I am ugly, I am evil and I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but I know it is my fault. How do I know this? My mother told me.
It was just before my eighth birthday that my mother was arrested for child abuse. My teacher had told me I needed to stay back after school. I remember being terrified because of what had happened the last time I stayed late. The other details of that day are broken up into fragmented pieces of memory. I clearly remember being taken from my primary school class to a building I had never seen before and being stripped naked by a woman, before pictures were taken of the scars that covered my body: pictures of my broken arm, the bump on my forehead from the previous night and scars that even now I can’t speak about. I don’t know if I was embarrassed. I was perhaps too young to recognise the feeling. But I do remember fear. Not fear of the strangers around me, but fear of what my mother would do if I didn’t make it home on time. The last time I had come home late from school, the excuse that my teacher had held me back for reading was labelled a lie and a belt came swiftly.
I remember one specific moment she grabbed the back of my head and slammed it into a wall. The bump that grew was fast and clearly visible. When my father came home she told me to go lie in bed and throw myself off the edge to explain it. I did.
Now, after being poked and prodded by a nurse, I was put into a police vehicle and taken to the police station. I saw my mother there. She never looked at me. A police officer asked me if my mother had abused me, or if she would beat me. I knew what they meant. I remembered wire hangers across my back, I remembered being slammed into a wall. I remembered being made to kneel on broken pieces of brick while a leather belt hit my back. I said no, and begged to be with my mother. I was placed in the care of the State for two months and stayed at the children’s ward of the San Fernando General Hospital. My mother was arrested, she went to jail, then to court and was subsequently released on bail. After a court hearing, I was released into the custody of my aunt. The alternative was a state orphanage. The court ordered that I stay away from my mother until I reached the age of 18. I saw her before then, but it was not a happy reunion. There was too much betrayal and distrust. What I couldn’t understand as a five-year-old child, I saw clearly as an adult.
No one can ever understand the mind of a victim of abuse, unless they themselves were victims. You can feel pity for us, judge us, and there will be the few that will say “a little licks doh hurt,” but you will never understand. It isn’t easy to go through life unable to trust another human being. It isn’t easy to go through life blaming yourself whenever something goes wrong or punishing yourself for every little mistake. It is even more difficult to stop and control the spiral of hatred that provides an easy escape. But I did and I know many people who have either succeeded or is attempting to get to that place of acceptance that I have reached. It wasn’t easy getting here. I saw psychologists and priests, I read the books and watched the movies. I can’t tell you those things worked, but I can say that I am grateful that unlike many who have suffered worse, or the same, I am not lost.
I am contributing to society in a positive way. I am alive and I am doing exactly what I have wanted to do since I was eight years old. Every day I wish for a perfect world where young children do not have to fear for their lives. Maybe with the Children’s Authority soon to be effective, this country can offer more protection. Until then it is more important than ever that teachers, family members and neighbours are watchful, and just as my teacher saved me, maybe one by one we can all save a child. Because innocence lost can never be found again.
For help in abusive situations, please contact the police station nearest you.
An alternative would be to contact any of the following numbers so that you may be guided:
Domestic Violence Unit: 800-7283
Families in Action: 628-2333
Rape crisis Centre: 622- 7273 or 1079
This story was written from personal experience by a Guardian staff writer, whose name has been withheld to protect the privacy of family members.