I don’t remember everything about yesterday, but I remember the grain of the panelling in my bedroom from 35 years ago the night I sat in there, terrified, believing I was as good as dead.
My step-dad was a convicted killer. He served 10 years prison for manslaughter before he met my mom. My mom was not emotional stable and she loved weaving his story into her story. His story made people shake their heads with wonder and that brought her great delight. Together, they were a powder keg with a lit fuse and you just sat back to watch for when it would blow. Both alcoholics, both deeply damaged and both unable to cope well with life, I got front row seats to their insanity in my early teens.
For the most part, his violent outbursts were directed at objects, not us. The dishes, walls and doors took the brunt of his fists and, they were often demolished in the wake of his anger. I learned quickly to stay silent, sneak out of the door and run. I also learned quickly that my mother would pack us up over and over again, only to stay when he would plead and promise to never be that violent again. He would be “good” for a few days and then the verbal abuse would start again and then, the rage. I believed my mom when she said he would never touch me until the night I couldn’t believe her anymore.
Let me start off by saying, he never did lay a hand on me. He yelled at me and terrified me, but he never did touch me. On the night I’m talking about, we had been at a BBQ for the day. We were having fun hanging out as families in the hills of northern Pennsylvania. As with most get togethers like this, adults drank all day long. At some point, my stepdad and a few other guys disappeared for a while. When they came back to the group, it was dark and we all started heading home. I was 14 years old and during the ride home, he started telling my mom it was time for me to learn to drive. He had decided that night, in the backwoods, was the perfect setting and so he was going to pull over so that he could teach me how to drive. My heart was racing and my stomach was clenched tight. The last thing in the world I wanted to do in that moment was be in the front seat with him. And I certainly didn’t want to learn to drive. They argued and yelled about me. He called me a baby and too protected, she called him a name and told him to stop. I can still see the headlights lighting the gravel road ahead of us.
When we got home, the fight started again. We lived in a single-wide trailer so their fights were never secret. He was always unpredictable but that night felt different. It was like he turned from his usual rage to pure evil. He was darker than ever before and I was terrified. I sat in my room hearing them fight about me. My heart was beating so loudly in my head, I was certain he would hear it so I put my pillow over my chest and hugged it tightly. You see, I wasn’t able to do my normal, I couldn’t sneak out and run this time. I was trapped.
Then, it suddenly got quiet. This wasn’t a “whew, it’s over” quiet. This was an eye-of-the storm quiet. I stared at the panelling so hard I memorized the grain pattern. The next thing I heard was him talking to our dog, Pepper. “Hey girl, you want to go get hung?” I remember that I stopped breathing for a moment because I couldn’t trust what I thought I heard. Then he said it again, “Hey Pepper, I think it’s time you get hung. The garage door will work.” My mom was silent as he kept talking about hanging the dog. I was frozen. Then he asked, “Where is Kelly?” I was as good as dead, I was certain. My mind raced with pictures of being hung next to Pepper up at the garage. I could barely breathe and I didn’t dare cry or make a single sound because I didn’t want him to hear me.
He started walking around and then the yelling started again. I couldn’t tell if he was headed my way or what exactly was happening. At some point, I don’t know when, he walked past my room, down the hall and went to bed. My mom came into my room and the only thing she said was, “Wait about 15 more minutes before you leave so that he’s asleep.” I didn’t know how to process that information back then and honestly, I still don’t. I blacked out at that point and don’t remember anything until the next morning.
When I saw my stepdad the next day, he apologized for scaring me and told me that he and the guys had gone to smoke pot at the party and pot just made him “unpredictable”. I remember staring at him in disbelief and saying “ok”, and walking off. I couldn’t risk making him mad again so I just simply acknowledged the apology.
Domestic violence is devastating to all involved. I spent decades bottling up my story around my experiences and that only made me drink to escape the memories and the pain. Now I know, based on what I know about trauma and his story, that he was also a victim of domestic violence in his family so he was acting the only way he knew how without any tools to help him do better. The same is exactly true of my mom. They lived their lives devastated by their own trauma and enflicting more pain on themselves and the people around them. Through lots of therapy and learning, I can now bless them both and see how God was ever present and always protecting me. I could certainly wish for a different story but honestly, I see so much value in mine and so much ability to help people that I truly just thank God that He has brought so much healing and peace and, that He allows me opportunity to help others stuck in violence and trauma.
Engaging our stories is hard work and, if I’m being honest, it hurts like hell. It’s also beautiful when you allow yourself to enter the process. God will meet you in your story, I promise. He’s already in all of it, you can trust Him.
If you need resources or referrals to get help, message me. If you are caught in domestic abuse and need help to exit, message me. If you are the abuser and want to stop, message me. I will give you contacts to help you.