Lately I can’t seem to avoid the recent and polarizing discussions of domestic violence on the news and my favorite sports channels.
Every television, website and newspaper has been inundated with those ugly images of Ray Rice punching his wife (then fiancé) Janay Rice, in that Atlantic City elevator. Then there are the lengthy diatribes, analysis and opinions from anyone with two cents to offer.
Just when it appeared that the frenzy around the Ray Rice controversy was beginning to subside, another NFL player — Jonathan Dwyer — is arrested on charges related to domestic abuse.
Sports are usually my escape from open-ended debates over issues no one’s willing to face head on. But now sports – my safe zone from the trendy dogmas of society – is the culprit behind America’s bed sheets being yanked off in broad daylight; revealing family secrets and buried demons nobody’s ready or willing to talk about out loud.
While those opinionated folks in glass houses take condemnation target practice at Rice, Dwyer, and the NFL; very few people are discussing the long-term impact these acts violent will leave behind. I’m not talking about how it will affect the league, or the players’ careers and marriages, but something far more important — the long-term mental and emotional impact on the children.
According to the American Psychological Association, each year more than 3 million children are exposed to violence against their mothers (or other female caretaker) by another family members in their home. Studies show that 80 to 90 percent of children living in homes where domestic abuse occurs are fully aware of what is happening. That in turn makes the child’s exposure to their father abusing their mother, the leading risk factor for continued violent behavior from one generation to the next.
It just so happens this plague of domestic violence is playing out in the media the same way it plays out in the homes; in front of children who are unable to make sense or justification of what they witness. This begins a life of misguided emotional recovery, long after Mommy and Daddy have kissed and made up.
Far too much noise and singular attention is being placed on who’s to blame, yet nobody hears the cries of that little girl or boy (son or daughter) bitten from the sting of domestic violence. A child’s pain is no less relevant than the pain of the adults, and it must be treated and healed like the visible injuries of their parents.
Instead, the gross evasion of guilt from the powerfully irresponsible is becoming the main focus; and at the same time the opportunity to have a real discussion centered on the prevention strategies to end the violent cycle is being missed. While we debate over who should lose their jobs and who should go to jail, there’s a family suffering, with children too afraid to speak up. Without the proper attention, these children will remain quietly broken behind their tears of fear until they become unknowing participants in the cycle.
I’m able to offer a voice for these children because I was one of them. For the first ten years of my life, I witnessed my own mother’s black eyes; I watched tears fall from her swollen face and brought her ice bags when the fight was over and Dad left the house. I never thought my Dad was a monster, I just thought him and Mom had really bad arguments. I thought you were meant to fight someone you love, because it was better to fight for love than to walk away from it. Sure, I wanted Dad to stop hitting Mom, but what was I supposed to do? I wasn’t allowed to say anything; I was just ten years old! I didn’t want to get in trouble or worse; I didn’t want Mom or Dad to get in trouble. I didn’t know that when I finally said something, it would be too late to save Mom’s life.
Victims and witnessess of domestic violence can call the national hotline for help 1-800-799-SAFE
Nelli Davis is a writer and wellness coach whose forthcoming autobiography Dream Awake details his triumph after the death of his mother at the hands of his father and his healing process in prison after running a marijuana enterprise. Dream Awake is an inspirational story of how anyone can overcome their harsh realities to achieve their dreams of a better reality. The following is an excerpt from his book scheduled to be released in Spring 2015.
“A Rude Awakening” – An Excerpt From Nelli Davis’ Memoir “I Dream Awake”
* Summer 88’
They told me dad doesn’t want a jury to decide his fate in court today. He’s going to take his chances with the judge instead. It seems dumb in my opinion because it’s easier to fool a jury then a judge who knows the law better than his wife’s birthday. Maybe he doesn’t believe he’s guilty; which is crazy to me because everybody knows he killed my mom. Maybe him and his snake of a lawyer have some kind of slimy trick up their sleeves.
