Learning to Hurt

Tannie - Shenandoah, Texas
Entered on June 12, 2008

I believe that violence is one of our more prolific tendencies, and it can spread as easily as Kudzu along southern highways.

Emory is 18 months old. He loves MacDonald’s, their colorful children’s play area with its enticing tunnel system. During a visit earlier this week, his parents enjoyed lunch while his giggles echoed from inside the plastic tubes. Suddenly, however, the sound changed. Anguished screams replaced child laughter. While his mother and father tried desperately to reach him, Emory cried—cried in a tone that said something very bad is happening. His mother crawled into the tube with him and found another child beating him. The other boy, perhaps six months to a year older, was pounding Emory’s face with closed fists.

Emory is my grandson. To my knowledge, he has never before been struck in anger. In fact, he has probably never been spoken to harshly. It must have been quite a shock to learn that humans will sometimes willingly inflict pain. Now he wears the marks of that lesson, a black eye and several bruises. Today, as he plays at home in his familiar environment, his parents sense the results of his trauma. Sometimes he stops what he’s doing and looks around, questioning. Then, as if he remembers, he looks back to his mother and asks simply—“bay-bee hurt me?”.

Yesterday at dinner, I listened while my daughter related the incident to her mother. Then, at one in the morning, I awoke with images of my grandson, unaware and helpless, pummeled by Baby Huey. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay and wondered how the other child could have learned such aggressive behavior at that age. Has he been a victim? Has he witnessed other family members being beaten? Surely, children of that age cannot be instinctively cruel. It must have been a learned behavior.

I rose and wandered the house, wanting to see my grandson, thinking of his sweet trusting smile. Then I began to understand how invasive this feeling of violent aggression can be. Anger overwhelmed me, and I wondered—If I were there—could I have resisted the urge to strike the other boy’s parent?