So, my sister and I were yacking yesterday (have you noticed that I’m usually talking with someone?) and we started discussing words that people are very apprehensive to say. Let’s take a look-see:
- domestic violence
And the list could go on.
The reason we got on this subject was that we were talking about the Netflix series “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.” This little 8 year old boy was brutally murdered by his mother and her boyfriend and suffered horrific abuse all of his life. The most heart-breaking thing about this poor child was how social services and law enforcement let him down time after time after time, allowing this abuse to continue. Once, a social worker actually told little Gabriel to quit lying about being hurt by his mom. Wow.
As my sis (T) and I were talking about this, I told her how incredibly hard this documentary is to watch and how, at that point, I hadn’t finished the last couple of episodes. So we had this conversation:
“Are you going to finish watching it?”
“Yes, T. But it’s hard to get through…it’s upsetting me so much.”
“Well guess what? What he went through is harder than what you’re watching.”
“I know. You’re right.”
“Kristi, how are we going to stop things like this from happening if we can’t face it or talk about it?”
And she is absolutely right (she loves hearing that from me). There are so many issues we need to acknowledge, learn to talk about, learn to ask about, but for some reason we turn away from them. Maybe hoping they’ll go away?
In my classes, I talk about a LOT of ‘icky’ stuff; after all, I teach Psych and Socio so it’s part of the job. We talk about everything I listed above, and I know how uncomfortable that makes some of my students. Many of them have never heard the words being used so freely. And to be honest with you, some of them are still new to me.
Those of y’all that know me have already heard my mom’s story. She married her 2nd husband (the fucking asshole…sorry, that’s what I say EVERY TIME I think of him.) when I was in high school and they were married for 28 years. During those 28 years, he beat her, strangled her, slammed her head against the ceramic tile in the bathtub more times than she can count, and mentally tortured her until she turned to alcohol to dull some of the pain. It took so much to do so that she developed cirrhosis of the liver and has esophageal varices. She finally came to me at 5:00 a.m. on Aug. 13th, 2011 (yep, I remember it to the minute) and said this: “You said you would help me and I can’t take it anymore. He’s going to kill me if I stay.” Hubby 3 and I called the police, got a restraining order, got his stuff out, installed an alarm system, etc. You know, T and I spent 28 years trying our best to help her, but like many of you know, until the person is ready, all you can do is be there the best you can.
To this day, there are still people in our family that won’t use the words domestic violence in regards to what mom went through. They won’t say that R beat the shit out of her, once to the point where she was throwing up blood in the ER with her back looking like someone water colored it purple (I will never forget that sight as long as I live). They don’t want to admit that mom had black eyes more times they can remember (but chose to ignore), because talking about DV just isn’t OK. In fact, some of them are actually friends with this monster on social media (Yes, he is a monster. His 3rd wife died of a stroke she suffered after R threw her against a wall). Well…I guess ignoring it makes it go away right? (By the way, mom has been sober now for over a decade…T and I are so proud of her!).
NO! Things like abuse, rape, suicide, and molestation thrive in secrecy. And for years, my sis and I kept the ‘secret’ too. We didn’t want to face what R was doing to mom and mom wouldn’t admit to anything; but we knew we finally had too. We HAD too. We had to let the secret out so mom would know we were there for her, that we knew what was happening. Mom talks about it now and is open with her experiences. It’s no longer just ‘something in C’s marriage’, or ‘R is just crazy’, etc.; it was ABUSE. Serious abuse that could have killed her, but by the grace of God, didn’t.
Mom’s guilty of sugar-coating things too though. After my formal diagnosis of bipolar, she would tell her friends about “Kristi’s problem” , “Kristi’s condition.” Finally, I said this to her (and I wish you could hear my screechy voice to get the full effect), “MA. I have bipolar. I’m fucking mentally ill. Get it?” She laughed…and yes, she got it.
Take suicide. Sometimes people will ask me, “What was it like when you tried to hurt yourself?” And I say, “You mean when I attempted suicide?” Say what it is, man! It’s OK to use the word. I didn’t try to hurt myself. I tried to KILL myself. There’s a difference, isn’t there?
Yep. I’ve also cut. A lot. In fact, if I EVER get a new partner (that’s a slim chance, peeps), I’m going to be most worried about him seeing the scars. Anyhoot, I’m not going to lie about the scars people see. “Oh my God…were you in an accident?” “No. I cut myself. I’m bipolar, I was going through a terrible breakdown, and I used a razor blade and cut myself numerous times. Luckily, I’m doing better now…thanks for asking.” People look gobsmacked when I say that, but hey, it’s the truth.
How is it a little boy can be fatally abused while scores of people obviously turned their heads? How can molestation go on for years in a household when there are obvious signs to what’s happening? Why is it we say “How ya doing?” as we walk by someone who is looking down, instead of saying “Hey, you look really depressed. Is something going on with you? Would you like to talk?”
One of my students came to me a few months ago, and I knew she was trying to tell me something, but just couldn’t get it out. Knowing she’d been depressed, I said this: “Are you thinking about suicide?” She literally gasped and started crying. She said: “You said it. You said suicide. You SEE me.” And yes, I did.
I know these words…these issues…these horrible problems are hard to discuss. Uncomfortable to talk about. Not ‘polite’ conversation. And here’s what I say about that (in me and my sister’s words): “Who fucking cares?!”
If we don’t ask a friend about her bruise, how will she know we are there to help and support her (or him) if it is abuse? If we don’t look in the eyes of a child who is exhibiting signs of sexual abuse and ask them if anyone is touching them inappropriately, how will they find the strength to share their ‘secret?’ If we don’t use the words rape when a drunk girl is assaulted at a party while passed out, how can we ever punish the offenders and make sure they can’t hurt another girl again for a long time? If we see a teen (or an old lady of 53) with multiple bandaids in odd areas and never ask if they are cutting themselves, how will they know others are suffering that same compulsion too?
My God…think about this. We can’t use these uncomfortable words, so the consequence is to keep our heads buried while people continue to be hurt? Really? I’m sure when mom hears the words Domestic Violence, it isn’t as bad as when R had her on the floor with his hands around her neck, squeezing until she couldn’t breathe. Right?
For fucks sake (I only use that word to make ma cringe and my sis laugh every time they read my blog), we have to address these issues head on. Not use the vocabulary that tiptoes around the problem, but words that lay it out there bare. Naked. For all of us to see. Because until we do that, grasshoppers, little sweet Gabriel isn’t going to be the only victim to be let down by us all.