One night, I was probably in sixth grade, I played my clarinet in a school concert held at the local high school. I loved playing the clarinet and playing in the school band. After the concert I scanned the crowd of parents and siblings looking for my family. They were not there. This was in the days before cell phones. There may have been phones in the school, or a phone booth, but regardless I didn’t call home. I just walked home by myself. It was about a mile down a long road that had nothing on it – just the high school. I’m pretty sure it was a little scary, but I don’t remember being afraid. The idea of girls being kidnapped, raped, murdered, was not in the daily news in the late 1960’s.
I do remember arriving home. The lights were on in the house, my brothers were in their rooms. I poked my head in and caught the eyes of my brothers, one year and four years younger than I. I have no memory of where our youngest brother was, he being only two at the time.
What I do remember is this.
There was a storm unleashing in our house. Our mother was in the basement throwing dishes and yelling. I have no idea what dishes she was breaking, nor what she was yelling. But this was her way of dealing with the fact that father had not come home from work, again. He must have worked late and then gone out drinking. She was angry because he did not come home and take her and my brothers to my concert. Of course we only had one car.
It didn’t occur to me at the time that if I could walk home, alone, in the dark, that my mother could have walked to the school. Although probably not with a two a year old – there was no sidewalk, just the side of the road. Regardless, this act of violence remains a vivid memory. The disappointment of not having my family at the concert fused with the trauma of a mother who has lost her mind and a father who is oblivious to the impact of his behavior on his family.
My mother had many good days, when she was balanced and sane. But she also had moments like this one. My father was not a violent man, but he is, and was, an alcoholic, which means he was unpredictable – there were other occasions when he was suppose to pick me up after school, and I would wait for hours for him to arrive. By myself, in front of an empty school. Again, long before the days of cell phones.
Ripe in memory of this same episode in my home is the murder of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. My mother woke me from a sound sleep to watch the news with her when each of these men were shot. My father, once again, was not home. I have vivid memories of the black and white screen, a grief stricken country.
Guns don’t kill people, my mother would say. People do.
Violence is every where. My personal experiences with violence, of which this is only one, are in the grand scheme of things, not much to speak of. No torture, no rape, no kidnapping, no mass shooting, no on going physical or emotional abuse (aside from the occasional lapses of sanity on my mother’s part. No doubt, today, both my parents could be charged with child endangerment or neglect or abuse – but back then, it was just part of life.) I have not lived in a war zone.
Well, that is not exactly true. I have lived, and continue to live through the drug war. This impacts me personally and as a citizen of this country. It impacts me from a social justice perspective as I ponder the impact of the drug war on neighboring countries – on the poor, the hungry, those who are seeking the means to earning something that approximates a living wage – by crossing into this country without documentation (because we won’t give it to them legally) – thus adding to the victims of the drug war – more rape, sex slaves, labor slaves….it was all happening in my back yard in Arizona. Now it is a little further away. This war is distorted in the media and those who want to blame the victim and fill their pockets with cash. Violence in all its forms has escalated with the increase in illegal drug use and sales.
And I am, we are, living through the war on women – a frightening time when women’s health care is being legislated, or attempted to be legislated by Congress. Not in a way that supports women, but in yet another example of violence: oppression and suppression.
Individual violence, cultural violence, systemic violence.
Just a few more thoughts. I know I am just thinking out loud here. I am not supplying data and links to back up my thoughts. I am not saying anything new nor anything that the average, self aware, and educated person is not also thinking. I’m just trying to get a hold on it. On the idea that violence – the language we use, the actions we take or don’t take, the experiences in the world, the media, the church, our families – violence has a hold on us.
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