The beatings always begin the same way, with the same terrible sounds. My parents are in their bedroom, behind closed doors. First comes the boom of my father’s voice. “Dee Dee! Goddamn it, Dee Dee!” Then I hear what sounds like thunder rolling through the house. That’s Mom hitting the wall. I wait for her to scream, but she doesn’t. She whimpers. She must have learned long ago that screaming incites him.
I swear that during those fights, I could feel the whole house shake with my father’s crazy rage. Whenever he’d start, my sister Deanna and I would run for cover, usually in a closet or under our beds, and cry quietly into our cupped hands. I shook a lot as a kid. My hands. My face. My knees. A 5-year-old with tremors. As my grandma used to say, “Ain’t that just the saddest thing?” Sometimes the fights lasted only minutes. Sometimes longer. The monster would appear, wreaking havoc on our lives, and then the rumbling would stop and we’d hear our mother’s muffled cries. After that, the house would go completely quiet. The sound of the silence was the worst because that’s when Deanna and I would wonder if our mother were alive or dead and if we would be next.
My father never beat us, but sometimes I think a beating would have been less hurtful than hearing the sounds of him using my mother as his punching bag. Sometimes I threw up in my hands when they fought. Usually I just shook like a damn leaf trying to hold on during a brisk fall breeze.