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ABUSE

10 April, 2018

I don't like Megyn Kelly.  I don't know why, but she has just always been fingernails on a blackboard for me, so I was not happy when her new talk show was chosen by our local NBC affiliate to replace the third hour of The Today Show in the morning.  I was never going to watch it.

But it turns out that many times she has subjects that I find interesting.  I still don't like her interviewing style, but I will overlook it for a provocative topic, or something that I find interesting.

Today's topic was domestic abuse, a subject about which I have had no direct experience throughout 53 years of marriage to a lovely man, but I watched the show and was particularly interested in the section about emotional abuse, which is more difficult to define, to identify, and to have recognized by others outside of the people being abused.

I listened to the women talk about the manner of abuse and the effect on them, and on their children, and I found my stomach churning, realizing that throughout my life I have suffered many of the symptoms found in the PTSD of emotionally abused children.

My mother took the brunt of the emotional abuse, but the motto for our family was "don't make your father angry" because we never knew what word, sentence, or action would provoke an explosion and then, worst of all, the unending, accusatory silence which we never knew was aimed at US or at one of the other two in the house.

The first time my parents had a fight after their marriage, 3 years before I was born, my mother told him that the first time he hit her, she would leave, which may have saved her physically.  But his emotional abuse preceded their marriage and in fact, my grandmother warned my mother about it, as he had done some terrible emotionally damaging things to her throughout his life to that point.

I can remember as a little kid, hunkered down in my bed, my blanket pulled up to my eyes, praying "please don't let them get a divorce....please don't let them get a divorce..."

It's funny, but when I think of my father I know there were lots of good times, but the strongest memories are the simple things that eroded my self confidence.  The time I was on some kids program on TV and answered a question wrong and he was unrelenting in teasing me about how dumb I had been.  Or the time I said I didn't want dessert after dinner, which amazed him because I was a fat kid who never passed up dessert.  He said he wanted to see that in writing and I spelled it "desert," which showed how stupid I was.

Then years later, when he showed up at my job at the Physics Department and met one of my bosses, one of the top guys in the department and was effusive in thanking him for giving his daughter a chance.  I was a good secretary and my bosses were happy with my work, but my father made it sound like I was a stupid little kid and that they were giving me a chance.  I cringed and was happy that he never came to my office again.

After the first Lamplighter book came out, I proudly brought him a copy.  He glanced it and then handed it back to me, saying "you might as well take it.  I'll never look at it."  The creative thing I was most proud of in my life and he tossed it aside like garbage.

There were the things over which I had no control -- the time he carried me home after we had been at a friend's for the evening.  I was a toddler and he wrapped me in a blanket, covering my face.  I suffered from claustrophobia and in trying to move the blanket off my face I knocked his glasses.  The two things you never touched were his glasses and his shoes, both of which had to be spotless and I'm sure that set up one of his famous silences, after the yelling.

Whenever we went to visit my maternal grandparents, which involved driving on a winding road and which almost always made me sick to my stomach, there were problems.  When they took me out of the car to clean me up, my father would yell at my mother for "making him" visit her damn parents and then at me for getting sick.

He hated the phone.  Karen and I were teenagers who used the phone a lot.  That made him angry, but one night he drew the line at phone calls at dinner time.  It made no difference whether we ate at 4 or at 9, if the phone rang, he was off ranting and raving and then silence.  I remember one night when we were eating late and the phone rang.  He insisted that we sit there and listen to it ring, while he ranted and raved about the damn people who interrupted our dinner.  After the phone stopped ringing, he was silent for 5-10 minutes and then said "Maybe that was my mother calling.  Maybe she needed me" and he called his mother (my mother mentioned later to me that it never occurred to him that it might have been HER mother who needed help).

Dinners were always a bad time and I realized many years later, when we were hosting foreign students and often had 7 people at the table that I did "busy work" in the kitchen during dinner because it made me nervous to sit at the table with so many people.

I never confronted him all those times Karen and I cringed in our bedroom while he yelled at our mother, until I was a teenager.  We had been invited to a party given by one of the members of the church group led by Father Joe, one of their strongest social groups.

I don't remember the reason for the party, but my father was sick, so did not go.  My mother told him we would be home at a certain time.  But she was having so much fun, everyone begged her to stay, so she called him and asked if it was OK.  He said yes.  So we stayed.  And when we got home there was holy hell to pay.  He read her the riot act up one side and down the other. It didn't make a difference if she called--what was he going to say? No?  What would people think of him if he did.  She should have known differently.

I went to sleep in tears and in the morning I girded my loins and called him into our bedroom and I still remember shaking as I said "I don't think I've ever heard anyone treated so unfairly in my life."  In a voice as cold as ice he said "Well...now I know what people think about me here" and he left.

I think the silence lasted a month that time.  And when he decided to speak to us again, it was as if nothing had ever happened.  The incident was never discussed again.

I long ago "forgave" him for all of this, but he's been dead 30 years and I have never once visited his grave.

Watching Megyn Kelly this morning, I thought back over my parenting years and hope that I never treated my kids like that.  And if I did, kids, I am so, so very sorry.

 

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