He puts his little 10-year-old hand into my hair and fiddles around with the curls. He’s smiling at me and watching the long strands of hair boing back when he tugs. We are giggling and being silly. Little Carl looks into my eyes and twists one strand around a finger. He tugs gently but steadily. Something changes in his eyes. He is looking at me intently. He pulls hard and firm on the strand of hair. I gasp and throw up a hand over my scalp as he yanks the strand right out of my head.
“No, Carl. That hurts. We have gentle hands,” I admonish in a firm yet bewildered voice. He is smiling.
My husband walks over and Carl immediately falls to the ground wailing, “She hates me! She won’t even let me near her! She never loves me! All she does is yell at me!” He screams and thrashes around. Then he slams both fists on the seat and runs off.
It’s been weeks now. Weeks of leaving bruises on my arms from where he has “snuggled” me. Strangers exclaim about how loving he is. How sweet he is to me. He climbs into my lap smiling. He yanks my arms around him and then digs his fingernails into the soft flesh of my forearms. “What an affectionate child” I hear. They don’t see me bleed.
He has started to hurt his sister. He swears at her and shoves her down. He tries to bend her to his will. He does the same with me. A “no thank you” or “perhaps later” response is met with threats from him. When asked why he threatened to hurt his sister or why he punched her or kicked her or shoved her he shrugs. “She deserved it” he says.
There is violence from him. So much violence. He rages and screams and yells. He breaks apart his room and the house. He hurts me. He hurts his sister. Then he screams at us some more because after all, this is our fault. Women should listen.
When my husband is not around he will let me know that I am going to “learn my lesson.” He holds a fist to my face and steps forward. I stand my ground and repeat that I will not allow hurts in this family. We are a safe family. This is a safe house.
Only, I’m not telling the truth. Not really. Because we aren’t a safe house at the moment. We are a house caught in the past trauma of a 10-year-old boy. He is reliving the domestic abuse suffered at the hands of his biological family. As he faces these things in trauma therapy, he becomes caught in the past.
No longer is Carl the tiny boy being whipped with the metal of a belt buckle. No longer is he the victim of multiple men telling him to “learn his lesson” or that he/his siblings “had it coming.” Now he is bigger and stronger. Now he feels safer not being preyed upon. Now he has taken on the role of the aggressor. If only he can control his environment, he will feel safe.
But love is never safe. Falling in love means taking a risk that you could be hurt. “It’s ok to love us,” I want to tell him. “It’s ok to trust that we won’t hurt you.” I want to tell him. I do not say these things. He wouldn’t listen right now. He cannot hear a mother’s words. To him, in this moment, they are the words of the enemy.
Instead I wait. I pray. I try not to drown in the deep waters of his trauma. He has an intake tommorow for a partial hospitalization placement. I hope it will help us. It isn’t just the trauma’s effects on a little boy anymore. Right now our whole family could use a lifeline. We are drowning.