No Safe Place
“Daddy’s yelling again.” Maddie stands in the doorway, wiping sleep from her eyes.
I set my book on the coffee table and smile reassuringly at her. “I’ll take care of him. Thanks for letting me know.” I cuddle her as we walk up the stairs.
“I don’t like it when Daddy yells.”
I pull her closer, “I know, but he can’t help it.”
I tuck her back into bed before going next door to my room.
From the doorway I watch for flailing arms and legs. Thank goodness we caught him early tonight before he was in too deep: everything is still except for his mouth. To Maddie, I guess it does sound like yelling, but to me it’s more like bellowing because his voice is so harsh it’s like the words are wrestled from his gut.
I climb under the covers and drape my arm across his chest. I press my face to his. “Wake up, Adam, wake up. You’re okay. You’re okay.”
His eyes open immediately. Within seconds his entire body is shaking. I hold him and wipe the gathering moisture from his cheeks.
“What was it this time? The walls? The car?”
The walls are the dreams he has about his step-father throwing him and his mom against the walls of their apartment.
The car dreams are worse. They revolve around the moment when his step-father pulled a gun out from under the backseat of the car and killed the man driving it. Adam was sitting in the front seat. When that dream goes on too long he wakes up, rubbing at his face uncontrollably, trying to clean off the blood and brain tissue that splattered there thirty years ago. On those nights, nothing but a shower will stop the rubbing.
“There’s no safe place.” His words are a whisper, one I’ve heard countless times.
As the years pass it’s harder for him to find a safe place in his head, one free from the nightmares of his childhood. His psychiatrist says it’s because as we grow older we have so much more in our brains, so much more to concentrate on that the bad memories creep in through our subconscious.
Adam's tried everything to escape the dreams--counseling, forgiving his abusers, finding God, yoga, medicine. It all works for short bursts of time, but nothing over the long haul, nothing that affords him a safe place while he sleeps.
Maybe if the abuse had ended with his step-father’s murder conviction, maybe then. But it didn’t work that way. His mother--mentally ill after years of spousal abuse--continued what her husband had begun. “You’re worthless. You’re weak. You’re a weak little boy. Get me the switch. I’ll teach you to be weak.”
He keeps going day after day, night after night. He keeps his trauma hidden from the outside world. Except when he yells in his sleep, he keeps it hidden from his children. He romps and plays, teaches and soothes. He's a gentle dad who never raises his voice or his hand in anger.
There's no safe place for Adam, but he makes sure there is one for his children.
How can you help? Support local efforts like women's shelters and food banks or organizations like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). By supporting this organization, you're helping in their fight to make every home a safe home. The NCADV works to eliminate domestic violence by empowering victims, supporting local programs, and educating the public about how to recognize abuse and what to do about it.
In our joint effort to support this organization, twenty authors have compiled an anthology of holiday-themed stories called Christmas Lites II. ALL proceeds will go to the NCADV. Last year's Christmas Lites raised $500. Let's break that record! Purchase your digital or print copy of Christmas Lites II from one of these online retailers: