I can’t seem to get these voices out of my head…
Lately they’ve been there all the time. Same scenario. I remember the day like it was yesterday. It’s an early Sunday morning in the spring, along about May, fifty years ago now. The sun’s streaming in the window of the bedroom I share with my little brother. That’s what wakes me up. I’m eight years old and my brother is three. He’s still sleeping.
I’m lying there, and I hear those voices. They’re coming from behind the closed door to Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom across the hall. They are loud and ugly voices in a pitched battle with each other. My father’s voice – rough, guttural, raspy, laced with snarled obscenities and crude threats; my mother’s voice, high-pitched, shrill, whining, crying, desperate, also laced with obscenities. They are arguing – once again – about me, I just know it…
“I’m gonna teach that stupid little brat a lesson he’ll never forget!”
“Damn it all, when I tell him to do something, I damn well expect him to do it, and if I tell him not to do something, then by God, he’d better not do it, or I’ll kick his little butt!”
I curl up in my bed and pull my special blanket tight around my neck. I just know I’m gonna get it soon! He never, ever makes a threat he doesn’t carry out.
My mother is afraid. “Please… Please, Bill,” she implores. “Just for once, can’t you just leave him alone…?!?”
“Michael… MICHAEL!! You little asshole, get your scrawny little butt in here – RIGHT NOW!” His voice is contorted almost beyond recognition, full of rage, hoarse, raspy.
I lie in my bed, shaking uncontrollably; dread washes over me in waves. If I go in there, it’ll be bad… if I don’t go in there, it’ll be worse. And I’ve gotta protect my little brother! Maybe I should take him and run away from here…
“Bill… Bill, pleeeeeaaaasssse…!! Stop it!! Don’t do anything! Let me handle it!”
“Shut your big fat nagging mouth!!” Slap. “If you didn’t molly-coddle him all the time, I wouldn’t have to be so hard on him…” Slap again. “Damn it all, where is he? MICHAEL!!”
I get out of my bed, still trembling. My knees feel so weak I can hardly stand up. But I start walking toward their closed bedroom door. My feet feel like they have lead weights attached to them. I’m crying already.
As I reach the hallway, the door to their bedroom bursts open and bangs against the wall. He stands there, tall, muscular, imposing, his face contorted with rage… and hate.
“Get your filthy little butt in here, you little brat… RIGHT NOW!!” he growls.
I take a couple of steps forward. As I enter their bedroom, I suddenly feel my feet leave the ground and my body fly through the air. I land on the big soft double bed, but my head hits against something hard… very hard. For a moment I “see stars.”
I try to scramble away, but he is too quick; he is on me with a vengeance, hitting me, swearing at me, yelling at me, punching me, yanking my hair, calling me filthy names, slapping me…
“What did I tell you? WHAT DID I TELL YOU, YOU LITTLE ASSHOLE?!?”
I’m desperately trying to break free, but I’m too small and he is too big. All I can do is curl up in a ball and plead: “Daddy, stop… please, Daddy, stop,” I cry. “I didn’t do anything… I didn’t do anything wrong, Daddy… I… I… won’t do it again, ever, Daddy, I promise, Daddy… Please Daddy, please stop!!”
His huge open slapping hands and his hard clenched punching fists aren’t getting the job done to his satisfaction. He’s picked up a big leather belt now. He swings it at me, buckle end first; the brass buckle catches me on my arm. I can’t believe how much it hurts.
He continues hitting me with the belt. His eyes are huge and round and bugging out. With every accurate swing of that belt, I hear his guttural, hate-filled voice:
“Daddy, please stop…!”
“Please, Daddy, I won’t ever do it again…”
“Bill…BILL!!! Stop, Please Bill, stop… you’re hurting him!!”
Smack… Smack… Smack…
“BASTARD!!! WHAT… DID… I… TELL… YOU?!?”
Suddenly the relentless hail of blows stops, and I’m suddenly aware that I’m covered in blood. It’s all over me, my pajamas, my hands. I feel pain, but I don’t feel like I got cut.
I hear my Mom sobbing uncontrollably. I’m crying, she’s crying, and he’s gone.
I look at her. She’s lying right there in the big double bed, right where she was when this started. She is also covered with blood. Her blood. The whole right side of her face is very swollen; her right eye is puffed up to about the size of a tennis ball and is becoming a deep, angry purple.. She’s bleeding from a gash on her forehead.
I remember my head hitting something hard when I landed on the bed; it must’ve been her I hit.
“Mom… Mommy… are you alright? I’m sorry, Mommy, I’m sorry, I didn’t do anything wrong!!
Mommy, are you okay?”
She pushes me away. “Get out of here,” she says angrily.
Tears fill my eyes. I just want to hug her, I just want to make sure she’s not hurt.
“You did this, you little brat!!” This is all your fault!! Now get the hell out of here!!”
Shaking and sobbing, I get off the big double bed and go back into my own room. Still covered stickily in blood – her blood – I crawl onto my little bed. Suddenly I feel overwhelmed by sadness. Sadness for my Mom and my Dad. And for me and my little brother.
I also feel bruised and battered. I have welts and bruises all over my arms and legs and back and chest and butt. It hurts. I hurt. Bad.
But that voice I just heard hurts far worse than the beatings…
I can’t seem to get it out of my head…
Its echoes linger…