Long after physical abuse has ended during childhood, the mental scars remain. Physical bruises heal and fade away. The memories of those incidents, however, are often carried throughout life. When someone much stronger than you constantly presses you down, what can you do when you’re a child? For me, I turned inward, became an introvert, and lacked self-esteem for almost twenty-five years of my life.
My siblings and I grew up during a time when kids were to be seen and not heard. At school, I was the quiet kid in class, mostly because of the consequences I suffered if I made too much noise at home. And, if we got into trouble at school, we would be punished more severely when we got home.
My sister and I spent hours playing but always in our rooms where we were out of sight and weren’t allowed to make a lot of noise. We never had noisy toys like cap guns or anything that made irritating sounds. Someone gave me a cap gun for Christmas one year, but it vanished overnight.
In school, I made great grades. My mother would offer praise for them, but my father said that I should have A+ on everything. Some teachers never put the + after the A, even if the final grades could be considered such. Yet, he repeated this every time, which was subtle bullying as an initiative for higher marks.
Our oldest brother lived with us and attended Plainview when he was in the ninth grade. Because of our father’s reactions to average or unsatisfactory grades, my brother altered some of his grades on the report card with a little crafty work with a pen. Once, he told the school office he’d lost his report card and needed to buy one to give his teacher. I’m not sure why the office used to allow this, but they sold him one. He filled in all the classes and his grades, handed them to our father, but our father didn’t offer any real praise. Chris hid the fake report card and took the other one back to school.
Chris lived in the one-room shed in the backyard that one of our uncles helped renovate into a decent place to live. Our father found the fake report card ripped up in the shed, and when Chris came home from school, he was confronted about it. Then, our father took his belt and proceeded to whip him, not with the belt, but with the buckle. He made me and Gina watch. At the time, we didn’t know about the other report card. We simply thought he’d made some bad grades. The incident stuck with me, not as incentive to do better in school, but a fear of what happened if I did poorly on a test or brought home bad grades on a report card.
The abuse wasn’t necessary. At no time did our father ever consider that he played a part in why Chris bought the report card, filled in the grades, and handed it to him. The fear of turning in a report card with bad grades would have been almost as bad. There was no winning situation in either outcome. Chris moved back home with his mother, and I don’t blame him. If I’d have had an out for a safer place, I’d have taken it.
These type of abusive situations caused me to stay in my room and seek ways to entertain myself. My imagination took over. I began making my own comic strips. They were short, not well drawn, but I loved drawing each panel and putting together a short story. I’d show them to my parents. They seemed to like them, so I made more.
When the first Star Wars movie hit the big screen, our father rented the VIP room at Fort Payne’s Cinema. The movie did magical things for my imagination. The space ships, the laser weapons, the light sabers, and the various alien races were spectacular to a ten year old kid. The effects of this movie made me wish such places existed. But they could and did, in my mind. The next week, I began writing my first novel. I wasn’t quite eleven years old.
I remembered John Boy on The Waltons and how he wanted to become a writer. Because it was considered a feminine occupation in the show (I’m guessing), he wrote in journals and kept them hidden from his family, partly because he felt ashamed. I did something similar with loose leaf notebook paper. I wrote the beginning of my book on notebook paper and slid them under a large sketchpad on the top of my dresser. Creating this world somewhere deep in space felt like an accomplishment, and I also like having the secret of being the only one that knew about my writing project. I’d tuck it away at night and return to the story the next afternoon after school, eager to continue.
Our parents never knocked on our doors. They barged in. On one particular evening, my father pushed open my bedroom door. I quickly slid the papers of my story under my art sketchpad and turned toward the door with surprise.
“What do you have there?” he asked. “What is that?”
“Nothing,” I said.
He frowned and gave that odd sly grin that indicated he’d come back when I was out of the room and look anyway.
“Ah, okay.” He shut the door.
I returned to writing, knowing that I couldn’t keep this a secret anymore, as he would snoop to find out what I was doing. So after I completed a few more pages, I went into the living room and told my parents that I was writing a book. They wanted to read what I had written so far, so I handed it to them.
Censorship was introduced to me at an early age. They read the story and then asked me to come back into the living room.
“There’s too much violence,” my mother said.
“Well, it’s an alien invasion with spaceships firing at the civilians on the planet,” I thought, too afraid to voice any opposition. “Some of them are going to die and not pleasantly.”
“You shouldn’t write like that,” my father said.
Confused, I thought, “Things far worse than this happened in Star Wars, and everyone loved it.” The truth was, we watched far more violent shows on television than the mild scene I had written. We’d also watched far WORSE movies at the drive-in and the cinema and some of those had traumatized me for years.
I kept writing but I started a new story.
When I entered the fourth grade, our parents took their GEDs and enrolled in Northeast State Jr. College. They bought a typewriter as some of their papers needed to be typed. My mother allowed me to use the typewriter for my new book, and I was thrilled. When I had finished fifty pages of my novel, my parents read and took it to Dr. Richards, their English professor. They told me that she had liked it and it was good. Looking back, I believe my father’s reason for taking it to her was more for making himself look good. That’s what narcissists do. He never praised me at home for my work, but if he could somehow get the adoration of others for what I was doing, he took the recognition (and credit) for himself. That never stopped.
The next summer, when my older siblings came to visit, my father mentioned my book to them. Then he asked me to get it. Excited, I ran to my room and pulled the unbound manuscript from my dresser drawer and brought it back. I handed it to our father and sat on the couch. Then he began to read it aloud. I liked the idea of everyone hearing my story, and I was eager to get their reactions.
