(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 20 October 2010)
Some may believe my fervour against domestic violence comes from being abused as a wife. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, my husband has never once in over 25 years raised a hand to harm or threaten me. On the contrary, my zeal against domestic violence comes from growing up in a very abusive home.
My father was not the abuser. He could not have abused me because I never even met the man until I was 16 years old. Instead, it was my mother who abused me verbally, emotionally and physically – day after day, year after year – until I moved out of her house and married.
I have used this column to speak against domestic violence toward women because I am a woman. However, the fervour that burns deep inside me against violence of any sort is ensconced in the brutal memories of a defenseless little girl. To me, child abuse is evidence of just how much animal remains in otherwise enlightened humans. Yet I have never seen any animal treat its young the way I was treated by my own mother.
I do not broach this private part of my life for any other reason than to bring to light the very real circumstances that exist for children in abusive homes. I suppose there is one other reason, too. I want young people who suffer from domestic abuse to know there is hope – the pain and suffering will end and you can be a productive part of society on the other side of the fear.
When I think of the hell that Neesa Gopaul went through during the last part of her life, it touches a spot in me that is very seldom tapped anymore. I am no longer that vulnerable little girl who cannot understand how my own mother could be so cruel to me. I am a strong-minded woman who is in control of her own life now. However, when I hear of a Neesa Gopaul, that little girl surfaces long enough to feel the blows she felt, to hear the cutting words she heard, to recognize the betrayal of trust from a family member.
Growing up in my mother’s house, there was not a time when I do not remember the abuse. I remember so much of it in great detail even decades later though I sometimes cannot remember what I had for dinner the night before. There was the time when I must have been around three or four years old and my mother, angry at something other than me, grabbed me and knocked my head into the knob of a door until my white-blonde hair turned red.
The beatings were just a part of the physical abuse, although she tried to hide the marks on my body as much as possible. I had fingernail marks in my arms almost every day from where she would grab my arm and sink her long nails into my skin as she spewed vile words in my face. And there were belt lashes on my back and buttocks that were so deep and oozing with blood that it took weeks for them to disappear. There were bloody lips and ringing ears from slaps so hard I couldn’t think right for a few minutes, hair pulled out in chunks and more bruises than stars in the sky.
Fear reigned in my little heart during my entire childhood. This type of fear is one that most adults will never have to know. The last place a little girl wants to go after school is to the very place she fears beyond anything else in the world. Yet I had to go there every day. There were certainly times when I assumed I would end up dead at the hands of my own mother. And like so many other victims, no one stepped in to stop my abuser.
The physical violence was only one aspect of the abuse though. There were the words. Oh my, the words. Words I could never whisper in the ear of an enemy, I heard screamed in my face as my own mother became a monster more frightening than any devil from the pits of hell. Her face, red and twisted with anger and malice, is what woke me in the night covered in sweat and tears.
And then there was the emotional abuse. I can talk about the physical abuse and the verbal abuse now without breaking down. But it is the emotional abuse that still stings. One particular time stands out to me more than others because of how deeply it hurt. We were walking down the street one-day – my mother, my brother and I – and my mom and brother were holding hands and started skipping. I timidly ran up and grabbed my mother’s hand in hopes of joining in on the fun. My mother glanced at my hand in hers and with a look of total disgust, flung it away as she continued to skip and singsong with my brother. For a little girl of only eight or nine years old, this event was one of the most devastating things to happen in my entire miserable life.
These few incidents in my life are the daily reality of child abuse. The details of the abuse may differ slightly, but the result is the same – a broken child. I will not lie, the abuse I suffered at the hands of my mother has permeated every single relationship I have ever had. My relationships with my husband, my children, my extended family, my friends – all of them tainted by my mother’s rage. It’s difficult to trust anyone else in your life when you could not trust your own mother.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Don’t turn a blind eye to the wickedness of domestic violence. Speak up and save a child’s life.