"No, Henry, no!" I woke up to the sound of my mom screaming at my dad to stop hitting her. I was 7 years old and in bed.
The door was slightly ajar and the light from the passage was spilling into the room. There was a lot more shouting and the sound of thudding as the blows hit my mother's body. I saw her run past my door into her bedroom where my father followed her, slammed the door and continued shouting.
Our domestic helper, Alicia, was laying in her bed next to mine, terrified of the screaming. But she comforted me and said: "Shhh, it's okay. Just go back to sleep."
And I did.
I completely forgot this memory until I was 21 when I had a very vivid dream of this one night and realised it wasn't a dream, but a memory. My mother confirmed it. It was just one of the many instances of abuse that happened in my house – and it certainly wasn’t the last.
My mom told me that the first time my father hit her was roughly two weeks before they got married. She was pregnant with my sister at the time. I don't know the specifics of the incident, but my mom said that she, like so many other survivors, thought: "He didn't mean to hit me. It was a onetime thing. I just made him very angry."
But it carried on for their 30-year marriage until two weeks before his death where one morning I had to physically pull him off of her because they were fighting and he had thrown her on the bed and pinned her down, screaming in her face.
This was what 'normal' was for me. The screaming, the anger, watching my mother being beaten.
My siblings and I were lucky; we didn’t receive as much physical abuse as my mother did, and with me being the youngest, I was hit very rarely. But we did experience constant emotional and verbal abuse.
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My sister once told me that she thought all parents were like ours and that you’re supposed to be unhappy at home. Until she would visit friends and slowly began to realise that other families definitely weren’t like ours.
No one else’s father was fine when he got home, but half an hour later would throw a teacup at their wife’s head because she told him supper was ready in a 'tone'. Or screaming at their child for pouring warm water into the kettle instead of cold for unknown reasons.
My father was not all horrible, no.
I don’t think humans work that way. At least not ALL humans. He was also a kind man who would go out of his way to help someone in need, but he was also the man I had to walk on eggshells around for most of my life.
I've described my father's incredible highs and lows to mental health professional over the years and they’ve all said that my suspicion that my father probably had bipolar disorder, but they cannot confirm it since he’s no longer here to be diagnosed.
I fully believe my father was mentally ill and he didn’t have the resources to recognise it, but was also too proud to do anything about it if he did.
My mom once had an outburst after getting off the phone with my father when I was about 10 or 11. She screamed about how angry he made her and how she couldn’t take this anymore; she was considering divorce, but she was so scared of what people would say and what would happen to us kids.
Even after many days of having to wear thick makeup and sunglasses to work to hide her black eye, or not being able to walk properly because she had been kicked. After he had hurt her so often that it caused her to leave on two separate occasions.
He manipulated all of us into thinking that he was going to change. He was going to “get better.” He would buy her favourite flowers and apologise and it would be okay for a week, until another fight broke out and it started all over again.
My mom never left, but I wish so badly that she had.
I don’t blame her at all for what she did; she was being manipulated by the man she loved and her kids were being used against her. But I wish she had known that she was going to be so much better without him.
That her life would be so much more peaceful and she could begin to heal again.
A person who hits you is a person who doesn’t deserve your love.
If you or anyone you know is being abused, there are resources to help you:
Phone: 011 642 434/6
Phone: 011 715 2000
Phone: 0800 055 555
Phone: 011 975 7106/7
Phone: 0861 768 524
Phone: +27 21 633 5287
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