The small boy was on red alert. He smelled the peculiar smoke coming from the bathroom where his mom kept a little pipe above the medicine cabinet.
He never knew how long it would last, but he did know it meant trouble. It was always the same, but always different.
He looked for food. There were no crackers or candy under her bed where she hid it, but he found a can of beans in the pantry. He desperately tried to open it before she got out of the bathroom, but his little fingers couldn’t manage to get the manual can opener to work.
He didn’t hear her coming out. It was too late by the time he did. Angry, she shoved him to the ground and threw the can of beans striking him squarely in his chest.
As he shrunk toward the door, grabbing the can in a frantic backward crawl, she lunged toward him, grabbing, jerking his skinny, little body across the floor. He was terrified. The kind afraid where you can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t cry. The kind where every second felt like a year.
The cursing, screaming figure towered over him, hitting him in the mouth. He was only seven, but he well knew this routine. His lip would hurt, swell, and he could already taste blood in his mouth. He dared not react. To do so would surely bring a torrent of blows.
She continued to shove her finger in his chest as he stood motionless, trying to become invisible, or at least, not move and further agitate her physical and emotional downpour.
Her angry, slurred words told him he was worthless, a bother, a brat. She always added words that cut him deeply, like blaming him and asking why she ever had him in the first place.
He was almost relieved when she shoved him outside, but after the back door slammed, he heard the deadbolt click shut.
It wasn’t nearly as bad as in the past, but even so, he was sobbing, scared, hurting, rejected. He picked up the can, and with his other hand ran his little fingers across his lip to see where, and how big, the bleeding gash was inside his mouth.
The first time he had been locked out, he shivered in the cold all night long and into the early morning. Now he always tried to plan ahead, at least the best he could, by hiding an old sheet in the pump shed, along with two extra t-shirts he found in the neighbor’s trash.
He used the claw end of a hammer to first dent, then put a small cut in the can. He drank the juice, which burned his lip, but tasted like pure nectar to his hungry stomach. He managed to open the can a little more with the hammer and drop out beans one by one to eat.
He eventually laid down on the dirt floor of the shed. A neighborhood cat curled up beside the boy, which was comforting, to both of them. They could at least help keep each other warm.
He woke throughout the night, but was excited when a neighbor’s old car cranked up to leave for the day. In a few minutes the school bus would come. He was glad.
On the other hand, he cringed. It also meant school kids would point and laugh at him. They would mock his matted hair, make fun of the same dirty clothes he wore yesterday, and ridicule him for “smelling like a dog”.
But still, he was glad it was warm at school, and he knew there would be a hot meal in the cafeteria. He looked forward to seeing the kind, elderly lunch lady. Sometimes she smiled at him. No one ever smiled at him. She would wink and give him extras until he could stuff no more food in his hungry belly.
He felt his lip. The swelling had gone down and the cut was raw. Even though his wounds would heal quickly, the verbal assaults had continually chiseled deep emotional wounds deep in his heart and, most likely, those wounds would never completely heal. Chances were his mom wouldn’t even remember what happened when he came home on the bus. Or maybe, she just choose not to remember the abuse she lashed out.
He’ll do his best to just blend in today. No one, other than the kids who make fun of him, will really notice him, or maybe, just choose to overlook secret, painful plight.
Abuse — it doesn’t just happen in poor families on the “wrong side of the tracks”. Child abuse happens across all educational, religious and socioeconomic levels, in every national, racial and cultural group.
Based on statistics, in the time it’s taken you to read this story, twenty-five children have been the victims of child abuse in the U.S. That’s one every ten seconds! Tragically, an average of four children will die today as a result of abuse. Very simply, choose to notice.