To the Mom at the Park Whose Child Said 'My Dad Hit Me'
Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by clicking “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.
I called 911. It was me. I talked to you at the park, played with your kids. Laughed with you and shared small talk about poop, diapers and all the other smelly things our children create. And I still called 911. I hope you understand that I didn’t call the police because I think you’re a bad mother or that I judged you for the secondhand clothes, or the dirt covering your kids. I’m there too. I’ve never understood the concept of buying kids under 6 new clothes then taking them to the park. Do people like wasting money?! Half the time, my kids run around half naked. No, friend, I called 911 because I fell in love with you. Because I used to be you.
When you escaped to the other side of the park for a cigarette, I kept an eye on your kids. I didn’t mind. God knows sometimes I wish I could escape my children and sneak a cigarette! Not that I even smoke, but I could pretend just for the sake of taking a five minute break. I thought, maybe when she comes back I’ll get her number. Maybe we can go on a mom date and talk about life and how tired we are while our kids become best friends.
But it didn’t happen that way. While you sought refuge in your tobacco, I spun your kids and mine on the merry go round contraption that elicits squeals of joy from kids and gasps from worried mothers (that’s me if you didn’t notice). Your youngest child laughed and laughed, soon we were all laughing just at the pure joy of it.
He kept squealing something, I stopped spinning, worried that he was slipping.
“What did you say? Are you OK?”
“I say, that was awesome! You go fast.”
I laughed and wondered if I should slow down. The last thing I wanted was to have your kids or mine flying off and have to be rushed to the ER. The sheer arm strength that contraption required took my breath away, so I took a few moments to pant and wipe the sweat away. The kids bantered on and on about whatever nonsense kids talk about. Minecraft, I think. Or maybe Roblox. Hell… maybe it was YouTube? What a world these kids live in, right?
Your little guy stared at me with a serious look on his face and asked, “Where’s my mom?”
“I think she went to the bathroom. She’ll be back soon.”
He paused in the thoughtful, fidgety way of a young child.
“My dad hit me.” He pointed to a bruise on his forehead. I’m sure you know what the bruise looked like. I’m sure you saw it happen. I’m not blaming you for it. I know all about the cycle of abuse and how you might see those things, then quickly unsee them, even when they happen to you. It was one of the swollen, aching bruises that have a split in the middle — a bit of crimson peaking through the busted capillaries. I stood there, watching and listening in horror, my heart breaking then shattering with every moment as this tiny child pointed to bruises, telling me that his dad hit him there and there. And, I know this is hard to hear, but then he told me that he hits you too. Sometimes we think that the kids don’t notice, but they always do.
I wish I could say I acted immediately. That I took your children into my care and called the police. I wish I could have ushered the three of you to my car and spirited you away forever. I didn’t though. I watched you take your children out of the park while they cried over leaving such fun and tried not to collapse into a thousand pieces in front of my own children.
Here’s the thing: I was once like you. I know firsthand the worthlessness, the powerlessness — I know about the fear and loneliness. And I also know about the guilt, the denial, the small ways you try to protect yourself and your children. I know that you’ll try to get out six or seven times, maybe more but hopefully less — and you can so easily be manipulated right back in. It can be as simple as answering a phone call or a lonely night. The loneliness can be so bad, you feel it aching in your core, begging you to… just forgive, to look away, to ignore. You exist in a fugue state sometimes, unable to process, only react. You smoke to take your mind off the anxiety that constantly courses through your veins. You hide the black eyes under sunglasses, the bruises under long sleeves and pants — the pain beneath the smiles. Your heart breaks every day, then mends in a mangled lump at night when you can finally rest, only to break again in even more places than you ever thought possible. I know you. I see you. And my heart is breaking too.
I followed you to your car. I didn’t have a clear idea of what to do. I just knew that I needed to act — to protect you. To protect your boys. To do that something. Anything. Part of me wanted to talk to you. To tell you the words that I so badly needed to hear four years ago: you are enough for yourself and your kids, you don’t need him. Another part of me thought of how awful that kind of confrontation would be for our kids and planned to write down your license plate number, then report it to the police. And small sliver of me just wanted to get in my car, go home, lock my doors to keep out the world, and cry. That’s what I would have done, friend. I would have hidden and allowed my past experience to dominate my present. I can’t say I’d be angry with myself either. This is the nature of PTSD, so much of your life is conditioned by fight, flight or freeze responses.
But as my children and I neared your parking space, the dad made an appearance. His presence, dominating. His stance, aggressive. Powerful. Terrifying.
He stood inside a huddle, like a coach about to berate his losing team, and screamed at you. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I recognized the rage; it’s the fist, the thrown mug or keys, the thick leather belt, the hands that push you down the stairs. From a distance I could see him jerk your child’s arm and scream into his face. I saw your posture tighten and slump all at once. And the tears. Maybe it was my imagination, but I felt them. I felt them slide down your cheeks; I felt them slide down my cheeks.
And I fled. I ushered my children into the car as fast I could. I locked the doors and whispered to my daughter that I needed the phone NOW. I wrote down your license plate and drove quickly to a side street, where I called 911. I don’t know if the police got there in time. I was too afraid, too anxious, too triggered to drive back around.
Maybe I’ll see you at the park tomorrow when I take my kids to climb, run, and laugh out their wiggles before crashing in bed. In a perfect world, I’ll see you every day this summer and watch as you stand taller, your eyes brighten, and your bruises heal. Then again, maybe you’ll know I was the one who sent the police knocking at your door and impart your hatred. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll never see you again. I hope, though, that you find the courage within you to get out.
The only way you’ll get out is by reaching. Reach. Reach within yourself. Reach out to the community. Ask for help. Tell your story. Open yourself. I’m rooting for you.
If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
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Getty Images photo via Aleksandr Rybin