Domestic Violence

In Memoriam – Domestic Violence Awareness Month

 

In November of 2010, my parents celebrated their 40th Wedding Anniversary, and my mother posted “Lordy, Lordy, look whose marriage just turned 40!” on her Facebook timeline. It would be her last. It reminded me of when my mother, herself turned forty. We lived in the backwoods of Mississippi, a little town called Van Cleave. It was a forty-five minute drive north of Biloxi, which my mother commuted Monday through Friday to her Civil Servant job at Keesler Air Force Base.

As a surprise for her birthday, my father’s idea, signs were taped to trees alongside the short road in the Lake ‘O Pines subdivision that she drove to get home that read: “Lordy, Lordy, look whose turning 40!” It is so amazing to me how the mind and memory work, how a connection in my brain sparked this memory and put these two separate moments in time, together as one.

It was December 20th, 2010, I had been making baked goods for the holidays like I love to do every year, when I received a call from my sister, Julie. She wanted to know when I last spoke to my mother. I told her that it had been a week or so ago. I knew, right away, from the tone of my sister’s voice, that something was terribly wrong. I had known, for years, the capabilities my father possessed and I then suspected that he had done something terrifyingly horrific to my mother.

Two nights earlier, I was suddenly awakened from a deep, sound sleep, like a buzz of electricity, and was unable to fall back to sleep. I feel now that it must have been a telepathic message from my mother that she was in danger. It was very peculiar.

I told my sister of the last time I spoke with my mother. Our conversation was a sterile one. It was one I had become so used to having with her so many times before. During these telephone conversations with her, I knew I was speaking to a person, whose spirit had been broken into complete submission; someone who had given up any hope of ever having their very own self. She was a piece of clay, dried hard throughout the years into a formed shape that suited only its sculptor.

We talked about the weather, and how she was getting more excited about the coming of Christmas, and the presents she wanted to get for my nephews. She was so happy when hanging out with her grandchildren. On our last phone call, she sounded like she always did when she wasn’t speaking in the presence of Jay, different; free.

When he was near her, her telephone conversations would seem happy and upbeat, but I had always known that it was forced and faked. Everything that she said and everything that she did, was to appease, and keep at bay, her Master. Jay. She would usually make references to interject him into the conversation. If confronted with a subject, during a telephone conversation not fit, in her mind, to share with Jay, she would blurt out a random and unrelated sentence to quickly change the subject without his detection. She had become a pro. My sister and I could always, I mean every, single last time, tell if Jay was in the room with her, or somewhere within ears reach, when we spoke with her on the phone.

She also had a “whisper voice”, one that she used when Jay was sleeping. Years of training, much of it through trial and error, taught her the perfect decibel to use when she whispered into the phone during his naptime. She knew the hell to be paid if he were to be awakened from his slumber. It is such a sad thought to know how terribly it must have physically and mentally affected my mother, after forty years in his control. I already knew how it affected me after a mere, but grueling, sixteen or so.

Alarm bells for Julie began, after repeated unanswered and unreturned calls to my mother’s cell phone during the last couple of days had occurred. My parents rented a house in Sun City Center, Florida, close to an hour drive from her own, so an immediate response was not possible. My mother’s brother, Travis and his wife, Alice lived in the next neighborhood over from my parents’ and offered to drive over there right away, to make sure that everything was alright.

When they arrived, my parents’ pearl white Cadillac was parked in the driveway. From all outward appearances, everything looked normal. Travis got out of the car and went to the front door of the 50’s built house nestled deep within the neighborhood of an average retirement community in Florida. He could hear my parents pug dogs barking and running through the house and the television, which was turned way up and very loud, tuned to MSNBC, or some other all day cable news channel. He knocked on the door and did not receive an answer. The police were called immediately.

Julie and her husband, Lance, drove as quickly as they could to my parents’ house. A call was made to the police to warn them of the imminent danger. The police said that they could not enter the residence without a missing person’s report being filed, but that a family member could enter on their own. Shortly, they joined Travis and Alice on the driveway of the house.

Lance checked all doors and windows, which all were locked and secure. The doggie door, built in to the kitchen door that led to the back yard, was accessible. I was on the phone with my Aunt Alice when Lance crawled through the doggie door and unlocked the back door of the rented house on Ojai Street. The same house that would soon become the Christmastime subject of police and media attention.

