“He’s coming, I’m not going to make it!” my mom moaned to my father as they were attempting to leave the tiny trailer they occupied in Imperial Beach, California. They were trying to rush out the door to the local hospital but the doorway was as far as they got before my dad was forced to turn around in desperation and lay a pair of Levi’s jeans on the floor for my mom to give birth on. I’m not sure how he did it, perhaps it was his military training, but he laid my mother down and in just a few minutes I came bursting out into my father’s hands and on those Levi’s jeans. At some point the paramedics were called, but my father had already done all of the work of cutting the cord, cleaning me off, and placing in the arms of my mother.
This was my beginning in life- one that would foreshadow the challenges and types of experiences that would fill my childhood and later years. I was born the second son of Karl and Mary, a young couple of humble circumstances with their own troubled backgrounds. Conflict was present in my home from the very beginning- my parents’ passion, inexperience as parents, and poor set of examples contributed to a childhood with significant abuse and neglect.
My earliest memory is hard to think of even now, but I can still smell the fear, hear the sounds of pain coming from my older brother of only a few years, and remember the pain and sorrow I felt inside my heart. I don’t remember the reason or situation surrounding what was happening, just that I was hiding in the dark in a closet or cupboard peeking out to see my big brother at the other end of a hallway crouching in the corner near the front door trying to avoid the slaps, scratches, and pinches that were assailing his body. They were being delivered by our mother in her frustration and anger.
He took the beating in relative silence; the noises I mostly heard were the sounds of my mother’s slaps against his skin with that clear sound, sometimes followed by a glancing blow hitting the wall or the door. I could hear my mother panting, her heightened emotional state and the physical demands of the abuse causing her to breathe heavily. I could hear the scratches tearing against his skin, but it was only the pinching that would bring the exclamations of pain from my brother’s lips. These sounds and the images were mixed with my mother’s blood curdling screams of rage, frustration, and pain. I would stay hidden in the dark, witnessing, my body constricted with the fear and pain for my brother as I waited for the barrage to end so I could go to comfort him.
Unfortunately for him, my brother took the brunt of my mother’s physical abuse on a regular basis- he became my protector and I became his comforter- roles we would carry for much of our lives.