The toxic legacy of domestic abuse

My mum's sister's husband used to beat her all the time. He wasn't shy about it either: any time, any place and any reason would do if he felt she'd irritated him. He didn't care who heard and who knew, and since this was happening in a developing country -- a tiny island -- it didn't *matter* who heard or who knew. These situations are normal, and people generally leave them be. In all the years he beat her, I remember him being arrested only two times; once because my mum went over to their house with a rolling pin and the police.

I was 11 or 12 at the time. There was a phone call, I answered it. At first, there was silence on the other end, then a few gasps, sobs, a man yelling, thuds. I knew. We got these sorts of phone calls frequently. My heart was racing even after I had handed the phone to my mum, who urgently repeated her sister's name into the receiver. My uncle must have come on the line then because my mum swore profusely, made all manner of threats, the final one being:

"I'm coming over, and I'm bringing the police."

She wasn't messing around. She called the police, grabbed her car keys and a rolling pin out of the kitchen drawer, yelled at my dazed dad and drove off at lightening speed. As always, I feared for her and my aunt's safety.

But that night, my uncle was arrested and kept overnight.

It's hard to imagine my aunt irritating anyone. A petite woman with a mousy manner and a generous, fun loving nature, she hid her pain behind a smile. My uncle wasn't much bigger than her, but his paltry frame concealed a rage that regularly revealed itself through physical and verbal abuse.

They have children, three of them: a girl and two boys. During the younger years of their childhood, they were petrified of their father. They avoided eye contact with him, cowered when he was near, and spent most of the time in their rooms. The incidents I knew of were bad enough for me, but I can't imagine how much worse it would have been for them; how many other times it would have happened, times were my aunt would not have called anyone.

As they grew older, the boys became more protective. They stayed silent, though the older brother started going to the gym religiously, consuming protein diet supplements. To protect his mother, he said, he had to be strong. It didn't take long and soon he was towering over his father.

My uncle must have been afraid, because for a while he didn't do anything. One day he lost his temper, but before he could go for my aunt, there was an altercation between father and son. Everyone supported my cousin that time.

Meanwhile, his sister became a relationship whore and a compulsive liar. She would engage in several relationships simultaneously, and lied frequently. Sometimes, she lied about being physically or emotionally abused by friends and family, admitting the truth only when she became too caught in her web of lies. They became so annoying that people often found it hard to forgive her, completely overlooking her traumatic family situation.

The youngest brother blocked it all out for some years, burying his head in books and study. Later, after graduating university he too would join the gym and buff up (the transformation was amazing, because seriously the kid was like a beanpole and I thought it wouldn't be possible, but after 5 years his dedication paid off). Currently he is the only child at home (the other two are married), and occasionally verbally bullies his mother which, if my mum is around, results in him having all too familiar arguments with her since she clearly believes that she is still her sister's nominated protector.

For me, the worst incidents to arise from this situation were the ones that occurred after my cousin -- the older brother -- got married. Prior to his marriage, he had developed an alcohol problem. He moved back home with his parents, and made tormenting his father the purpose of his life. His behavior was erratic and uncontrollable, and one night when he was quite drunk, he provoked a fight with his father which ended in a physical altercation. My uncle called the police on his son, who was locked up overnight. The family supported my uncle.

Still, worse was to come. My cousin didn't stop drinking, and after a few months of marriage, he began to verbally abuse his wife, exhibiting the very behaviors of the man he despised, the behaviors he'd vowed never to manifest himself.

It was only then that I realized the gravity of this sort of situation, the reality that behind the trauma and ongoing emotional problems into adulthood, there is a very real risk of inheriting the behavior patterns that cause the trauma in the first place, regardless of how well-intentioned a person may be.

In fact, my uncle disowned his father a long time ago, and is still not on speaking terms with the man who beat his mother and abandoned his family for another woman.

I read this article today and was struck by its importance. The effects of domestic violence are very serious, and not negligible.

previous - next; thanks, diaryland.