Growing up, each day was different. I was never really sure why my dad was different, just that he was. Some days were great and he was the best. Other days it was easier to stay out of sight. My father was an abusive alcoholic and drug addict. While most of my memories are like flashes these days, I do remember my mother and brother getting the worst of his anger.
I remember one day he didn’t like the eggs that my mother had made so he threw the plate with the food on it directly at her. There was another day when he shoved my brother into the wall so hard you could see the curvature of his spine in the drywall. All of the adults in my life seemed to know something about my dad that I didn’t. I would hear parts of conversations where they talked about him, how he wasn’t a good guy but no one ever seemed to do anything about it. This was just the way it was.
My father was always making promises and never following through. As a child, your hope seems to be eternal and the disappointment – heart-wrenching. I remember the day he promised to come to the sugar bush on my school trip. I was so mad when it was my mother who showed up. Believe it or not, the same thing happened at my communion. All dressed up and ready to go, my father was passed out on the couch.
I remember working so hard during a school fundraiser – there were prizes that year! I asked everyone I knew and my mother did too. Finally, I won! I was so excited – my very first CD player. Not too long after I brought it home, it went missing. My father had taken it and sold it.
I remember that as a turning point where things started getting worse in our house.
The very last night that my father and mother were still a couple was the absolute worst. It just so happened that that very same day, the police had come to my school and were telling everyone about how they could call 911 if anything bad was happening. The police were our friends and would always take care of us. That evening, everything happened so fast and then seemed to go on forever all at once. I was upstairs and could hear my mother screaming. Not arguing like before but screaming as loud as she could. I came downstairs and walked into the kitchen. My mother was pressed in the corner, her back practically bent in half over the counter. My father had his face shoved into hers and was yelling. I don’t remember what it was about. All I know is that between me and my parents was a telephone.
I picked it up and dialed 911, the same way the police officer told me to earlier that day.
Operator: “911 – fire or ambulance?”
I didn’t need the firetrucks or an ambulance. I needed the police. Why didn’t the lady on the phone ask that? I hung up quickly. I must have made a mistake! Right away, the phone started to ring. That was the same moment everything changed. My dad backed away from my mom and went to the coat closet. My mom answered the phone and was frantically telling someone that she needed help, to send the police. Before he left, my father told me everything would be okay and he’d be back for me.
Not long after he left, my mother began shoving clothes and necessities into garbage bags. The police showed up and started going through the house. When we left the house to go to the police car, all of the neighbours were outside watching. It’s as if we were putting on a show for them. I remember it seeming like a terrible movie that we were part of.
Little did I know, we were on our way to Women’s Place. I was terrified. It was the middle of the night, we had to be quiet and were being escorted into a strange building. Over the next week, time seemed to go on forever. We weren’t allowed to go outside or toward the front door. All sorts of people asked us questions. The shampoo smelled funny, the toys were not the ones we liked or had at home. And yet, there was a sense of relief. Even though our world had flipped upside down, it felt like we could breathe again.
After that, everything was better. All of the colours seemed to be a little brighter. After that week at Women’s Place, life was not easy but it was better. We still saw our father from time to time but he was never really a part of our lives after that. He would say he’d come visit and then not show up or when he did, he was itching to leave again. Eventually, it just stopped. My mother, brother and I were finally able to start rebuilding our family. I remember having dinner at the babysitter’s one night and crying at the table. I couldn’t finish all of the food on my plate no matter how hard I tried. When my babysitter asked why my brother and I were so upset, we told her. She let me know that if we couldn’t finish our food, we could leave the table. Wow! It was a whole new world!
I will always be grateful to Women’s Place and to everyone who helped support
my family as we learned a new way to live. If Women’s Place hadn’t taken us in that night, I doubt that our lives would have ever gotten better.