I honestly don’t want to know what they’re going to do or how they’re going to do it; I only wish I didn’t have to be here to witness it. The DA says the judge is a no nonsense judge, and he’s famous for putting the leaders of MOVE behind bars – that black liberation group who changed their last names to “Africa” and all burned up in that house on Osage Avenue. There’s no way this judge is going to fall for my dad and his lawyer’s sneaky tricks.
Everybody keeps asking me, am I ready for today, they wanna know if I can handle this kind of pressure. Hell no I can’t handle it! But I have to do it, and I will! I’m determined to tell the truth, no matter how afraid I am or what happens to my Dad.
The trial is in Philadelphia’s City Hall. This place reminds me of Brigantine Castle — a haunted house filled with the scariest monsters I’ve ever seen in my life. We ride to the Jersey shore as a family every summer, screaming through the halls of Brigantine Castle like our lives depend on it. The Davis family loves their summertime getaway trips to Brigantine, but not me; I never want to go! It scares the shit out of me just like this haunted courthouse of cops and robbers.
Like Brigantine Castle, City Hall is old, spooky and so dark the monsters can jump out at you from any direction, and you never see them coming. They can grab you and make you their hostage for a big escape.
The biggest difference between the two places is, Brigantine smells like Funnel Cake, the ocean, and Cotton Candy; but City Hall smells like stale coffee, soft pretzels, and dried up subway urine. Instead of creepy Halloween costumes, people in City Hall are dressed in police uniforms, prison jumpsuits, and 3-piece suits.
In City Hall they have real-life monsters; and they’re so close to me I’m afraid for all the right reasons! Police Officers in plain clothes with big guns sticking out of their pants, escort the criminals to and from court. It seems too easy for them to grab the cop’s gun and make a run for it. As afraid as I am to make eye contact with these monsters, I’m watching their every move, just in case I have to make a run for it too. I know these guys can kill me if they want, and that makes City Hall twice as scary as Brigantine Castle.
Mrs. Foulkes, the Assistant District Attorney, explained to me how important my testimony will be in court today. She says I’m going to be her star witness, and that’s funny because Mom always called me her superstar. But now I don’t have Mom to help me with my lines. I wish Mrs. Foulkes could just tell the judge everything I know. But she says I’m the only one who can testify about what I saw all those times. I’m the only one who can tell the judge how my Dad beat my Mom for all those years; and I’m the only one who can prove he really killed my Mom.
Mrs. Foulkes offers me some last words of advice before I enter the courtroom. “If you don’t remember something, you simply say: ‘I don’t recall.’ Don’t force yourself to remember anything, okay Darnell?”
Mrs. Foulkes says if I create a story that isn’t exactly true, I won’t be doing anybody any favors and it wouldn’t be right. “The truth is always the best answer,” she says. Her voice is firm, but gentle, kinda like my mom’s voice used to be.
Mrs. Foulkes tells me it’ll be scary inside that courtroom, but she says she’s never had a witness as brave as me before. I like Mrs. Foulkes a lot. She thinks I’m smart and that I can do anything I put my mind to. She believes in me just as much as Mom believed in me and I don’t want to let her down.
Luckily my Grandpop is allowed to walk me to the witness stand. I don’t want to be alone. Grandpop says I can look at him the entire time I testify so I won’t accidentally see my dad.
The sheriffs open the big brown doors for Grandpop and me to enter. The cold air from the air conditioner slaps us both in the face. Outside, it’s the beginning of summer, but inside the courtroom it feels like mid-December. The air-conditioner is on full blast and everyone has his or her frozen faces stuck on me as I walk down the aisle.
My feet feel stuck to the floor and it takes all my might to put one foot in front of the other. Grandpop is pulling my hand. As bad as I don’t want to, I’m managing to inch my feet towards the witness stand.
My family is counting on me. My mom is counting on me. I have to do this!
As I walk down the aisle that separates my Dad’s family and supporters from my Mom’s family and supporters, I can hear the whispers from both sides.
