It was the last day of violence in my childhood.
It was the day the abuse ended.
It was May 21st. Only a handful of days left in school as a fifth grader before summer vacation. I was playing with my neighbor in the dirt on the side of the car port when mom pulled in from her appointment at the hairdresser. She was dressed in a white button-down shirt and black and white skirt, looking professional. Her neatly piled hair on top of her head had just the right amount of ringlets hanging down in front of each ear. It was called a bouffant hairstyle back in the day; I guess today we would call it an updo. Bobby pins and a lot of hairspray would keep it intact for about a week.
Not long after she went in the house, Lee’s car pulled up with dad in the passenger seat. Dad got out and was staggering up the driveway carrying a puppy that looked like a rat. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it was a mutt for sure.
It was still morning, but dad had been hanging out with Lee, so naturally, they tipped a few back.
Nervous about how the next few moments would go, I told my friend to go home, and I followed dad inside. He was sprawled out on the dining room floor with the puppy walking around his face. At this time, he was nicely asking my mom to pet the little dog. She politely responded, “no thank you.” He continued to ask her to pet it, and she continued to refuse. I could feel it coming, the air in the room started to get dark and thick. My stomach was already in knots.
As he pushed himself to get up off the floor, mom headed to the kitchen. He picked up the dog and went up to mom and for the last time, he asked her to pet the dog. She again refused.
He walked across the dining room floor and grabbed a bottle of red wine from the wine rack. As mom was just starting to lean on the kitchen counter to light a cigarette, he threw the bottle toward her, headed straight for her head. It barely missed her, but it managed to hit her hands, tossing the cigarette and lighter away from her face. The bottle exploding on the cupboards behind my mother.
Without missing a beat, Mom grabbed another cigarette from the pack, picked up the lighter and proceeded to light it. She was a stubborn woman. She acted like she was completely unscathed by the wine bottle, pretending like she didn’t give a damn. The more calm she was, the more his rage would intensify. It was a dangerous combination.
He reached his point of explosion. He lunged at her and put his fist deep in her freshly coiffed hairdo. With his fist in her hair, he threw her to the ground. She was in a yoga-like child’s pose, on the linoleum floor with his fist tightly clenching her hair. He told her with a growl under his breath, “say you’re sorry for not petting my puppy.” She remained silent. He was sobbing as he continued to say it and she continued her silence. The more quiet she was, the more he filled with rage.
He started clenching his teeth and screaming at her with anger and started pounding her head on the floor. He would lift her face up high and smash it back down, over and over again. Meanwhile, I was screaming at mom to PLEASE “say you’re sorry” and hopping on dad’s back trying to pull him off of her. Nothing I did or said had any effect on either one of them. She remained stoic, and he continued to fill with rage. After repeated head bashings on the floor and most likely drunken exhaustion, he let her go.
As she headed to the bathroom, he ran through the house and ripped out all five of our phones. I had a bad feeling about this. I’d never seen this much anger before. I was scared.
I went in the bathroom with mom and watched as she silently tried to salvage what she could of her hairdo. Dad came in, and with his fist clenched at her side, so tight his hand was bright red, he told her that she had until 6:00 that night to take her kids and get the hell out of his house. He said if we weren’t out by 6:00 that he would be back and kill us all. Right now it was just before noon.
He then swooped up his little mutt and left. Lee was still on the street waiting for him.
Mom told me to go next door to the neighbors and use their phone to call grandma. Grandma was always there to rescue my mother.
I told her briefly what had already happened. She promised she was leaving her house and would be here within the half hour.
I ran home and wanted so much to talk to mom about what had happened, but in her usual style, stoic and stubborn, she wouldn’t speak to me. She moved in silence.
About ten minutes after they left, Lee’s car pulled up again. Once again dad came staggering up to the house from the street. When he walked in the door, he announced that he changed his mind. He decided he wanted us gone by 1:00 pm. If we were still here, we were dead. Then he left.
If we were still here, we were dead.
She grabbed one of my dad’s many handguns and loaded it. She said that he would know by looking at a weapon if it was loaded or not. She didn’t want to take any chances.
Meanwhile, I’m wondering why we aren’t packing our things so we could leave and not risk our lives! We had a different way of handling things. Let’s do what we usually do! Let’s load the car and go to grandma’s house! Nope, not this time. She was putting us all at risk.
Lynn’s room was the first door in the hallway. Mom put the gun under the pillow on Lynn’s bed and proceeded to lay down. Grandma’s car just pulled up.
After my now talkative mom tells her mom the story of what happened, my grandma thought it was best if I left the house. My standard M.O. has always been, just like grandma, “taking care of my mom!” I felt like I needed to stay to help. Grandma refused to let me.
She walked me to my friend’s house two doors down. Her mom agreed to keep me there, held tight until she knew it was safe to let me go home. They were a sweet, loving family. I loved being there because it was a mom and a dad with two kids all in the same house. They always lived in the same house. I didn’t realize people did that.
