One day while napping I overheard ten-year-old Ronnie speaking in soothing tones to our four-year-old brother Russell. As often happens with the oldest child, Ronnie had become responsible for protecting Russell and me from the screaming matches. The fights between Howard and my mother were escalating in tone and regularity.
I was pretty sure the reason that I was not welcomed into any of the neighbor’s homes was because the whole neighborhood could hear the verbal battles in our house. That and the sap on my feet, the lice in my hair, and the dirt from the dumpsters. In spite of any prayers and wishes from Grandmother and me, the hollering became more and more intense.
My mother screamed, “We don’t got no food again, Howard! Why the hell don’t you apply for that job with more pay?”
“Will you shut up about that goddamn job, Veronica? I like sweeping the floors at the machine shop!” Howard shouted. “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
Mom’s voice rose in pitch. “Because we are hungry and I can’t pay the bills. Why are you so stubborn and selfish about sweeping stupid floors like some kind of backward idiot? Who the hell likes sweeping floors, anyway?” Then her voice lowered, and dripping with contempt she snapped, “What kind of man are you, anyway?”
The vicious stab found its mark, and Howard roared, “The kind of man that married you, you bitch. Who else would accept a four-year-old boy and bastard baby girl while saving your ass from shame and starvation?”
Not understanding his words, I still cringed under the lash of his bitterness towards Ronnie and me; but he wasn’t through yet. He had more to shame my mother with. “Then there’s your mother. That god-damn leech never leaves the house and slinks around here like some kind of whipped dog. She’s nothing but a freeloader—same as you, Veronica. I’m sick of it all, do you hear me, you stupid, useless woman?” Forgetting the original spark that started this latest battle, my mother took up the defense of her mother. “Why wouldn’t she hide from you, you’re nothing but a bully. Last week you beat her up and threw her off of the front porch. The whole neighborhood seen it. I hate your guts and everyone in this house hates your guts. You’re a good-for-nothing fool. All you care about is your whiskey. If you ever put your hand on my mother or these kids again, I swear to God, I’ll kill you!”
“That bottle is the only thing that I do care about, you crazy bitch. Put down that goddamn knife before I break your arm!”
Terrified, I couldn’t sit still any longer. I came out of the bedroom, my knees so wobbly I could hardly walk, just in time to see my mother throw a knife that narrowly missed Howard’s head. I peed my pants, which disgusted them both. Howard yelled, “Oh for Christ sakes, what is wrong with this kid?”
Mother screeched at me, “Clean up that mess and get out of my sight, NOW! I don’t want to set eyes on you one more time today, do you understand me?” Ashamed, I skulked away.
Howard’s face was dark with rage; he retreated to the garage where he kept his liquor stash. Mom withdrew to the dark sanctuary of her bedroom until the next day, or maybe even the next week. I didn’t want to see her or know what she was going to do. I avoided going near her, in part because I knew how her eyes would look at me: with an ice-cold stare of hatred that shriveled my insides. To be continued……
Children who suffer from family violence may continue the cycle. In a survey of parents by the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, parents were asked to report behavioral outcomes of children who had witnessed violence in the home. The study revealed that 28.1 percent indicated physical aggression, 19.8 percent indicated indirect aggression and 20.7 percent had committed delinquent acts against property.
Drugs and Alcohol
Family violence is occasionally triggered by drug and/or alcohol abuse. Addicts and alcoholics often suffer from poor emotional health, leading to secondary anger and violence. A 1993 study of over 2,000 couples showed that in households where husbands were described as “often drunk”, domestic violence rates were almost 15 times higher than households where husbands were described to be “never drunk”.