Since some months I have been following the blog from Karen Ingala Smith. With her writing she wants to get attention for the epidemic of male violence in our society. On Counting Dead Women you can see the results of that violence. The emotions I felt reading about male violence and the victims confronted me with my own past and made me aware again of the consequences of the behavior of men in my early life and consequently the rest of my life. The stories of these abused and murdered women are our stories, our mothers stories, our grandmothers stories. Male violence is effecting everything in society and nothing is systematically done about it. We have to stop excusing, apologizing and condoning.
The story of my mother was not an incident, as we are made to believe, the story of my mother is part of a system of violence against women, it’s part of the system that believes that men are worth more then women, that men have power and rule over women and their bodies and have a right to that body, that women cannot exist without men and are therefore not allowed to exist at all. The story of my mother is one of strength and stubbornness and of survival. Sometimes it feels as though all the anger she never expressed (because she is too kindhearted for that) has been planted in my body and I carry that anger for injustice with me since I was born. This is my mother’s story and it still makes me angry and proud at the same time.
My mother grew up in a big Catholic family, with nine brothers and sisters, a softhearted mostly absent father and a harsh and abusive mother. My mother was the oldest girl, clever, but a girl, so never allowed to study. She had the soft and gentle character of my grandfather and witnessing the abusive behavior of her mother towards the little ones was hard for her. She wanted to get out of the house and got pregnant at 18 by the brother of her best friend who she married soon after.
He soon turned out to be an obsessive jealous and angry young man. My mother, having had first my sister, getting pregnant soon after with me, had her hands full with two little children. Still he always imagined my mother had time to have affairs with other men, he forbid her to make social calls on friends and even forbid her to see her best friend, his own sister. His anger was scaring my mother, she felt threatened during the fights they had and the situation eventually escalated one evening in 1974. I was one and a half years old, my sister just over a year older, almost three. My mother never fully remembered or maybe she never wanted to retrieve the memories of that night, she could only tell the partial story some years ago to my sister and me. That evening he accused her again of having something with another man and suddenly became physically violent, he started hitting her and when she tried to flee down the stairs, he followed her, still beating her and she fell down the stairs. She didn’t remember how she got out of the house, but she did manage to escape, bruised and with broken ribs she ran to the neighbors and hid there. She called a friend, one who had always told her that she could call him if the situation escalated, he made up on his promise and got her away from the house. She never went back to my father after that.
The violence from my father towards my mother had a series of consequences.
1. My mother ran away from her home.
2. She had to leave my sister and me behind in the house.
3. She got blamed by her family for leaving my father and even more for refusing to return to him, even though they knew he had abused her and she was obviously terrified of him.
4. She was accused of being a bad mother because she had abandoned us.
5. My father couldn’t take care of us. My sister and I were separated, placed into the care of family members.
6. The friend my mother had called in distress, choose to leave his wife and children for my mother. My mother has always insisted there was nothing going on between them before that time, nobody believed that.
7. My mother had to live in the truck of the friend for a long time because she had not place to stay anymore.
8. My father refused my mother the right to see my sister and me out of spitefulness. He eventually couldn’t win this case in court and had to allow visitation rights to my mother. My mother was allowed to see us at the family members house every second weekend.
9. My mother was denied custody over us because she had no home for us to stay. She had to get married and have a decent place to live to get us back. My father refused for a long time to divorce her, prolonging the time we were separated.
10. My sister and I were separated for at least 6 months to a year from each other and my mother before she could manage to get a divorce, get married to my stepfather and get a new home for us. The vagueness in time is due to the fact that my mother tried very much to push the whole traumatic time to the back of her mind and only through very painful talks did she manage to retrieve parts of our story. She tried to get these memories back, to help my sister and me to understand what had happened exactly in our childhood, we were never really told the whole story before that.
11. My mother didn’t have time to get to know my ‘new’ father, she was forced to marry him to get us back. No court would allow us to live with her as long as there was no ‘steady’ home for us. He didn’t turn out to be a very nice man after all.
12. The bond between my sister, me and my mother got damaged by the whole situation. A part of the trust in her always being there must have been destroyed; I’m sure the forming of relationships in the life of my sister and me were highly influenced by our experiences in our early childhood.
13. My biological father had the right to see us every other weekend, but gave up on that right when he found a new wife. He told my mother he didn’t want to see us anymore so he could start a new life. I’m not sorry he did.
14. There is one positive outcome: these men (also my stepfather) and their behavior towards women taught me I would never ever accept to
be treated like that in my life.