Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Excerpts from Torn From the Inside Out

Torn From the Inside Out
Sara Niles

“Thunder rattled the window- panes two stories high and lightning split the sky, it was as if the whole world was in turmoil that night. My nerves were keyed up as tight as piano strings and in a sudden moment of stillness and silence it felt as though my heartbeat was amplified ten times over. He was over a hundred pounds greater than I; nearly a foot taller and I knew he could move his muscled body into unbelievable sprints. Rain started falling in torrents, while the storm raged outside. I was not afraid of the storms of nature; it was the storm inside this night that I knew I might not survive”…February 13th, 1987, the night of Sara Niles’ flight with her five small children.


Given away to her aged Uncle Robert and Aunt Molly at age 3 ½ , Sara spent ten years on the ‘flower bed of Eden’ being lavished with love and attention until death took its toll upon her aged caretakers and Sara married an abusive man named Thomas Niles when she was only 16. Niles invites the reader to enter her lifelong odyssey by the words: ‘Let the journey begin’, and so it does as the reader enters into a formerly forbidden zone.

Torn From the Inside Out celebrates a power greater than death itself, the power of the human spirit under fire.
This book is for me and my children and all of the millions of veterans of domestic war.
In memory of the dead victims of domestic violence, I have retold stories of those who became casualties. The stories below are all true; I retold them from the perspective of my own visualizations in an effort to give some validation to lives wasted and mostly forgotten. Some things are too precious to forget, such as the lessons of history, and the deeds of unsung heroes, for if we stumble into the habit of forgetting, we lose both the value of life and the opportunity to become a wiser and stronger generation. If we forget, we lessen our children, therefore we can never forget.
 The   Memorial is a tribute to remembering those that should never be forgotten, and although we must never lessen the meaning of the ultimate sacrifice given by the Great War veterans of this country, there is also another group of veterans involved in a war they did not choose. These veterans come from all walks of life and conversely fill offices of high acclaim and the prisons, they are old and they are young, rich and poor, educated and non-educated, male and female: they are the victims of domestic violence. Many have died in domestic war and have been ‘buried’ in the unmarked grave of forgetfulness, therefore to keep their memory alive I present to you a few silent witnesses that you would never otherwise meet.
I could hear the pleading guttural screams of the woman as she begged him to stop stabbing her, until her breath was too weak and her terror filled eyes took over. Twenty-nine times he brought up the kitchen knife designed to slice, and brought it down into her living flesh all over her body, perhaps sparing her heart intentionally, so that she lived long enough for him to snatch her dying, bleeding body up and drag her viciously to the bath tub, already drawn, possibly for him…and drown her. Only then, did the cursing, vicious animal of a man stop and stand back after his rage was spent, and admire his work. He showed her, all right. This husband and father performed for a small captive audience of his own terror stricken children, giving them fodder for nightmares, for the rest of their lives.
 The next woman finally got the courage to leave, but she did not hide so he found her and their two children at her brother and sister-in-law’s house. The man went fully armed with intent to murder; he killed his wife and her brother and sister-in-law. This father left his two little girls asleep in the back room, not concerned that his older daughter would have to clean up his mess and live with it the rest of her life. The older girl, not even in her teens, had to carry her little sister out past the carnage to go to the neighbor’s to summon help. She covered her little sister’s face when she passed the bodies of her dead mother and the others, because a child should not have to see such things. Everyone was dead because Daddy, the triple murderer, killed them all and created wounds two generations thick.
     One after another, the victims told their stories without words by means of engraved plaques. There were over two hundred life sized cut- outs in red plywood that represented the recently dead victims; each had a name and the date and method of murder. The cut- outs were placed around the rotunda at the state Capitol as part of the annual Domestic Violence Awareness campaign for the State Legislature. I came prepared for the cut-outs of murdered women, but I was not prepared for the number of cut-outs representative of the dead children and men; I was dramatically reminded that murder knows no age or gender. Many children died in violent homes, shaken to death, bashed against walls like mere flies and many died as secondary victims as an afterthought when controlling abusers lost the battle for their ‘kingdoms’ for the last time. Some of the deaths were the result of a last noble act of courage in a short lifetime, heroic sons and daughters who died in the line of ‘duty’ trying to protect a loved one, usually a little sister, brother, mother or father.
   There was a plaque of a twenty three year old man who tried to protect his mother from his stepfather and for his bravery he was shot point blank in the chest with a shotgun. I see things in vivid imagery when I am particularly moved, so I envisioned the fight, the threats, the raised shotgun and the heroic son flying backwards as his mother gave a primal scream. Then time stood still for a frozen second, while death announced its victory. Death, with its black ugly soul, the final claimant and the last debt collector comes too often in homes ruled by violence.
     I could picture all too well the months and years of pain before the deaths, because I had lived there too, in a violent home of pain and jeopardy, the difference was that I got away. Then again on second thought, perhaps I should say that I almost got away, because the harm of domestic violence in its worst form is almost never ending. The issues cut deep into your soul and deep into your family dynamics until it tears you inside out, then just when you think it is finally over, the ugly thing grows new roots, new manifestations, new issues and new pain.
     I worked with abuse victims, and once a year I saw the hundreds of silent witnesses and read the plaques on their wooden chests and the tears flow from my eyes without my permission. I have to stop and wipe in order to see, because by the time I read the last inscription, I feel very tired and do not wish to talk for a while, because I have replayed the screams and the terrified faces, the sounds of bone cracking and guns firing, children screaming and climbing out windows, horrified neighbors calling the police and if the victims were lucky, the comforting sound of sirens when they are early and their mournful wailing sound when the saviors come too late.
