He was my first stepdad . He used to beat my mother up all the time. I never quite figured out why. He said it was because we were both dummies. ” You’re nothing but a bunch of dummies” is exactly what he would say to us, (when he was in one of his “rages” as my mother put it) and then he would start hitting her. The sound of a face being hit is not a pleasant one. It would make a “smacking” noise as the hard flesh of his fist, hit he soft flesh of her face. After just two or three years of these smacking sounds, I would begin to wonder ” Is he going to kill her now? How much more of this can she take? What do I do if he kills her- How can I escape?
For three years, there was no escape from this madness. Needless to say, my self esteem went down to nothing at times, because I looked down at myself and felt bad for not being able to protect my mother from his beatings. My mother did not want me to tell anybody else about what was going on, so I did not. For three years, I kept silent, even though I felt sometimes like I would explode with anger at him, I kept silent. The only noise heard was the smacking sound of flesh, as he would begin to beat her .
A pair of white furry soft bunny feet are what my rabbit Fluffy had. It’s too bad she was eaten up by someone. At least, that’s what my stepdad claims happened to her when she wound up missing after I came back from a couple of trips I had went on during the summer of 76.
“I’ll bet someone took her , slit her throat (he made a motion with his hand across his throat), and put her in a pot to eat, because good rabbit meat is had to find for free”
I was shocked when I heard him say it, so shocked that I stared at him in utter disbelief and said “You don’t think that’s what really happened to her, do you?”
And he answered ” Sure I do! After all good rabbit meat is hard to find!”
I told him that I didn’t believe him, even through a small part of me thought that (by the way he was talking) he might have been the one that ate her.
I felt horrible. She was my pet. I had raised her since she was a little tiny bunny. She could hardly hop at that point. She was all white, except for her paws which were black and her ears which were also black. I remembered the way I used to gently pet her ears and how soft her back paws felt, like velvet ( cats back paws feel the exact same way). She was a happy rabbit for the most part, because I used to get carrot tops from the store and all kinds of treats to feed her, so she ate plenty and did grow big, but I wasn’t just fattening her up for someone to eat.
I wondered what my life would be like, living with someone who could say that my rabbit met such a horrible fate, and sound so casual about it.
I found out when my mother married him a few months later, and during the course of the next three years, he continually beat her up, and terrified us both by threatening to kill us.
One night in 1979, when were were standing outside the front door, he said “If you ever try to get any of my money, I’ll kill you both!!”
I asked him how he would kill me (as a ploy to really get him to think about what he was saying) and he answered ” I’d slit you right across your throat!” and made a motion across his own throat to demonstrate.
It was just like my rabbit Fluffy, except that the threat had moved from a missing rabbit, to a live human being- me.
The first time
The first time my stepdad actually beat up my mom, she was at the shower, she was letting the water run on her foot, and her toe (because previously, he had stepped on her tow with the heel of his boot, when she was in the drivers seat of his car, he sat on top of her to grab the keys- this was in Mission Viejo).
He came into the bathroom (in San Juan Capistrano) saw what she was doing, and punched her- I think it was several times, and then left the bathroom. (he thought she was wasting water)
I felt shocked, humiliated and helpless when my mother told me about it. How could someone do this to her, and why can’t anyone protect her?
I was surprised, because at first, I did not remember any of this, but now I vaguely do.
I remember going out to the phone box (on the side of the house) and connecting two wires that were disconnected, I was outraged that my stepdad had disconnected the phone service from the house, so that the phones inside the house were dead.
I was scared, because I thought ” What if he comes home and tries to kill us, like he threatened to do several times… we don’t have any way to call the police or get help if we need it.” I felt very alone and isolated.
I was able to fix it so that the phone was re-connected so that we could call out in case of an emergency, but I would have to go outside and disconnect the phone (so that he would not know that we had re-connected the phone) every night, before he arrived home from work.
I think that it was maybe once or twice that I had forgotten to re-connect the phone, and the second time I had forgotten, he had caught on.
