The title of this post is stolen borrowed from the title of one of my favourite novels (by Colleen Hoover for anyone who is curious).
I wish I could explain exactly why the title of the book inspired the title of the post, but I cannot do so without giving away a massive spoiler. There are a few bibliophiles who read the blog and if they are yet to read the book I do not want to spoil it for them because I ain’t about that spoiler life.
I have said here, here, and here that I grew up in a very violent household. While I am aware that my story is not unique in the sense that there are way too many people the world over who also grew up in violent houses, how the violence of my childhood affected me is unique. The only people who can possibly understand just how damaging my upbringing was is my siblings because:
Your siblings are the only people in the world who know what it’s like to have been brought up the way you were.
One of the earliest memories I have from my childhood is my father beating up my mum so badly that the house help had to come get my siblings and I from the main house and take us to the SQ. We had two SQs: one for the house help, and one that was used by guests who would visit for however many days but for one reason or another did not sleep in the main house. I remember the house help took me and my siblings to the guest SQ, and though I am not sure, I believe we spent the night there.
On numerous occasions my father would beat up my mum, throw her out of the house, lock the door, come to our bedrooms and tell us, “go open for your stupid mother!”
Once as kids my siblings and I were playing outside in the garden when my parents started fighting in their bedroom. We were about to head in that direction so I said to my siblings, “let’s not go that side, there are riots.” I really cannot explain why I used the word riot, but knowing me I probably came across it recently and was excited to try it out. I am a logophile like that.
We had these really dope stools in our house where the top was made of glass and everything else was made of wood. We had at least four of them and there were days, in one of his rages, he would throw them at my mum. I am not sure if there were ever days they hit her, but there were definitely days they missed and crashed into a wall behind her because it was not long before only one stool was all that existed.
If my father was not eating his meals at the dining table, they would be served to him on a tray with the food on two plates, so that the bottom plate could insulate his hand from the heat of the top plate containing the food. One Saturday morning, as I (and most likely my siblings) was watching Count Duckula in the sitting room my mum took for my father his breakfast to the bedroom. I do not know what crawled up his ass that morning but he threw the food, hence both plates, at my mum. She ducked just in time and they hit the wall behind her. She then started crying really loudly, screaming that if she had not ducked in time a plate could have hit her eye and made her blind. He left soon after that and I went to help my mum clean up the mess. The spot where the plates smashed into the wall sustained quite some damage that remained forever. Some days I would see the damage and remember that Saturday morning, but most days it barely registered.
There were numerous times when they would fight and he would lock my mum out of their bedroom so she had to sleep in me and my sister’s bedroom. Sometimes she would share a bed with one of us, other times she would ask us to share so she could have a bed to herself.
Once my parents had a fight and he left in the middle of the night. As he was leaving he locked their bedroom and went with the keys. Meaning my mum could not access her handbag or any of her shit in general. She spent that night in me and my sister’s bedroom and the next morning, after some pleading, he told her to come for the keys. He was at his office at a shopping complex two or three kilometres away from our house. That is not very far but seeing as my mum’s car keys were also in her handbag, we had to walk there. As kids, two or three kilometres is no small feat but we kind of made an adventure of it and I remember us cracking jokes and laughing along the way. Plus my mum had asked us to pack our swimsuits so that once we got the keys from the office we could go swimming at a place not too far from the shopping complex. And of course being kids we were very excited about the chance to go swimming. So after we got the keys we walked to the swimming place and had a jolly good time.
When my mum was four months pregnant with my brother she was beaten up so badly that she had to go to the doctor the next morning to confirm that her baby boy was okay. I have since concluded that if it happened while she was pregnant with my brother it definitely happened while she was pregnant with me and my sister as well.
There was a night he beat her up … I do not know what was so different about that night because she was being beaten every other night. But something was different because she went out to the garden to cry and she had never done that before. As she was crying and begging for someone to please help her, she let out this wail … I will never forget it for as long as I live. Even now as I type this I can hear that wail in my head. It was a wail from the bottom of her heart. From the depths of her soul. The wail of a woman who is tired of her life and at that very moment wants out. The wail of a woman who loves her three children dearly but is tired of enduring hardship for them.
Whew! Heavy stuff right?
