“Hey, kid! Get me some water!”
A surly, old man shouts from his table. I fill a jug and hurry to serve him before Father gives me the stink eye. I haven’t been performing well lately. Not in school. Not here, in the restaurant. Father owns a small restaurant and earns just enough to provide for the family and to quench his thirst for alcohol. Mom manages the restaurant most of the time because of Father’s incessant hangovers.
Someone shakes my arm and pulls me out of my reverie. Father. He looks at me with eyes full of angst and a wildness that comes from inebriation. I have good reasons to be afraid of him but I try to hide the dread whenever I can. I lower my head and walk to the nearest table, throw away the mushy leftovers from the plates and wipe the table. From table to table, I serve the food and clear the old plates, adding them to the pile I’ll have to wash later. Maybe, Mom will offer to help.
I wish I could get out of here.
I’m cleaning another table when Father calls at the top of his voice,”Patrice, come here!” My pulse quickens and I scurry towards him, legs shaking. What did I do now?
“What. Is. This?” Father asks with an eerie calmness which masks the wrath behind each word. I look up to see what he is pointing at: a greasy table with an oily plate on it and a couple waiting to sit there. I clean the table as swiftly as I can and apologize to the customers for the delay. They sit down, grunting and begin to skim through the menu. My eyes slowly creep up to see my fathers’ and his look of resentment says it all.
He’ll deal with me later. Later when he is drunk and when his anger gets the better of him. He’ll probably hit me and then I’ll cry myself to sleep. It has happened twice this week.
The sun is emitting its last rays and fear grips me as the evening wears on. My hands tremble when I serve the dishes.
I don’t want the day to end. I don’t want the day to end.
Father is nowhere to be seen. He must have gone to the liquor shop nearby. I shudder at the very thought and bury myself with work to prevent my mind from wandering. Mom is preparing the dishes along with Nancy, the other cook. Mom has often tried to stop Father from drinking but that just agitates him more. Mom and Father fight a lot and once, I’d even seen him slap her during an argument. That was the first time I thought about escaping.
Father returns with a bottle of liquor and I gulp involuntarily as my heart starts racing. I serve the dish to the last customer in the restaurant, hands trembling. I accidentally drop ketchup on him and a deep red botch covers his shirt. Fury takes over the customer and he yells profanities at me. To him, I’m just a stupid clumsy kid who can’t get a job done right. And maybe, I am. Father glowers at me and apologizes to the customer for my impertinent behavior.
As soon as the customer leaves, Father clasps my wrist and drags me to our house adjacent to the restaurant. Mom hurries behind us, begging him to stop and calm down.
“Unlock the damn door!” He growls at her. Mom wails as she opens the door, pleading him to be calm.
Once we’re inside, he pushes me forward, takes a swig from the bottle and slams it on the table. Mom pulls me aside by her hand protectively. With clammy hands and tears sluicing down her cheeks, she weeps uncontrollably. Father yanks me away from her and my only protection is gone. I feel…vulnerable. I don’t want to cry myself to sleep.
He shouts incoherently, “What was that, Patrice?!” I stand speechless, motionless.
The couple could have chosen another table. I want to say it. But I can’t.
“What the hell was that, you stupid girl?!”
I try hard to stop the tears from falling. I fail. I know what awaits me and I brace myself before it comes. He raises his hand and strikes my face.
A moment. Just a moment of intense, physical pain and a lifetime of haunting nightmares. A lifetime of suppressing the hurt and distress. Excruciating pain and fierce revulsion boils inside me. Blood rushes to my cheeks and tears obscure my vision, blocking my throat and wetting my face. Mom’s shrieks fill the silence and I just can’t lower my head anymore. I raise my head and glare right into his malicious eyes.
Father slaps me hard again and I fall to my knees, dark strands covering my face. I let out ugly sobs and look around wildly for the door. What am I thinking? I can’t run from home! Can I? How much of a coward can I be?
I try so hard to compose myself, setting my jaw and clenching my fists and I raise my face to look at him. He is about to hit me again when Mom stops him. He yells at her loudly but fatigue washes over me and I can’t hear a word he says. My abdomens feel hollow and my chest has become a tight burden. The tears block my eyes and the last thing I see before passing out is Father raising his hand again. But I don’t feel the strike. All I feel is the need to escape.
This story is inspired by real incidents although it may have been exaggerated (yeah, I have a flair for drama). In situations like these, we tend to blame our parents’ behaviour on the stressful situations they are in but that is no excuse for the way they treat you. From pressurizing kids to hurting them physically, child abuse makes the child’s self esteem fall down. Well, I’ve been in times when I hated this life but at these exact moments, all I needed was that push to keep me going. That push to tell me that maybe, when I grow up, I can live somewhere fancy in LA, earn a lot and help other kids going through the same problems. That when I grow up, I can tell them that they can survive too, just like I did. You can’t escape the damage that life gives you. But you can be mended and can mend others.
#savingme is the column where abuse victims can publish their experiences just to let go and find comfort and support. Maybe it doesn’t feel like much but just publishing your story for others to read makes you strong. You can send your story about the abuse you went through to email@example.com and you can choose if you want it to be anonymous or not. More details here.