#DomesticViolenceAwareness, #WhyIDidntReport, Domestic Violence, Grief and Loss, Rape, Uncategorized

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Nancy’s Story

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.

Photo Courtesy of: Jourdan Buck Photography

Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your story. You are strong. You are brave. Your voice matters.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

Christmas, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, Uncategorized

Christmas Memories Between Mother and Daughter

In 2011, five years before my mom died, she wrote on my Facebook wall her Christmas memories. I don’t remember what inspired her to do this, but I am grateful to have this. It helps me remember the good times, and gives me insight into what was in her heart. We have a lot of similar memories…but that is what makes us family.

This is a memory of tradition of my childhood Christmas, around age ten. I am leaving out the bad stuff, it isn’t welcome here. After Thanksgiving and my birthday the local stores would deck out their windows, the lighted trees would bedeck the light poles and the crown of lights all of blue. 
Our front porch had a five foot electric candle on both sides of the door. The door was decked out with a huge wreath. 
Out front atop the snow was a lighted Santa riding in his sleigh with his reindeer. The side porch….which everyone used had a medium sized wreath and a tree decked out with lights, honking big lights, no mini lights because they were not sold yet.
In the parlor of the house was a sixteen-foot tree somebody had set up, and my Dad put the lights on it. As a family we decorated the tree with mostly hand-blown ornaments, many given to the family by friends. The lights were three inches across, and covered with colored plastic granules.
Tinsel was applied and I got the job of watering the tree.
Mom and Dad didn’t mind if we got up about an hour before them to open our stockings and this Christmas (I was about ten years old) I went in to my brother’s room and jumped on his bed to wake him up. He wasn’t keen to wake up, so I jumped and bounced, and made a nuisance of myself until he woke up.
I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but I do remember going back to my own bedroom and getting back into bed until 9am until somebody came to get me out of bed.
Our stockings were red felt with white trim and hung up on the fireplace (the fire wasn’t lit or Santa would have been scorched!). I could always count on a navel orange from my grandmother, and a book with “Lifesavers” candy in! The rest of the presents varied, but of course, there were never enough. I was also allowed to pick out one present to open before our grandparents and Aunt Marge arrived for Christmas Dinner and to open the rest of our presents.
Before the relatives got here we always had a good breakfast and got dressed. When Grampy, Granny and Aunt Marge came I got hugged and kissed way too much! They brought their presents into the parlor and placed them around the tree then Grampy would go off with my father and the women would try to help my Mom (which made her crazy) and Gram always made the gravy. She was always the last to sit down to dinner (and the last one to get up from the table). She liked to talk and Grampy would yell “Shut UP Avis!” but she never seemed to hear him.
We opened presents, except for my grandfather who said he wanted to keep his for later. Go figure!
After opening the presents we sat down to the table in the dining room and we always had cranberry juice with lemon sherbet to drink after Grace.
Then my father would cut the turkey and people would pass their plates to him and he would put the meat on, then the rest of the food would be passed around. No-one got up until everyone was more-or-less done, then Gram and Aunt Marge and my mother would take care of the left overs, clean the kitchen and do the dishes (mostly loading up the dishwasher).
Dad and Grampy kind of hung out and then as the sun began to set my grandparents and Aunt Marge would set off back to my grandparents house and we would pick up the parlor. By now we had a fire, so we threw the paper in the fireplace, gathered up our presents and took them happily to our rooms.”

A few days later, I responded with my memories of Christmas with her.

My Christmas memories are almost like the ones you posted. I remember going to bed and listening as you did your last minute things while I peered out the window hoping that I would hear or see Santa. I would run back to bed when I heard you on your way to bed and stayed there until I couldn’t stand it any longer. I don’t remember seeping….but when I knew that it was close to morning I would wake Peter up and beg him to look down stairs with me…he usually would give in after a while but we got sent back to bed until a normal time. When it was late enough to wake up (6am rings a bell), we would all go downstairs and open our stockings. I don’t remember breakfast, but I remember that you let us each open one gift before we went to Bill’s family’s and had Christmas there. Then we would go home and wait for Gram to come and open presents with her and have our dinner with her. I have lots of different memories from all of the places we lived, but these are the main ones. I remember the orange and thinking “what that heck is this,” and I also remember the Lifesaver books.
I remember the Christmas in Waterford where it was thundering and lightening and being scared for Santa that he might not be safe out delivering his gifts. As a kid it was awful waiting for Gram to come, but I am glad that we did because it was more than worth it to share it with her. Thank you for all that you did for us over the years and giving us things that were special and for giving us memories to keep. I do not remember any of the gifts (except for a few…TV with no remote!, Pamela doll, and the Bulls jacket) but that shows me that the gifts are not what the kids will remember, it is the time that we share together as a family.”

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmasperhapsmeans a little bit more.”

~Dr. Seuss

Hold your memories close, some day, they will be the only thing you have left.

Take time to love yourself in the days to come. Be easy on yourself. There is no such thing as perfect. Let go of that desire, and just be.

Be present.

Be free.

Be you.

And remember, you are amazing.