Monday, April 18, 2005

Sheep's Clothing

My daughters frequently complained that I was a working Mom, and was never around when they needed me. They resent not having a perfect family life – the stereotypical childhood where Mom stays home to cook and clean the house, Daddy comes home to happy children, and the whole family sits at the table for dinner. Well since we are throwing stones, I suppose I, too, could be a little resentful, for not having the happy, stereotypical children.

When I was growing up, young women were expected to get married and raise families. Some women went to college, but quit their jobs when they became pregnant. Mother-daughter pre-marital talks were about birth control, keeping house, and how to treat their husband. Not once did I ever hear about the dark side of families.

What is the dark side? The dark side of families is the side that is swept under the rug and not talked about, or covered with a hat and sunglasses, the ugliness that not even good makeup could cover, the abuse by someone who was supposed to love you. The side my daughters never saw, were too young to remember, or chose to forget if they did see.

I was 19 when I had my first child, though still a child myself. I was raised in a small town where the crime of the century was limited to the indiscretions of a few disgruntled spouses, the occasional party-gone-too-wild, or the whisperings of meddlesome old biddies with nothing better to do. I still remember seeing the dent in the wall, the imprint of my mother’s head. Funny thing about memory, I don’t remember hearing about the abuse – or the impassioned warning from my mother “Beware! Men are wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Maybe it was too painful to remember. Maybe I didn’t want to hear anything other than what June and Walter Cleaver discussed over dinner.

Abuse takes many forms, and affects millions of people. Men have been known to suffer from Battered Spouse Syndrome, but women are usually the more common victims. Too bad the experts forgot to remember the children, for they, too, suffer. Sometimes they grow up to become the batterers, other times they grow up to become the ones beaten, with only just a few ribs broken, or maybe suffer permanent brain damage from being hit in the head one too many times. You know the ones – they’re a little slow, not retarded – but not quite there - the light's on but nobody's home. I don’t remember hearing about this side of family life. The light’s on, but the dark side is still dark.

When I was 18, I met a man who was all charm. Being a late bloomer who never dated much, I was flattered at all the attention. We dated for a short time before we were married. While I was pregnant with my first child, the dark side reared its ugly head. We had been arguing – he was insanely jealous of anyone talking to me. Maybe we were both late bloomers; maybe that was why he was so jealous. It was probably selfish, but I never really thought about his reasons for beating me. Although alcohol and drug abuse almost always preceded these episodes, to me it didn’t matter – you just don’t hit your wife, especially a pregnant one!

One day his jealousy drove him over the edge. We were attending a company picnic and, parking me at a shady picnic table, he wandered off to drink with his friends. “Jerry’s” friends frequently razzed him about being tied to his wife’s apron, and this occasion was no different. He made light of the situation, but it was obvious the comment stung him deeply. As the afternoon wore on, he became increasingly drunk and obnoxious. When I approached him about going home, he pushed me away. “No woman tells me what to do!” he bragged. And before anyone realized what was happening, Jerry pulled his keys off the key ring, and flung them up into the air. He fell down into the grass, roaring with drunken laughter. As I crawled around the grass desperately searching for the only set of car keys, he poked fun of me, calling me his cash cow. I tried to stand up, only to be pushed down into the grass. I glared at him, swearing revenge, when something shiny caught my eye. I said nothing as I crept over to the object. A pretty face briefly drew his attention away, and I grabbed the key, placing it in the pocket of my dress. I was furious, and told him to find his own ride home. As I waddled away, he ran after me apologizing, pleading with me to give him a ride home. “I’m soorrry,” he belched. “I’m just having a liddle ffun!” I was always a sucker for a lost cause, and today was no exception. I knew he probably wouldn’t remember a word of our conversation, so I acquiesced, and struggled to pour him into the car. When we arrived at our apartment, he fell out of the car, and staggered toward the door. “Open up!” he shouted, pounding on the door. “Hey! Lemme in!” I could still hear him cussing at me as I walked around the building, hoping to find an open window. As luck would have it, the bathroom window had been left open slightly. Using a stick, I pulled at the screen managing to tear a small opening just large enough to get my fingers inside. As I slid the window open, I wished I were anywhere but here. When I finally opened the front door, he grabbed me by the throat and squeezed. “You bitch!” he screamed. “Why wouldn’t you let me in?” I struggled violently, but he was too strong. He punched me, and I fell down. I tried to scream, but couldn’t breath. His hands tightened around my neck. I felt weak – everything was turning dark – his rank, fetid breath was the last thing I remembered.

Suddenly, I felt the weight ease off my chest. I could breathe again, and I started to cough. I heard voices and tried to find the source. My head was pounding, and my throat felt as if I had swallowed glass. I tried to get up, but a small hand gently pressed me down. It was my next-door neighbor, who had heard us fighting; her husband arrived in the nick of time, and stopped Jerry from strangling me.

Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat. I can still smell his fetid breath, his hands around my throat, squeezing, slowly stealing my life from me. Sometimes the light plays tricks on me, and I can still see the dark, blue-black bruises around my throat. “Jerry” is gone now. I find it ironic and somewhat comforting that, in the end, his bad habits – drug and alcohol abuse – were responsible for taking his own life.

Today, the dark side is better known as spousal abuse. It is the dark side of family life that I do not ever want my sons or daughters to experience firsthand. I failed as a mother when I could not protect them from being exposed to it, or even when they, as children, were abused themselves. But I can, and will, warn them of the dark side – the wolf in sheep’s clothing – so they do not become victims again.


At May 02, 2005 4:06 PM, Blogger a dyke... said...

Great writing ... as I see to be a common occurence from you. May I link you on my sidebar?

At July 01, 2006 10:24 PM, Blogger Sandi said...

Link away!


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