I’ll have to just focus on one traumatic incident of domestic abuse, because there have been many situations in my life. This one incident involves my cousin and his family. It happened when we were all young, in our 20’s. I had grown up close to this cousin and was Matron of Honor at his wedding. The day of this incident, my then husband, Peter, and I showed up at their apartment to help them with a move, as planned. When the door opened to let us in I saw my cousin’s wife holding a bunch of tissues to her nose. Their little boy, age 3, stood with his arms wrapped tightly across his chest, as if to hug himself. His mouth was turned down at the corners and his eyes averted mine……..I had to use the bathroom and in that room I saw a bathtub half-filled with bloody red water and soaking clothes….the move didn’t happen that day.
I once had a dream that my cousin was a silver airplane that slowly slipped out of the sky and crashed silently to the earth. That’s about the way it went.
Having written a brief account of a day in the distant past when my husband and I showed up to help my cousin and his wife with a move to a new apartment, only to have the moving plans cancelled after finding the wife incapacitated due to the broken bloody nose my cousin had caused earlier in the morning, I decided to write a little more about the violence that enveloped the life of this family member and the lives of many of the other family members whose lives intersected with his.
I’ve been wondering how it all started but analyzing the family, with its history of both wonderful and horrible stories of failures and sadness, joy and accomplishment, is too large a task, so for this project I will focus on telling a little of the story of my cousin.
I grew up with him and shared amazing childhood memories of fun, adventure, competition, love and brutality with this cousin, two years older than I. I can’t begin to encompass our lives in a write-up but his life impacted mine deeply and does to this day. He passed away a few months ago and when I got to the church, before the service, and saw the urn containing his ashes I choked up, in tears. Unlike a lot of others in the family I loved him and didn’t suffer violence at his hands, other than a few ice-balls to the head thrown between our snow forts and a few wicked “Indian sunburns” he gave me, twisting his strong hands around my arms. He did put me in some precariously dangerous situations, climbing trees, crashing into woodpiles on our sled, piled up, one on the other, and daring me to walk across the beams high above the concrete barn floor. We also rolled down a sandpit but avoided suffocating and we capsized while out fishing in a little boat on a pond, but didn’t drown. We went hunting but he was the one who fell into a hole out there in the woods and screamed for me to help because, he said, he’d spotted a bobcat. I left him and ran for my own hide.
When he stayed overnight in our house my mother had to put plastic on the bed to cover the mattress because he wet the bed ‘til he was 11 or 12. He had troublesome signs, including his propensity for torturing the family cat. One day, at his family home, he stuck his jackknife into the snout of the pig in the pen. The last time I saw him, within a year before his death, I recounted that memory but with the expectation of his laughing ruefully, remorsefully, at that outrageous act of cruelty. However, he just said, “I always hated that pig.” He was in his late 70”s when last we met up, he and his wife, and I, at McD’s for breakfast. His treat. I said next time would be on me. There was no next time. I took a picture of the two of them in their beat-up truck that day. I thought, when seeing the photo, that he looked like a hurt little boy in an old man’s body.
That day, he’d told me something I have had a very hard time believing. That he’d been molested growing up, by a family member. Now I wonder. His sister had told me that their father hated him and often beat him with a belt. Far worse, and something she later tried to rescind as maybe not true, was an account that the father’s friend had raped her brother when he was five years old. She had been told that. We will never know.
She also told me that her brother raped her when she was eight years old. I know that he molested several of the cousins, including myself, and one couldn’t bear to come to his funeral service because she was still dealing with things he had done.
In preparation for the funeral reception I contacted one of his daughters. In the planning conversation she casually mentioned that her father had raped her, before asking if she should bring a pasta salad. Apparently he raped both his daughters.
A granddaughter, who did attend the services, had told me some time before his passing that her grandfather had done “unspeakable things” to her during her childhood. Another granddaughter still misses both him and her grandmother and is sad at losing the best friends of her lifetime. She did say that he wasn’t really a nice man and had once punched her mother and had even punched her once.
I look back on our earliest childhood immortalized in black and white photographs. He and I in Florida when the sisters lived and worked there while the fathers were in the service, WW2. He and I playing in the park on stone monuments; sitting on the wooden stoop of an apartment building; later, he and I on the porch of the duplex in Enfield, he in ragged pants and I in my little wool coat.
We were in Germany together, he stationed in one area, my husband in another. He visited one week-end and fell asleep in a chair. When I woke him, he shot up straight, swinging his fists. He was drinking heavily by that point and had been since his teen-age years, during which time he once came to my house, woke me up and wanted me to go with him, which I did. I always did. “Little Cousin” he called me. He was very drunk and we just rode around. My mother never knew.
His life went by in a relatively quick period of successive violent incidents. I remember his holding off the police at gunpoint from an apartment when he was younger, ‘til he waved a white flag of truce. Violence is kind of a ridiculous waste of time.
Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your story. You are strong. You are brave. Your voice matters.