Whew, this discussion on BBC1 Breakfast yesterday morning had me in tears.
Listening to those young children saying why they were there and who they were remembering reduced me to tears. A Killing in my Family.
Being a child, especially in today’s world, is difficult enough as it is without your parent/s being killed by your other parent or a family member. It is however not a new phenomena. It amazes me still that there wasn’t a killing in my family.
For me the programme raised some VERY unwanted memories of mine (and my sisters) childhood. We, at various stages, grew up in a very violent household. My parents divorced when I was 6 and my sister just 3. My Mother remarried some years later to what I can only call a monster when I was 9 and my sister 6. She had to marry him as she was pregnant with my 2nd sister, her third daughter, and due to these circumstances would have lost my 1st sister and I to my Father who had threatened to claim custody. This person that she married turned out to be a psychological maniac, a heavy drinker and a sexual predator. We had to call him ‘Daddy’. I recall many many fights in our home, fights that lead to violent confrontations with multiple items being thrown, as well as physical violence. On one memorable occasion my Mother slammed a plate full of spagetti bolognaise over his head at the dinner table. Her nerves had been shredded. He kept her short of money. He bitched about everything. He criticised the food. He drank a lot. He brought home unsavoury characters. Eventually she lost her control. That was one of many scenarios that peppered our lives during that period till she left him and met someone else. I think she was suffering from postpartum depression, amongst other mental health issues brought about by an unhappy childhood, and the stress of trying to cope with a young family and a very unhappy adult life. I cry for her.
My father helped her financially to divorce her 2nd husband and she then went on to form a relationship with this new person whom she had ironically met through my father’s sister. This relationship was no better than the previous, he too was a triple-A; abusive, aggressive, alcoholic – within a very short space of time we were again living in an environment of extreme violence. Friday nights were the worst. I dreaded Fridays. I knew that Friday meant a drunk live-in father (they weren’t married at that stage) who came home from the pub reeling and reeking of alcohol and violent with pent up rage*. By this stage my Mother was pretty much an alcoholic as well and so the evening would deteriorate and the weekend would be hell in one form or another.
Glass and food and anything else that came to hand would be thrown. Much glass had to be swept up by myself at the end of the passage…which happened to be the entrance to my bedroom. I couldn’t escape into my room till I had cleaned up the glass because it would have cut my feet. Never mind what it would have done to a 9 year-old and a toddler. Besides that, my Mother would make us clean up the mess. 😦
I remember the screaming. The punches.The blood. The glass. The alcohol. The fear. The terror. I couldn’t eat honey for decades, and my sister still has difficulty with eating honey. He would, in his drunken rages, spread honey from floor to ceiling …..we had to clean it up. But some years ago, not long after I left my South African me behind and found a new UK me, did I force myself to eat honey. I refuse at this stage of my life to allow something like that to dictate what I eat.
My best-friend at the time, with whom I am now back in contact via facebook, remembers one particular instance, when late at night, when all children should be happily and safely in bed, a pounding on their door. It was me. Screaming…. “he’s going to kill my Mother”.
She recalls the incident with clarity. For me, it was one of many. We lived a good half hour’s walk away from them. I dont remember that incidence in particular. They’ve all become rather muddled.
But I do remember the fear of those years. Yes, there were ‘good’ times. Yes, we had ‘fun’. My Mother had a brilliantly wicked sense of humour and she tried her best to make life good for us. And kids just get on with it. You seem to form a shell around yourself and just get on with life. By my early teenage years I was pretty wild and finally I got packed off to live with my father in Cape Town who had been married to his 2nd wife for many years, a bit like going from the fire into the frying pan….although there wasn’t much by way of alcoholic fights with open violence, there was emotional trauma. Arguments that went on for days. Bitching that never ended. Criticism that endeavoured to bring my Mother down in my/our eyes. And no, it wasn’t limited to just that period. We got to spend Christmas holidays with him and his wife too. What a joy that was. The only best thing I can recall from those days was the love and relationship I had for my adopted brother (he died over 30 years ago). And somewhere along the line my 2nd brother was born. Oh and I loved Cape Town. 🙂 Which helped. My heart city.
However, after 5 months of living with them, I was weirdly glad to eventually go home to my Mother at the end of the school year. I was 14 at the time.
The violence escalated and escalated.
