**Trigger warning – graphic descriptions of domestic violence**
Covered in blood that poured down from her forehead to her breasts, pulsating from her nose to her chin. The tears of terror and pain washed out the thick, sticky, deep-red drips drawn by my father’s hand. As he threw her around the kitchen, smashing her head against the dishwasher and chopping bench I didn’t know whether to run, hide, help, scream, or cry. These simple, childlike, emotional responses manifested themselves into a complex and chronic illness. It is the human condition to deal with danger by using the fight or flight response, which, when triggered by unwarranted situations, is labelled Anxiety and Panic Disorder. I can not solely blame my debilitating condition on the handful of times I saw my mother beaten by my egotistical father. There was much more ahead for me. But at that ripe age of eight-years-old I witnessed violence worse than any other, within the safety of my own home.
I watched an interview with Charlize Theron on Inside the Actor’s Studio, in which she tells the story about the day she watched her dad open their front door to her home and get shot dead in front of her. That sense of unsafety, I only assume she must have felt in that moment, is enough to destroy a person’s sense of security in the world. I’ve felt unsafe in this world since that first day I saw my mother’s head split open in the kitchen. Who do you trust when your mother who is supposed to protect you can’t protect herself? If your father is nothing but gentle and kind to you, but a raging, angry predator against your mother? Why did I see this? How did either of them let me witness these events? Now, as a thirty-year-old woman, I find these questions more unfathomable to answer than when I was eight. As a child you are a sponge, absorbing your surroundings, learning how to make sense of everything. You’re also incredibly resilient. It was this resilience that protected me, made me able to continue on with my growing and learning despite the violence that occurred in my home. Being unprotected as a child is what destroyed a substantial amount of my early adulthood.
I didn’t come from a wealthy family, but we never struggled to eat or enjoy life. My mother and father weren’t drug addicts, or unemployed, they socialised a little too much and drank copious amounts of wine at dinner parties. Both were attractive with charming personalities; it was all a façade. Life was relatively stable the majority of the time and then, haphazardly, a war would erupt.
By the time I was ten Dad had left the family home. I continued to see him on school holidays and speak with him over the phone. Mum trekked around the Australian countryside meeting men and bringing them into the new rentals she would endearingly decorate. I missed my father – which may be a difficult concept to grapple with. At the time, I didn’t feel as though I was the victim, I saw the brutality my mother would endure and felt for her, not myself. I had a lovely bedroom with pretty furnishings, a beauty mirror atop my dressing table, and light lavender walls. I would retreat to my sanctuary when the vibrations of a war began reverberating. On a good night Mum would crawl into my bed or lay herself atop my floor to escape him. On a bad night she would lock him out of the house and he would pound through the windows as the police arrived.
As an adult I feel as though I was the victim. My mother coming to me for protection was emotional abuse, and I blame her, like I blame him. I don’t miss him anymore. But as a child your needs are utterly simplistic and you can withstand the negativity in order to get what you need. I tolerated the domestic violence, because I had no choice, and I was too young to do anything about it. I survived the bad nights because on the good days I was loved, and that’s all a child needs. By the time I turned 13 my mother had died from illness, and my father stepped in to be my sole carer. I didn’t need him as much as I had when I was eight, so I left his home by the time I was 14. And as the years have unfolded my feelings towards him have been truly complex and conflicting.
I wasn’t the victim of domestic violence, my mother was. 22 years later and I am still troubled by the violence that I saw within my home. As challenging as it must have been, dealing with the emotional and physical afflictions caused by domestic violence, I wish she hadn’t forgotten her role, as my Mum.
Image: Volkan Olmez
Madison Manning, the creative writer, the literature scholar, the photographer. With an innate ability to record her feelings and surroundings, Madison views living her life as her creative motivation. “When something affects me, I write it down. Or save it for a later project. Nothing escapes me, which is why I need to be alone for large portions of time.”