It’s day 15 of Domestic Violence Awareness Month for Men and Boys, the invisible victims of domestic violence. “David” shares his childhood memories of his mother, who was more monster than parent. The image Axis II is an original work by David.
Mother or Monster?
In 1962, my Dad met my Mother. After they married, he worked as a mechanic at a reputable dealership and provided a good living, but they had problems. My Mom wanted a baby and a child was the one thing that would finally make her “happy.”
In late 1963, my older brother was born. Pregnancy was hard on my Mom. She had complications. My older brother was “puny” and had a lot of health problems. At this time, Dad said Mom started having “seizures” and uncontrollable fits of rage.
Due to complications, she was prescribed medication. The pain medications were very addictive and easily obtainable. Dad said the bickering escalated into a regular ordeal. Mom blamed Dad for everything, claimed he didn’t love her and was obsessed with worry that he’d leave her. Things became violent (against him) and she threatened suicide regularly.
In 1964, she reluctantly checked herself in to a State Hospital and underwent two very intense weeks of “shock therapy.” After leaving the hospital, she appeared comatose and unaware of her surroundings.
According to Dad, she eventually “came back around” and seemed to be doing well. Unfortunately, it did not last and things began to unravel quickly. The medical bills started accumulating and Dad had to change jobs in order to keep up financially.
In late 1965, there was a psychiatrist who was known for “doing wonders” so Dad arranged for Mom to see him. After several unsuccessful sessions, she refused to go back. She refused to answer any questions and turned her anger on my Father and then the doctor.
Around this time, she would disappear for days on end, leaving Dad to find her and bring her back home. For the next couple of years, he bought nicer cars, homes, clothes — anything and everything she said needed to be happy. The drug use continued.
For every financial or material gain, Dad was inevitably told, “Not good enough. If you loved me I would have what so-and-so’s wife has.” Once Dad found a way to get Mom what wanted, she changed the rules on him. She was very adept at twisting situations, so that Dad was always wrong. This kept him in a constant state of argument in which he had to defend himself against her accusations.
I was born in 1968 and was the spitting image of Dad. I believe this was the reason I received more of her anger as I grew and matured. Mom complained that Dad was always working, so he went back to his original job in order to be at home more. The medical bills started to pile up again in addition to more drug use, more fighting and more confusion.
My younger brother was born in 1970. He, like my older brother, was “sickly” and Mom had pneumonia during his delivery. Dad took a better job and moved us into a nicer house. We were the “Perfect American Family.”
That same year, Mom pointed a single bolt action .22 caliber rifle at Dad’s chest. She became enraged at some insignificant incident from years back. She pulled the trigger, but it failed to fire.
Dad started talking to lawyers about divorce and getting custody of us kids. In those days, a man getting full custody was rare, almost as rare as it is today. The lawyers all told him the same thing — it’s a waste of time and money. Divorce meant leaving his children. Dad was afraid we’d end up in a home with a man who may have been abusive to Mom and us. He was trapped in a Catch 22, so, he kept working, harder and harder.
In the following 5 years, Mom’s prescription drugs and medical bills exceeded $75,000. In today’s economy that’s approximately $400,000. This was only year 5 of a 25 year marriage.
Around this time, Dad started sending us to our grandparents for the summer as a way to shield us form the unstable situation at home. This became an annual trek for the next 12 years. Looking back, those 3 or 4 months every year may have been the only thing that kept me sane.
Although it was a good for us kids, it made things harder for Dad. Mom became afraid of losing her kids. She accused my Grandmother of trying to take us away from her. She told people that my Father and Grandmother had “mental problems.”
We moved again in 1975 after Dad purchased a business. He worked all the time. I have memories of seeing Mom chain-smoking late at night on the couch while staring into the distance, the low hiss and flickering of the black and white static haunting the room like a ghost. Some nights, she wouldn’t “see” you. Other nights, she would pull you close until you fell asleep. Insomnia combated by sleeping pills.
Then came that night. I was awakened by the sounds of screaming and arguing. It was very late. Then there was a gunshot.
I got up and walked into the hall. My older brother shoved me back in the room I shared with my younger brother and told us, “don’t you dare come out.”
The only other words I recall from that night were, “I hope you fucking die!”
I was curled up in the corner of the room for what seemed like an eternity when the lights of the ambulance and police cars started reflecting off the opposite wall from our window. I went to the door, opened it and walked down the hall.
Our kitchen was classic 1970s avocado green. Blood was everywhere, the floors, the refrigerator, the phone, the counters. Red on green makes black. I was 7-years old. I watched them put my Dad in the back of the ambulance. The neighbors, in bathrobes and pajamas, lined the block.
My dad had worked late that night (trying to catch up on bills) and accidentally woke Mom upon his return. An argument ensued and, in a fit of rage, she took a .25 caliber pistol, from the cash register he had set on the counter, and shot him. My older brother ran to the neighbors’ house and had them call for help.
I don’t remember seeing my Mother that night, she was locked in her bedroom, I think. Detectives visited the hospital to pressure my Dad to change his story. He lied to the police, saying he dropped the gun and it went off. My Mom pleaded with him to lie and told him she would “get help,” which never happened.
Her only concern was not going to prison. This was, according to Dad, the ONLY time she ever apologized for ANYTHING.
Within three weeks, after almost bleeding to death in his own home, he had no choice but to do what he did best, go back to work. We went back to school and were expected to bring home good report cards.
The move to the country came in 1976. Our family’s embarrassment was never-ending, Mom and Dad decided we’d be better off without neighbors. Dad had a house built. Their bedroom and bathroom was designed, down to the last detail, for Mom. Late one morning, she complained of “stomach troubles,” chaos commenced and Mom was rushed to the hospital.
I went to their bedroom and pushed open the bathroom door. It was a blood-bath.