From that time on, he tried a different approach. He unplugged both phone receivers from the phones themselves and took them to work with him.
I can’t remember what was done if anything was done about it, but I knew that I would have to find another way to countermand his cruelty towards us.
The Phone Part 2
One afternoon when I went to use the phone (after school) I was surprised to find that the phone cord was wrapped around the wall unit itself, and that there was no phone handle (the part you talk into and listen from) because it was missing completely.
“What happened to the phone?” I asked my mother.
“Your stepdad took the reciver, and the phone upstairs to work with him., when he left this afternoon to work the swing shift (4PM to Midnight).
“He took both phones? I said in disbelief.
“Yes” she answered and added “He did not like you talking on the phone to your friends every night for over 2 hours at a time, so he just took the phones and left.”
“But what about and emergency? I asked
“He said that he didn’t care, we were not going to have the phones back” She replied
Now, this had me really worried because it met that if he ever decided to make good on his threat to kill us, that we would have no way to contact the police. We would have to contact with the outside world. I felt cut off, and suddenly very isolated and alone.
I had thought about calling the police a couple of times when he was beating up on her, but I had never done it. Well so much for that idea. Maybe this was part of a plan that he had to kill us both. I had hoped that we would never find out, and was glad that I kept my bedroom door blocked and the window open when I went to sleep at night. It was what to do the rest of the time that I was still around him that still bothered me.
With no phone, it met that when he was home he could have complete control over our contact with the outside world, and he could sneak home from work at anytime to check on us. He had done it before (because he was convinced that my mother was having an affair with someone) so he made it quite clear that he would come home to “Check on us” anytime he damn well pleased, and with no phone, it meant that none of our friends or relatives could check on us to see if we were ok or not. Only he could.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
I remember seeing two black and white police cars out in front of the house, and thinking ” Its finally happened, he’s finally killed her, just like he said he was going to .”
It was a Saturday afternoon, and I had just gotten off work at the Mc Donalds, and walked the two miles home on the highway.
One of the Police Officers asked me “Are you Sterling?” and I said “Yes” expecting to hear the worst.
He then said “Your mother is next door at the neighbors, you need to go over there.”
Somewhat relieved, I went quickly next door to find another officer inside talking to my mother who was sitting on a bar stool. She seemed to have something black smudged on the right side of her face. Rage pulsed through my veins as I realized the black was not makeup, but another black bruise from where he had hit her in the face and eye. I thought to myself “He’s getting bolder.- This time he’s actually hit her in a place where other people could see, a place that couldn’t be hidden by clothing or even makeup. The secrets out. Maybe now we will get some help.”
The officer who was talking to her turned to me and said “I know what you’re thinking”and added “You want to go over there right now and get even with him, for what happened to your mother-I would be thinking of doing the same thing if my mother had been punched like that.”
I thought “No you don’t do something like that to someone who’s threatened repeatedly over and over again to kill you, because something called “the survival instinct” kicks in and makes you keep quiet.”
He then said “But don’t go over there, we’ve talked to him, and told him to leave her alone, so he will, and there won’t be any more trouble tonight as long as you don’t go over there.”
I thought “That’s great, could you please come over her every night and tell him the same thing, because the same thing has been going on every night, night after night for the past 2 years, and will probably continue to do so for the next two years or longer… if we live that long”.
I said “ok” because I didn’t know what else to say to him, and he left.
I asked my mother what happened and she told me that she wanted to make a phone call ( my stepdad had disconnected the phones at our house, so we couldn’t use them) so she came here to the neighbors house and started to call, when he burst in, and yanked the phone out of her hand, hit her a couple of times, and left. He apparently didn’t want her to use the neighbors phone. He of course, never said this, it was just obvious from his actions. This is how we lived our lives with him. He would never tell us that something we did was wrong, or would upset him, we would find out through his actions.
I remember thinking that “actions truly do speak louder than words” in his case as we were walking out.
“Where are we going?” I asked her ” Home” she said.
