April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time when we understand the importance of family and work together to prevent abuse and neglect. Each of us carries stories about a time when something like this has happened. It may not stand out in your mind as an act of cruelty, but life is full of examples we don't usually consider abusive and sometimes done unintentionally by a parent. As children, we bend the truth to make sense of those acts.
Why do we shut out the truth to bring vivification to a fancifully developed life? My mother has told me some of my earlier memories are fouled by my desire to believe they happened differently. I find myself denying those buried memories, but that doesn't justify what I can recall of my abusive childhood. What happened is something I'd rather not repeat with my children.
Two thirds of my childhood was spent away from either parent. Group homes counselors and foster parents filling up the rest my early adulthood. This might make the adage 'It takes a village to raise a child' resonate true. Not always so or at least that's not how I remember growing up.
The miracle of life is composed of an odd group of intangible memories we gather growing up, bric-a-brac and curiosities for the mind - easily lost if not dusted off: often damaged and incomplete after being neglected for years. In some ways, my mother's words ring true.
Sometimes, the bearer willfully locks away darker images of the past they would rather see placed in an unmarked grave; hoping no one would get up the nerve to dig. Other times, memories like these are tucked away for safe keeping until a way to heal it is possible. I'd like to think life's river runs the latter course, seeking out alternate avenues to correct itself. Such a river courses through me, more like a river seen through a multifaceted diamond, branching off the main source in a brilliant display of light; each glowing spear a swirling memory of the past.
The relationship between parent and child can at times be viewed as precariously unstable, if not comically sad. When a relationship becomes strained to the point of breaking – emotional, sexual, and physical abuse are almost a guaranteed bet; often running hand-in-hand with each other like Jack and Jill fetching a pail of water, but you remember how that story ends. In my case, my father did work hard to support us financially, made plenty broken promises, and partied all hours of the night with one-night stands. Luckily, not all families live this way.
What my father did to me will never compare to the atrocities I witnessed at the home for abused children called A.S.H. (Albert Sitton Home). They were not simple spankings given to a child endangered of being burned by a stove, an act that leaves minutes worth of pain verses being marred for life by a scar. These terrible acts were the aftermath of demented parenting skills – infants put in full body casts for possibly crying too long while daddy slept – as the forgotten babies lay awake most nights waiting for a bedpan to be changed instead of a diaper. I helped soothe and clean up these babies of misfortune as one of the chores during my stay at A.S.H., a child often caring for those younger than me.
Along my way into adulthood I met hundreds of abused children. Some handled the transition from an abusive family to court ordered foster care, while others like myself sought to be reunited with one or both parents. This creates a sense of abandonment that drives the child to reconnect with an abusive parent when he or she has been taken away because of a court’s decision, leaving a child melancholy for a bygone moment of happiness and vulnerable to reciprocate the broken wheel of nurturing love. No matter how much counseling the child receives they will always seek out the affections of their parent, it’s inevitable. Junior high school taught me the futility of running away from foster or group homes towards my father…
He disowned me Christmas week in front of my two younger brothers when I was in eighth grade. I’ve never seen him since, nor have I sought him out.
The fact he had disowned me did not mean my mother had, also. She had been in and out of my life handling what he – and life in general – threw at her. Most abused children live with these circumstances. Someone will always love you, be it a relative, friend, or maternal parent. Knowing they are out there is encouragement enough to help someone move forward and thrive as adults.
Those days are long behind me. A.S.H. has since been replaced by newer complex called Orangewood Children’s Foundation, but nothing will replace my memories. What I witnessed and thankfully lived through has taught me one thing: my children will never know what hate feels like. I know hate is a strong word; however, what I and countless other children have experienced under the banner of 'You made me do this' cannot be called love. We discipline out of love to protect those we love. Discipline does not require a belt or switch to drive the point home. Taught properly, a child will learn right from wrong. It is our responsibility and duty to teach the youth of coming generations the difference between disciplining and abuse. To some, those lines will always be blurred.
Don't let the line blur for you.
About the Author
Adam Santo is a SciFi/Fantasy writer who enjoys the quiet moments to write stories. His debut novel, Temperature: Dead and Rising, took the world for a ride they would soon not forget. Santo began plotting out the second paperback novel, Temperature: Bitter Cold, before the ink dried on his first book. Santo continues to write nonstop because he knows there is always a story waiting to get out.