October is Domestic violence awareness month. This piece is dedicated to the survivors. May you find strength to move forward!
I love food. The colors of fresh spring fruits, the tantalizing smell of steak searing on a summer grill, the medley of oven-roasted vegetables (squash, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes with a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil) in fall and winter are some of my favorites. Yes, I really love food and it provides me, and likely most of us, with a certain level of comfort and satisfaction. Many of our global cultures and traditions are also enhanced and even revolve around food. These occasions can create truly long lasting memories, good and bad.
In my early life, much of the things I still remember today were based around food. At the age of 4, I almost choked to death on a fish bone. It was a small piece and my mother thought all the bones had been removed. To this day, I eat fish with a bit of trepidation. Aside from the fish faux pas, my mother was a good-ish cook. She was the youngest of 9 children (8 girls and 1 boy) and was raised in a small rural community in North Carolina. Growing up in the late 40s and early 50s, she was taught at an early age to obey your man!
My mother was pregnant at the age of 15 with my older sister and wed an army serviceman (my father) from a neighboring town. He was 12 years older and rumored to be quite the lady’s man. Being wed to my father was my mother’s ticket out of this small close-minded town and a future for a better life, at least that’s what she thought. My father was accustomed to having things a certain way (his) and as long as he had his drink(s) and meals on the table when he got home, life was tolerable. If he was unhappy, life was very unpleasant for my mother. Now enter baby number two, me.
My mother tried to shelter my sister and me from the volatile impacts of our home life but she couldn’t control sound escaping through the thinly insulated walls of our apartment. Screams and arguments, though muffled, have no boundaries and living in military housing, our neighbors became peripheral participants in our family struggles. The “mornings-after” were often filled with awkward silences at breakfast. If my father were present, there was little eye-contact between he and my mother. The neighboring wives acted as counselor and confidant while my sister and I played in the distance. As for family support, my aunts were of no help. They actually blamed my mother for all our family’s woes, “just obey your man” they would say. At ages 6 & 5, my sister and I weren’t blind to what was going on and we sensed the tensions between our parents. We just didn’t really understand what was and what had been happening for some time.
Then one Sunday evening our mother made the most mouth-watering golden savory fried chicken dinner. It was served with mashed potatoes and gravy, and mixed vegetables (peas and carrots). The whole house smelled of this delicious bounty. My mother, father, my sister and I were just sitting down to dinner when the harsh reality of the moment suddenly and violently hit took place. Out of nowhere, and before our eyes, my father cocked his arm back and slapped my mother across her face. My sister and I reacted in horror by what had just happened. In defense of our mother, we began throwing food at my father as an attempt to defuse the fight. Feeling blood pooling from her lips, my mother had had enough. Something snapped in her. She had had enough, and for the first time, she hit my father back. Intending to land another blow at my mother, my father inadvertently hit me. The neighbors, having had their fill of this drama, called the MPs (military police). When they arrived at our home, my father reluctantly complied as he was taken away to the base brig for holding.
This dinner set the stage for the final act between our parents. Shortly after this evening, they separated and later divorced. My mother couldn’t and didn’t want to remain in a relationship that was oppressive and more importantly physically abusive. Her mother taught her to “obey your man”, but that didn’t mean she would have to subject herself to a life of physical abuse and mental torment. She deserved better and decided to take a chance on life’s uncertainties and raise us kids (now 3) on her own. It wasn’t easy and now there was a new battle, alimony. After a time on food stamps and a stint of odd jobs, my mother landed on her feet. She would never let anyone lay a hand on her or us kids again.
Now more than fifty years later, the memories of that night still stirs sadness and even a bit of anger. My mother was lucky and found the courage and strength to move forward. She had to break the cycle of violence and pain not just for her own wellbeing, but for mine and my sisters too. My mother wanted us to learn that violence, physical, psychological, or emotional, should have no part in a relationship. Other victims aren’t always so fortunate and pay for their love with their lives. She never had the support of her family or of an organization such as Portland, Oregon’s Bradley Angle to help provide resources or safe housing for victims of domestic violence.
Domestic violence affects everyone and knows no gender or sexual orientation.
Love should never have to hurt.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.