I heard my sister puppy-talking to my mom’s pugs with excitement, and a sort of relief. Lance directed my sister, Travis and Alice to remain outside until he cleared the house of intruders or danger. I lived in San Francisco at the time, so I could not see what my brother-in-laws face looked like when he came back out of the kitchen door after his walk-through, but it must’ve looked bad. Without warning, I heard a freakish scream in such a way as you might hear a mother scream after finding out her child has just been run over by a car. ”What did HE do to MY MOTHER! What did HE do to MY MOTHER!” my sister yelled repeatedly, and then, I heard Lance say, “Julie, they’re gone.”

I do not remember how the information was relayed, but soon it was clear to me what had happened. My father, the man that I instinctively feared capable of such a thing did it. He shot my dear mother, of whom I worried would someday succumb to just this sort of tragedy, in the head. She laid, as if peacefully asleep, in her bed, dead. Next to the bed, the murderer laid, also dead, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

The following poem shows the pure denial women in abusive relationships suffer. By this time in their marriage it was clear that Jay was a danger that my mother could not escape.

“The Strength of Our Love”

I couldn’t imagine a day without you

Where would I go and what would I do

For life would mean nothing without you near

You brighten up my days and chase away my fears

It’s been seven wonderful years that we’ve been together

Living and loving, but hurting never.

We’ve seen some hard times, yes it’s true

But together, we always saw them through.

We never gave slack for our faith in each other

                                   For it only grows stronger with each passing year.

The strength of our love grows with each passing day

Although it has been tested many times along the way.

And I know when I’m breathing my last breath of life

I’ll have your love locked up inside

For love doesn’t die when the body does

I’ll carry it with me when I ascend above.

by Lucy Pruett

I think of, and miss my mother every day.

Domestic violence is no longer a skeleton to remain in the family’s closet. It is a serious and deadly condition that can be stopped with the right amount of education and life-saving action. Please, please, please…if you know of a family member, friend, co-worker, or neighbor who is facing such treachery, go to http://www.thehotline.org/, call 1-800-the-hotline, or inform the police right away. Your actions count!

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The Courts – Part Twelve – Conclusion

After our time on the stand, it was clear that my father prevailed. How could he have not, with all of the perjured testimony? I was left with no other alternative but to accept the label as a juvenile delinquent. Meanwhile, Jay’s win caused him to smile wide; his snowy white, straight teeth gleamed bright as freshly polished ivory, and his soul, as dark and dull as ebony. My poor mother, left with no paper towel to wring, sat on her hands, and stared blankly forward, as if numbed by what had just happened; unaware of her own victimization.

After some legal jargon between the judge and attorney, the judge spoke to me,“Young man, are you aware of the severity of your actions?”

Defeated, depressed, and drained, I replied, “Yes, sir.” And I really did. I knew right from wrong. I was stuck in the middle of having to do wrong in order to escape wrong; there’s got to be some good in that.

Some papers were shuffled, and again, the judge spoke.

“Now, it was my first choice to send you to another detention facility, but I can’t see how that will provide you the help you need. After reviewing the case further, and at the request of your social worker, Ms. Murphy, it is my ruling that you will reside at Charter Academy in Mobile. There, you will receive the counseling which will prove to be of the utmost importance to your success as an adult member of our society. You are to be packed and ready to check into the facility immediately,” he ordered.

And so it was, by the pounding of the fine wooden and brass gavel that destiny would alter the path of my life…in a good way, thanks to Lola Murphy.

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The Courts – Part Eleven

 

Our court appearance seemed like an all-day affair. Just as we had arrived, Lola took me into her office and tried to pep-talk my unpeppy mind. I was terrified. Meanwhile, my parents were both ordered to take a psychoanalytical test, where they both passed with lying colors…I mean flying colors. This was in Jays plan, and he, and his carefully molded accomplice, aced it. My mother, to no one’s surprise, stood by her man’s word. More about this test later on in the story.

The courtroom must have used an acre of trees to garnish its walls, benches, and judges throne. It smelled lemony-fresh with wood cleaner. Otherwise, it was a large, official-looking room. An enormous Mississippi State Seal was the centerpiece of the room. There were several cases before ours, in fact, ours was the last case the judge heard. I sat with my parents and watched my mother’s frazzled nerves in action. She held a paper towel and wrung it through, and around her fingers so many times that it disintegrated into small balls of cotton that fell to the floor.

After hearing numerous cases of crimes committed by delinquents, it was our turn to face the judge. Two tables were set up. One table for the accused, in this case it was I who was the accused; Lola represented me, and the defenders; my parents and their lawyer.

