Don’t TOUCH Me
The words printed on Mama’s T-shirt on the faded photographs caught my eye as I was going through our photo albums. There were about three pictures in which she was wearing this white V-neck T-shirt with red printed letters. DON’T TOUCH ME.
You see, we owned this tailor shop in Noveleta, Cavite. The name of the shop – TOUCH Casual. It was located right at the center of town and since my parents were the only tailors in town, they were very well known and people called them Mr. and Mrs. Touch.
DON’T TOUCH ME. The word Touch was in bold letters. I wondered if that was my mother’s cry for help.
It was the summer when I turned ten, in the mid-70s. The lazy days of summer were starting to bore me and I asked my father if I could take baton-twirling lessons. I must have been fascinated by the majorettes leading the town band as they marched on our street during processions.
He knew someone who knew the band majorette and he immediately signed me up for lessons. The majorette was a very pretty young lady with short hair. The first day we met, she showed me right away how to twirl the baton. She held that shiny metal rod and spun it so gracefully in her hand. I struggled at first because I’ve always had sweaty palms and I would constantly wipe my hands on my shirt. My mother bought me my own baton so I could practice at home.
After just a couple of weeks’ lesson, the band was invited to play at a funeral procession and my majorette trainor said that I was going with them and so is the other girl who was also my age. “Are you sure I’m ready for this?” I asked her. “Yes, you don’t have to twirl your baton anyway,” she said. We were just going to march in front of the band.
I was so excited. Mama made me a nice outfit. It was a white long-sleeved shirt and a red mini skirt with white pipings. I also wore my white knee long socks and black leather shoes. Mama bought me my own whistle tied on a thick yellow cord and of course I had my baton in my hand.
I marched there in front of the band, so did the other girl who was the same age as me and our majorette in the middle leading the band while they played solemn hymns. I know, my first gig as a majorette was a funeral but it didn’t matter. People recognized me when the procession passed our street. I heard people saying, “There’s the daughter of Mr. Touch.”
It was late at night a couple of months later. My father came home drunk and he was fighting with my mother in the other room. My younger sister and I huddled on the floor behind the couch. I could hear my sister clenching her teeth. She was terrified. So was I and Ate Flor, our yaya/helper who was also there beside us on the floor.
I could tell that he was hurting my mother. She was crying and begging him to stop. I wanted to stop him and I was sure Ate Flor also wanted to stop him. But we knew better. This was not the first time that he beat her. There were many other times and it happened when he’s had too much to drink.
I could have hated him for hurting Mama. But he was my father and I was Papa’s girl. That is, when he wasn’t drunk. He was very loving when he was sober. He would tell us jokes. He’d help me with homework. He’d stay up late with me to finish my art projects. We played scrabble. We went bowling. We had outings with other families. People came to the shop and would make friends with them. We were a happy family, or so people thought. They didn’t know what happened behind the doors when the shop closed at night.
Then thump! He hit her with something really hard. I could tell from her moaning. And then there was silence. The raving stopped. He must have passed out from his drunkenness.
After a while, Mama appeared before us. She was black and blue on the forehead. She had a cut and she was bleeding. She summoned me and asked me to go with her to the doctor who lived just a few houses away. I was frightened as it was already late at night. But I wanted to be there for her. As we stepped out of the door, I saw my baton lying on the floor. He hit her with the baton. My baton. I wanted to cry but we were already outside. I didn’t want people to see me cry.
Why did I sign up for that baton-twirling lessons? I felt so guilty. Had I not wanted to be a majorette, he wouldn’t have hit her with the baton. Of course now I realize that he would have hit her with something else. But as a ten-year old child, that was what I thought.
We got to the doctor’s house and he asked Mama what had happened. She told him that she hit her head on a pole really hard. She didn’t tell him that my father beat her up. Nobody was to know. It was our dirty little secret.
Last week, I read two posts, one by Toe and the other one by Manilenya. Both mentioned the campaign against violence against women. I didn’t know about the White Ribbon Campaign wherein you wear a white ribbon to protest against violence against women for 16 days (November 25 – December 10). I also didn’t know that there is an International Human Rights Day. But I thought that it was wonderful that these two women were writing about this very important topic, a topic that hits very close to home. And I thought that I should do my part in giving you a picture of what domestic violence really looks like. For as Toe has mentioned, she has been ignorant most of her life with issues like this because she has lived with wonderful men. And as Manilenya has cited, “Domestic violence happens everywhere. It affects someone near you. At least 1 in 3 women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Usually, the abuser is a member of her own family or someone known to her.”
I have reason to believe that that statistic may be quite accurate. Abused women don’t usually talk about the abuse with anyone. They are ashamed and embarrassed so they suffer in silence.
Toe has mentioned in her post that a lot of women who deal with physical and emotional abuse are poor and uneducated. My mother finished only the sixth grade when the abuse happened. Looking back now, I think her lack of education and the concerns of how she would provide for me and my sister was what held her back and stayed in the relationship for as long as she did. And of course, the Philippines being a Catholic country, women were brought up to serve and stay with her husband. And she didn’t seek help for my father’s alcoholism because of the stigma attached to it.
But she eventually was able to muster up all her courage to leave my father, for fear of her life. And she raised me and my sister by herself.
If there is anybody out there dealing with domestic abuse, I just want you to know that you can stop this. YOU have the power to stop this, not your abuser. The abuser won’t change. YOU have to be the change. And I just want to assure you that things do get better. Just don’t be afraid to ask for help.