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Date: SUN 11/10/96
Page: 1
Edition: 2 STAR

Violence leaves indelible mark

By Melissa England

I had a home just like yours. Well, maybe not exactly like yours. But I had a dad who worked, a mother who went to school and a baby brother. It was a whole world. Then it blew up like an atom bomb and shattered into a thousand pieces.

My parents argued. A lot. I still remember the words. Her telling him he was nothing, him telling her to shut up. I remember going to school and saying the words on the playground: "Words will never hurt me."

It was a lie.

My father shot my mother through her back, tore open her heart, and she died on her bedroom floor. Then he told me everything was going to be all right. It was another lie. He went back to the bedroom and blew out his brains.

You read it in the newspapers; it happens all the time. I always read the part about the one, two or three kids. It's usually just one sentence. As if the violence ended with the bullet. The story was over for my parents. Their fears were silenced. We were left, my brother and I; we held the pain, the horror of it all. The bullet always finds its second mark.

This was the ugly death, the one I wasn't allowed to talk about. The one I wasn't allowed to cry about. My stepfather told me I was like my father. He told me that if people knew, they would stay away from me; they might even take me to an institution; I might even lose my brother. The secret was about me. The secret was that one day I would go crazy, too.

I always wondered about that. Wondered if my father had just gone crazy. If some switch had flipped. If he knew he had lost his mind. I wondered if there had been a warning. I wondered if he knew when he reloaded his rifle. I wondered when it would happen to me. I wondered what made me so bad that my parents were dead, and my aunt and uncle so cruel.

It's that wonderful childlike thinking. Everything was my fault. It gave me hope; I always could try to be better. I could struggle to have some control over an exploding world. I could stuff my anger better than anyone. I never cried. I never talked about it. I never needed anyone. I never wanted anyone to touch me. I never wanted much food or air. I prided myself that I existed in a vacuum. I was doing fine. Except for the part that I wanted to die.

I am the child of violence. This story is old. It was 1957. Funny how it still tears a hole in my heart. Funny how I still need to back away from people. Funny how I can never trust someone else to catch me when I fall. Funny that I still hear a bitter old man's voice telling me I will go crazy and a bitter old woman telling me something must have been my fault.

I imagine that it doesn't happen that way anymore, that this violence doesn't isolate and shame its survivors. But parents still kill each other. Kids of violence aren't always beautiful. Some are hollow-eyed, and some have forgotten how to smile.

As adults, we twist the pain deeper. Commitment is painful; separation anxiety is killing. Fear of losing children, or anything we love, is overwhelming.

It's not fair. No, really it's not fair. The very human act that could heal holds their greatest fear: to trust. I know.

I live alone. I laugh every day; some days I cry. I adore my children. I have friends. Just under my skin are the wounds of a frightened 6-year-old child who still fears it had something to do with her. The one who still wonders whether, if she had just been smarter, or better, she'd still have a family . . . . just like yours.