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Conflicts Within: the Cement for Silence

Owl's picture


       I could hear her screams, her cries. I could hear the sound of her tears as they hit the floor within seconds of each other. I could hear every inch of her body hit the walls as he pushed and shoved her around. Sometimes he would throw her on the ground. I could see her bruises though no one else could. But, I was silent. Although, I could never presume to know what it feels like to be physically incapable of speaking, I sure came pretty close between the ages of five and fifteen. I grew up around violence in my home and outside. Whether it was physically violent encounters between my mother and father or the sound and flashing lights of gunshots in a gang shooting no more than twenty feet away from house, violence overwhelmed me. But, as a child, I could not begin to fathom what it is I had/could say or do in situations that seemed to surpass me.

      “How was I supposed to know that it was wrong?” I said to myself, as I tried to justify my inability to speak up, and fight for what I knew was right. “How was I supposed to know that I had the power to stop it all? Afterall, he was my father and she was my mother... “thou shalt respect her mother and father” right? And as my parents always told me: “No te metas en los asuntos de los adultos”, which loosely translated means don’t get involved in adult business.

      On top of mixed emotions as a child in the midst of adult business, I was also conflicted by the negative images of domestic violence around me and the happy homes my friends seemed to have. I seemed to be a lone soldier. I was afraid that If I ever spoke a word of what went on in my house, I would not only be ostracized by my friends, but the world (at least the way I saw it) would forever judge me. I would be known as the girl who had that kind of life.  The kind of life that people only saw on Lifetime Tv and laughed at because they could not imagine a world where people could be stupid enough to do such horrible things.  At the same time, if I were to remain silent, as silent as a summer tree, I would continue to endure the pains and sorrows of a life of horror.

      For fifteen years I was silent. For fifteen years the fights continued. For fifteen years my voice was trapped by the never ending battles within me. I don’t remember what or who it was that freed me, but come fifteen I was ready to fight back. At fifteen, when most girls were celebrating their quinceaneras, I was stuck at home trying to literally separate my parents from an inch of killing each other. I was done being the bystander.

     I don’t remember when it stopped. I don’t know how it all began. All I remember is that I finally had the strength to speak out and fight back. I didn’t feel scared or ashamed anymore.

    Today my knowledge regarding the dynamics between domestic violence and family has grown. I speak out against injustices against women in my everyday life.  I am not afraid to share my experiences with others because I know that simply knowing that you are not alone helps ease the pain.



Owl's picture

Somewhat of a response:

Looking back on my experience of growing up in a domestic violence household, I wonder what it was that really made me make that shift from an inability to rise out of silence to being extremely loud about the swarm of injustices that were going on around me. In an effort to expand on my first paper, I think it was my need to be emotionally mature enough to handle the swarm of emotions that overwhelmed me, the feeling of not being alone that came with having friends that I could speak to about my issues and, having an education.

By the time I was fifteen I was extremely mature. I knew and had experienced much heartache and pain having lived through an intense childhood and as such, had to grow up fast both physically and emotionally. It is sometimes difficult for people to understand that every individual matures at different rates. Most of my days, starting at the age of 5, were full of having to learn how to do adult things and face the realities of my home situation. Not only was I a child of domestic violence, but as the data shows, I also came from a extremely humble background. Both my parents had to work five if not six days a week in 9 to 5 jobs that treated them badly as employees and that took them away from home long enough that my siblings and I had to learn to fend for ourselves. I not only had to cook, clean, take care of my siblings, and manage violent encounters between my parents, but I had to be an A plus student so that I could someday help my family move up in society. Now for many people these are things that we all have to do at some point in our lives (excluding of course having to deal with violence in the home). The only difference for me (and for many others in similar situations) is that I could not depend on others to be there if ever I fell short of expectations. I really had no other family than the one that I lived with. Literally speaking, I only knew my maternal side, because my paternal side lived in Mexico. However, isolation was very common in my household. We were not allowed to visit with or converse with my mother’s side, because my father didn’t allow it. If we did, my father would blame my mother and, well, the rest is history.

So, as you can see, I had to learn how to deal with this on my own for a very long period of time. But, having grown to be emotionally mature I knew what I had to do to remove myself, if only for a short period of time, from that situation. I made friends with real foundations, so that I could one day depend on them for help if I ever needed it and I focused in school. By the time I was finally able to speak out about the issues pertaining to my personal and private life, I was mature enough and knowledgeably aware of people who could help me "get out", and that I was not alone. I knew what my options were:  calling the police, calling a shelter, or calling other people in my life who I had befriended and knew would be willing to help. Yet, although this helped me understand my position and realize my voice, I was still afraid. I was afraid because, while I knew that this was not a safe environment to be in, I was completely and utterly conflicted with the consequences of any of the options I had. I knew that although the light was there in the far distance for me, there was still darkness. The fear that my father would be imprisoned or that my mother and my siblings would have to suffer public humiliation was overwhelming clear to me.

Although it is a faint memory, I can remember having to deal with the humiliation of cops showing up at my door at late hours of the night answering a disturbance call from neighbors. I remember feeling like I could not walk out of my house the next day because of the fear that people would stare in judgement. You might be saying to yourself: “you shouldn’t have felt that way”... “people care, they wouldn’t judge”. But boy did they ever. My fear was not a fabrication of my internal battles; it was not paranoia; it was real. Neighbors would whisper behind our backs and even till this day do not interact with us as neighbors do. The fear  that my father would go to prison, suffer in a cell, and that we would lose half our livelihood was something that not every solution could prevent.  

Thus, I was still lost. I was able to intervene in the fights between my parents, but could not yet be actively be vocal about my personal life in the public sphere. The shift from the private to the public came as I realized that someone needed to create a solution that could be a safety net for women who were in similar situations. For, it wasn’t simply domestic violence that affected my family, but a combination of poverty, genderinequities in employment, and gender inequities in my culture.  I learned that without vocalizing my worries and concerns I was never going to get anywhere. I learned that I could not worry about what might happen because, no matter what the consequence, change would never come if the first step was not taken.

As I look back at my rise to vocalization in the scope of the 360, I really am thankful for having the opportunity to get an education and build a support system for myself. I can not imagine what it must feel like to have no support system whatsoever, have no education, be criminalized, be unemployed, and have no idea what to do to survive. 

Anne Dalke's picture

"As silent as a summer tree...."

My first impression was of what a striking visual shift you'd made, from your initial image of silence in the midst of violence and poverty, to re-using the illustration Dan had selected to celebrate human quietness. Reading your story, though, I realized that you had put her image to very, very different use, and I could see that what appeared to be a visual shift actually signaled a continuity: the move from public to private space was deeply ridden throughout with violence, poverty, and silencing. The difference (I think? tell me if I don't have this right) is that while you were distressed by the voices you heard @ school--what you call the "trivial noise" of students uninterested in education--you learned, somehow, to speak up in a powerful way, to intervene in domestic violence, to stop being the bystander.

Thank you for telling this story, for giving us this strong--and awful--representation of being a child of domestic violence. Particularly striking to me is your description (in your title) of how "conflicts within" became the "cement for silence," and (in your essay) of how your "voice was trapped by the never ending battles within." What I still would like to understand better--though you say you really do not know--is how that shifted for you, how you eventually came to realize that, if you "were to remain silent, as silent as a summer tree" (this is your most powerful image), you "would continue to endure the pains and sorrows of a life of horror." I am glad to know that you are now speaking out. Knowing (and explaining) how you came to be able to do so could help others make the same move, I think?