Eventually my youngest sister came along. Nothing changed at home. My Mother was rushed to hospital a few days after this birth. Apparently she was haemorrhaging? That’s what we were told. She soon came home and life returned to ‘normal’. They eventually got married some years later to fulfil a wager she had with her sister. I think by then my Mother’s spirit was broken and she just did whatever seemed right at the time to survive. It didn’t in any way or form change things. The violence still continued. Right up until a few days before she died in 1984.
The reason I had been sent packing to my father in Cape Town was that I had become quite promiscuous. By the age of 14 I had already had a number of boyfriends and although I hadn’t yet had sexual relations, it came pretty close and at the time I was ‘involved’ against my Mother’s wishes with a man a good 10 years older than me. So off I went, banished to Cape Town. I returned to my Mother’s home just before Christmas 1970. On New Year’s day 1971 I was introduced to a man who was 6 years older than me and a good friend of my Mother’s sister…the one she had the wager with. They all liked him and thought he would make good marriage material. And so I went into a relationship at the age of 14 with the man who was to become my 1st husband. By the age of 15 I was no longer a virgin. Apparently, according to him he would have a heart-attack if I didn’t have sex with him because I was very ‘sexy’ and ‘turned him on’ and it was cruel to deny him. And so it went. By then I had been sexually molested by an uncle, both my step-fathers and a family friend, so it didn’t seem unusual. I hated it though. From 6-15, and even then it didn’t stop.
During this period, the violence at home continued. The guy I had been introduced to, who was now my boyfriend, moved into our home after about 10 months because my Mother (again kept short of money and by now just a shadow of herself) needed the money. And so we had a boarder that had sex with her eldest daughter and was accused of being the father of her 4th child who was a baby at the time, by the father of said child. And the violence continued. Madness.
I remember one time coming home from school to find my Mother in a pool of blood on the lounge floor. She had slashed her wrists. I cleaned up the blood, helped her to bed and life went on.
Eventually I got married at 17 (another story) and left home. We lived in a caravan near to my Mother and her husband, who lived in the same caravan park. Although we lived at least three rows away, we could still hear the screaming and the fights at the weekend. Fights that led to severe physical violence. My Mother by that stage gave as good at what she got and I remember one time when I ran over to check that my sisters were okay (the fight was that loud) I was confronted with a man who had blood running profusely from his mouth. My Mother had slammed a glass of whisky into his face. It ended in 1984 when my Mother died. A victim of domestic violence, although not actually physically killed by her husband.
In all honesty, when I look back at those times, I am amazed, bemused, surprised, incredulous that there wasn’t ‘a killing in our family’. Oh how we would have benefited from counselling.
So watching that programme this morning really churned things up. I manage to keep a lid on it all most of the time and have done for decades, but when I saw those little kids speaking about how they are there to remember their Mothers or Fathers lost to violence in their home, it just slams me in the heart. I’m so glad to see that there is an organisation there to help them and counsel them, and hopefully help them to heal.
My Mother died when she was 52. By then she had lost her spirit. I remember her saying so many times over those later years; “when C (her 4th and youngest daughter) is 13, I’m going to leave him” (her 3rd husband). She did. She died. She had a series of massive strokes just before my sister turned 13 and died just 4 days after my sister turned 13. I was 29. My other 2 sisters were 25 and 19 respectively. Those days are a blur. What I do remember the most besides not being able to cry, was having to organise the funeral because her husband was so drunk he couldn’t function, and one of my Aunts after the funeral giving me a R10.00 note in a card….to help support my sisters. Fuck you bitch. You stood by and did NOTHING for years and years. And you gave me R10!!!! and fucked off without a look back afterwards. I threw the money in the rubbish. If there is one thing that still enrages me, it’s that!
What today I find extraordinary is that so many people knew what was happening in our home; our Doctors, the Police, neighbours, friends and family members. And no-one did anything substantial enough to stop it. I know my father threatened many times to ‘take us away’ his 2 daughters from our Mother, but we loved her dearly and would not have gone willingly, despite what was going on at home.
This type of organisation is invaluable for children whose lives have been turned upside-down by violence and death in the home. I hope you will consider supporting them. Winston’s Wish.
* he had a rather troubled childhood and I remember my Mother telling me (us) one time that his mother self-immolated in front of him when he was a child. I have no idea of this was true, but that is what I was told.
If you know of any children affected by violence in the home, please do something about it. You may just save a life.