January 19, 2012
Every woman who thinks she is the only victim of violence has to know that there are many more. ~ Salma Hayek
The main character is a young and naïve women going through her own personal torment not knowing that she has become a statistic. Just as the quote depicts there are many women going through similar pains every day.
In 1971, it seemed like the beginning of a never ending roller coaster ride with its highs and lows. My mother, a short chubby, dark haired Jewish woman always chose men after her divorce that neatly fit into the category of abusive drinkers, hitters and verbal abusers.
“I think I put out a vibe,” she would say.
The family crisis center basically defined physical abuse as, “Spitting, scratching, biting, grabbing, shaking, shoving, pushing, restraining, throwing, twisting, slapping (open or closed hand), punching, choking, burning, and using weapons (household objects, knives, guns) against the victim.” Then there is the verbal abuse which can make someone slink out of a room like a scolded animal.
“You’re nothing but a piece of shit,” I heard men say to my mother.
Mom always looked for someone to fill the black icy hole that lived deep in the recesses of her heart. As I grew into my own womanhood I became more aware of children and the effects of domestic violence in homes which in turn, has taught me more about myself and how I was not alone. The UNICEF: Child Protection Section commented on the domestic violence in the home, “… is one of the most pervasive human rights challenges of our time. It remains a largely hidden problem that few countries, communities or families openly confront. Violence in the home is not limited by geography, ethnicity, or status; it is a global phenomenon” (3).
Data suggest that young girls who witness maternal abuse may tolerate abuse as adults more than girls who do not. I will admit I am one of those girls. These negative effects may be diminished if the child benefits from intervention by the law and domestic violence programs (Clark County website). But, in the 1971 there were no laws to protect women from domestic violence or programs to help them in their time of need.
Domestic violence didn’t even have a name, let alone a legal identity (Fratini). At 27, my mother was still naïve to the evils in the world with her big chestnut eyes and large black framed glasses that she hid behind. It was two years since we moved out of John’s house which was a block away from the beach in Los Angeles, California. The situation became too much as his alcoholic binges, screaming matches and physical violence escalated on a daily basis.
“We’re safe now, no one can hurt us I promise” mom tried to console me.
My mother didn’t know that, Domestic Violence Statistics have shown, “Every 9 seconds in the US a woman was assaulted or beaten.” She didn’t know that Peace Over Violence, a social service nonprofit agency was created and dedicated to the elimination of sexual, domestic violence for all forms of interpersonal violence. It was established in late 1971 as the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women. (Praw 1) It’s an agency that would have provided her with crisis intervention services, violence prevention education and counseling services. She was not aware that domestic violence, a crime committed by domineering men against vulnerable women was hitting the public arena through feminism activities. She did not know that current societal concerns for domestic violence resulted in, “Erin Pizzey opening the first refuge for battered women in Chiswick, London, England” (Corry). Also that Rob Washington reported, “Early on in her work at Chiswick, she noticed that many of the women coming to her shelters were “violence prone.”
She did not know the mantra that the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse reported being chanted by women, “We will not be beaten” had become the saying of women across the country who was organizing to end domestic violence. A grassroots organizing effort that began, transforming public consciousness and women’s lives (Edleson).
In 1973 it happened again one gloomy winter’s day. Mom came home from work as I playfully made snow angels in front of our tiny trailer. The new snow was light and cold. I shivered as I stared blankly at the overcast of the gray sky. I know it is Friday which means no school tomorrow. Ten minutes later my cheeks were cherry red and I couldn’t feel my nose. I felt like a cherry flavored ice without the stick. When I got up I slipped a couple of times before deciding to crawl to the front door. I went inside where mom was waiting to have a little talk.
She met a man in a bar at the top of the hill from our trailer court which consisted of twenty diverse looking trailers, big and small. It was a small run down bar with one pool table and five small tables that the locals frequented. I went in a few times with mom when she would case the place for men and I would down two or three Shirley temples. At that age I thought because I was in a bar that I was being served alcohol. What did I know except 7-up and cherry syrup sure did make for a yummy cocktail?
“I know you’re going to like him,” She smiled as her tone appeared giddy. “He’s coming over for dinner,” she said.
Then it seemed like a faucet was turned on and off as she changed her tune and sternly gave me an icy stare, “Don’t do anything to screw it up, ok?”
I was told, “Only show your best behavior.”
When I met him, I had a strange feeling. I just couldn’t explain it especially at that age. Marvin Merski was tall, had a huge Jewish nose, balding with a black bushy unkempt beard. I tried really hard not to gaze at the biggest nose I had ever seen.
