoes as fast as I could. My eyes filled with tears.
Dad kept his composure and followed a strict pattern within his daily life. He was a quiet man of stocky build, and a potbelly. He would sit at the end of the metal kitchen table, in his creaky old wooden chair, and work on the stringed instruments he collected. That is, until he randomly snapped into one of his frenzies. I never knew what was going to set him off.
Dad’s gruffness was that of an old farm hand that had been through hell. The stories he shared—of getting kicked out at thirteen, sleeping in road ditches, and working on farms for food and shelter – confirmed this. When he ate his meals, he would hunch over the plate and wrap one arm around it as if on guard. The few miraculous times he did smile was an experience people didn’t forget. His nose crinkled as if he smelled something horrible, and his three remaining over-sized teeth were enough to scare anyone. Each time he left the house, he wore one, of two, beat-up cowboy hats he owned. His hair was pure white, when he washed it, but both hats left nasty yellow sweat rings on his head. Around his waist was a strap of leather; frayed and tattered. People could tell it was his only belt, but I knew it was his weapon of choice.
As far back as I can recall, I felt a constant state of alertness; watching Dad for any clue that another frenzy was about to happen. He hid his emotions well. Many times, my back was covered in striped bruises and welts. All I can remember of these episodes was trying to get away from the whip-like belt and screaming each time I failed. When mom found out, she would lift the back of my shirt and with a snippy voice reply, “Guess you got what you deserved.” Mom did not dare to question him. I was sure it had something to do with another story that Dad bragged about; Mom picked an argument, went to sleep on the couch only to be dragged on the floor across the living room and down the hallway by her hair. It was Dad’s way of making her go back to bed. There were no apologies, hugs, or telling us he loved us. He just sat confidently in his creaky wood chair and sipped his coffee as if nothing happened.
My sister, who was seven years older than I and from my Mom’s previous marriage, was favored by Dad in ways inappropriate for a father/daughter relationship. He would come into our room late at night and tell me to go back to sleep if I awoke. She told Mom and waited to be rescued. Nothing was done. As years passed, Mom blamed my sister and labeled her a seductress. Dad continued the abuse in the dark, and confidently sipped his coffee in the light as if nothing happened.
At eighteen, my sister received the beating of her life that left her with the same striped bruises, and welts, I had experienced. Her wounds extended from the tops of her shoulders all the way to her calves. She moved out the next day. Life went on. Dad sat at the kitchen table, confidently sipping his coffee as is nothing happened.
It was three years before we saw much of my sister. She returned at Christmas time, for a visit, with her newly wedded husband in tow. That evening a heated discussion erupted. Supposedly asleep, I stayed quiet in my bed, too afraid of what might happen next. I could see through the gap between my door casing and the curtain that hung in place of the door. Dad stood by the big black woodstove as did my mom, sister, and her husband. Dad’s face showed no emotion the entire time as my sister revealed, yet again, the horror Dad had inflicted on her over the years. He calmly admitted to it. Then, while my Mom and sister continued to bicker, Dad walked over to the kitchen, sat in his creaky wood chair, and confidently sipped a cup of coffee as if nothing had happened.
The next morning, the argument continued. This time the topic was about informing me of what Dad had done. This was Mom’s punishment, to my sister, for her supposed betrayal. I played dumb and said nothing. I sat there listening, staying alert to everyone’s mood. Mom had the same snippy attitude as usual and tried to verbally force detailed events of the molestation from my sister. Again, Mom blamed her. Dad just sat in the kitchen confidently sipping his coffee as if nothing had happened.
My sister, and her husband, packed up and left that afternoon. My Mom went to town to get groceries. I was alone…with Dad. It was more awkward than usual. I was still on high alert. I sat at the kitchen table, looking down, and doodling on some scrap paper. Drawing was my outlet and distraction. Dad stood up from his chair, walked over to the coffee pot and poured another cup. After setting his old mug down, he sat down, picked up the violin he had been refinishing, and continued to work. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed he glanced at me several times. It was dead silent. Finally, he made eye contact with me and set down the violin. With no emotion on his face, and dark stormy eyes, he calmly stated, “If you call the cops, or tell anyone about this, you will not be alive when they get here. I am not going to jail.” There was no question that he meant what he said. Then, he picked up his coffee once again: the sipping echoed in my head.
From that day on, Dad’s dirty little secret became the big ugly elephant in the room. We were the mice too afraid to move for fear of getting squashed. We all went about our lives as if nothing happened. Little did we know that elephants are scared of mice. We had been deceived of our true power.
This turmoil continued, and the years passed by. Unexpectedly dropping dead while at work, Dad had a fatal heart attack. He died at the age of sixty. In loving memory? I don’t think so. He left a collection of exquisite stringed instruments, the old coffee mug, his creaky wooden chair, and a lifetime of emotional baggage. Goodbye and good riddance Dad.
Fast forward twenty years. I sit at my work desk rewriting this story and look back at how far I have come. So much work went into healing from my past. Many years surrounded by people yet feeling alone. I have struggled out of poverty, stopped the cycle of abuse, raised a family, endured grief and loss of loved ones, earned my master’s degree, and dedicate my life to helping and advocating for others with similar struggles. No one should feel alone. One word describes this journey: resiliency. Where it came from and how I made it here are questions I still ask today. I have some theories but may never fully know. What I do know is that I love my life and do my best to not take it for granted. “Be the change you want to see in this world” is my personal and professional motto.