I have always felt like an outsider. I am not exactly sure how to define this word, but I will give it a try. Outsider: not fitting in with the norms of society.
As a child, I fit in, don’t get me wrong. I was in fact quite popular in my little social world of a neighborhood 30 minutes outside of Chicago. My neighborhood was extensively blue collar with most kids having a stay at home mom, a working father, and a ranch or cape code style home. I had all of these, but I had a secret.
My father was an abusive alcoholic who would regularly, but not on any particular schedule, come home from his second shift factory job and beat my mother senseless. I was the oldest child of the family so it became my job, to try to thwart this endeavor of my father at all costs.
I would, at the age of 7, stay up, until the wee hours of the night to interrupt my fathers beatings. I was not unique by any means because the abuse and violence perpetrated by fathers on wives and children was pretty run of the mill at this time in history but I had one advantage. My father would not hit me.
This is because, although he was a wife beater, he had a history filled with violence in his own life. He told me at some point in our relationship, he would never hit his own children. I am grateful for this because I never endured violence in the form of my father hitting me.
I endured violence being heaved on my mother which although was not on me, still effected me greatly and I carry it like a suitcase full of bricks everywhere I go. To see violence perpetrated on someone you love, is just as debilitating as violence on you. It writes on the slate of who you are.
I became the gatekeeper for my mother. I would diligently stay awake, waiting for the sounds, the sirens that danger was near. I would listen for my father to come through the screen door with a sound that only I knew.
His work boots on the linoleum floor that had a different pattern of steps. His voice which was on octave off from his usual speech. A smell of booze and cigarettes that would waft into my room like the smell of assault and cruelty. I would hear it, it would smell it, I would feel it. I was up.
This was the night, like many a night that my father would exude his wrath and misery; his hands around the neck of my mother, his fists furrowed in anticipation to connect with weakness, his intolerance and madness to inject power over her powerlessness. I stood at the ready, every night, I could not fall asleep, for if I did, I would fail.
This was my secret.
So I could not successfully acclimate to my peers. When you have a secret, as magnanimous as this, there is always a gaping hole in your being that others can feel. It is the micro actions of a person that makes them likable or not, makes them trustworthy or not, makes them become an insider or not.
Like I said, I was quite popular and I had accolades during my early years. I was the captain of patrols, I was the vice president of student council, I was an honor student. I had friends and felt a sense of acceptance when I went into my realm of peers, but I could never bust through the inner circle.
Because of my secret, I could not spend the night anywhere, I could not have people over to my house, I could not connect successfully on a specific level that leads to being a best friend or a confident. Friends would call my house and ask me to go somewhere or do something that might lead to this, but I would have to say no, because of my secret and my duty to my family, to be there for the battle.
I had to be ready, I had to be there, I had to protect my mother, for she was the light of our family and my ultimate survival. I knew this instinctively, unconsciously before memories are even born. I knew my mother was love.
The feelings and beliefs that are born from survival of dealing with domestic abuse has lead me to be, at least I feel, just a step off of, “normal” people. I stand in groups, in normal society but I question myself everyday. Am I good enough? Am I normal enough? Am I regular enough?
These questions perpetrated from my childhood confound me on a daily basis in my adult life and many times, I succumb to the feelings of not belonging, of not being normal, of not fitting in.
I am now a mother and I perceive these questions for my children. I know that I am a huge part of their perception of their world. And I am aware of this.
I feel proud that I have broken the chains of violence. My children have grown up in peace with their parents in a sacred truce of solidarity for their environment to be without violence or turmoil. I have told them of the violence in their legacy and what to be aware of for future relationships. I hope I have made them forever vigilant to not repeat what is part of their truth.
They are not only armed with the normalcy of peace, they are opposed to the thought of cruelty. I am the link between violence and the in tolerance of violence. For that, I am proud.