Behind Closed Doors 2 : Dana’s Story : A.L. Smith
Fear is a defense mechanism that produces a vital
response to emotional and physical danger.
Walking five blocks to and from school through the
dangerous ghetto would have intimidated any twelve year old, but
survival was a way of life and fear was my protection. There were
no immediate signs of danger during my daily journey, but I was
instinctively aware of everything around me and always prepared
to act accordingly. As my classmates sped by me on their colorful
bicycles, I grew excited about the prospect that I might finally get
one of my own for Christmas. My father gave my mom the money
to purchase the bike the previous year, but she used the money to
pay the electric bill—at least, that’s the story she told me. When I
mistakenly allowed her to see my disappointment, I received a
whipping and an hour-long speech about my ungratefulness.
“I feed you, and this is the thanks I get? I don’t hear
anyone else around here complaining and poor-mouthing," she
She looked at my younger sisters and my little brother for
affirmation. I wanted to remind her of the fact that they had little
to complain about since she gave them everything. My point was
valid, but I was smart enough to know that a comment from me on
the topic would result in another lashing.
My sisters didn’t respond to the latest outburst from my
mother because they were accustomed to it. However, I could see
the paralyzing fear on their little faces. At times, the verbal and
physical abuse that I received from my mother had a greater
impact on them than it had on me. As a coping mechanism, I
learned to channel everything to a place that was beyond the realm
of feeling. I no longer responded to the physical pain that my
mother inflicted and it drove her crazy. The verbal abuse escalated
a few notches when she realized it had a greater effect on me than
her physical punishments.
This was my life for as long as I could remember, but the
intensity of the abuse dramatically increased when my parents
separated. I was around eight years old at the time. When I got
home from school that evening, I met my father at the front door.
When I noticed the suitcases and plastic bags, my heart sank. I
asked him if he was leaving for good and he said yes. My mother
came out of the house in a violent rage, which worsened at the
sight of my tears. Her eyes narrowed and she spoke to me through
“Why don’t you get your shit and go with your daddy!
That’s one less mouth for me to feed. I mean it, Bernard. Take that
little hussy with you!"
She spoke as if her words were meant for a perfect
stranger instead of her own daughter.
My father dropped his bags and knelt in front of me,
without so much as even a glance toward my mother. He gave me
a hug and cradled my face between his hands.
“I love you, Dana. Don’t ever forget that," he said softly.
He gave me a hug and a kiss on the forehead, then turned
to look at my mother for the last time. He spoke in Haitian Creole
or “patois” to my mother, who was from South Louisiana. It was
something my father often did to conceal his anger from me or
whenever he wanted to discuss sensitive information with my
mother. By now, I not only understood the language, but I spoke it
fluently. Neither of my parents were aware of this. In his thick
Haitian accent, he addressed my mother very calmly, but his anger
“You’re going to burn in hell for your evil ways, Diana,"
“I’ll be waiting for you when you get there,” she replied.
An evil smile crossed her face before she turned and
walked back into the house.
My father left that day and my entire world crumbled.