Each of us were called to the stand to tell our side of the story. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have lied my ass off in certain circumstances, but in this most important of all the circumstances my life had seen at that time, it was pertinent that I told every last drop of the absolute truth…as hard as it was, I did just that. “You gotta do what you gotta do, and you gotta do it good, gurl!” I told of all of the torment, the abuse, the cruelty that my father had put me and my family through.

As I spoke, I glanced at Jay and saw the familiar laser beam eyes that burned my soul, I was sure I could tell what he was thinking, and it wasn’t pleasant. I avoided looking at my mother, it was just too painful. I quickly looked to Lola, where her soft smile, and approving nod of her head kept my lips moving to the tune of the truth. It was she who had my best interest as her priority, and no one else.

My father was called to the stand. He pulled off the concerned, loving father role as good as Harrison Ford pulled off his role as Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, Jr. It was sickening, but the judge listened carefully. Jay put all of the blame on his criminal son, who had no respect for anyone in authority. He made me look like the bad apple that he so desperately wanted to make into apple sauce.. Numerous runaways, of which he left out the reason why I ran away…of course. Stealing. He brought up every delinquent-sounding action I had ever done. “We just don’t see why he behaves this way,” he said. ”We give him everything he needs to survive in this world.” He was a pro on the stand. My stomach turned.

What a crock of shit, but it seemed as though the judge was buying it. I mean, I guess I can’t blame him. There he would sit, day after day, listening to story after story of kids gone wrong, kids from a good family who just refused to submit to the lawful ways of society. But my story was so different. The judge did not know this. All he had to go by was the hours’ worth of testimony from a scared teenager and his halo-donning father. Oh yeah, the testimony of his mother, too.

It is still difficult, after all of these years, to close my eyes and think back on this occasion. I can remember, clear as day, as my mother was called to the stand. I had a glimmer of hope that she would break the silence and come to my rescue. Shortly, I would realize that the glimmer came from a piece of broken mirror, swept into an unassuming skeleton-filled closet.

“Mrs. Pruett, please raise you right hand to acknowledge your testimony before this court is true,” the judge asked.

My mother, without even looking at me did as she was instructed.

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

“I do, your honor.”

I sank into my chair as my mother lied, under oath, to protect Jay and to make me look like it was I who was the culprit responsible for making our fucked up family fucked up. Lola rubbed my knee. I wasn’t that surprised to hear her lie, but to actually hear it come out of her mouth hurt me more than I had expected. As God as her witness! It was an unimaginable feeling of defeat and betrayal.

As she spoke, I thought of the olive oil and speaking in tongues, I thought of the countless Sunday morning church services we attended, I thought of her praying…the prayer I was taught as a child….”Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take.”…I thought of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” The power, as it was, was Jay, not some Divine Being, looking down on a mess of a situation. Jay was the evil, and he tempted her into submission. A living, breathing, vile, devil, capable of dismissing a person’s faith to suit their own demented soul and its prime directive- To rule.

I held the hurt of my mother’s denial in my heart for many years, even though I understood why she did it. The hurt would follow me throughout my twenties, thirties, and a few of my forties, and would set the stage to all that made me an insatiable party boy.

The court session went on.

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The Courts – Part Ten

 

Everything after that meeting seemed to have happened so very quickly, bringing with it a circus of events that would follow. Lola filed endangerment and abuse charges against my parents, and a court date was set. Life in our household during this time is such a blur, I can remember how terribly nervous my mother seemed, and how scared I was about the outcome. I never wanted her to have to endure the stress of such an ordeal, but it was my life we were dealing with here; my well-being. And I was a being that was not well, at all.

During this time, my father quit physically abusing me, instead, he used verbal and mental attacks against me to break the little bit of spirit Lola managed to provide me. He blamed me for tearing the family apart, and turned my sister and my mother against me. Even though both of them witnesses the abuse, and were abused themselves, they sided with Jay.

You see, my father was the kind of person who, if you didn’t agree with him, he made you feel guilty to the point of being exiled by ostracism. My mother and sister knew this and so they went along with anything that Jay said, fearing his disapproval. Disagreeing with him came with dire consequences. It was hard for me to take, but I was so used to it that it was an expected reaction.

My mother’s spirit had been broken years ago, she was an already molded piece of fucked up art, carefully shaped by a fucked up artist. I don’t think my sister was even aware that she had a spirit, hers was enthralled in school activities and friends. She smartly avoided as much of the drama as she could.

