I have never told the world that I was a coward. I never mustered up the courage to do something that I thought I needed to do. At the time, I felt I didn’t have the power to do anything. Before I tell you what I didn’t do, I want to share with you a story about a boy that I knew during my childhood. A boy that I will never forget as long as I live.
I met a child who was no older than ten years old. With a glimpse of the boy one could immediately recognize the signs of neglect. Starting from the top, his hair was long and shaggy and unkempt. Cowlicks pushed against the sides of his head and with bits of dandruff and dirt were clearly visible in his scalp. When you looked at his hands they looked like they belonged to an old man. Thick callous pads covered his palms and deep bleeding fissures that cracked in the corners of his fingers. This was the telltale signs that his hands were exposed to the elements. His clothes were fitted too tight to include the boots that had holes in the toes of his leather boots. His jacket was heavily soiled and a piece of fibrous baling twine bunched up the fabric around his thin, waifish torso and barely kept his pants up. He smelled as bad as he looked, the whiffs of body order and cow feces were hard to ignore. One thing that seemed displaced was his bright smile and happy demeanor as he skipped about.
I had the chance to observe his guardians on numerous occasion. They seemed to be yelling at the child. They often throw insults at him, asking him why he was stupid or why he was a wimp. I saw his “mother” slap him in the face. The boy was extremely embarrassed and humiliated. I saw an adult once confront his parents asking why they did such things and they responded with “you have no idea how hard it is to raise such an unruly child.” They explained that the child was extremely lazy, he day dreamed a lot and had behavioral problems. They explained that they suspected the boy was on drugs, had criminal instincts and suffered some type of mental issues. They even sent the boy to a psychologist and learned that the boy actually had a high IQ, this was proof positive that the child was actually lazy since his grades were barely above a C.
The parent claimed that they didn’t want to administer corporal punishment but they felt they had no other options. He would get his mouth taped shut when he would lip-off to others. They had to force him to skip a meal when they caught him stealing cookies out of the pantry. The boy lied to them often and they had to devise cleaver traps to catch him in his lies. They could tell if the TV was warm when they returned home after they were away to see if he was watching TV. The label of the ice cream container faced a certain way to know if he had eaten any of it. He was an evil and sneaky boy. However, the parents were patient and showed great restraint because they would only spank him with a leather belt or strike him when he committed only the gravest of offenses. It wasn’t abuse, the punishments were used to try to change the child’s behavior and they were matched by the severity of the infractions made by the child. Besides, they were simply following what was prescribed by their faith: Proverbs 24 stated “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him,” Proverbs 23:13-14 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul” and Proverbs 22:15 further supported their actions by saying “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” They firmly believed it was their moral obligation to carry out the punishment on this unruly, ungrateful and evil child.
This boy that I’m talking about was me. If you speak to the people that called themselves my parents, they would tell you that I am a liar. That I exaggerate things and am emotionally unstable. I can assure you that the “punishments” were not always reasonable. Their torments were sometimes done for their enjoyment. They would sick the dog on me and howl with laughter as it bit into my flesh and tore my clothes. The pain they dished out was done in public as well as in private. The public disciplining was not as abusive. They would grasp the muscle on my shoulder and squeeze tightly to cause pain. The neglect was forced on us. We were allowed to shower only 1X a week and if we washed before going to school-we were yelled at for wasting soap and water. I remember getting ring-worm from the cattle when I was a young boy. When I showed them the patches of red infected rings on my buttocks and legs- they commented that I should put car grease on it to make it go away. The “discipline” was not dispense solely to me. They issued their punishment equally to my sister as well. She was forced to eat moldy month old food they found hidden in her bedroom. After all, it was theft and they wanted to instill good virtues in their children.
Earlier I stated I was a coward and never mustered up the courage to do something that I thought I needed to do. That thing I didn’t do was to commit suicide. I contemplated suicide a lot and I was filled with the usual demons that are expressed during abuse: low self-worth, depression, anxiety, fear and guilt. It was extremely difficult growing up as an isolated farm and with nobody to turn to for help. Other family members never came to my aid. I had an uncle who told me he went through situations than I did as he suffered the abuse of a drunk father. This was a means to look the other way since the suffering wasn’t as bad as his. School was equally bad for me as I was bullied there as well.
I am often asked what gave me the strength to hold on? Four things helped me to keep holding on. 1) The first thing was the love I felt from my Caucasian grandmother. I realized that it wasn’t white people that hated me. I was able to separate that out immediately. The pain I felt were dished out by mean, ignorant people- many of them happened to be white. 2) The farm was filled with feral cats and I befriended a small black kitten. The love and warmth expressed by a pet can give you love when none can be found by humans. I had a small kitten that would climb on my shoulder when I did my chores. The kitten’s purr gave me deep satisfaction and I learned about reciprocation when it nudged me with its soft tiny face as I pet it. 3) The ability to go to the library on a monthly basis expanded my imagination and curiosity about the world. I learned that a different life could be made for myself from reading books. Exotic lands to visit, friendships to be forged and experiences to be explored. 4) Encouragement expressed by a few people that I admired gave me the will to do something good for myself. One such individual that did that was my Science teacher in High School. He would tell me that I was smart and he encouraged me to continue my studies. I am forever grateful for him reaching out to me and decades later I went back to the school to thank him for showing me kindness. I as an adult can now forgive that small scared boy for not carrying out the only thing he had to do to escape the pain in this world. If any other person out there is contemplating the same thoughts as I toyed with as a child, please give yourself a chance. You never know how wonderful it can be once you escape your demons.