Copyright 1997 to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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The Dark Side
The summer I turned sixteen, I wanted a two-piece
bathing suit. I lived in Southern California less then five
miles from the Santa Monica sand. No problem, right? Wrong.
Huge problem. My mother and father both explicitly forbade me
to buy one - even with my own money. So I didn't - my best friend
Cyn did. It was the kind that were popular in the mid-1980s,
sort of a crochet string deal, with no elastic, but two sets
of ties at the waist and two for the top. Much less modest than
what I would have chosen for myself, but that was part of the
Cyndi (my highschool friend) lived about five
miles away from my parents. No-one walks in LA and I didn't
have a license or car yet, so my father dropped me off at her
house three or four days a week on his way to work. Her family
had a pool and both of her parents worked so we had the yard
to ourselves. I would change into my forbidden suit and we would
spend the day seeing who could get darker (Cyn's a blond - the
advantage was clearly mine). Around 4:00 p.m. I would shower
and change back into a sun-dress and be ready for my father.
This had been going on for about a month when
my dad had a really bad day. First, one of his assistants did
such a poor job putting together a totally standard information
pack that the office lost a major client.
Anyway, my father was already furious when
he walked into that yard at Cyn's - and saw me.
The radio was on very loud (I even remember
the song: 'Born a Rebel' by Tom Petty) and the two of us were
wearing sunglasses, lying on our backs. I heard him say my name,
opened my eyes and looked up. There he was standing over me.
As I said my goodbyes to Cyndi, I know I was
in trouble, knew that he would yell at me. I had obviously disobeyed
both him and my mother. And yet, it didn't really yet seem like
a big deal. I have a tendency to try to talk my way out of trouble,
and at this point my father hadn't spanked me for a while, so
it was easy to be brave.
You've probably guessed from my stories that
I can make an argument out of what is rather poor ground - actually,
I enjoy arguing with someone in the right circumstances. My
father had trained some in law and often is amused, to a degree,
by my attempts at defending myself. This was not one of those
times. Had he not been wearing sunglasses himself, I fully believe
I would have seen in his eyes that there was more going on.
But maybe the following events were inevitable
by this point. Maybe they were always beyond my control. I don't
know. What I know is that I kept up a steady stream of talk
and excuses (met by silence) all the way out to the car. I can't
remember all I said, but I know (because it came back to haunt
me) that I told him this was the 'only time' I had worn the
suit. I also remember the last thing I said:
"Besides, you only said not to BUY one.
Well I didn't even PAY for this."
That got a response. Knowing what
I know now I think it's safe to assume that he put a different
spin on my comment. He opened the door to the back seat of the
car and 'backhanded' me in - quite literally - I ended up sitting
on the other side of the car.
My father then started yelling at me in English
and Spanish. He called me 'Puta', 'Malenche' and 'Chinga' (I'm
not sure on spelling - this was not the Spanish taught at my
Catholic highschool). Me!! His daughter!! (I can't believe I
still feel hurt ten years later).
He had never ever struck me in the face before
(though my mother had). This was the first indication I had
that something was terribly wrong. He should want to punish
me - severely even - but I can't explain how this was not just
retribution but violence, and frightening beyond expression.
I knew even at that point though that I couldn't utter another
word. I had to wait for the storm to calm.
When we got home, he waited until the garage
door was closed to let me out (the stupid 'child-safety' locks
on the doors trapped the 'child' inside - a 'safety' feature
inspired no doubt by police cars) and pulled me out by grabbing
a handful of my hair (this was also a totally new, unheard-of
Instead of taking me up to my bedroom or my
parents' room (these were the places I was always sent when
I was going to be punished) he yanked me into his study, closed
and locked (why, I have no idea as we were the only
ones home) the door. Still holding a handful of my hair with
his left hand, he used his right arm to clear his desk (he's
neat, so there wasn't much on it). Everything went onto the
floor next to and behind his desk.
"Take that dress off and lean over."
I lifted the skirt to my waist and bent over
his desk. I wasn't trying to disobey. But he'd never had me
disrobe before. I simply misunderstood. He grabbed me by my
hair again, turned me back toward him and shook me. I remember
hoping my hair in its pony tail would magically come off in
his hand. He yelled in my face:
"WHAT DID I JUST TELL YOU TO DO???"
I stammered, "I thought you . . . I mean
. . ."
"DON'T THINK AT ALL. DO WHAT I TELL YOU.