Mom always told me not to stare, but once we saw a woman at the grocery store and mom whispered, “Damn that is a big schnozzola,” meaning a big nose in Yiddish.
My mind wandered as I couldn’t look away, it looked like a giant hook had taken over his face. He didn’t need a fork to eat, all he had to do was lower his head to the plate and let the hook shovel food into his misshaped mouth, at least from my perspective. During the course of the meal, I served him broccoli, refilled his drink several times and smiled constantly. They talked about his job as an engineer and how he still lived with his mother at age thirty five.
It’s almost 10:30 pm and he finally left.
“He’s not a nice man and I don’t like him,” I whimpered as tears began welling up in my hazel eyes. “Please don’t see him again,” I cried.
But, what did I know, I was just a kid. These are the graphic details that linger in my mind from when I was seven in 1973 living in a small rural town in Walnutport, Pennsylvania in a single trailer. The kitchen was right there as I entered. To the left was the living room, my bedroom and then mom’s sleeping quarters. I had a bunk bed, but I never knew why. I was an only child who had no friends. My back yard was the lush green cornfields that shimmered as I marched through the four foot high stocks and large leaves in hopes to hide from the world. The smell of dirt was comforting although, I’m not sure why. The blue skies were my dreamland. It was a place that became my haven from the violence that seeped into my life.
He turned out to be an alcoholic who physically and mentally abused her every day for three years from the moment he moved in with us. I spent as much time as possible in the corn fields. I would lose myself in the calmness of nature, the birds chirping, the bees buzzing around my head and the sweet smell of fresh air and earth knowing in the back of my mind, the nightmare awaited for me at home.
Mom did not know that the Domestic Violence Resource Center reported, “…over 50% of all women experience physical violence in an intimate relationship, and for 24-30% of those women the battering will be regular and on-going. If these are true statistics then, if Marvin didn’t beat her, then the guy next door must be beating his wife or girlfriend at least occasionally. And the woman living with the guy two or three doors down is getting beaten at least once a month.”
It was the same evening ritual living in the small secluded trailer court. He would drink to get drunk, physically assault my mother which always resulted in my running out of our home sobbing uncontrollably only to stand outside in the nightfall reviewing whose door I knocked on the night before for help in calling the police.
I remember a moment in time that I am not proud of which is now and forever engraved in my mind. I lost it completely when he attacked my mother one hot July evening around 7 pm.
“Leave my mother alone you bastard,” I yelled with every ounce of courage could muster up in my three and a half foot body.
Mom did not know that The Clark County website stated, “Studies suggested that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually. Children who were exposed to domestic violence, especially repeated incidents of violence, are at a higher risk for many difficulties, both immediately and in the future. These include problems with depression, aggressiveness, anxiety and other problems in regulating emotions; difficulties with family and peer relationships; and problems with attention, concentration and school performance. That was me rolled up in a nutshell. Mom didn’t know the harm it could do to a child, to her only daughter. We lived in a home where domestic violence saturated our existence.”
The yelling went on for over an hour.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” mom said trying to catch her breath.
“The money, my fifty dollars is missing bitch. Give it back or else” He went nose to nose with her as he spit his words onto her cheeks.
The stench of alcohol lingered for too long as his pungent sweat made her nauseous. Rage filled the room with no air to breath. Marvin struggled with my mother and chocked her from behind with his forearm at one point before she let out a deep groan and in slow motion collapsed onto the green and blue pastel living room rug. Droplets of blood from the side of her mouth stained the carpet forming abstract shapes.
I jumped him from behind as he bent over her while she lay on the floor. I held onto his neck like I was riding bronco kicking him frantically.
“Stop please your hurting mom,” I screamed.
He griped my shoulders and squeezed with such force that I released my hold.
“Stop it that hurts, mom help me” I screeched.
I felt him pulling me off as the pain shot through my shoulders and he thrusted me in midair before I hit the hard surface of a wood paneled wall. I felt stabbing pains shooting from my toes to my head.
The day before he bought a hunting knife and placed it on the living room bookshelf. I wasn’t quite sure why he made such a purchase since he didn’t hunt. Did he have an ulterior motive? Marvin grabbed the knife and tightly held it in his sweaty palms. He was a crazed man with an evil mind and intentions.
“You fucken bitch, I’ll kill you!” he said.
The light hit the long sheath of filigreed metal and for a brief moment, it was blinding. He quickly pulled out the gleaming knife. My heart was pumping out of control as I ran to my mother’s side. Slowly he walked over to my mother and stared at her with ferocity in his eyes.
