The first time I stood up to my mother's abuser, I was 14. I remember all of us kids- 4 including me, who was the oldest, in the living room. Our cable bill had long ago been overdue and shut off, so we had the old rabbit ear antenna carefully balanced to tune into the channel. Static lines spiked across the center of the picture, but it was ok. We could make out most of what was going on, and besides, if we dared move it to try to get it clearer, we risked losing the channel all together.
Suddenly, the drone of the tv was interrupted by yelling. Immeaditly, my heart speed up. I didn't want to spend the night awake, worried my mother had stopped breathing. I didn't want to spend the night in the hospital either, where they would smell alcohol on her breathe and treat us like crap, despite her very clear injuries.
I rushed to the steps that lead to tge second floor of our townhouse. My mother and ger boyfriend were at the top landing, yelling at each other. They were arguing about drugs. One of them wanted more, and the other didn't have money for more. If it hadn't spiraled into an argument, my mother may have asked me if she could please take my cds to the pawn shop. She'd get them out when she got my father's child support payment that weekend, she'd promise. But tension was too high for that this evening. I watched as they argued back and forth, back and forth, both calling each other a string of words that would get my post flagged for obscenities. My mother was walking away, still yelling over her shoulders. Then, in the blink of an eye, he ran up behind her, and shoved her down the steps. I caught her eye, as she momentarily became airborne. In an instant, her expression went from anger, to surprise, to fear. She hit solid ground as her body came in contact with the steps, and she went tumbling, flipping, and banging with such force that she almost knocked me down she reached the bottom. She lay there, in a ball at my feet, not moving.
"This is bad," I thought. "This is real bad." Though she was probably in her 40's at that time, her body was in far worse condition then most her age. Too many years of hard drugs and alcohol had taken their toll on her, as had countless other beatings. One of the worst had left her with broken ribs, and because she didn't have health insurance, we were never sure if they healed correctly, but I highly doubt it.
I cradled her head and upper body in my arms. I felt like a character in a movie, only this wasn't a movie. This was my mother, and I didn't know if she was alive. I tried to control my barage of thoughts as they screamed at me "what are you going to do if she's dead?!" She mumble-moaned, incomprehensible. I breathed a sigh of releif. She was drunk, and she was hurt, but she was alive.
For a moment, I felt so much sadness for her. For her physical pain, for her reality, and what life had become for her. Then, anger flared inside of me, like a pot of water boiling over. I was so angry, I felt like I could feel it, hot and fierce, spilling out of my ears and nostrils. Like those old cartoons, where the character's face turns red as a lobster, and steam is pouring out all of the orfices in their face. I looked up from my mother's face, and into the face of her boyfriend, standing at the top of the stairs. He still looked angry; everything had happened so quick, I doubt he had even processed what had just transpired. I got up, and stormed up the steps. I called him a coward. I asked him if he felt like a man now. I said I sure hoped not, because he wasn't a man, just a coward with no self control.
Sometimes, we lose all thought when we are angry. We blink, and can hardly recall the things we said, like the words had a mind of their own. "Did I really say that?" we think, almost in shock. This was not one of those moments. I was fully conscious of my thoughts. If he hit me, I'd take it. Because, after all this ended, after things calmed down, after I tucked my mother in bed, and got my brothers and sister something to eat, things would go on as if none of this happened. Until the next time. My mother loved him, after all, and things had just gotten too tense. It was no one's faylt, she'd say, and she wouldn't press charges. But I didn't love him. I didn't care if he was sucked from this life, into a world behind bars. As much as I loved her, I didn't even care if my mother's heart was broken when she lost him. At this point, her heart was in better condition then her physical self, and could deal with a break better then her worn down body.
I took the stwps two at a time, until I reached the landing. I looked at him and said "What a coward! Push a woman when her back is turned! Well, I bet you won't hit me! I bet you won't do it, because you're a coward! You know she won't do anything, but I will. So go on, hit me so I can put you behind bars where you belong." My fists were clenched so tight they were turning red. I was challenging him with my eyes, not breaking the stare.
