Behind Closed Doors

I was actually going to write and post this yesterday, but I severely overestimated my ability to be functioning after coming home from a lot of very nice Argentinian food and seeing the Basel Chamber Orchestra, so here we are. Yesterday was White Ribbon Day, a day that brings violence against women to the fore (though honestly, shouldn’t that just be every day?) A lot has been said, posted, critiqued – you name it – about this day, and many truly inspiring people have told stories about themselves, their friends, and their families.

I, for one, agree with the sentiment that just wearing a ribbon, or attaching it to your Facebook profile, is, in some cases, nothing more than an affair of vanity. Most of this type of attention has been focused on the politicians responsible for the forcible detention of women and children in offshore detention centres, and the stringent asylum seeker policies we currently have in place (in Australia). But it can also be happening to the person that’s sitting next to you on the bus, or the person who is in front of you at the line for a burrito. It happened to me.

My parents used to cane us. Both of them, and both of us. And from a young age, too, probably no younger than 4 or 5, but young nonetheless. There were two sets of canes: the fresh batch lived on the upper shelf of my parents’ walk in wardrobe, and the other batch were used, splotched with black and frayed at the ends. These were stored downstairs, next to the fruit bowl and the bread bin.

I am usually quite forthright about the issues I have with my parents, but this is one of a few that I genuinely have difficult talking about. At the time, some part of me knew it wasn’t right. Some part of me knew that most of the other kids at school didn’t have parents that did this to them, but then again, I knew that most of the other kids at school were able to do a lot of things that I was not. It was just a fact of life, so I carried on. We carried on.

Sometimes we had a choice as to where the blows landed – an extension of the ordeal, wrapped in an offering of mercy. There were usually only a few places to choose from anyway. Across the knuckles or the palms, or on the bottom. The first two would hurt more than the latter, but there was also less chance that whoever was dishing out the punishment would miss altogether and hit something else. I remember my father would sometimes seem almost uncontrollable, and I would end up with angry, red, welted lashes on my legs and the bottom half of my back.

There were other things, too. I remember being made to kneel in the corner until my knees and my back hurt with exhaustion. The carpet was worse in summer, the tiles worse in winter. I can’t remember what I had done to warrant any of this – but at the time, it didn’t matter. My parents’ word was the absolute truth.

I quickly learned that the easiest way to avoid any of this was to keep my mouth shut, and to agree with whatever I’d been accused of. Don’t put a foot wrong, don’t talk back – that was the only way to even *try* to stay safe.

I now know that those were acts of domestic violence, but strangely, it’s still difficult to admit to myself that I suffered from a physical form of domestic violence. I even remember asking myself more than once if I was able to call the police to report what was happening, and before dismissing the thought. Even if I had been told that I could have reported it, I don’t know that I would have done it. Filial piety is an interesting creature. A significant portion of my brain still believes that it was, in a way, justified – that it was the only form of punishment they knew.

But I also know that this physical form of punishment has had severe and lasting impacts on my emotional and mental health. There is no doubt in my mind that I would not be the person I am today if this had not happened – for better or for worse. I may not have lived a different life, but my reactions to particular events and the way I think and go about my life would most definitely be different.

As with all my posts, I think this one has gotten away from me a little bit. I’m fine now, probably better than I’ve ever been – but it’s still part of my life. It’s still something that happened to me, and yeah, sure, it doesn’t really affect me consciously any more, but it’s still something that I have to carry around. I guess what I’m trying to say is – it can happen to anyone, and it couldĀ haveĀ happened to anyone. It’s especially hard on children too, because the lines between right and wrong seem to be so clear and murky all at the same time, and it’s difficult to stand up to your parents, especially if you get punished for stepping even a little bit out of line.

I feel like there should be some kind of concluding paragraph or statement, but I don’t know that I can really write one. So I think I’ll just leave this story with whoever decides to read it. Hopefully it provides someone with a different perspective on (domestic) violence against women, and hopefully it has some sort of impact on someone.

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