Your problem is you DON'T LISTEN [blow across my face] and YOU
DON'T THINK [another blow]!"
(In case you're wondering, I did see the inconsistency
of my father's two statements even then. But even I am not that
fond of arguing; this hardly seemed the time to point it out.
I know this isn't really funny but humor is far more appealing
I didn't say anything and pulled the dress
over my head. I now had only that stupid little swimsuit on.
It felt skimpier than ever. I felt small, insignificant and
ashamed. The man staring so coldly and with such distaste could
not really be my daddy.
My father looked at me, letting his eyes linger
on the suit, then glared back at my face, and said, "So
this is the 'first and only time' you've worn this? That is
what you said, right?"
I nodded through my tears, which had been
streaming down my cheeks since he slapped me outside the car,
which welled up now and spilled over into sobs of fear and shame.
I saw the trap. He spun me around so I was facing the desk with
my back to him. Then untied the bottoms of the suit, revealing
the much whiter skin that lay beneath.
"Was that the truth?"
"No." I mouthed the word (he didn't
see that) and shook my head (he did see that).
I felt his hands shove me so far over the
desk that my toes left the rug.
"Don't you dare move."
I folded my arms under my face so my palms
were on top of each other, face down with my forehead resting
on them. The desk itself was wood covered by glass - cold. As
my hand brushed the side of my mouth I could see my blood mixed
into the other moisture. It left a streak on my tanned skin.
My skin was cold from fear.
I could hear the metallic click of my father
undoing his belt and pulling it off. Strangely, I suddenly felt
less anxiety, almost a peace. I knew (or thought I did) what
would happen now. I would be strapped with his belt. It would
hurt. I would apologize. He would forgive me and this would
be over. The stranger who called me worse than a whore, the
worst names any girl or woman could be called, would go away
and my 'Daddy' or 'Papi' would be back. Or so I thought.
Over the edge of the desk I could see that
a favorite picture of the two of us (me four - him helping me
fly a kite - all dark shadow - no faces) had fallen with everything
else from the desk top. The frame I'd made for it sand casting
with the girl scouts at nine was broken, the sand was crumbling
and the glass was cracked. My last thought, as the sear of the
first blow from his folded belt struck across my bottom, was
of fixing it as my apology. My disobedience now seemed so disrespectful.
I stared at the frame and wondered, "Do I even remember
how I made that?"
As the shock of pain reached from my nerves
to my brain, the hurt was much greater than I ever remembered
feeling until then. Before this, I doubt seriously whether he
had ever used his full strength when punishing me. Certainly,
before this, my father had never punished me when he was truly
angry. I didn't resist at all, but my sobs and cries kept time
with his strokes, gradually growing louder. This first blow
was followed by twenty-four more. At the twenty-fifth I pushed
up off the desk - lying was always twenty-five with his belt.
(I tend toward dishonesty when cornered so I knew that
penalty too well already.)
My father laughed (well, sort of):
"Do you really think you'll get off so
He pushed the middle of my shoulders down
Twenty-five more, much harder. My skin already
felt very sore. The strap came down higher on my back and lower
on my bottom, striking the tops of my legs. My sobs were choking
me. I pushed up again. He shoved me back down. The belt unfolded
and he stepped back a bit and whipped me with it. There was
some sort of stitching at the tip that stung like bees with
each stroke. Later I'd know it left blood-filled, blister-like
welts, small, red and hard. This whipping was not confined to
my bottom; blows landed as far down as the backs of my knees
and on my back, up above my waist.
Unconsciously my hands moved down to protect
It is really a good indication of how frightened
I was that it took so long for me to move my hands. Usually
he had to hold them at the small of my back from the very beginning
of any punishment. But because he had to step closer to hold
my hands he couldn't use the unfolded belt any more (why didn't
he refold it? You tell me - I was hardly about to offer advice).
I don't remember speaking to him at this point.
My pain and fear had created a sort of prison. I didn't feel
it possible to make contact outside myself. I think I also was
afraid of somehow making him still angrier. I do think he could
have killed me; he was that angry and that far from being my
Still holding my hands, he grabbed a planting
stake (about two-and-a-half feet long, green fiberglass, simulated
bamboo, with plastic tipped ends) out of the orchid pot beside
his desk (I think he killed his own plant). The stake was flexible,
and as thick as . . . a Pilot roller-ball pen. I didn't or couldn't
count the blows from it. More than thirty certainly. Probably
more than fifty, but time had become elastic and I really can't
say. I stopped counting at thirty. The beating went on and on.
