The Power of Invisibility in an Abusive Home


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 selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

In the warmth of the morning sun, we contemplated becoming invisible. My sister Linda and I would sit in the overgrown grass in our backyard, our own private garden, usually consoling one or the other or both of us after a night of violence metered out by our stepfather.

We sat in the sun thinking of ways to escape the notice of our stepfather. We came up with invisibility and used to practice it often. We would concentrate on making ourselves progressively smaller until we could become less than a point and we would disappear.

The cold tears of the night gone in the warmth of the morning.

We learned early on how to not cry, moral victories being what they were in the minds of children. Linda and I had decided we would not cry during a beating because we believed our abuser got satisfaction from our cries. To not cry meant we had won. Not crying is a tough choice to make, though. Sometimes an abuse might stop sooner if you cried.

The extension cord swung down on my legs, making a slight sound that seemed to mimic the sounds I might make as the chord came down upon my back. My mind exploding a little bit with each downward arc of the chord. I would move around on the floor to avoid getting hit in the same spot twice, making myself smaller and smaller and smaller until I was gone. The violent scene somehow shifted perspective and you viewed yourself in a disconnected but satisfying way.

Which always related to warmth and my sister’s and I private garden in the sun.

You make choices when you are in a family where abuse is common, but the choices are always terrible. Sometimes I might decide to get a brother or sister into trouble so my stepfather’s rage might be spent on someone else. I often would decide I would act out, knowing I would get the beating rather than someone else, usually because you knew they were a bit more fragile or that they had been a regular target recently. Often my sisters and I would fight each other, because at times the violence we inflicted on one another would limit the violence he wanted to hand out.

And sometimes because fuck him — I can take whatever you have to give.

This feeling often resulted in the most severe beatings because somehow his rage could not be sated.

Invisibility is a tricky goal to achieve and once learned I have found I still slip into it. Linda and I came up with the idea after a particularly terrible week, although time is not so linear for a child. As we sat in the grass with the sun’s warmth surrounding us like a protective cocoon, Linda said, “Let’s become invisible,” and we began to figure out how. We found if we stared hard enough at an object in our environment, we could start the invisibility cycle.

Transferring into the object stared at, we could become a blade of grass, a wall or even the object you were being beaten with when we wanted to control the force of that object. What started as an escape from the pain and violence we were in turned into a way to avoid the violence all together.

After the fall of emotion dawns the spring of hope.

Invisibility is a varied result, and comes in degrees — surrender being the low scale and “I will fight” the high scale. As we sat in the sun, my sister and I sharing in the relief of warmth, I said to her, “I know that somewhere there is hope.” Now some of you reading this may find that a child saying such things is impossible, and I will tell you that impossible has no meaning in desperation.

Linda laughed, “Oh Doug, you always make me smile.”

I smiled, “Just kidding.”

”No, you’re not.”

I recall such moments with gladness and resolve; that you might know of something more of my story other than pain, anger and rage.

In the sun a flower slowly unfurls its petals and turns toward the warmth.

Invisibility being the tricky goal that it is, we made about testing it. At first, with sheer stillness, I lied on the floor watching our old console TV. I could lie there without the slightest of movement for hours. I would close my eyes and watch TV, even my breathing became slow and silent. Like a prey animal with a predator’s scent in its nose. I would not move, could not move, there was no escape, but inward and inward I went, silently sliding into invisibility that came in slow stages and always ended in the warmth of the sun as I approached. Slowly making my way from here to not here, rage being at hand, but this pathetic rage would not be spent on me or my sister. But, someone had to receive it and although invisibility proved an effective tool, someone in my family would eventually receive his rage. Delivered in a surge of electric nervousness and sometimes far more painful to the ones not receiving the beating.

Pain floats slowly away absorbed by the sun, dehydrated into the atmosphere only to rain down again, reaffirming somehow.

Invisibility is a sticky power that clings to you with use. I find myself triggered by some sight or smell and in those moments for the briefest of time I slip back into the yard with my sister. I did not get rid of invisibility, I learned to live with it and to measure my depth of invisibility. My sister and I smile and laugh about the old days. The human heart filled with dignity and strength destined to find a way back into that warm, summer sun.

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Getty image via alien185


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