At exactly 1:00, Lee’s car came around the corner. I was standing along the fence just inside my neighbor’s yard.
Lee pulled up where he had the previous two times, right at the base of the driveway. I’m certain they spent the last hour at a nearby bar, just waiting for the time to arrive.
Dad got out of the car and briskly walked toward the house. Once he went through the door, I realized it was all I could do to wait and see how it all played out. I was sick to my stomach. I already saw the rage and fire in his eyes. I knew he wasn’t kidding. Add alcohol to rage; it only could get worse.
It wasn’t long after he walked through the door when I heard the gunshot fired. One single blast.
I was paralyzed.
I just knew someone in my house took a bullet. Was it my mom? Was it my dad? Was it my grandma? Was someone dead? My head was spinning. I couldn’t breathe. Sandy, my friend’s mom, was holding me tight as I cried; I was so scared. I knew this moment was going to change the rest of my life; no matter what the outcome.
The uncertainty continued for what felt like forever. Finally, after the road was shut down with police cars and an ambulance, I was able to see who was on the other end of the gun.
As the gurney made it’s way from the house to the ambulance, I saw a head lift up and look around. It was a man! My mom shot my dad. I felt a sense of peace. I could never lose my mom! She had been my only constant.
Sandy walked me over to one of the police officers and told them who I was. I told them that I had two sisters that needed to know what was going on. Lynn was skating at the International Ice Palace, and Donna was horseback riding Daydream Ranch. Neither of them had any idea what they had just missed.
They put me in the back of a squad car. Since I had been there all morning, they needed for me to give a deposition before I spoke with anyone. They didn’t want my story altered.
Not long after they placed me in the back seat of a police car, two more police cars arrived, they picked up my sisters and brought them home.
I could only imagine what was going through their minds. Here they were out having fun with friends when the police show up and tell them they had to come with them. The police didn’t say anything. From the back of the police cars, I could see they were both scared and very confused.
Fortunately, over the years we had taught ourselves the letters in sign language. I signed, M – O – M -slash S – H – O – T slash D – A – D slash. We used to spell one word, and the slash was like returning the carriage on an old typewriter. It was our way of ending a word.
M – O – M slash S – H – O – T slash D – A – D slash
As we waited in our respective police cars, we watched as our mother came out of the house and was taken into custody. She had on big, dark sunglasses and a white scarf covering her head like Jackie Kennedy used to wear. She was trying to be incognito. And, she was wearing handcuffs. Mom was going to jail.
Mom was going to jail!
She was in jail for three days. Her picture was splashed all over the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. I guess it took the system that long to figure out no matter what happened; it was in self-defense. I gave my deposition the moment I arrived at the police station because I was considered a key witness. My sisters who weren’t there were also deposed about life in general with Chris since they weren’t home during the shooting. After three days they released her with no charges.
The story of what happened after I left the house and Chris returned was that he walked in and headed toward the hallway. My mom came around the corner holding the revolver with both hands pointed straight at him. He lunged and grabbed the handle on the closet door right next to her and flung the door at her. The door hit the gun which “had a hair-trigger” and went off. According to my mom and grandma, it was an accident. She did not fire the gun. I didn’t believe their story for a minute.
The gunshot paralyzed Chris from the waist down. For the rest of his life, he would live in a wheelchair.
The rest of the story, the part I did believe, was as he was swimming in his blood, he told my mom that he was going to find us and he was going to kill us. Knowing this, we lived in fear for a couple of years knowing he would show up and finish what he started.
Six months after the shooting, we were playing on a school football field and saw a car pull up and park at the fence. As we walked toward the car, wondering who it was, we realized it was Lee’s car with Chris in the passenger seat. We screamed and ran as fast and far away as we could.
The first ten years of my life, all I knew was violence, abuse, torture and living in fear. The day the gun was fired was the absolute final day of violence and abuse in my childhood. Suddenly, as if someone slammed on the brakes, it was over. Never again would we experience the pain we knew as “our normal.”
With mom’s fifth husband, she met and married just a few months after the shooting, we experienced stability for the first time. After three more moves over the next year, we finally bought a house where we would live until we grew up and left home. This man provided for three young daughters and made sure our needs were met. He was not an alcoholic.
No matter what was going on in our lives, we were always waiting for that moment when all the good stuff would go away. The fear was always looming in the background. We couldn’t erase it. I would hear shouting from anywhere and my immediate reaction was a sick stomach and the need to crawl and hide under something.
The thing is, you can take the child out of abuse, but you can’t take abuse out of the child. It took a good chunk of my life to work through my horrible first ten years. I realized I had the power to let it go at 30. At 35 I came out on the other side.
Your childhood doesn’t need to define you. You can let it go and move on. It takes time, being honest with yourself and incredibly hard work. Anyone who wants to learn how to become a butterfly and shed that painful cocoon of a past can do it. First, you’ve got to want it.
I am more than happy to help.