Mental Cruelty, Now and Then

The Domestic Part of Domestic Violence

Three time zones away, Maria tugged at her thin gold necklace. She was a potential client, wanting a green card based on domestic violence by her US citizen husband. I measured credibility through Zoom.  Her lips stretched with desperation, puffiness from crying. Her dreams of marrying an American morphed to a nightmare after he forced himself on her. She offered her hands up, intimate confessions of a failed resistance.

Then, astonished to learn that love continues despite humiliation, Maria said, “I want to stay in the marriage.” She said this as if sharing a discovery, not knowing that I told my former lover, “I told you to go when what I wanted was for you to change.”

Marriage is the Cemetery of Love

My feet could not reach the car floorboard when I learned that my parents yelled at each other. Photographs show me wearing dresses then, in the 1970s, itchy overdone things with ribbons. But I hope that day I was wearing comfy shorts and the white t-shirt I won by collecting cereal box tops. The Kellogg’s logo glowed in the dark, like the shield of a superhero.

My father was lost as he drove the streets of Miami, and we were late to wherever we were going.  The volume of my mother’s voice rises whenever we run late. That day, she barked directions from the passenger’s seat. My father’s knuckles on the steering wheel turned whiter and whiter.

I wanted to fly away like an insect, and wondered if my disappearance would get her to stop nagging. My brother, less than two years older, sat silently beside me. Suddenly, my father pressed hard on the brakes, and I crashed against the back of the driver’s seat. Landing so close to them, my mother’s face seemed particularly clear and considerable.

My father screamed at her, “Cállate ya!” Shut up already.

“Or what?” she screamed back.

He punched the steering wheel and raised his hand.  Her hair dark and thick like a female Samson, she yelled, “¡Atrévete!” Dare yourself!

In that moment, my world seemed to fall off its axis, curiosity about marriage turned to fear. They were not a solid tree trunk with branches of descendants in their future. They were two animals in a single cage. My stomach tensed, instinctively knowing one of them would strike. My mother’s black eyes shone, as if she wanted him to try, as if she had waited for the opportunity to rip into somebody for some time. With his hesitation, I sensed his fear. 

“Mama,” I said weakly, unable to finish that sentence. My brother pulled me back by my shoulder. I still wonder if he was protecting me by getting me out of their reach or protecting himself so our parents’ ferocity would not turn on us. My father slammed down his hand and continued driving in silence. 

Disclaimer – These entries are based on real life events. Family member names, when used, are real. Client names are changed for privacy.

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