Somewhere in Indian country tonight there is a little boy huddled with his little sister in a bedroom closet hoping against hope that the man who just came into the house at three a.m. will just quietly go to bed. They know the odds are against it though. He had picked a fight with their mother as soon as he got home from work. He already had alcohol on his breath. Even though their mother had not taken the bait, they heard him rage on until he finally said he couldn’t stand being there anymore and stormed out the door. As usual he made hurtful remarks about how she “held it over his head” that she made more money than he did just because she had a college degree even though he had to work 10 times as hard as she. He said his mother never had a college degree and she stayed home and made a good house for them and she knew better than to “mouth off” to their dad, even if he spent their last dollar at the bar.
They heard the pots and pans being slammed around and knew what would come next. He stomped down the hall, slammed open the bedroom door and screamed, “Get out of bed you useless b---ch and make me something to eat!” She complied even while complaining that she had to go to work in the morning. He hit her behind the head with his closed fist even before she got to the kitchen, sending her sprawling facedown into the top of the kitchen table, bloodying her nose. Grabbing her by the hair, he dragged her to the stove as she struggled to loosen his grip. The demand for food forgotten now, his rage overcoming his hunger, he held her by the throat and punched her in the face, showering her nightgown and his shirt with red splatters from her now profusely bleeding nose. He punched her in the stomach and let her drop to the floor. He screamed, “Look at the f---ng mess you made; you got blood all over my shirt.” He emptied a plastic bowl of its contents of apples and oranges and put some water in it. He set it in front of her spread legs as she sobbed and gasped, trying to catch her breath. “Quit bleeding on the floor, clean it up,” he screamed. As she began to apply water to her nose and mouth in a useless attempt to stop the flow of blood, he doubled his fist and from a stooped position over her delivered two blows to her already bruising lips and nose. The last thing she saw as darkness took over were her two little kids screaming in the doorway for their daddy to stop. She desperately wanted to stay conscious to protect them but could not.
The little boy and little girl had been in the doorway long enough to see the last two blows to their mother. They desperately begged their daddy to stop hitting mommy and leave her alone. He stepped toward his children. The twisted rage in his face made him almost unrecognizable to them. He screamed at them to get back in bed. They ran, knowing that to stand their ground would mean not only a beating but perhaps more blows to their mother.
They heard him take a beer from the fridge and open it as he made his way out the door. They heard the truck start up, and they ran down the hall arriving in the kitchen just as their mother was reviving. They helped her wash her face with cold wet washcloths and helped her wipe the blood from her legs and arms. They helped her to her feet and back to her bed. They stayed by her praying silently that he would not return soon.
In the morning, she painfully made her way to the bathroom, emitting an audible gasp when she looked in the mirror. She knew she would have to call in sick. The little boy and girl ate silently, not talking, lest they awaken the man on the couch. When he woke later, he would be loving and apologetic once again to their mother. He would promise to not hit her again and to stay sober. He would stay sober, for a while. He might even take them to the movies and ball games. They would be happy to have their daddy back and their mom safe, but lurking in the back of their minds was the was the rage-twisted face of the monster that took over their father from time to time. They knew their mother would be on the telephone to their grandmother when their dad was out of the house. They knew her mother would tell her to stay with him and that things would eventually change; her husband (their grandfather) got older and he hadn’t hit her in years. Their grandmother, they knew, would tell their mom to pray. She’d tell their mom that nothing was more important than holding things together “for the children.” The little boy and little girl knew that this is what happens in other houses because their cousins told similar stories, usually when one or the other’s mother was seen to have fresh bruises on their face or arms. Then it wasn’t talked about again; until the next time.
Harold A. Monteau is a Chippewa Cree attorney who resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission in the Clinton administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.