When I was a child, my father beat me with a fat black leather belt. My crimes ranged from wetting the bed at age four or five (earliest memory) ~ to not cleaning my room well enough ~ to not washing the dishes correctly ~ to bad grades ~ to “having an attitude” (which I can just about guarantee I was too afraid ever to have) ~ to talking on the phone too long ~ to running away once (boy, did I get it that time) ~ to merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He was a towering figure given to dark moods – often fueled by cocaine benders and lack of sleep. I wasn’t the only recipient of his wrath. More than once I witnessed him attacking my mother, my dog, my cats… anything that got in his way, really. But I was indeed a frequent (and favored) target. I was stupid. I was ugly. I was a cowardly crybaby and a sniveling little shit. I was a waste of his time, energy, breath and money. I didn’t matter, and no one would miss me if I disappeared from the face of the earth.
I never did learn to “take my punishment like a man” (a frequent suggestion). Instead, I’d start pleading as he’d unbuckle his belt and slip it off, loophole by loophole, until it snapped and hissed in the air: as ominous & foreboding as a newly necromanced snake ready to strike and sting. I’d sob and beg him to spare me, promising that I’d try harder/be better next time if only he’d give me a chance. And when that didn’t work I’d try to get away, which just led to finger-shaped bands of purple bruises on my upper arm as he’d anchor me in place with one hand while the other got down to business.
I did figure out a few things, though. I learned to sleep on my side for days after a beating because in this position you’re least likely to have PJs adhere to open sores (ouch) on your back, butt, and thighs. I learned to wear dark clothing to school so that when the welts inevitably bled and seeped they wouldn’t stain. Stains led to questions, and I couldn’t afford someone asking questions. I learned baths were better (far less painful) than showers — imagine tiny jet streams of water hitting freshly scabbed flesh. To this day I hate taking showers… I guess old habits really do die hard. Tragically, I also learned that mothers aren’t always on your side, sometimes they’re even the instigators.
I learned that safety was an illusion and monsters were real. That adults were not to be trusted, and the only way out for sad little girls was just to power through until you’re big enough & smart enough to make it on your own. I left home at seventeen and even though I would go on to see them many times as an adult (sad little girls seeking acceptance/validation often take far too long to learn valuable lessons), I never spent another night under their roof.
Eventually, I came to understand that a functional relationship with my parents – one that didn’t involve pain, fear, and humiliation or bring with it a sense of betrayal, wasn’t in the cards. This lesson came at great personal cost, and I will bear the scars (both literal and figurative) until the day I die. But I suppose no one gets through life without a few scars… some of us just have more than others.