Whenever I talk about my childhood and the trauma we endured, people invariably ask this question; “is your mother still there?” People ask me if I’m angry at my mother for not leaving, and for keeping us in that situation.
I’m not. I was, for a while. I’m not anymore. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to see my mother for what she is. A human being. A flawed, breakable human character, just like the rest of us. As children, we revere our parents as gods and goddesses. Their word is law, for better or for worse, and the control they render colours all aspects of our being. They decide when and what we eat, what we wear, where we live, if we can have friends, if we are safe, if we are happy. Even the most autonomous and independent minded children are shackled by necessity to their parents will.
So, as part of this complete control, we see them as perfect, even when we know they’re not. Even having witnessed my mother broken and bleeding I failed to acknowledge for a long time that she was just human, like me. Surely these people who are given such absolute control over the lives of others are omnipotent?
Still, you may ask, and fairly, why she did not put the safety of her children first?
There are many reasons I believe. To truly understand, you have to have some understanding of the mind, means and ways of an abuser. They rarely unleash the full potency of their control and rage until they’re certain that the abused party is fully under their control. In my fathers case, he got two children out of her and a ring on her finger before he raised a hand.
The main reason ultimately, was fear of the consequences should she actually manage to leave. You can’t really cut ties with someone once you’ve had children with them. She never reported the violence to the police, nor did she seek medical help for her injuries. He didn’t allow her to leave the house for weeks after a beating, to ensure that she couldn’t do so. As such, you can’t prevent your spouse from having access to your children when you leave them, unless you can prove that there may be danger to them as a result. This would have been a he said/she said situation, and it is highly likely that the courts would not have ruled in her favour, and he would have had access to us children.
Which leads me on to the real reason. As bad as it was for us there, it could have been a whole lot worse had we left. My father is, in a nutshell, completely unhinged. I hope this illustrates the extent of this.
My mother did try to leave him, when I was around 8. He was supposed to be working away for a week, and at the start of the week we hired a van and packed our things. We were going to live in a tent. In a tent in a goddamned field. This is how desperate we were to leave. We had the van around halfway filled when he came home. I remember him watching me as he drove into the lane.
He ordered my mother into the house. Me, my sister and the baby sat in the freezing van for hours. We thought he had killed her. We tried to keep the baby warm and quiet for those few hours. Luckily there was food and milk packed for her. There was nothing for us.
After four hours of wondering, he summoned us back into the house. We were so disappointed to be going back. I had truly believed that I would never have to see him again. I’d spent days entertaining thoughts of freedom.
She told us after that he had first threatened to kill himself, and then the dog who was still in the house if we left. That he would track us to the end of the earth and pour petrol through our letterbox of our new home if were ever to get one. That he would torture her aging parents until they told him where we were. After hours of these threats, of course she agreed to stay.
To emphasize the point, when we came back in he locked all the doors. He poured white spirits all around our house, even in our bedrooms. And he followed her around with a box of matches for a week. Everywhere she went, even to the bathroom, he was there with this box of matches. Telling her how if he burned us all alive it would be her fault. We weren’t allowed to leave the house or even get dressed for that whole week. We couldn’t make a sound. We all had to sit lined up on the living room couch, him watching our every move with insanity in his eyes and matches in his hand.
Maybe she could have been stronger. Maybe she could have found a way. But with the threat of harm to her children seemingly higher if she left than if she stayed, I understand her reasoning. I forgive her it. The blame lies with my father, not her.