“What about him?” I asked, somewhat bewildered
“He is outside going for a walk, the officers told me he had left”
“What about when he gets back?” I asked thinking “Is she crazy?”
She answered rather calmly ” I’ll sleep in the spare bedroom, and put the nightstand in front of the door, and you sleep in your room with the bookcase in front of the door like you always do. -I’m glad you thought of it.” she said as she patted me on the shoulder.
Well, I was at least glad that she finally saw the sense in it.
-She used to urge me not to do it, because it would make him upset.
Violence…that’s it pure and simple. Any noise that I heard during the night was some sort of violence being inflicted upon my mother, from the hands of my stepdad. Noise equals violence. The equation was that simple, and I had been putting up with is for nearly three years now.
Of course, the usual questions ran through my mind as I was awakened by a loud slapping noise followed by the loud ” boom boom, boom” if my stepdads feet, either going away from her, or after her, I could not tell which. I could only imagine, speculate, and listen as I lay absolutely still, listening for noises that would tell me what was going on, while listening to the questions that were running through my mind like ” Is he going to kill her tonight?” and “if he tries to kill her, will she be able to get away?”
I dared not look and see because I was afraid of him and what he might do to me if I interfered. The best thing I could do, was listen and wait for him to come after me, if he tried to kill her.
After all, I had a plan and was well prepared. For the past three years, I had closed my bedroom door, and put my bookcase in front of my bedroom door, on a nightly basis. If he came after me duning the night, the bookcase would slow him down enough so that I could escape through my bedroom window, which I kept slightly open.
But for now, all had to do, was wait and listen. If I heard the usual series of noises, it would mean that she was get away from him, into the spare bedroom where she could put the nightstand in front of the door, and he would hopefully leave her alone.
Silence…nothing but silence. That was the hardest part. Listening to all the silence and waiting for the next series of noises to start.
Finally, I heard some quick creeks going down the hall and the spare bedroom door opening and shutting. Then I heard the gentle “thud” of the nightstand as it was placed against the door, and knew that she had gotten away from him.
The next morning as I want to check on her, I remember a deep anger surging through me as I saw her face all black and blue from where he had hit her. I remember her describing how he had chocked her, first, and then slapped her in the face.
Today, twenty to forty years later, the noises that I hear during the night are happy ones , like my wife’s laughter, or the cats purring, but every once in a while, I still wake up suddenly startled by a noise, that sounds frightfully similar to the noises that I used to hear back then.
The Big Lie
It was a small incident. A very small one indeed. One light was left on ( a whole two minutes) longer than is should have been.
The penalty was dished out quickly- one swift click of the light switch, the ” boom, boom, boom” sound of his big feet thudding down the stairs and the inevitable loud crack of his thundering voice as he shouted out his question… “What was the light doing on upstairs when you’re down here!!!”
Now, my answers to his questions (no matter what they were) would always trigger a certain response from him. His response (or answer) is what I called ” the big lie”
For some reason this time, I chose to give him and honest answer, one that made sense.
Summoning up my courage, I said “I had left the light on because I was going to go back into that room, I had just left for a minute”
I answered slowly, waiting for the insanity to start, and it did, right on schedule.
Breathing heavily, he stared at me for a brief moment. Then in one swift movement he swung his right arm towards the front door (missing me by inches) pointed at it and in a lower tone of voice (which surprised me) said ” Well, you’re nothing but a dummy…This is my house. I told you to sit in the dark and not to waste my electricity anymore…Get Out!!!”
I swiftly moved towards the front door and opened it, keeping out of his reach the whole time.
Turning my back to him, I heard his thundering footsteps going back up the staris to where my mother was located.
I shut the door quickly, and as I felt the nights could air, a chill ran through me, but not because of the cold.
“You’re nothing but a bunch of dummies”
“You’re nothing but a bunch of dummies!!!”
He used to say that to us everyday.
It was programming, and to some extent it worked, but only to a certain point, because I knew that even though he said that to us everyday, it was something that wasn’t true. It was a lie that he was trying to get us to believe.
