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Illustration by Edison Mellor-Goldman, 17,
Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies

When my father went to jail for hitting my mom, I thought everything was going to be fine. But it wasn’t. Things got worse after he was released from jail. He turned into some kind of monster who kept coming around harassing us and hitting my mom. I thought it would never end. I hated feeling that way and I’m grateful I finally feel safer.

When I was small my dad would get mad often but he didn’t scream or hurt us; he would just leave and go drinking. But when I was around 10 he started getting more controlling. He’d tell my mom, “You can’t go out.” He’d also scream at her over every mistake she made, like if a meal she cooked didn’t come out as good as he wanted it to. I couldn’t stand it. I would go outside and kick the soccer ball or play with my little brother so he wouldn’t have to hear their yelling. I was afraid that one day my father would get out of control over something more serious and hit my mom.

I will never forget July 4, 2004, when I was 12. I walked into my parents’ room and saw my father hitting my mother. He was on top of her swinging at her. I was paralyzed. My father was twice the size of me and I knew I couldn’t do anything. Then I heard my mom repeating “call the police, call the police.” As soon as I came to my senses I called the police. My father saw me dialing and stopped hitting my mother. I thought I was next but he walked right past me. He hung around until the police arrived, I guess proving to us that he wasn’t scared. The police took him and placed him in the back seat of the patrol car.

I felt bad that he’d been arrested—after all he was my father and he had done everything for our family. But him being away meant peace at home. My mother was happy, even though she had to work extra hours because my father was no longer supporting the family. I also felt free. I wasn’t worried because I thought he’d be in jail for a few years.

But after about four months the police called to let us know that my father had been released. My mother went to court and got a restraining order, which meant that he couldn’t come within 100 yards of us. But to me that restraining order meant nothing—it was just a piece of paper. I knew my father didn’t like to follow rules. Would he come back to do something to me for calling the police?

What does he want?

After he got out of jail, he would call and the caller ID showed that he was staying with one his brothers not far from our house. My mother didn’t want anything to do with him. He called the house or my mom’s cell phone every day. I would hear my mom ask him, “What do you want?” After she hung up I’d ask her what he said and she’d say he didn’t say anything. I didn’t know why he was doing this. I wanted him to leave her alone.

I was afraid that he would hurt her. Every day after school I would wait on the corner or in front of our house until she got home. When she was late I would worry. When she arrived I would think, “She made it.” I would ask, “What took you so long?” “The busses were running late,” she’d say.

Before the problems at home started I was a good student and never got in trouble, but then my attitude changed. At school I couldn’t focus on my work and it was hard thinking about my mom all the time so I pushed everything aside. I wouldn’t listen to my teachers. I would throw papers at my science teacher. When he called security I’d leave and go to the P.E. field. I would sit on a bench alone and think of how my home used to be before my father got all crazy. How our garden was all nice and neat because he took care of it, but now it was dead. How my mother didn’t have to get up early to go to work but stayed at home, and wasn’t tired all the time.

At home I’d just lie on my bed sleeping or thinking. Doing homework didn’t even cross my mind. By the end of the semester I was failing English, science and math. I had to go to intersession to bring my grades back up. I didn’t want to tell anyone about my problems. I felt like they wouldn’t understand. My best friend would call me to go out and I’d make up an excuse not to go. “I’m tired” or “My mom won’t let me go out.” He took it personally and we stopped talking.

After a few months my dad started coming to the house. For almost a year he came around and bothered us; sometimes he was drunk or high. As soon as I saw him coming I would send my brother, who was 5, to go play with his friends a house away. When my father was near my mother I wouldn’t let her out of my sight. Although he intimidated me I would stand tall with an evil stare, as if saying, “Don’t mess with me.” After he left I would relax. I didn’t have to pretend to be that tough guy I’m really not.

He kept coming around more and more. Once we called the cops but he ran out as soon as he saw me dialing. The police would arrive late every time I’d call. They didn’t do anything. They just asked us questions like, what did I see? What did he look like? Then they’d leave saying, “If he comes back around, call us.” Other times I wouldn’t bother to call the police because I didn’t think my father would get caught.