The strokes landed everywhere, from my knees to the middle of
my back (below his own hand of course), delivered hard and quickly.
I was already hysterically sobbing when he
started beating me with the stake, but when I cry (or laugh)
hysterically it's almost silent, so I don't know what he thought
or heard. Looking back I'd like to think he wasn't
thinking at all and that's how this happened. Whatever else,
I know this wasn't planned. Thinking that makes my current relationship
with him bearable. How else could I justify still loving him?
Rationalize still craving his approval?
I really couldn't feel pain between the blows.
I kept thinking maybe I was numb, or hoping I might pass out
(one never seems to, from pain at any rate). But my skin was
so sore on my bottom and legs that each stinging blow hurt absolutely
and exponentially more that the one before it. The pain welled
up inside and it kept going on and on. If I could have killed
myself, I would have. I kept praying, 'Let me pass out or die'.
But I didn't want to die.
Suddenly a voice within me started screaming:
"please please stop stop stop"
I heard the stake fall to the floor. My father
suddenly let go of my hands and I felt myself slide off the
desk onto the carpet, onto my knees, facing the desk, my hands
still clenched behind me. I felt too dizzy to remain upright
so I curled up on my side on the floor. The welts that had been
raised on my side were scratched by the wool in the rug, but
moving hurt more. I wanted to get dressed, but the idea of pulling
my dress on seemed as impossible as running a marathon.
please please stop stop stop
Please Please Stop Stop Stop
Please Please Stop
PLEASE!! PLEASE!! STOP!! STOP!! STOP!!
Was running through my head like an incantation.
I felt like I was screaming. But I was only crying. I'm not
completely sure I did ever scream aloud.
But my father had stopped. So he must have
My father told me to get up, take my shower
and go to bed . . . like everything was normal . . . like he
had spanked me over his knee with a paddle. I closed my eyes
. . . sleeping. I felt my father's gentle hands lifting me up
onto my feet, helping me put my dress back over my head, leading
me up the stairs like a child still mostly asleep after a car
When we got within three to four feet of my
bathroom I pulled away from him, ran in and locked the door
(forbidden always - my mother has always feared one of us falling
and striking our head and her not being able to help). Taking
my shower, I fell down, jolted from my feet by pain and shock
when the hot water first touched my raw skin, but refused to
let him in to help me.
When I got out of the shower, I realized I
had no night-gown in there. So I wrapped myself as best I could
in my towel and robe. I could feel the terry cloth sticking
to my thighs and bottom. I knew it would hurt less if I just
walked into my room and lay naked on my bed. I could imagine
the cool, air-conditioned breeze on the raw welts, soothing.
And yet I knew he was out there. I would be modest
at all costs. An irrational part of my brain feared another
beating were I not.
The steam obscured the mirror so I didn't
see what I looked like until the next day. Still, I knew it
must be bad. When I stepped out of the bathroom, my father looked
at me and gasped, horrified. I would see the following morning
that I had two swollen lips, a black eye and a bruise across
the side of my cheek. This was trivial when compared to the
cuts, welts and bruises across my bottom and down my legs. I
didn't leave my room for a week, the house for a month, and
in September when I put on my shorts for gym, the teachers exchanged
a knowing glance and told me to put my sweats back on and sit
out. No-one said or did a thing. Certainly not take me to a
My father helped me to my room and into bed.
When I was lying on my stomach he sat down in a chair next to
the bed. I wished he would go away. I wanted to take off the
robe, put on something light and smooth, that didn't stick and
itch. Maybe lie there with nothing on at all. When he reached
out to stroke my cheek I involuntarily flinched away. I had
never done that before. He flinched too. The nausea in my throat
made me fear I would throw up, yet I couldn't get up to go back
to bathroom, didn't want to ask for his help. So I swallowed
hard and thought of waves rolling in and out on the white sands
of empty Baja beaches.
I never apologized for defying and lying to
him, and he never apologized for taking his day's frustrations
out on me. Love (or parenting, perhaps) is never having to say
you're sorry. Right?
I have no idea what happened to the picture
of the two of us, but I never tried to find or repair it or
the frame. Sometimes, close to ten years later, all it takes
is a change in tone in his voice, even over the phone, and I
feel cold all over.
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