It was kind of like Hitler’s “Big Lie” If a lie was heard everyday (no matter how outrageous and untrue) that eventually, people would believe it.
His statement “You’re nothing but a bunch of dummies!!!” worked the same way, which is why I used to try and fight it.
I thought about Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and how wrong Hitler was , as a way to fight against his statement “You’re nothing but a bunch of dummies!!!”
I even went upstairs, looked in his closet at the German Iron Cross that he had (it was a souvenir that he kept, he said that he had gotten it from a German officer), but just looking at it, the few times that I did, reminded me of the horrors of Nazi Germany, and how wrong Hitler was and of all of his outrageous lies that people believed because they heard them repeated long enough.
I had heard “You’re nothing but a bunch of dummies” everyday from him for years, but I wasn’t going to believe it. I was going to fight the lie that I had heard, anyway that I could, because I knew that if I didn’t, eventually I might end up believing it was true, so every time I had heard him say “You’re nothing but a bunch of dummies” I used to think of it as a big lie. It helped me to get through seeing my mother get beat up by him, just because he thought that she was nothing but a dummy.
“What are we going to do about the gun?” my mother asked, “I don’t know” I responed.
The problem was, that it existed, and that my stepdad had threatened to kill us several times over the past 6 months. Due to his violent disposition, one could only assume that he might use the gun to make his threats of killing us a reality.
The problem of getting rid of it, was that he might notice it was gone, and that might make him very upset, but it was a problem that we were willing to deal with, considering the alternative of having it around.
He kept it in a shoebox in the main bedroom closet. It was a simple revolver that could shoot 6 bullets.
I told my mother not to bury it in the backyard, because the workmen pouring the cement for the padio might discover it, so she simply put it in the trash can, underneath some garbage. The trash men came the next day, emptied the garbage, and it was gone. However, the problem still remained. My stepdad was still violent, but he didn’t notice that the gun was missing until the end of a three year period of time. A period during which he beat her continuously, about once every two weeks.
When he finally did notice that his gun was missing, both my mother and I were glad that she had gotten rid of it, because since he was finally looking for it, (and noticed that it was missing) it meant that he could finally be getting serious, about his constant threats to kill us both.
One Last Time
Jerry (my stepdad) threatened to kill me. That is something that I remember. My mother decided that she wanted to see Jerry one last time. This was in 1983. We went down to visit him. He showed us pictures of the women he had dated and said “they got mad at me ” and left him when he was in Europe (I wonder why?). We went to Delaneys for lunch. I remember telling my mother that he had not changed at all, and that house women got mad at him for a reason, (he probably beat them up) and she agreed.
I still find it amazing (after we escaped with our lives) that she would ever want to see him again.
He did stalk her for a while (after we left him in 1979). I know this because a neighbor said that he used to park at the bottom of the street, watching our house.
Stepping on my own grave
It started out like a day like any other, but it did not end up that way. I was a substitute teacher at a Junior High for about 3 years, I had many positive encounters with students, and they all knew me well.
I was given a science class to teach for the day, and I was in the process of taking roll before the morning announcements were made. As I said the name of the next student on the list, the students all said ” They are dead” I said “that’s not funny- now were are they?” and the students responded respectfully by telling me that the student was really dead, and that they had been murdered the father over the weekend along with the other members of the family. They had all been shot while they were asleep. The students said that the school was going to announce this in the morning announcements.
It was like stepping on my own grave, when I heard that , because I often wondered if my stepdad had ever made good on his threat, what would happen afterwords at school? I imagined them making an announcement, like the one that was made at the school today.
I only saw the student a couple of times, and I did not know anything was wrong, the student told me that they wanted to be a vet, and some other things, and asked me if it was possible to be more than one thing in their life, I sad “yes, I used be a firefighter, and now I am a teacher, so it is possible to be many things in your life”
Maybe, by some other victim reading these abuse stores, they can get the help they need, before it is too late.Follow OneLessSecret