Lessons Learned

By Susan Erdmann

As I write this, I am 22 years old, but I remember the day before my 10th birthday as if it were yesterday. That was the day my mother, brother and I met a group of volunteers from a battered women’s shelter who taught us the meaning of the saying, “If you think you are too small to be effective you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito.”

It was just before lunch on a hot August morning. My dad and I had just returned from the beach. My dad was a lot of fun that morning. Mornings were his best time of day. Every afternoon he drank a 24 pack of beer. If we were lucky, he would pass out in his favorite chair – a ratty old recliner – by dinnertime.

Out of sight out of mind wasn’t just a saying at our house – it was how we survived. My mother taught us early on to tiptoe around the house or play outside when Daddy was drinking. If it were quiet, he would fall asleep. If he didn’t fall asleep, like clockwork, around dinnertime, he turned into a monster that beat my mother, threatened to kill us, smashed furniture, family pictures and toys…anything that mattered.

Shortly after we returned from the lake, my mom came home from work. It was her payday. My dad wanted her to cash her paycheck and give him money to buy beer and cigarettes. She usually did – just to keep him happy. But this time she said “no.” She said she was using the money to buy my birthday present, cake and decorations so I could have a nice party.

“Here we go,” I thought. He grabbed her by the neck, lifted her off the ground and then threw her to the floor. She curled into a ball while he kicked her back and head.

Just like always, I cried and yelled for him to stop; just like always my brother screamed. Just like always, my mom, wincing in pain, told my dad she was sorry. He would throw the car keys at her (he didn’t have a license – too many drunk driving arrests), she would load my little brother and me into the car – all without shedding a tear – and off to the store we’d go to buy beer.

I used to think my mother didn’t see things in black and white. I thought she analyzed a person’s motivation for bad behavior to a fault. On the day before my 10th birthday, after all of these years, she finally decided to let her evolutionary side kick in and pick flight over fight.

That day, when we got in the car, we drove right past the grocery store to the bank. Without saying a word to us she took us by our hands, marched in to the bank and withdrew money from a bank account that she had set up without my dad knowing. As it turns out, she had money for car payments, rent and attorney fees stashed in that account. She dropped my brother and me off at her best friend’s house and drove to Safe Harbor, a battered women’s shelter in our town. They helped her file a restraining order and police reports. Everyone kept us safe until my dad was arrested and locked away in the county jail.

I had never heard of Safe Harbor before. Today I know it as a place where no matter who walks through the door, or what time of day it is, that person is welcome and safe. I learned that domestic violence statistics are staggering but there are people in this world with the hearts of angels willing to face overwhelming statistics to make our world a better place. I learned what my mother knew all along – escaping someone like my dad is the most dangerous time for domestic violence survivors. I learned that my mother was done fighting and had been planning our flight for some time.

For over a year, we spent every Wednesday night there. My mom attended “group” while my brother and I played with volunteers and other children from families just like ours. In December, Safe Harbor volunteers arranged for my little brother and I to “Shop with a Cop” for Christmas presents. The following summer, Safe Harbor arranged for me to spend a week at Girl Scout Camp – a place where I made some of my dearest friends. And, every other week for six months someone from the shelter mailed us grocery store gift cards for $25. This may not seem like a lot, but battered women living on limited incomes know an extra $50 or $75 a month is the difference between just getting by and not getting by. Not getting by is the main reason women return to abusive relationships.

Two years later my dad committed suicide. I think if we had stayed, he would have killed us instead. Thanks to the kindness of volunteers, our story has a happy ending. My mother, inspired by the work of domestic violence volunteers, is now a grant writer for non-profits in our community. I am graduating from college this year. My brother is a happy, healthy teenager. From this experience, we all learned a powerful lesson: We write our story so we can change the ending.

About this writer

  • Susan Erdmann Susan Erdmann is a mother, a writer, and a freelance grant seeker for non-profit organizations and public schools. She lives in Southeastern Wisconsin, with her husband and two children.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses to “Lessons Learned”

  1. Susan,
    What a courageous woman your mother is and so are you for sharing your life with so many. Your words are sure to have along reaching affect.

  2. This was one of the most powerful essays I have read in a very long time. Thank you for your candid sharing of this experience. I know it will help others. My husband and his brothers/mother had a similar experience in the early 60’s so I felt the connection. As a writer, your last line was beautiful…I wrote it in my journal!

Leave your mark with style to marsha tennant

Comment in style

Stand out from the crowd and add some flare beside your comment.
Get your free Gravatar today!

Make it personal

avatar versus gravatar Close