I was only eleven years old. There wasn’t any Internet. No spellchecker. I had a big dictionary and thesaurus but mistakes were still inevitable. As he read the story, and when he found mistakes, he capitalized on my errors, over and over again, in what was his mocking, subjugating tone. He made jokes at my expense and belittled me for my mistakes. Not once, but repeatedly. Bit by bit, he needled me, until finally he got bored and stopped reading. He handed me the book and I took it back to my room, trying not to show my emotions. His words stung and hurt. He hammered my aspiration into dust, right in front of my brothers and sisters. I stopped writing.
He offered no compliments for my work, but he made certain to point out the flaws. Don’t get me wrong. Errors need to be pointed out, but not in the manner he had done. I didn’t return to writing until after he and my mother divorced.
Years later, in 2007, after Predators of Darkness was published, I received an email via my publisher’s website. The sender’s name was ‘THE BOSS’. My father was still trying to assert dominance and control over me, but by this time, I’d already stood my ground against him several times and had spoken my mind. In his email, he’d stated that he had learned that I was having my first book signing at the Rainsville Public Library, and he was pleading to come. I don’t know why he even asked because it was an open event. He could have come regardless. Basically, that’s what I had told him. “Come if you want.” His insinuation of being THE BOSS said it all though.
He came to the signing, much to my surprise. After he arrived, I realized his sole purpose was to take over the signing, as if he had contributed to my writing skills, and without him, I’d have never been published. My cousin, Rita, must have picked up on this, and she pulled him to the side of the event and kept him busy in conversation for the duration of the signing, for which I am grateful.
Two years later, after Beyond the Darkness was published, I was invited to a large bookstore outside of Murfreesboro to join other authors in a book signing, but I had to provide paperbacks of my books. After the event, they’d compensate me and buy the rest at wholesale. I was thrilled for the opportunity and brought the agreed nine copies of each book. Since our father lived in Murfreesboro, he showed up with his wife. They brought with them the first copy of the book to get it signed. They came to my table and picked up the second book, had me sign it, too, and then they browsed the book shelves.
I had brought eighteen books total, and the lady who had invited me had counted the number of books before I entered the store. She had someone help us bring in the books. About midway through the event, she became sick and had to leave. After the signing, the manager met with me at the side counter and showed the receipts of the ones they had sold while I was there and his total came to seventeen books.
I shook my head. I brought eighteen books and the lady had counted them when I arrived. He seemed perturbed, like I was cheating them. I felt I was being shorted, but I was polite and asked him to call the lady because she could vouch for the numbers. He left and went to recount and came back again. The numbers on his part remained the same. Seventeen. While we discussed this, I glanced toward my father who seemed interested in our conversation, but he also seemed a little entertained by it as well. He had that sly grin that I should’ve paid more attention to; a grin that we as children had known when he was up to no good.
The man wrote me a check for the books, and I thanked him.
Acting concerned, my father approached me afterwards and asked what was going on. Were they trying to get out of paying me? I told him a book was missing, but they paid me.
I couldn’t understand how the book was missing, but I later figured it out. When my father went to the cash register to make their purchase, they bought some other items. The one book they had brought with them, and they showed me that copy when they picked up the second book. At the counter, however, he told the cashier they had brought BOTH books from home and wanted me to sign them. The second book in the series was the one that showed as shorted in the manager’s inventory. My father had lied to get a free book, probably thinking it wasn’t a big deal. It was. The bookstore had nothing else to do with me afterwards, not even the kind lady who had reached out and invited me to their store. This was a huge independent bookstore, too.
Had I any idea this had occurred at the time, I’d have simply not received payment for the book they couldn’t find. My wife and kids and I had traveled over eight hours to get there. I was exhausted, and since I knew how many books I had brought, I felt I was being shorted. Never did I think my father would have stolen the book right in front of me.
This incident, however, was one that placed further distance between my father and I. I’d always known he couldn’t be trusted, but this eyeopener meant I’d never let him know of future book signings. His theft killed my chances of having my books carried by that bookstore. But, this was just one of the ways our father treated us. Lies about almost anything were quite common, and he could never own up to something he had done wrong. Apologies were few from this man.
My oldest brother told us that he often got into trouble to protect us from our father’s wrath. He certainly faced a lot of scorn and hardships from our father when we were little. I’ve always looked up to Chris and wish we could have spent far more time together growing up. He used to tell me scary stories when I was little with the lights out, like older siblings often do. I don’t know why older kids like to scare the little ones, but it’s common. But, deep down when his tales frightened me, I knew he’d protect me. I felt safe because he is my big brother. I wish we were able to spend more time together now, as we are getting older, but we live about ten hours apart from one another.
Memories shape us. We each deal with the demons of our past in different ways. Emotional abuse might not ever truly be healed. The scars are the reminders. I’m not totally sure of how the others in my family dealt with theirs, but for me, writing has helped me heal. To cope. I’ve been working on my memoirs for over a month now, and I’ve finally gotten a better understanding for a lot of the bad times.
Family members outside of my immediate family have often told me to hush concerning these matters, as they’ve suffered in their own circles, too. Everyone has different coping methods. Mine is writing about them and sharing the experiences because my survival might help enable others to deal with theirs. The scars remind us of the injuries, but if you’re able to see the scars, you know that you’re a survivor, too.
Until next time ….