How do I even start.
Her story ended 29 years ago.
After 29 years, rage still runs rampant in mine.
My mother lived a short, painful life. Being the daughter of a young unmarried woman, she carried the bastard stigma all her life. Her mother, my grandmother did end up marrying a different guy and having four more children which my mother raised while her mother was out washing clothes and cooking for rich women. Even though she called her stepfather dad, he never gave her his name. She had to live with the shame of having her mother’s name only. Of not having the same name as her siblings. It was still a terrible thing when I was growing up. I saw how children my age that only had their mother’s name were treated. I can only imagine it was even worse when she was growing up.
She was denied a name, an education, a future. She had scars all over her body from the corporal punishment she received from her own mother and from her school teachers the few years she was allowed to attend. Once her half-siblings were born, she was taken out of school to be their nanny. Once those half-siblings were old enough to go to school, she had to take a job to help support the family.
She worked hard and payed for her siblings’ education out of her own pocket. She made sure they all graduated from high school AND community college.
And for some strange reason I will never understand, she married my father. Why? Out of despair? To leave the house?
I have a hint, though. My grandmother told me some 15 years ago that my father would always invite all the family out when he was courting my mother. He took them out for dinners and to the movies. He would buy them presents. All those things they could never afford. I think she married my father to help her family.
Did she know happiness?
I saw her smile some times. Quite often, even. I remember how proud she was when my aunt and uncles graduated. Yes, I said I remember. Her half siblings (three boys, one girl) are more my age. I attended the youngest ones’ graduations. She’d be beaming on those days.
She always had a kind word for everyone. She always had food for the homeless. She went to church every Sunday.
She never forgot a birthday, a Mother’s Day, a Father’s Day, a Christmas.
And she loved to dance. Oh, how she loved to dance. She was always seemingly happy when she danced.
How could she not be angry all the time? She certainly had plenty of reasons to be angry, to harbour resentment.
Stigmatized and ostracised as a little girl. Abused (by way of nasty corporal punishment) by her own mother. Abused and victimized by her husband.
How did she manage to stay sane?
I think it was love. Love for her family. Love for her daughters. Love for god. I suppose I have to grudgingly add that too. I’m sure religion gave her the promise she needed to keep on going. It helped her make sense of her nasty world. Of being in and out of the hospital. A broken nose here, a few broken ribs there. A stabbing on the chest once.
But a bullet on the head would not allow her to be out of the hospital that time around.
On October 15, 1983 she never left the hospital. Or rather, her body did, but not her soul.
Her soul was gone.
To a better place? I certainly hope so. Or I’m going to do some serious ass-kicking when I die.
I first found out about this violence against my mother when I was six. I woke up to screams in the middle of the night. I got up to find a trail of blood down the hallway and into my parents’ bedroom. The door was locked and I could hear my father moving in the living room, talking non-sense loudly.
I cried and I cried but the door didn’t open and I feel asleep on the floor. My aunt woke me up in the early morning. My mother was gone. My aunt told me not to cry. Yes, my aunt that was only a few years older than me and who had come to babysit my baby sister (only a few months old at the time) and me. She told me things were going to be ok.
My life was never the same. My father was as well as dead for me after that. From that day onward, rage was my daily bread. A quiet rage, mind you. No tantrums. No drugs. No alcohol. Just no love for anyone. Not even for my poor mother, who needed it and deserved it the most. I was a quiet little girl before but now I just didn’t talk to anyone. I immersed myself in books. I created my own universe where I was safe. I continued to be a straight-A student so no one at school ever thought to worry about me. I disconnected from the few friends I had and I was always alone. 6 years would pass before I made a friend again.
I never cried again. Not even at my mother’s funeral. I had done all my crying and mourning for her that night when I was six.
The beatings continued, of course.
Finally one day, when I was 15, I gathered the courage to step between my mother and my father. My father told me to leave and I refused. He tried to go around me to hit her but I blocked him and received the blow instead. This was the first and last time my father hit me. He looked confused and left.
I packed a few things, told my little sister to do the same, called a cab and took my mother and sister away. Off to my grandmother’s house. I told my mother everything was going to be OK. I told her she didn’t need to worry about a thing. I would drop school if I had to and I’d get a job. We were going to be OK.
My father tried the usual. Flowers, serenades. I told my mother not to talk to him, not to give in. When he realized she was not coming back, he stormed into my grandmother’s house and shot my mother who happened to be sitting on the couch in the living room. It was a Saturday.
I was at the public library, doing research for a school project.
She was rushed to the hospital but nothing could be done. She was gone before I could say good-bye. Just like that terrible night, nine years before.
The rage was so terrible it was numbing. There was no pain. No tears. Only rage.
Eventually, I learned to control the rage. It wasn’t easy and it took me some 20 years but I did it. It’s now an undercurrent, always present, always dangerous. It will drag me down into a maelstrom if I am not careful.
And this month, it has threatened to make a come back to the surface.
It is hard. It is SO hard to keep it check when I see that violence against women is still so prevalent. When I read stories like that of Malala Yousafzai who was shot because she dared to want an education. The worst part? Malala’s story is just the tip of iceberg. There are countless other stories that are never told. Women that suffer in silence. Women that are beaten silly, mutilated, murdered around the clock.
October is Violence Against Women Awareness Month. Now, Where is this supposed to be happening, it’s hard to say. A Google search didn’t bring up too many results. Certainly nothing about Canada. The States, India and Bangalore only, by the looks of it. Sadly, all sites I visited – including the United States Department of Justice’s Office and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, only state that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month but don’t mention any kind of campaigns, events or memorials.
October is also the anniversary of my mother’s death, just another one of countless deaths due to domestic violence.
Whether it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month or Violence Against Women Awareness Month, I’ll go to the park in the picture this weekend and I’ll say a silent prayer for all those women who can love, laugh, sing and dance no more.
But I am still angry. I’m angry because my mother was a good person. She was a kind, smart, talented, beautiful, loving and caring woman. But she never stood a chance. She was cheated from the moment she was born. She suffered all her life. And for what? For nothing. NOTHING.
She never saw her daughters become the women she wanted them to be. She never met her grandchildren. She never got to come to Canada. She never got to be happy. She never got to be safe.
And now I cry all the tears I couldn’t cry before.
Because in spite of my efforts, I could not save my mother.
- Domestic Violence: A Month of Awareness but a Daily Occurrence
- Presidential Proclamation — National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, 2012