We started calling him “he.” My boy and I. I’m not sure how it happened, or even when it began. But we always knew who we were talking about.
It was usually along the lines of “Is he home?” or “When will he be home?” The atmosphere was lighter when it was just us two. We could joke, smile, talk, laugh, and just be ourselves. But as the day grew darker, we would prepare ourselves for when he would arrive. Turn down our laughter, our joking, our smiles. Turn down our volume, make sure things were picked up, that nothing was in such a manner that might cause him to become angry.
The kitchen window over the sink gave a clear view of the road in front of our house. While washing dishes, I would say, “He’s home,” as he pulled into the driveway. My sweet kindergartener would scramble to shove his homework into his backpack, or scoop up his crayons and drawing pad, and scurry to his room.
Even if I wasn’t at the window to give the heads up, the garage door would give the signal that he was on the premises. We knew the drill. Become tidy, quiet, small while waiting to see what mood he was in today.
He would come through the door, and greet the dog as if she alone was worthy of his love and praise. After baby talking and lavishing her with affection, he’d turn towards me and say, “Hey.” That was on a good day.
It wouldn’t take much to set him off though. Besides, we were his prisoners. He ruled over us. Everything was his way, and whatever he did to us was justified in his mind.
We were standing in front of the pantry one day, talking about something—I don’t remember what. My boy was wanting a snack, so he walked up and tried to squeeze between us while asking to get through. He grabbed my son with both hands around his throat, picked him up, and moved him out of the way.
“What the hell?!” I screamed. “Why would you do that?”
“I was talking! Two adults were having a conversation, and he interrupted! No child is going to interrupt me!” he growled.
“That doesn’t mean you can pick him up by the throat!”
“It didn’t hurt him!” he said.
“I was just wanting a snack,” my little boy said between sobs.
“Your mom is cooking dinner! You don’t need to eat right now! And you don’t ever interrupt me!” he yelled towering over him.
“Stop yelling at him!” I screamed.
He turned and rushed me, grabbed me up by my shirt, and shoved me into the pantry door. “Don’t you EVER disrespect me! Don’t you ever talk back to me in front of that boy!”
My heart was beating so hard, I thought it would break my sternum. I braced myself for what could come. Instead, he let go of me and headed towards the garage. My son ran to his room. I went back to cooking dinner, knowing if I didn’t, things could get worse. He came in, made himself a plate, and disappeared with it.
I went to check on my son. We didn’t talk. We just hugged each other. My poor boy. I should have left then. But I didn’t. He had moved us hundreds of miles away from our family and friends. I didn’t know what to do. And I was scared.
He gave me the silent treatment for three days. He wouldn’t acknowledge my presence. He wouldn’t even look at me. I should have welcomed the silence, but I couldn’t. It was somehow worse, because I felt invisible. And the eggshells I walked on seemed more fragile than ever.