More closed door meetings occurred with my parents, where, I’m sure, my father was drilling my poor mother with psychological warfare and coaching her on what to say and how to react during our court appearance. He was determined to win this fight and would stop at nothing to succeed. I watched helplessly, as my mother’s mental state declined; that too was blamed on me. I’m sure she cried herself to sleep on many nights before and after the incident.

I had a few private meetings with Lola before the court date, during which she explained to me exactly what to expect. She knew, given previous history, that my mother would protect Jay, and had a plan to combat her denial. She told me about a facility in Mobile, Alabama called Charter Academy of Mobile, where I would be safe, and get the counseling that I needed. She went on to explain that I would live at the facility until my eighteenth birthday, making it legal for me to leave the poisonous environment Jay built, after I was released.

“So, it is a school?” I asked.

“Well, kind of,” she replied, and went on, “Charter is a psychiatric facility with experts who are there to help at-risk kids get the help they need, but it is set up as a school. Think of it as a boarding school, pretty neat, huh?”

“Well I don’t understand why I have to go away to some psycho ward,” I said, disappointed.

“Shawn, if your mother protects your father, which we both know she will do, the courts will deem you a delinquent. It will be your word against theirs, and you have had a recent history of delinquent behaviors. The judge could send you to a jail-like environment, where you do not belong. Charter is a very nice psychiatric facility, where you will be amongst other kids who have similar issues and problems. There are counselors who will help you understand the reasons your father treats you the way that he does, and they will help you make the transition from the unhealthy life you’ve lived into one that is happy and livable.”

“So it will be me going to a mental hospital when it should be my father?” I asked, realizing the unfairness this whole thing might bring.

“Well, Shawn, we both know who the one that needs to go is, but it isn’t up to us, it will be up to the judge. All we can do is to tell the truth and the cards will fall as they do.”

“I’m not crazy though, Lola.”

“Shawn, you have to trust me. I would not recommend sending you somewhere if I wasn’t one-hundred percent sure that it was in your best interest,” she told me with a sincere look about her face. “We both know you aren’t crazy, but this place is our only alternative to boot camp, or worse…and trust me, you don’t want to go to either! You have been mistreated for a long time, this place will help you get to the root of the problem, and will guide you in a direction that will help you maintain a productive adult life.”

At this crossroads of my life, it is my father who I thought should be made to pay for all of the years of torment he brought to our family, but my hands were tied; I was vulnerable. I had to accept the situation as it was.

In just a short period of time, I would be the one who would wind up exiled and ostracized. The court date loomed, as a vulture waiting for a car-struck armadillo to finally die.

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The Courts – Part Nine

 

A cordial introduction welcomed the two of us into her office. Lola’s strong, firm presence prevailed her petite structure. She was in control as she spoke:

“Mr. Pruett, do you know why I asked for this meeting to take place today?” She asked my father, as his forced smile began to dissipate into a stern look of power.

“Shawn has been telling you lies, and you want me to defend myself and my actions towards my son,” he responded, changing the position in his chair and crossing his arms.

“Well, Mr. Pruett, let’s talk about your actions towards your son,” she pushed, as she scribbled something onto a lined pad of yellow paper.

“And what actions do you speak of, Miss Murphy?” He spoke in a sarcastic tone.

I was still as fruit in a painting, trying my hardest to become an unnoticeable piece of décor; a fly on the wall, even. I was aware that it was inevitable that I would have to speak at some point. I did not want to be there, but I was.

She went on to describe some of the behavior I had confided in her about daily life under his roof.

My father looked at me before he spoke, “He is embellishing these stories and is not being truthful to you.”

And then, the moment I tried to hide from came.

“Shawn, will you tell me the story of what happened the night you spent with your neighbor?” She peeled my response from me, causing my still life painting to turn into a surreal one. I went on to recant the incident, as she nodded her head to me in protect. I looked at the floor as I spoke.

“Well he didn’t tell you that he stole a pack of cigarettes from me, did he, Miss Murphy?” He unfolded his arms and repositioned himself in his chair again. The tension was tight in the small office. He went on, “He didn’t tell you that he skipped school again, did he now, Miss Murphy?”

“Mr. Pruett, physical punishment is not an acceptable means of correcting this sort, or any sort, for that matter, of behavior from your son,” she told him.

“I never laid a hand on that boy,” he lied.

“Shawn, will you take a seat in the waiting area, please?” Lola asked, excusing me from what I knew would be a toxic environment soon.

I had to walk right by my father. Like I had before, I felt his searing stare burn a hole in the fragile protective covering Lola provided me as I left her office. I made myself to the small waiting area and sat, nervously, on the plastic molded seating. On one hand I was relieved not to be sitting in that office, on the other, I knew that in no time I would be faced, in the confines of a moving vehicle, with my father and his fury.

