Journey From Abuse

It was a hot Kansas summer morning. My family was walking towards the door of the church on our way to Sunday service. My father was in the lead, walking in long stride—long for his short legs—to get into mass on time. I quietly strolled along with my siblings. I kept my head down and walked as far away from my father as I possibly could. My mother was in her usual place. She was walking in between all of us, a tender buffer between my father and his children. Mom was talking to Dad, but I couldn’t hear her words. I just knew from her movements that there was some problem. Mom was taking small birdlike steps. She skittishly flapped around my father like a tiny hummingbird. She would hop forward, say a few words to Dad, and then hop back out of striking distance. I couldn’t hear what Mom was saying. She usually talked in a timid voice to my father. I don’t know if it was her words or her movements that irritated him. But suddenly, predictably, Dad stopped in his steps, turned to my mother, and I heard him scream, “Stop nagging at me! Or I will kill you, goddamn it, I will kill you!” With that outburst, my father walked into the church, blessed himself with holy water, and knelt down to pray.

My siblings trailed in after my father as I stood with my mother outside the church. “He said he would kill me,” she whispered, her eyes wide and terrified. “He just said he would kill me.” I stared into my mother’s eyes for a moment before we both walked into the church and took our seats in the back pew. My mother knelt down beside my father and forced a smile. Walking into the church had transformed us into a happy Christian family for the other parishioners to see. But I couldn’t concentrate on my prayers. The incident that had just occurred kept spinning around my head. I don’t know what upset me the most: my father threatening my mother or my mother having reason to believe him.

I didn’t know what to do. I was just a child trapped in the middle of a familial war. I was young, but not innocent. I had been a witness to my father’s anger from a very young age. I was also fighting my own battles. Due to a speech impediment, my first grade teacher labeled me as “retarded.” The teacher would hit me for every word I mispronounced and lock me in closets for the afternoon. My mother and I never spoke about the abuse but we both knew. We became silent comrades, a bond forged from grief, anger, pain, and depression. We found solace in each other. There was no other safe place. We were, in a sense, “emotionally homeless.”

In 2002, Mom and I set out on a quest. We began our journey across America. Our plan was to drive through all 50 states in search of a home. However, instead, we found ourselves journeying through never-ending lessons in relationships, insight, and compassion. The journey became an exploration of love, death, and endless self-discovery.

Did we ever find a home? Unfortunately, Mom passed away from complications of colon cancer in 2010 when we had just four states left to explore. Her memory gives me strength though to continue the journey. I haven’t found a home yet, but I am discovering the dimensions of my own heart, which is proving to be the safest place to be.


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