Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Stick

I have been putting this off for years, but I have to get some of this out right now. I tell this story to my students, so it's not exactly a secret. This is the short version. I'll write the full version someday.

I was an abused child. My mother and father swapped spouses with another couple in 1970-71 after my mother caught my father cheating with the neighbor lady. The neighbor's husband didn't take kindly to that, and my mother and he had an affair right back.

I was almost six when it started. My brother had just been born. The next year was spent making weekend visits where they went into their various bedrooms and did whatever, while we kids, my brother and me on one side, and the other couple's three children on the other, all bunked together.

Finally, one day, the other husband, Steve, came to pick us up and took me away from my home. My mother was very pregnant with his child, and we went to live with him. The beatings began shortly after. The first time he hit me, we were having dinner and I don't know if I was chewing with my mouth open or had my elbows on the table, but I was sitting to his right and he hit me so hard in the face that he knocked me over the back of my chair. I got up off the floor with blood filling my mouth, and cried. I had no idea what I had done. Later, I figured it out. It wasn't table manners that had gotten me hit. It was the fact that I was the son of the man who had taken his wife and I looked like him. I was a daily reminder of the loss of his family. I don't excuse his behavior. I am explaining his behavior.

I spent the next five years being beaten virtually every day. It wasn't always so nice as a backhand to the face. Mostly, he had me take my pants down, and beat me on my bare behind with a 14" ruler from DeNooyer Chevrolet in Battle Creek. It was wooden on one side, and metal on the other. It was affectionately called (by him), "The Stick." You know, as in "Shut up, or you'll get The Stick." "You're getting The Stick when we get home." The police were called at different times because of all the screaming that my little brother (age 1) and I were doing, and the police examined the welts on our behinds. They did nothing. We got it worse after they left, just to prove the point that there was no one who could stop him.

But the problem with corporal punishment is, it loses effectiveness after a while. I still remember the day when I was 11 and in 5th grade and The Stick lost its power over me. We were living in Allegan, Michigan, and Linda Ronstadt's Heart Like a Wheel was playing and he was going to town on my butt. And I wasn't crying. He hit harder. I wasn't crying. I just decided that I wasn't going to feel it anymore. He told me that I'd better cry or he'd keep hitting me. I wasn't crying. I felt like I had won a victory. Then he punched me.

The beatings continued to get worse throughout the next year. I would go to school with a black eye and he would tell me to tell my teacher I fell. I didn't. I told my teacher that my stepfather had punched me in the eye because he had taught me not to lie. Didn't matter, though. Nothing happens when your mother works at the Department of Social Services. This is before there were child protective services. The beatings grew so severe that my mother finally decided to let me go live with my father, who had divorced the woman with whom he had cheated, and had remarried to a  third wife. I didn't tell my dad what had happened because they still had my brother and I had been told what would happen to him if I told on them. So, I kept it quiet. I kept it quiet until my brother got the same opportunity six years later and there was no one left to hurt. Or, so I thought. When he started beating on my mother, she finally left him for good.

This little vignette only catalogs a fraction of the physical abuse. There was far, far more physical abuse as well as emotional abuse. I just had to do something to deal with the feelings I had when I was watching Outlander tonight and the alleged "hero" started beating Claire's bare behind with a belt. I had to clear the room quickly. Writing this helped get a little bit of the anger out. There's a lot of that. That it still comes on this strongly after 38 years is just amazing to me. The impressions made in childhood truly cannot be underestimated. I know I'll never get over it. All I can do is deal with it the best I can, and try to make sure that it doesn't happen to anyone else.

Thanks for reading.


Jason A. Quest said...

Thanks for writing this.

Jenny Wagatha said...

this breaks my heart to read this, however, knowing you and all you have accomplished and the loving family you have, makes it bearable <3