Thursday, November 20, 2008


A random overheard conversation yesterday conjured up a childhood episode I hadn't thought about in decades.

Nearly every weekend, my parents would get going on a case of beer (Ballantine Ale, if the brand matters to ya). They'd spend all of Saturday, and quite often Sunday as well, becoming increasingly loud, argumentative, and inevitably violent. It didn't matter if they went out somewhere or if we had company. By the time I was midway through elementary school, visits from relatives had trickled to nearly nothing. Outings always involved my dad showing off his alcohol-impaired driving skills, which weren't great even at the height of sobriety.

The "main event" was always a physical dust-up. The first time I called the police on them, I was eight. So it was sometime before that when this incident occurred.

Mom and Dad were in each other's faces. Dad was a few inches taller than Mom; he advanced on her and the body language said somebody was going to get hit. I grabbed a notebook -- a half-inch three ring binder, made of the flimsiest paperboard -- reached up and hit my father on top of the head with it.

He stopped yelling at my mother, turned around and looked down at me. The look and the tone of voice were classic parental disapproval.

"Oh, Volly," he said. "I am so disappointed in you."

No, there was no punishment. One time after that I tried to break them up; he kind of snarled "Don't interfere!" at me, but that was about as bad as that ever got. I'm just struck by the irony that he found my lame attempt at peacemaking to be so objectionable and inappropriate.

As many kids often mistakenly believe that they are the cause of their parents' conflict, an equal number must feel on some level that their purpose in being born was to "cure" their parents' problems. We feel a sense of personal failure when that doesn't work out.


Kay Dennison said...

My parents had an abusive marriage, too. My mother didn't drink though. My dad could be abusive toward us kids, too. My mother specialized in verbal abuse.

I had an abusive marriage, too.

I still bear the emotional scars of all of it.

And I wrote about it a bit on my other blog.

And yeah, I can still attract abusers.

Volly said...

I wonder if parents realize how much weight a child's early memories carry. Ask anybody -- even a random stranger -- about defining moments in their lives and nearly everyone is going to mention something from their childhood. Even if someone is remembering a war experience, chances are that they joined the military as the result of some powerful early impression about honor, duty, fighting, uniforms, something.

And don't get me started on people who say "Aw, just get over it, already!!"