It was the Summer of 1983 and I had just graduated from the eighth grade. I had spent the last five years at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic School and would attend McClintock High School in the Fall. I loved my years at Mt. Carmel even though I never desired to go to school there. Since Kindergarten I had attended a public school one block away from my home. I would walk to school everyday with my neighborhood friends and I loved it. Every year on the last day of school we would receive our report cards which included our classroom and teacher assignment for the next year.
So at the end of my 3rd grade year I received my report card which included the name of my 4th grade teacher. I took it home and handed it to my father who just stared at it. He then broke the news to me that I was changing schools. What?! Why? I then learned that when my father was younger – had been in a terrible fight with my soon-to-be 4th grade teacher (in case you are wondering male not female), and beat him pretty badly. He was afraid my teacher would remember this and decide to take it out on his child. My mom made a few calls and filled out some forms and by the next school year my brother, sister and I transferred schools.
Now my time at Mt. Carmel had come to an end and my friends and I wanted to enjoy the next two and a half months before starting high school. We planned to hang out at Fiesta Mall, Big Surf, watch movies and have lots of sleepovers. It was going to be epic or as we said in the 80’s “totally awesome”. My father had been working out-of-state and flew home in time for my graduation. He later informed me that my brother, sister and I would spend the summer with family in Texas. I was completely annoyed and upset. I didn’t even know these people or desired to go to Texas – plus I already had plans! There was nothing I could say or do (I tried) – we were going to Texas.
The dynamics at home were changing. My father worked out-of-state a lot – you guessed it in Texas. My mom was busy attending Arizona State University and holding down the fort at home. She and I fought all the time, but the tides began to change and now it was only verbal. I was 13 years old and was tired. I lived in a household where I would be slapped, hit in the head and any other part of my body with anything at any time. Many times I remember falling asleep on the couch only to be woken up by her repeatedly hitting and yelling at me. I never truly peacefully slept because I never knew what was going to happen.
There were so many mind games too. Depending on her mood, she would come into my room and rip everything out of my closet and tell me to put it back together. She would then set the timer on the stove, and I faced consequences if it wasn’t perfect before the time ended. I would scramble and move as fast as I could but it was just too much to do. After several times of earning my consequence – I got smart. I would sneak into the kitchen and add extra time to the timer to avoid punishment. I was thankful I was never caught while on my covert mission to the kitchen.
I was responsible for almost everything regarding my brother and sister. I got them up in the morning for school, made sure they ate breakfast, and then we would walk to school together. I made sure they had an afternoon snack, homework was complete and their school notes were signed – and everything in between. I would be the one to attend their parent/teacher conferences (I wonder what their teachers must have thought!) My mom was physically there but emotionally she was checked out. In telling this story I must be fair. My mom and dad were in a terrible place in their marriage. I think they were both relieved that my dad was working so far away. They wanted a break. Part of that flowed down on their children – in some ways they both took a break from us too.
My mom’s anger and frustration for her broken relationship with my dad would be taken out on me. He was no longer there to step in and help me when she took it too far. One day we were in the living room and she became angry. With a belt in her hand she began swinging wildly at me. It hit me on my shoulder and arm and I did my best to duck and swerve to avoid its stinging bite – I was nervous it would hit my face. I was older now and not as scared of her anymore. The most terrible things would be said to me as she swung that belt, and it hurt and angered me to the core. All of a sudden something overcame me and I realized – I was done with all of this with her. I didn’t take my eyes off her and waited for her to take another swing. She did. Instead of trying to move out of its way – I reached for the belt.
Let me tell you – it freaking hurt but I grabbed it and pulled it towards me. She continued to hold on to it too, and I saw the look of confusion spread across her face. She was stunned and immediately stopped talking. I looked her in the eye and as strong and slow as I could – said “if you hit me one more time – I will hit you back”. She didn’t respond because I don’t think she knew if I was telling the truth. Either did I.