When I was little, I loved to watch my mom around the house; the way she gently folded our clothes after doing laundry, the way her hair smelled when she was next to me. It was a smell of warmth like no other.
My mother never shared her dreams, but we knew her talents; hairdressing, making clothes, knitting, and the most beautiful, singing you can hear. As I got older, I realized the many sacrifices my mother made to keep my father happy, to keep us together as a family. She wanted to work, go to school, to better herself but, my father refused my mother anything that would make her, her own person.
Disconnected from the World
My mother attempted to find her self-identity. At times, she would sign up for English and computer classes in our local church, but my father would always find a way to stop her. He either convinced her she was not worth of learning or humiliate her in front of others if she insisted on attending. One time, he couldn’t accept that my mother was taking guitar lessons, so he went to the church and embarrassed her by yelling and accusing her of having an affair with the church pastor. This really upset me, an incident imbedded in my mind forever.
As the years went by and as I got older, my mother was finally able to complete a Bible study course. My siblings and I were all excited to attend her graduation. At the day of the graduation, her diploma was nowhere to be found—my father dumped it. He couldn’t stand my mother being the spotlight for just one day.
My father also would get upset if my mom kept in touch with family or friends. Once when my grandmother called, he took a pizza cutter and cut the phone wire while my mother was speaking to her on the phone.
His actions kept my mother away from wanting to be a part of the world, he prevented her from finding a place of her own. He denied her the ability to make friends and stay connected to others. She felt defeated and ultimately, she did what my father wanted. I understood she couldn’t take being humiliated anymore.
Stuck in the Middle
At home, whenever my parents argued, no matter whether it was about what she’d cooked for dinner, how and where money was spent, my father always won the fights by being aggressive, cruel and heartless. “This dinner is disgusting. What, are you feeding pigs?” he’d say. “This is what you asked for,” my mother would answer. I’d then hear my father knocking over pots and pans. I would run over as my presence will temporarily cease the fights. He would walk away, leaving my mother and I cleaning up his mess.
I hated watching my mom still try her hardest to make him happy. At night, she would walk down the hallway in her robe, upset, wanting to cry, carrying his late-night snack. If I asked, “Are you OK?” she would inhale all her tears and start telling me, “This is why we women need to do what we please and not let any man stop us. If a man really loves you, he’ll encourage you to accomplish your dreams and appreciate you. I knew then that I wanted a very different marriage from my mom’s. I wanted respect and equality in my relationships and would expect in a marriage but, I soon realized, you did not always get what you want.
‘I Love You, I’m Sorry’
As a teenager, I met a guy named Alex who seemed very motivated about life. We seemed to want the same things; good jobs, nice home, cars, you know, a nice family.
But as time passed, I realized I was dating my father. Like my father, he tried to keep me away from what I wanted to do. I had to quickly get to his house after school or be subjected to long hours of fighting. I couldn’t visit my friends because he thought I had someone else. He’d say, “Why do you want to visit your friend? I know, because she has a guy for you to meet, right? Tell the truth, I know you’re lying to me.” I would even invite Alex to my friend’s house so he could see it was just us girls hanging out, but he wasn’t satisfied.
Whether or not I did everything he wanted, he still got upset. Then came the slaps that were followed by “I love you, I’m sorry.” I wanted to be me, be my own person but ultimately, I gave in. I didn’t want to get hit so, I often went along with the way he planned my schedule and on what he wanted me to do.
I don’t understand why I stayed so long. I really hated the fact that I did everything for him, and he did nothing for me.
Myself, My Mother
At 19, I found myself pregnant. We were scared but also happy to have a child. I wanted to show my parents that we were becoming adults and setting things up for the baby, but I did all the work.
After the baby was born, Alex wanted both worlds: hanging out and being a father. I always had to push him to work and to save money. I would tell him repeatedly, “Stop hanging out in the street.”
At the time, I could not understand his mix of control and care, love and hate, good and evil. Now that I am a grown woman, and looking back at those years, I can connect the dots. Alex never had that motherly love. I was his comfort, the only one that showed him love and listened to him. He thought by controlling me, he would keep me forever.
Alex also wasn’t prepared for the kind of future I envisioned. He didn’t seem to understand that if you want to get ahead, you must finish school, get a good job and save for the future. Plus, he was accustomed to hanging out and drinking. In his family, alcohol was all around him, and his drinking led to his cruelty. I knew that I was living the same life as my mother and knew, that somehow, I needed to get out.
The Realization of Domestic Violence
My sister helped me face what was going on. I would run to her for help and advice and one day helped realize our relationship for what it was-domestic abuse. I grew up in a home of domestic violence and I was now reliving that violence in my own relationship. My sister knew that I loved him and didn’t want to leave him. She understood that I believed I could help him but knowing that he was the one that could help himself.
One day she gave me a book about domestic violence. I read it in one day. From that day forward, I became a different person inside. Although I didn’t have the courage to end my relationship with Alex right away, I knew it could not continue.
At around the same time, my teacher gave us an assignment to find out how domestic violence affects families. I learned so much. Reading about the pattern of domestic violence, seeing photos of victims, and learning that domestic violence really could kill had an impact on my life. As I was working on the presentation, I had to admit to myself, that I was in an abusive relationship.
No Time to Waste
Finally, I realized I wasted so much time with this person. The person I thought would do anything for me and my child. I decided then, to make a new life for myself and my son, one without fear nor violence. There was no time to waste. My new life had no room for someone who believed love included hurting another person. I broke up with Alex and stared a life of my own. He was never a father to my son, and I am okay with that. I raised my son to be exactly the man I dreamed of, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Ilka Perez-Garcia is now happily married and working as care provider to her mother Carmen, who now has Dementia. Ilka had devoted her life in helping community members navigate the disparities within senior health care services. She is currently working as a Voice Facilitator at Latina Voice.