Friday, May 20, 2011

I know that terror...

I found another picture of dad and me.
He looks so gentle and kind.
Anyone who has lived with a violent parent can recognize the terror in an abused animal’s trembling crouch. I remember the fear that got stuck in my throat until I thought I was going to choke. I can’t forget the absolute desperation that took control of every muscle when I saw the rage building in my father’s eyes. I know what the victimized animal goes through.
I remember that fear, although I’m not absolutely certain what evoked dad’s rage. What did I do?
It may have been the time when my sister and I fought over who got to use the hair curlers that night. I must have been 11 or 12 years old, maybe younger. Our family only had one set of those “dime store” curlers, and my sister and I had to take turns using them. We both had curly hair and, of course, we both wanted smooth straight hair, so sleeping in curlers was an absolute must. To this day, we still disagree on the reason for the fight. She says it was her turn with the curlers so she used them, and I say that it was my night and she took them out of turn. Whichever it was, we both agree that I wanted them… and so I marched into the bedroom while she was sleeping and started pulling them from her head.
Well, my sister started screaming bloody murder. That would have been just the kind of thing to pull my dad’s hair-trigger temper. I remember the pounding of my heart when I saw him start to unbuckle his belt, getting ready to whip me. I can still see him doubling up that brown leather belt. I was in for it. I wasn’t like my brother, though, who would just stand there and take the belt or the punches without a sound. I ran.
I ran into our bedroom and flew to the top bunk bed. I got as far from dad’s reach as I could, cowering and crying in the furthest corner. He couldn’t reach me, but I could see the pure, boiling rage in his eyes, and my fear assailed me more than any mere belt could ever do. He must have been drunk or high, or maybe he just backed off because he knew he had “taught me a lesson,” because he didn’t get me that time. He didn’t need to. My incontrollable terror must have satisfied him.
That fear is how I understand what many entertainment chimps and orangutans endure during their training. When you see them submit meekly to their trainer, without even a tap on the shoulder, there is a good chance they obey because they know what their trainer is capable of. The physical stuff happens BEFORE the performance and, while they are onstage, the chimp is terrified of an impending beating if he screws up. Entertainment chimps carry their fear with them, just like the children of abusers.
Chimps and kids aren’t that different when we face a person who has the capability and, sometimes, the desire to beat us senseless. The difference comes in the later years. Kids grow up and move away or, like in my case, escape because the abuser kills himself. Chimps grow up and are moved into further isolation and desolation… unless they are lucky enough to find someone who cares enough to give them life in a sanctuary.
If you ever have an extra dollar or two, I hope you’ll consider supporting a chimp sanctuary, like the Center for Great Apes or Save the Chimps. Chimps are in entertainment for just the first 7 or 8 years of their life. They can live for 40 or 50 years, or more, and sanctuaries are essential.
Entertainment apes who have escaped a life of violence must rely on the kindness of people who recognize the fear in their eyes and cowering stance. They need people who will give them space and peace as they banish the monsters from their mind. In that, they are just like a chimp trainer’s daughter.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Dawn, I just found your blog and I am speechless and I'm having a hard time even reading about what you went through as a child. Your article in the Charlotte Observer made me think how brave you are to talk about watching your father abuse the chimps in his care, but for you to describe what he did to you ... 'brave' doesn't capture it. To equate your abuse with theirs ... the empathy you demonstrate ... I'm not usually at a loss for words but all I can say is WOW. And that I'm so sorry. And that I'm so grateful for what you're doing here.