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What It's Like to Witness Domestic Abuse as a Child

Photograph by Twenty20

Over and over, I would hear her scream my name between blows. I was 5, maybe 6, years old the first time I remember it happening. He was hitting her. There was no doubt about it; he was hitting her hard because I could hear the sound of his closed fist as it pounded into my mother's body.

My beautiful mother was being beaten and screaming my name, and I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to help her, but I knew I couldn't call the police. I can't explain to you how I knew this, but I KNEW that calling the police was not an option because in my family, we didn't call the police. We just didn't.

So I would sit in my room and listen to her scream and count until it was over: "One million one, one million two, one million three." Or, I would stand by the closed door of the room where she was being hit and put my palm against it. I wish I could tell you that I was crying, but I wasn't. I'm crying now as I write about it, but back then there were no tears. It was a moment suspended in fear, guilt and helplessness, and I let myself float in the moment until it was over.

Who was he? He wasn't my father, but I loved him. We lived with him and he wasn't married to my mother, but he treated her like she belonged to him — just like his house or cars. He was kind and gentle to me, never raising a hand at me; with her, he was different. With her, he could turn into a monster. We left him a few times, in a hurry when he was out doing something else, but he would always find us and we would go back.

Then, one time, he didn't even wait to hit her until they were alone. He hit her in front of me and pulled a gun on her. He pointed the gun in my mother's face, and my world felt like it was about to end. I don't know how she did it, I don't remember the words she used, I don't remember if I said anything — but somehow, he lowered the gun.

We did eventually manage to get away and stay away from him. You would think that I would never have to see my mother get abused like that again, but that isn't what happened at all. My mother then met the man who would become the father of my brother — and he would hit my mother, too. He'd get angry and, out of nowhere, his fist would find its way to her face with such force, it made her whole head jerk back sharply.

RELATED: How I Talk to My Boys About Domestic Abuse

It took me an incredibly long time — well into adulthood — to realize that domestic violence has affected me as deeply as it has. I somehow thought that if I myself had never been hit, then I was somehow not affected. But I was, and I am.

There was some back and forth with him, too. Some leaving, only to eventually come back. One day, he tried to hit me. That's what it took for my mom to decide she'd had enough. It was one thing if he hit her, she reasoned. It was not acceptable to hit me.

Then she met this man that was, like, "THE ONE" for her. She loved this man profoundly, and from what I could see, he loved her, too. He treated her well until one day, he got jealous and came over to our house while incredibly high on drugs. I was about 9 years old and had no idea what "high" was, but I knew he was in some kind of altered state. He threw her down on the ground and raised his fist—and in what seemed like slow motion, he hit her like he wanted to crush her skull.

That time, I called the police because I wasn't sure he would stop. Even though we never called the police, and it was our unspoken rule, he was possessed and I couldn't stand there and wait for him to calm down. I called the police and I did it so that he could hear; I did it so he would know that the police were coming and he would leave. He did leave.

This is all in the past, and now my mother is married to a man who knows that women are not for hitting and that love isn't about owning a person. I love this man and I'm so happy for my mother.

The abuse I witnessed happened many, many years ago when my age could be counted in single digits. It took me an incredibly long time—well into adulthood—to realize that domestic violence has affected me as deeply as it has. For a long time, I would have told you that I didn't have firsthand knowledge of what it's like to be abused because I kept all of that in a box deep down inside of the basement of my feelings. I somehow thought that if I myself had never been hit, then I was somehow not affected. But I was, and I am.

And now, as the mother of two daughters, I never want my children to experience the things that I went through as a child. It robbed me of a normal childhood, and it has left lasting issues stretching into my adult life that I still am working on today.

I'm sharing my story because domestic violence affects so many of us. Even after the abuse ends, whether mental or physical, survivors are often ashamed. Survivors should share their stories so that others can know they're not alone, gain the courage to survive, and the abuse can stop.

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RELATED: How I Ended My Abusive Relationship

If you or someone you know needs help, visit thehotline.org or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233/TTY 1-800-787-3224.

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