After only a short period of time, I heard the quiet of the waiting area change into a verbal commotion coming from Lola’s office. The sound waves moved as an oil pump, with the upside a loud, muffled argument, and quiet lulls on the down. Serious business was being played out between the aggressor and the protector.

The meeting ended quickly, with my father bursting from the office door. Lola followed him, yelling out, “Mr. Pruett, this meeting is not finished!” She tried to stop him.

“Watch it be,” he responded, “Let’s go, boy,” he told me, as he walked briskly by me without a glance.

I looked at Lola afraid. I would rather have been booked into the detention facility again, than go with Jay. “Go on, Shawn,” she told me, “and mind your P’s and Q’s, I will see you soon. We’re gonna get to the bottom of this mess, I promise you that.”

“Shawn, let’s go!” My father called out as he walked out of the building.

The eye of the storm had passed, short as it was, and the stage was set for the next phase. It would start with yet another long ride home.

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The Courts – Part Eight

 

Tensions mounted as the time drew nearer for my father’s meeting with Lola. Other than closed door talks with my mother, and bully-like looks from him, Jay left me alone. Very few words were exchanged between us during the passing of the several days before the session. It was the quiet before the storm.

I was well aware that Jay would be questioned about his behavior towards me, and knew that his reaction would be denial and accusations, with the possibility of a complete meltdown. I figured he would hand the big blob of blame sitting in front of him, to me, as he so often did. He had painted me guilty for years, conveniently leaving his a clean, blank canvas. I also figured he would reason that I deserved to be punished for the things I had done…and, in his eyes, continued to do. Lola was not fooled. By this time, she had been a witness to the abuse.

I knew Jay well enough to know that once he was sitting behind the desk of a court-ordered social worker, who happened to be a female, and who was questioning his actions and authority, he would not have the self-control to pull off a sweet, fatherly demeanor. This meeting would not become a catalyst for a new and improved version of a relationship that had already been tainted. It would turn out to be something, though-

The day of the meeting arrived. I was picked up from school and driven to the facility by my father. The drive to Lola’s office was somber, yet filled with thickness.

“Do you realize the trouble you are bringing to this family?” My father asked me, looking straight ahead.

Out of all of the things I truly wanted to say, like how he was the one who brought and had been bringing the trouble, all I could mutter were the forbidden words, “I don’t know.”

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The Courts – A Side-Note

Before I continue, I’d like to stop and give you a little more background of the dynamic in the relationship between me and my mother. For many years I watched Jay mistreat my mother. I watched many times as she tried to leave him, to protect her children, and herself, only to be easily wooed back into the relationship each and every time, as if a spell had been put on her will.

I tried in earnest to intervene, and to reason with my mother in private; to get her the hell out of there, but did so to no avail. I knew, mainly by watching the Oprah Winfrey Show that there were programs that helped women leave abusive relationships, but she would not respond or take heed. I also learned through Oprah, this was a part of the abuse.

She was very subservient, which made my fathers’ over-dominate personality the stronghold that was the super-glue of their relationship. It was totally a ‘Me Tarzan you Jane’-type of marriage. I felt sorry for my mother, but it was like she was blinded by that kind of love. The sense of helplessness had an effect on me and on my sister.

No one would believe that a mother would stay with a man who was physically abusive to her children. I spoke out many times about the abuse, only to be let down by my mothers’ dismissals of my outcries. Her denial made me look like I was lying about how Jay treated us. My cries were made to look like the boys’ who cried wolf did. She witnessed, firsthand the abuse; and a mixture of fear, denial and love caused her to reject my calls for help.

This had a great impact on the way I saw her love for me, or, as I often thought, lack thereof. She told me she loved me, she showed her love many ways, ways by which I could not deny that she didn’t love me, except when it came to the relationship between her husband and myself. She was blinded. How could she? How could she allow him to do this to her? To me? To us? I asked myself these questions for many years. It was all so confusing.

It hurt me terribly to know that she would do that. Back then though, I didn’t understand that she thought she was doing it to protect us. Maybe she was, but I sure wished she would have listened to me, I wished she would have had more confidence to take charge, more trust in the system, and most importantly, I wished she had had more love for HERSELF. I think life for all of us would have turned out so much more gorgeous back in those far away days. But it didn’t, and that is ok, but still, I wish.

 

If you, or someone you know needs help please take charge!  http://www.thehotline.org/ – 1-800-799-7233 

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