One night when I was nine, I huddled in bed listening to my parents argue.
Like most nights, my father was drunk and in a rage over some imagined slight. My mother kept screaming at him to go sleep it off.
When he wouldn’t listen, she said something I couldn’t hear and stomped off to their bedroom. He stumbled down the hall after her screaming, “I’ll kill you!”
I sat up in bed, terrified he was going to hurt her. I was so afraid that my throat closed up, and I had trouble breathing. A roaring in my ears made it difficult for me to listen.
I couldn’t hear anything for what seemed like the longest time. Finally, I heard footsteps leaving the bedroom. I got up and peeked around the doorjamb to see my father returning to the kitchen. There was no sound at all from their bedroom.
I stood in the doorway in an agony of indecision, fearful of stepping beyond the safe boundaries of my room, knowing my father would be furious if he found me out of bed at that hour.
But the silence was deafening, and my fear for my mother greater than my fear for myself. I pictured her lying there, bleeding to death from a steak knife sticking out of her body.
I finally worked up the courage to tiptoe down the hall to their bedroom. Not wanting to risk turning on the light, I slipped over to the bed and started running my hands up and down my mother’s recumbent form, looking for wounds.
She started and sat up in bed. “Who’s that?”
“It’s me,” I whispered.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
All these years later, I think of that question and wonder how she could have asked it.
What was wrong? Subjecting children to a never-ending drunken drama every night. A drama in which the kids were supporting players, bound to a script that plunged them into terror at random intervals, yet pledged them to silence.
Like all children of an alcoholic, I believed if I could just be the best kid in the world, everything would get better. Daddy would stop drinking, Mom would stop crying, my brother would stop wetting his bed, and I would stop having nightmares.
That childhood changed who I was and the woman I would later become.
The ironic thing is that I was well-loved by my parents, who took great care to protect me outside the walls of our house. But no one protected me or my brother inside that house.
I believe every child deserves to grow up in a household free of rage, violence and terror. I believe that a single healthy parent is better than a dysfunctional two-parent household. I believe the conspiracy of silence surrounding family violence must be broken. I believe anyone with knowledge of a child who is trapped in such an environment should speak out.
I believe children deserve to be safe.
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