    Domestic Violence shelters from all over each state converge on the capitols for this event, with hundreds of workers dressed in red swarming quietly. Many of us read the plaques, some of us cry and most of us stop for a moment in time and reflect, and then we go home. If we are not vigilant, we may forget the mighty symbols of violent times that we were witness to. Worse yet, we must never forget the people behind the symbols, the lost mothers and daughters and sons and fathers who will never go home again. We must never forget, and we must not leave our lost dead un-buried.
   Many years after my own escape from a violent life, I started to work at a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter for abuse victims and embarked upon an education of exposure. I found that victims vary greatly, that ‘one stereotype fits all’, will not work. Victims come from all backgrounds, and in all types, ages and sizes. I once remember walking into a shelter at the beginning of my shift to find a new client sitting in front of the intake desk. I finished her intake and when I walked around to her, she stood. She caught me completely off guard so as she began to stand, it seemed it took minutes for her to unfold her height, as she stood I had to back up to see all of her. This woman was taller than the average population, both male and female, I am sure she was around 6’4’ and weighed a hefty amount. I waited for my state of shock to subside so that it could register that she was the victim of domestic assault. I had to wonder if the perpetrator was related to the giant Philistine, Goliath.
    There were so many situations and types of people, and although I discovered victims were different in many ways, there were some common traits evidenced across all spectrums, one trait was certain: those who remained in seriously abusive homes left with scars.
  They came with children in all stages of damage, and degrees of anger, the children were usually angry with their mother, seldom toward the abuser. Children find out early that anger toward a dictator is unsafe, so they find a safer target. I knew of many cases of verbally domineering and abusive mothers married to timid men and in those cases, the children are angry toward the father. Whoever is safe, whether they are innocent or not, receives the anger.
    The male children, especially the ones in the mid teens are especially angry and in suppressed agony, because they were cheated-they deserved a father that they could admire and copy, like a model, but instead they got a tyrant that told them boys don’t cry. The boys are cursed into maintaining an exterior of false peace while their insides are raging with the fires of pain. Children instinctively crave love from both parents, when it is not received, the loss should naturally be grieved.
    Some of the women have up to seven or more small kids, some have emotionally disturbed kids and some are mentally ill themselves. Some of the victims have many other problems, drug addictions, and a sense of hopelessness. We have gotten those who cut themselves and those who have lived abnormally all of their lives and have learned to expect crisis or life is not predictable. First a crisis, then there is peace. It is really the peace they want, but they only know one way to get it. Some were normal, came from good, ‘normal’ families and fell in love with a man who was good at mind games, by the time they caught onto them, it was too late, they had succumbed to a good brain washing. So we debrief, we educate, we direct, we advise and we do a lot of listening at all hours of day and night.
    They come by all methods; one lady hitchhiked practically naked after being held by a man she started living with. He raped her and stabbed her, it excited him to stab her and have sex with her in a state of fear. She escaped by running out to the highway when he went to the bathroom and a kind man picked her up and took her to the hospital. They sent her to us via the police. She talked constantly of what he did to her over a matter of weeks, unbelievable things.  Ministers, neighbors, friends and law enforcement bring them and they drive themselves, sometimes having to outrun the abuser with the kids screaming ‘he’s gonna ram us, Momma!’ Some come in cars that cost more than my house; the men had total control of the finances, so they use the shelter and declare themselves homeless in spite of having left fancy homes. They are all homeless when they come to a shelter because you have to leave everything when the abuser is willing to kill. It’s either your life or your stuff. I have been there too. It’s like being in the middle of the ocean and being thrown off the ship without a life raft. How do you survive? You learn to really swim hard and long, because leaving is just a beginning.
    It has been almost two decades since I fled my home and disappeared with my five small children, all big eyed and terrified, trying hard to be brave. I can see all of it like it was yesterday. Since I have had to recount my past to teams of people, I have thought about my life in more detail than is common. I was told to tell the ugly truth because these people needed to know and feel what domestic violence does to humans. I don’t think words were designed for the degree of pain I wish to convey, or perhaps the skill required to contort language to such a purpose is for a master of linguistics. In any case, it is my duty to report for the sake of the many who cannot speak for themselves, some of the dead victims and those who still live a walking death locked into mentally ill minds for life.
    The room was small, the walls created a slight echo, or perhaps it was just my imagination. I had to go so far back into my mind that the present environment closed in on me. Of the five people in the room Kathryn Shipp was the most imposing: she was 6 feet tall, stood military straight with sharply cropped blue-black hair and blue eyes that were intense. She needed everything from me, she had to have the ‘feel’ of the whole story, not just the facts, so she demanded more than just a story, and she wanted a recreation of my life. Kathy Shipp was one of the best attorneys in the state and her client was a domestic abuse victim who had snapped and killed her abuser, so Kathy Shipp needed me to show her why a good little girl could empty a gun on a man with his back turned. I knew why she did it, I knew what she felt, and if it took revealing my soul to help, I would. So I went back to the images of my beginnings and the people and events that shaped my life to make me who I am. There were many forces that forged me, some gentle and kind and some harsh and violent; there were also many people who contributed to the final product that I call me.
     In the process of my evolution, I became a victim of domestic war, an emotional casualty for a major portion of my life, entwined, entrapped and emotionally involved until I learned how to become free. Freedom has never been easily gained and has often come at high cost throughout history, but one thing I will always know is freedom is worth every fight, and all pain.
   In every life there is a timeless minute or day that will be forever etched into our mind’s memory, they will be unforgettable. I have unforgettable memories that are so vivid that I see them in Technicolor and I hear them with surround sound. Long after I am dead, I believe, I will remember. Two of those memories were the days of my escape to freedom-twice.