“Domestic violence rarely affects only those directly involved in the abusive relationship.” ― Asa Don Brown
Short of stepping on Curly’s tail, Becky stormed into the living room, slammed the screen-door shut and hurried to her room.
“What?” her mother asked from the kitchen, “back already? Did you forget to take something?” her mother continued.
Becky didn’t answer. Her footsteps were heavy as she went up the stairs. She closed the door to her room, pressed the play button of her CD player and turned the volume on high. She got inside her closet and sat on the floor on the corner closest to the window. The evening was pleasant and the sound of the birds on the tree outside the window was silenced by the sound coming from inside her room.
Her mother finished rinsing off the dinner dishes and wiping her wet hands on her apron, rushed upstairs to see what was the the matter with her daughter. She knocked on the door with the secret code they had settled on for the month, but no tap-tap, the code of acknowledgement, came from inside the room. Mother knocked the same way again and again, but again Becky didn’t reciprocate. Mom turned the door knob and realized that the door was locked from the inside.
“Becky, open the door. Let me in. Becky, what happened? Did something happen with you and Margo?” Mom was getting worried. This was so out of character for her daughter.
She waited a few more minutes and knocked again. “Becky,” she said, a little more impatient this time, “talk to me. Open the door.” Becky got out of the closet, lowered the volume on her CD player and unlocked the door. Then she sat on the floor next to her bed. Mother knocked again and this time Becky reciprocated by tapping on the side of her bedroom table with their coded tap-tap. Mother turned the door knob and entered the room.
“Honey, did something happen to you over at Margo’s house?”
Becky hugged her knees and looked away from her mother. Mother followed Becky’s lead and sat on the floor next to her daughter.
In the short year that they had been neighbors, Becky and Margo had become best friends. They walked to and from school together, they spent endless hours playing outdoors and talking on the porch-swing, they walked up to receive holy communion together at Sunday Mass and apart from the fact that each girl had their own house chores to do, they were inseparable. Once or twice a month Margo’s mother had invited Becky to go along as Margo’s guest for a family dinner at a sort-of-nice restaurant in town. The dinners always left Becky a little perplexed but she dismissed the feelings because she could not find the appropriate words to form the thoughts about the feelings, even in her own head. That being the case she never got around to saying anything about it to her mother. When mother would ask, Becky would talk about the food instead of the feelings she would bring back from the dinner experience with the Romanos.
“Yes, I decided to sneak in on Margo instead of calling out to her. When I looked in through the screen door I saw Margo kneeling on the floor. She had her hands stretched out infront of her and I saw her daddy loading her arms with heavy books.”
“You mean that it was like some kind of punishment?” her mother asked.
“Yes, exactly. It had to be. Margo looked sad and scared but she had her arms stretched out and her daddy kept putting book after book for her to hold in her outstretched arms. At one point, Margo got tired so she relaxed her buttom on the back of her legs and her daddy hit her on her back with a book,” replied Becky suppressing fresh tears that burned to come out.
“And you saw all that? ” her mother asked holding her daughter’s hand with one hand and wiping a tear off her own face with the other.
“Yes. But the worst part is that Margo saw me looking. I think that I will never be able to face her again. I am embarrassed to have seen what I saw. And I’m sure that Margo is embarrassed for it as well.” Becky’s words punctuated the conversation and a long silence, thick as a morning mist, permeated the room. Her mother didn’t know what to make of the situation. And she didn’t want to say something out of place without thinking things over first, so mother and daughter just sat there on the floor.
In the year since they have been neighbors the mothers had not become close. They had exchanged pleasantries but unlike the girls, their relationship hadn’t advanced beyond that. For starters, Mrs. Romano, Margo’s mother was a career woman. She worked from 9:00 – 5:00, sometimes later and like the rest of the neighborhood, Becky’s mother refrained from approaching Mrs. Romano to allow her the space she and the neighbors thought she needed. Come to think of it, besides attending Mass with her family on Sundays and the occasional dinners out in town, Mrs. Romano seldom participated in anything in the community. Mr. Romano, on the other hand, worked from home. According to Margo he was a translator of German Novels. He was at home all the time and it was he who attended to Margo and her younger sister when they returned home from school. He was very polite yet reserved with the neighbors. He attended school meetings but didn’t socialize with anyone at school. According to Becky, the Romanos moved to a new town every two years or so and before coming to Macondo, they had lived in Los Alamos. Apart from that, no one knew anything else about the family.
How is one to deal with second hand knowledge of ‘suspected’ violence? Is it morally right to call it out when one suspects it? Is something like that — abuse, or is it just a form of punishment? Where do we draw the line? How would you act (not react) if your child were to be exposed to something as subtle as what Becky perceived to be ‘not right’?
“The abuser does not believe, however, that his level of authority over the children should be in any way connected to his actual level of effort or sacrifice on their behalf, or to how much knowledge he actually has about who they are or what is going on in their lives. He considers it his right to make the ultimate determination of what is good for them even if he doesn’t attend to their needs or even if he only contributes to those aspects of child care that he enjoys or that make him look like a great dad in public.” ― Lundy Bancroft Bancroft