The tub, toilet and floor, all light blue, were saturated with dark crimson red. Years of stress, drugs and poor nutrition had ulcerated her stomach and it ruptured. She fought for her life for a long time. She lost a lot of blood and they had to remove a large part of her stomach.
When we were finally able to visit her in the hospital, she was the closest thing to a living corpse I have ever seen. I was 8-years old.
She was forced to come home early. We were broke. Dad bought a recliner for the living room and that is where she recuperated for what felt like an eternity. The smell of healing flesh after such extreme surgery is indescribable. To this day, I can still recall it.
She battled infection after infection. There was no trash collection in the country. We burned all the clothes and rags that were used to clean her up. The smell of burning infected rags was awful. Things were eerily quiet for several months.
In 1977 after my ninth birthday, I witnessed Mom’s first threat of suicide. Fighting with my Dad in the kitchen, she pulled a steak knife from the drawer, placed it to her wrist and screamed she was going to kill herself. I cried and begged her to stop. Of course, she blamed it on my Dad. “See what your Father has done?”
She would get physical with Dad and slap and claw at him. Dad defended himself as best as possible, never doing anything to hurt her or strike back. Once he would leave, either to work or just to “let things cool off,” she would show us her bruises and claim he was abusing her. If you denied her claims, she went into a “spin” routine to make you doubt your own memory and perception.
She told others the same lies. People believed her the majority of the time. All those years, Dad had to face people who thought the worst of him. If “Gaslighting” didn’t work, Mom gave you the “cold shoulder” treatment, not speaking to you for days. Or she resorted to aggressive behavior either becoming physical or taking away your things.
Dad moved us back to town in 1978 in another attempt to please Mom. Now Mom added threatening to leave my Dad to her repertoire. More than once she emptied a bank account, packed our things, took us to an unknown city or across town, checked into a motel, ate pills and engaged in what’s known today as Parental Alienation — the act of turning you against the other parent through programming and brainwashing with hate, fear and aggression.
She always went back home once the money or drugs ran out and ordered us to not say anything about what had happened. We didn’t. Everyone pretended like nothing had happened. This was a regular occurrence over the years.
Overspending was always a problem. On one occasion, she bought a really expensive coat on credit. Dad said he was going to take it back. She went to the kitchen, got a large butcher knife and shredded it. Even though her closets were full of the best clothes, shoes and jewelry, she accused Dad of not wanting her to have “nice things.” Yet, I can remember her throwing my father’s clothes off the front porch late at night, while screaming for him to leave and never come back.
Of course, the minute he tried to leave, she’d stand in the doorway, push his buttons in hopes of him becoming physically aggressive, berate him and yell that he was abandoning his children. It was the classic “I hate you, don’t leave me” shtick and hitting Dad where it hurt the most to keep him confused and engaged in an argument to keep him from leaving.
I had my first case of kidney stones during this period. After spending a night at the hospital, I came home to find Mom eating my pain medication. We remained at this location for quite some time. Dad took a job on an off-shore drilling rig where he worked 30 days on and 30 off. It was another work-related move in an effort to make Mom happy.
Without Dad as a target, Mom eventually turned on us kids. Emotional blackmail was frequently employed. To keep us from telling Dad about doctor’s visits (drug seeking), purchasing drugs or ungovernable spending, she held things over our heads for weeks at a time. If you got out of line, she held it over your head. If you didn’t misbehave, she’d make something up. “This is the way it is and this is what you say, if not, your Father will be told this.” Or, she’d play the “good Mother” and buy us off with gifts.
Looking back, I remember my younger brother and I accompanying her to doctors’ offices and pharmacies as much as we were at school or playing. Although, I’m sure her health was an issue (no one can keep up with stress levels that high and addiction without being adversely affected), hypochondria was another way to feed her drug addiction and constant attention-seeking through sympathy.
Dad was making a very good living, but Mom pressured him to spend more time at home. Eventually, Dad quit the oil rig and purchased another business in the mid-1980s. Jealousy defined this marital era. Mom constantly accused Dad of infidelities. It got so bad he couldn’t even look at another woman without an episode. It was ridiculous.
Mom’s drug addiction was also escalating and things were really spiraling out of control. There is nothing like having to clean up your Mother’s vomit after an overdose or removing cigarettes from her hand that had burned down to the filter as she laid unconscious on the couch at 4am.
I defended my Dad a lot as I got older. When I did, I was compared to him. I can’t count the times I heard, “You’re just like your damn Father” or “You’re as worthless as your fucking Father.”
By 1987, Mom spent the family into near ruin again. Dad faced financial bankruptcy like so may times before and was forced to sell his business. In 1988, he got a job as a truck driver and I was about to leave for college. We moved into a small rental house.
Dad took me aside and told me that us kids were now old enough to make it on our own. I knew he was finally going to divorce Mom. She guilt tripped me several times before I left for college and it always ended in arguments. She feared everyone was going to leave her and seemed very solemn and sad.
On December 8th, I got the call. My Mother had died of a heart attack, or that is what we were told. I still wonder if it was an overdose or suicide. She was 44-years old. During their 25 year marriage, Dad made millions of dollars. When all was said and done, he had to borrow money to pay for her funeral and headstone, so he could finally lay his wife to rest.
To this day, friends and family tell me how my Mom was the nicest lady they ever knew or wished they had a Mom like mine. You can only smile. They never saw that side of my Mother.
In His Own Words is a joint effort between DAHMW, Shrink4Men and AVoiceForMen to help raise awareness about the invisible victims of domestic violence, men. If you would like to submit your story, please follow the guidelines at the end of this article.
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If you are in an abusive relationship and don’t know what to do or where to turn, DAHMW provides a 24-hour free helpline (+1 888 HELPLINE).
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Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.