“That’s her son,” says a lady on the defendant’s side.
“I’m so proud of him.” I recognize that voice; it’s my Uncle Billy, my Grandpop’s older brother.
My ears are getting hot and starting to throb the closer I get to the witness stand. I squeeze my free hand into a fist, so hard that the bones block my fingers from going any further.
Grandpop whispers to me: “Look at me while you’re up there. I’m here for you Nell.”
I don’t see my dad yet, but I can feel his eyes on me. He’s seated at the defense table somewhere to my right. All of a sudden I feel a lot of heat coming from that direction. I’m petrified to see my Dad’s eyes after all this time.
Don’t look right, I keep telling myself.
I dreamed of the day I could be this close to him so I can tell him how much I hate him. I wanna hit him for every time him made my mom bleed or cry or blackened her eye, but I can’t; I’m still too afraid. I thought I lost my fear of him, but it’s still here and still strong. I thought my Danielle, Danny and me were safe now, because we’d never have to see his face again, but he’s right over there. Not only do I have to see him, I have to tell the judge all the things he did to my mom.
Why do I have to see this man’s face after all the horrible things he did to my mother? Why does he get the right to see my face again? Why do I have to relive this fear and pain all over again?
I feel a battle between my fear and curiosity brewing; my curiosity wants to see his face. I can still remember what it’s like when my dad gets mad: he breathes heavy like a bull, his nostrils flare wide, his forehead scrunches up and his thick eyebrows hover over his eyes like a thundercloud. Then he starts yelling, hitting and throwing things in a fit of uncontrollable rage. I want to know if prison made him more sinister or more of a monster than he was when I saw him last; that morning he killed my mom? Dad is the source of all my fear and hatred for the past three years; and he’s literally just a few feet away from me now. The nightmare has come true.
What does he look like? Is he mad at me? Will he kill me for testifying against him?
Grandpop opens the two swinging doors at the end of the aisle, and I walk between the prosecution and defense tables. Before I can stop myself or reverse my motion, I turn my head to the right.
I see him! It’s really my dad; right there to my right side. I look away as fast as I can. I only saw him for a split second, but what I saw wasn’t the monster I thought I’d see. He was smiling at me. His eyes were soft and his hands were folded in front of him.
I can still see his face so clear in my head as I enter the witness stand. He looked like he was proud of me.
I don’t understand. It must be one of his tricks or he doesn’t realize that what I’m about to say is going get him in so much trouble.
I look at him again as I face the courtroom from the witness stand. My eyes are quietly asking him what my mouth is too afraid to say.
Why did you do it, Dad?
I wish I were brave enough to say it with my chest for my Mom’s sake! Suddenly, the image of his face fades behind a flood of tears in my eyes. I almost feel safe because the entire courtroom is one big blur behind my mounting tears. I can barely make out the bailiff holding the bible in front of me. My mouth is watery but it hurts to swallow my spit. My nose is starting to itch and burn and I have tears ready to fall from my eyes; I’m going to cry in front of everybody in this courtroom. But I don’t have time to cry; I have to get this over with!
Mrs. Foulkes must’ve seen my mini breakdown coming, because now she’s standing beside me, gently rubbing my hand – like Mom would do. I start to feel a better already…
My dad wasn’t a monster then and he isn’t a monster today. He’s the “Son of a Monster”, with nobody to help him understand the violence around him.
The only way to stop the cycle of domestic violence is to listen to the unseen victims; the children of the monsters. Otherwise the accidental breading of monsters will continue. It’s time we shut up and listen to the children, they need to heal too.
By Nelli Davis
Author of “I Dream Awake”
In honor and memory of my Mother and other victims/survivors of domestic violence and children my family created an organization called Peace+Love. Peace+Love is committed to the positive promotion of world peace and non-violence. www.weneedpeaceandlove.org
Victims of domestic violence can call the national hotline for help 1-800-799-SAFE