I am aware that I have told my mum’s story in a very staccato manner but that is intentional because:
- There are third parties involved (my family) and I have to be sensitive to them when writing about something this personal.
- The point of this post is not gratuitous violence. If that were the case, I could have given a million more examples that would have you reading this post well into 2020.
If I am not wrong my father stopped beating up my mum around the time I was I high school. Why? I do not know. Maybe as he got older he lacked the strength … I really do not know. But what I do know is that the violence I lived through in the first 13 or so years of my life is enough to fill any lifetime a million times over.
As much as this is my mum’s story, it is also my story because the choices she made in her marriage affected her children as well. She had her reasons, but she chose to stay in a very violent marriage, and that choice informed my childhood which in turn informed my adulthood. The violence may have happened to my mum directly but it subsequently affected me deeply and it is one of the things I continue to work at in therapy.
One morning after one of their many fights, I was in my mum’s bedroom with my sister when my mum looked me dead in the eye and said, “Lwile don’t ever get married.” I do not remember what I may have said/asked to prompt that statement. All I know is it is one of the many things she said to me that I will never forget for as long as I live. I reminded her about it when I was older, and she said that of course she wants me to get married if/when I find a good man, and that she was just in a really bad place when she said that.
Which brings me to July 4, 2017 when Kendi (my therapist that year) told me that emotional safety is a core relationship need for me. I remember the precise date because I wrote down exactly what she said in my notes app as soon as I left the session. I am not assigning blame, but that observation from Kendi is one of the many ways the choices my mum made pertaining to her marriage informed who I am today.
I never intervened in the fights and I cannot tell you why either. But as Kendi told me, my father created an environment of fear. What that did to me is once I was old enough to understand how his volatile temperament impacted my childhood, I began to avoid being in situations where the outcome is uncertain. Being in control of situations helps me feel as far removed as possible from that powerless little girl. It is not easy to unlearn my need for control at my big age, but thanks to therapy letting go is something I am becoming better at as the days go by.
That environment of fear also robbed me and my siblings of the opportunity to develop a deep bond. I wrote about it briefly in a previous post that you can read here, but long story short Kendi told me that it is common for children who come from dysfunctional homes not to have a close bond. We were too busy walking on eggshells, living in fear of the next “riot” as our father’s good mood could change in the blink of an eye, and as a result we never got the opportunity to develop a deep bond.
My mum used to say that she stayed in her marriage for her children. She did not have an education beyond high school and so she was entirely financially dependent on her husband for everything. I say it as a joke that my mum’s favourite word was empowered, but I am also not joking. If I had a dollar for every time my mum told me, “Lwile you must be empowered enough so that if a man ever treats you like this you can leave without difficulty” …
Which is why she was big on education. Her lack of education was directly related to her lack of empowerment. I used to joke that the only thing my mum could read without her spectacles were my tees with naughty scripts and report cards. Lol.
It was not easy to write this post. In fact it was downright triggering. But as a society we need to start encouraging these kinds of conversations because domestic violence thrives, and will continue to thrive, due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it.
To anyone who reads this and does not identify with my story, please count a happy, loving, stable childhood as part of your blessings every goddamn day. The therapy I did in 2017 helped me come to terms with the fact that I cannot change my past, and that continually wishing it were different only prevents me from moving forward. But just because I gave up hope of a better past does not mean that it no longer sucks major balls. Because if there is one thing I have in plenty is ‘dad envy’. When someone tells me/I read a story of how their dad is the best man they know, and/or of the amazing things he did and continues to do, the one thing that always comes to mind is “must be nice.”
Lastly, if you do identify with my childhood I then urge you that we must be the ones to stop the cycle of abuse. Too often you find that the abused become the abusers, thus crafting a potentially never-ending cycle.
Cycles exist because they are excruciating to break. It takes an astronomical amount of pain and courage to disrupt a familiar pattern. Sometimes it seems easier to just keep running in the same familiar circles, rather than facing the fear of jumping and possibly not landing on your feet.
But excruciating to break is not impossible to break. We may have grown up in violent houses but that does not justify us taking that pain and trauma and making it the next generation’s story. We need to break the pattern before it breaks us. Whatever it takes, it ends with us.