My heart is pounding so fast I think it will explode. My head is throbbing and I’m seeing black spots at the edge of my vision. Rage. I am feeling pure unadulterated rage. As if from somewhere outside my body, I hear my own voice screaming, “F*CK YOU!!! You will NEVER EVER touch me! No more destroying property. Don’t you dare make a fist at dad. You are an ANIMAL Only an animal hits people and attacks them. It’s OVER!!! NEVER AGAIN, DO YOU HEAR ME?!?!
My son is inches from my face, screaming at me, and I’m clutching his shoulders screaming at him. Yeah, not at all productive.
“You’re choking me!” he yells, “You said you’d never hit me no matter what! You LIED.”
I’m not choking him or hitting him. What I am doing is scaring him. This is something unprecedented. I have never done this before. I’m screaming back.
“You think you can hurt ME a grown adult?! You want to scream and yell and try to scare me?! How do you like it?! I deal with this all the f*cking time!” These words are coming out of my mouth.
His words are hurtful (they always are when he rages) and now so are mine. The out-of-body me is shocked and horrified that I am screaming in my son’s face. I can barely breathe for all the pent up fury I am spewing out.
“Do you think it’s OK to hit me because I’m nice and I don’t hurt you? Do you think you can KEEP GOD***N HITTING ME?!?!? F*CK YOU!!!!!THIS IS OVER!!!! I WILL NOT LIVE LIKE THIS!!! You are NOT stronger! You will NEVER F*cking touch me EVER again. You think it feels good to hit people? Too bad! NO MORE! Normal people don’t act like this. I am DONE.”
As if to punctuate my statement I angle myself to lean my weight on something while I take a swing at the door. With my cane. There is a loud crack and a hole appears in the door. In the 4 years we’ve had our children they have attacked the doors many, many times. The bedroom doors have never broken.
All the closet doors were ripped off years ago. The children have punctured the walls and ripped apart the furniture. They have broken windows, and most of our screens are missing. This house has been under child attack for quite some time. Our bedroom and hallway closets hang on by a rickety rigging system. But the bedroom doors? They bend under assault but they have never, ever broken. Until now.
In that instant I can see that I am broken, too. I shuffle into my room with my cane and shut the door. He wasn’t actually trying to hit me. Carl was trying to punch dad. He didn’t actually come for me he was just screaming obscenities. I gasp for breath and curl up in a ball on the floor.
I don’t want to be the strongest. I don’t want to be the loudest. And I don’t want to try and be a better mom to the very people that want me dead. My 11-year-old son is shouting that he will leave and find another mom. He will never come home from school. A few weeks ago our daughter planned to kill us.
I don’t even care. I just curl up and try to breathe. I am still seeing stars. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Even Luke is a bit fearful to approach me. He eventually gets Carl into bed and offers a quiet, “You ok?” along with an ice water. I cannot answer because I cannot breathe. All three of us are shocked. Mom never loses it.
I recently started EMDR therapy for myself. It’s supposed to be very effective but its bringing up a lot of triggers in the process. I understand triggers now. I can see it from Carl and Mary’s perspective, at least a bit. I startle when people talk loudly. I hate being touched unawares. I can’t even have the kitties snuggle me for long. Sleep is ever-elusive and my hair has started falling out in clumps. I see my doctor immediately after the incident, and she prescribes Ativan to help me through the panic attacks. She encourages me to continue EMDR.
I am like the bedroom door. I’ve bent for years, accommodating the trauma of my children. Parenting therapeutically. Writing safety plans. Downplaying holidays like Christmas and Mother’s day. Being hypervigilant to signs that they are hungry, having a sensory need, or simply tired. Bobbing and parrying and darting out of the line of attack. I have de-escalated more tantrums in my lifetime than I care to count. And I’ve always named the feeling. Practiced the do-overs. Practiced rephrasing messages. I’ve done it all. There have been improvements over the years. I think Carl is better, even if he can’t always control his rage. I don’t blame him. Apparently neither can I.
Now I have my own trauma. I have trauma that my children inflicted on me because they once experienced it. Mary is getting treatment in RTC now, but I still sleep with the deadbolt locked. It’s not because of some mysterious childhood trauma that’s come up. No, it’s the fact that every rage one of them goes into reminds me of all the years worth of rages. Sort of like Chinese water torture. It doesn’t matter that I’m not being physically hurt anymore. I remember being hurt. Drip, drip, drip. Every insult or obscenity reminds me of another, older one. Drip, drip, drip.
My neurosurgeon tells me I will likely never be “asymptomatic” again. My ongoing work injury is just another part of the torture. Drip, drip, drip. We will have to wait until a year after surgery to know if the nerve damage is permanent. He avoids my eyes when I ask about the use of my right leg. He won’t answer me if I will ever drive again or walk without a cane. All he says is that we have to wait. Who am I? Who have I become?
When I later sit down with Carl I sincerely and thoroughly apologize. I explain to him that it’s never OK for me to grab him. I should never scream at him especially close to his face. That behavior is verbal abuse, and from now on Daddy will handle the upsetting situations while mom works hard in therapy. And also, I’m really really glad he didn’t just punch me when we were that close. That would have ended differently even a year ago. He was able to maintain more control than I was.
Carl says he thinks I am very strong and has decided not to throw things at me and smash them in my presence. He is sorry he ever hit me (even though its been a long while since) and he hugs me. To him screaming is nothing. It scared him because his typically-quiet mom screamed, but that’s about it. He moves on.
I cannot move on. I cannot be the broken door anymore. I need to live life as mom, not a hostage. Or a monster. So a few days later, I sneak into Carl’s room and gently wake him. I tell him to put on his shoes. His grin is instantaneous. “Where are we going? Is it a surprise?” It is.
This day happens to be summer solstice. My son and I creep outside to watch the sunset at 9:30 PM. We look for fireflies in the forest while waiting for the night stars to appear. This moment is just for us, just mom and kid time. Eventually, the longest day of the year is over. The sky is full black and filled with a sense of magic. I snuggle up with my boy and finally we count all the stars.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.