“You need to be taught a lesson bitch just leave my shit alone!” he said in a chilling voice.
Mom leaned over me, to protect me from the monster. She closed her eyes for a moment as if to pray or ask for strength. He bent over her wielding the blade moving it back and forth like a pendulum.
“You’re making me do this, just give me the money back,” he growled like an animal ready to pouch on an innocent prey.
“I didn’t take it,” her voice barely audible and trembling with fear.
And then he slid the blade across her neck following her jaw bone. I froze in terror. I watched Marvin cut her lightly enough to strike blood but, not too deep to kill. I observed the blood as it trickled down her chest staining her yellow flowered blouse she had bought the week before on sale.
Mom didn’t know that Domestic Violence Statistics reported, “On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. Could she be the next victim?
Her eyes opened wide as a deep curdling scream echoed off the walls, “You
bastard!” she said with a voice I had never heard before. Was that my mother?
My mother saw red as fire seemed to engulf her being. Suddenly she had the strength of ten men as she rose from degradation to victory. She fought back hard as fists were flaring, wild punches thrown and then kicking between his legs until Marvin collapsed to the floor. He dropped the knife during the scuffle. Mom grabbed the blade from under the beige sofa as he clutched her wrists. It was a power play and somehow mom struck blood too.
“Get the hell out of here, you psycho!” she said in a deep, serious tone.
The knife slit his skin deeply under his right eye and blood squirted out quickly like someone turned on a faucet full blast.
“You bitch, you are going to pay for that,” he moaned.
Blood was everywhere. Eventually, the nightmare stopped. Within minutes he left the trailer bleeding from his wounds, but felt compelled to leave his message behind.
In his own blood he wrote the words, “Whore lives here” on the front door for the world to see. It took us weeks to remove the blood stain from the white metal door.
In 1973, every night it was a different trailer door that I knocked on and pleaded for assistance. The police were called every time, our saviors in the darkened night. Two officers in blue uniforms would arrive and always proceeded to escort Marvin off the premises to a holding cell followed by being released the next morning.
“Sorry ma’am this is a domestic violence call which is not a crime,” an officer once told us.
That scenario went on for three years between Pennsylvania and New York. The nightmare was over in 1976 when mom’s girlfriend threw Marvin down a flight of stairs ending his tyranny. We never saw him again. There still isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t glance over my shoulder in a momentary lapse of fear. That was just one of many epics in my life that turned me from an innocent child into an adult, maybe before I was ready?
Domestic violence was seen much differently back in the day. Mom passed over in 2007. She finally knew that she was not alone and that other women also felt the wrath of the drinkers, hitters and verbal abusers that entered their lives. She was one of the few lucky ones to live and tell about her experiences. How many women through the years were not so lucky?
Corry, Charles E. How Common Is Domestic Violence? 2011. 23 Oct. 2011 http://www.dvmen.org/dv-30.htm#pgfId-1000404.
Domestic Violence Statistics. 2011. 15 Oct. 2011 <http://domesticviolencestatistics.org/domestic-violence-statistics/>
Domestic Violence Resource Center . 2011. 30 Oct. 2011 <http://www.dvrc-or.org/domestic/violence/resources/C61/>.
Edleson, Jeffrey L. Herstory of Domestic Violence: A Timeline of the Battered Women’s Movement. 1999. 23 Oct. 2011 http://www.mincava.umn.edu/documents/herstory/herstory.html.
Fratini, Mary Elizabeth. A History of Domestic Violence – and Those Fighting it on the Front Lines. 2009. 15 Oct. 2011 https://www.vermontwoman.com/articles/1007/domestic.shtml.
Long-Term Effects of Domestic Violence. 2011. 23 Oct. 2011 <http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/domviol/effects.htm>.
Power & control domestic violence. 2009. 15 Oct. 2011 <http://www.familycrisiscenters.org/site/types_domestic.html>
Praw, Amy. Peace Over Violence 38th Annual Humanitarian Awards. 2009. 17 Nov. 2011 <http://www.prweb.com/releases/2009/11/prweb3215584.htm>.
Some of the biggest victims of domestic violence are the smallest. 2006. 1 Nov. 2011 http://www.unicef.org/protection/files/BehindClosedDoors.pdf.
Washington, Rob. Erin Pizzey, Domestic Violence Pioneer. 2011. 15 Oct. 2011 <http://ezinearticles.com/?Erin-Pizzey,-Domestic-Violence-Pioneer&id=2046867>.