I'm not sure what prompted his response. Either he believed me, and was rational enough to realize he didn't want to be locked up, or he truly was a coward and didn't have the guts to hit someone face to face. Maybe the adrenaline had slowed too, or the drug fog had lifted, but he stepped around me and went down the steps. "I'm out of here!" He yelled. He had to stretch his legs farther then normal as he stepped over my mother, still at the bottom of the steps. He went out the front door, slamming it behind him. The impact knocked down the bunby eared antenna, and the the tv fell into static. For a long moment, only white noise from the tv filled the air. My siblings stared at me as I came down the steps. I stared at them, shook myself, and told them I was going to help Mom get to the couch, and then I'd make them something to eat. They stared back.
I looped my mother's arm around my neck and told her we had to move to the couch. She mumbled and cringed, but I told her she couldn't stay here, and I needed her help for just a moment. I've always been a small, thin girl; even now in my 30's, I can't gain weight passed 105, no matter what I do. There was no way, no matter how determined I was, that I'd be able to lift her, in dead weight, and carry her. She seemed to silently agree, as she leaned most of her weight on me and struggled to her feet. Doing her best to make the task easier, we limp- shuffled to the couch, where I helped her gently lay down. "Don't call the ambulance," she said, speaking for the first time. "I have drugs in my system." I knew what that meant. Either she could be put away, or we could be taken away. Images of seperating from my siblings flashed in my mind. I wouldn't be able to protect them, or her, if we were seperated. Panic fluttered in my chest for a moment, but I calmed it and told her, "ok, I won't" .i made her drink some water, then spread a cool washcloth on her forehead. She looked completely exhausted, the circles around her eyes a deep, sunken purple. "Thank you," she said, as she drifted off to sleep. I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her.
I stood up, straighrening my shirt, and walked over to the antenna hanging lifelessly from it's cord. I set it back right side up on top of the big box tv, and only had to arrange the two ears for a moment, before the picture popped into focus. "Right there!" my siblings yelled in unison. We always did that because the person adjusting couldn't necessarily see the picture at the same time. I froze, and would you look at that! The picture was clear as day! "Simpsons!!" the kids exclaimed in delight; this was a rare treat. They settled back, zoned in, distracted, and I set about making dinner.
Author's note: Its not because I triumphed that I named this post what I did. In reality, I did a very risky thing. He could have pummeled me. Made me an example of what happens when you fight back. I could have been hurt, very badly, or worse, not here to retell this story. The reason I titled it "Why I'm not scared of anything," is because of what it made me realize about myself. I realized, even with fear bubbling in my stomach, threatening to make its way burning up my throat, that I am able to push it aside. I learned fear is something that can be moved past. It made me realize I cannot and should not let myself ve intimadated. It made me realize, even as a little person, to stand up. It also made me realize I can read people. Almost scanning over the pages of a book, I can get a pretty good read on someone. I knew in my heart this man was all the things I told him he was, and that he wouldn't lay a finger on me. Would I have I have been as courageous if I hadn't been so confident? I don't know. I think I'd have analyzed the situation and reacted accordingly but most likely differently. Regardless, I knew, I shoved my fear down, and stood up for someone who needed it. And I realized, in a moment of choas, I could stay clear headed enough to not let the tasks at hand, "what needed to be done next," get washed away by my emotions. If things had been different, maybe I'd have grown up to work on ambulance, keeping calm and going through the necessary steps to keep my patient alive, without panic. But I am not an EMT or an ER doctor. I'm just a woman; protective, capable, self sufficient, loving, until I'm pushed to a harmful or unfair place. Then I am a fiery whip, at the point I have already analyzed, I know without doubt my course of action. My passion for protection my family and myself is a searing hot poker. And the one doing my family or I wrong: You had better watch out. Because I'm not scared of anything.