We had nowhere to go

I felt like running away with my family—just packing our stuff and starting over somewhere else. But that wasn’t possible because we didn’t have enough money. Then I thought of leaving on my own, but I couldn’t leave my mother and brother.

One night I saw him choking my mother. As soon as I turned on the lights he stopped. Another time on Valentine’s Day my father threatened my mom. A few days later she asked me, “Do you want to move?” I was tired. I guess she was tired too. She said there was a program that would move her, me and my brother to a house in another state and pay for the first three months of rent. I told her I wanted to move but I thought if we did, he might hurt our other family members. “OK,” she said, “then we’ll stay and go through this.”

I thought it was never going to end. One time he kept insisting to see my mother’s purse. He had his gun tucked in his pants. My mom said, “Put the gun away and I’ll show you what I have.” He gave me the gun and told me to hide it. Alone in my room I thought of using it and taking my own life. I thought if I did everything would go away. But my father would probably go crazier and kill my mom. So I wrapped the gun in a shirt and hid it behind my dresser. Looking back it’s crazy that I thought of that. At the time I thought he was going to get away with everything he did and we were always going to live like this. But soon after, he got arrested again.

On Nov. 29, 2006, when I was 15, I was getting ready for school when I heard my father’s truck pull up. I couldn’t reach my mother because she didn’t have a cell phone and she wasn’t at work yet. I stopped what I was doing. My hands were sweaty and my heart beat faster.

As he walked up to the house I was standing behind the metal screen door. He said, “Bring me your brother.” “What for?” “Hand him over,” he yelled. “Either you bring him to me or I break the door and take him.” I figured if I didn’t obey him he would break it down. My hands were shaking as I unlocked the door and opened it. I told my brother to go with him. I didn’t know if I was going to see him again. But I knew he would never hurt my brother because he loves him too much.

Where to turn

If you’ve been a victim of domestic violence, you can get support and referrals to counseling centers by contacting:

Los Angeles County Rape & Battering Hotline (24/7)
(310) 392-8381

National Domestic Violence Hotline  (24/7)
(800) 799-SAFE

Break the Cycle
(310) 286-3366
Provides legal services and counseling to teens if you’ve been in an abusive relationship.

I ran to our neighbors and asked them to call my mom at work to tell her that my father had taken my brother. Then I made my way to school. I couldn’t stop thinking of my brother. I went to the restroom during lunch and sat in a stall just thinking of him. Is he OK? Is he scared?

On my way home from school I saw little kids playing and they reminded me of my brother. The more I thought about him the madder I got because I didn’t do anything to prevent my father from taking him. When I got home I was surprised to see my mother. She said, “Your dad has been taken by the police.” She explained that he pulled up when she was waiting for the bus. She found a sheriff’s deputy and 30 minutes later they surrounded my father a block from the house. When she finished telling me I was happy. I felt that we could start living our lives again. But I couldn’t enjoy it because I figured they would release him early again.

Things should have been better but I had too much anger inside. My mother would cook the same thing three days in a row. I didn’t want to eat the same food. One time I snapped. I yelled at her, “I’m tired of eating this!” At school I started acting up again.

I won’t become like him

Then one day I was alone in my room trying to think of all the good things my father did, to put what he did to my mom in the past, but the bad memories would take over. I remembered how he would yell at my mom at the dinner table. I did that too. I was becoming him. I didn’t like hurting anybody, especially my mom. I didn’t want my brother to live with another version of our father and go through what I went through. I said to myself, “I’m not going to be him. I’m not him.”

I began improving my behavior. I stopped getting into trouble. Although I still had anger toward my dad, I tried not to think about him. When I’d get upset I would go to my room and stay there until I calmed down. At times I would cry to let the anger out.

I’m my brother’s father figure now. I help him with his homework, encourage him to read, tell him what’s right and wrong. It’s a good feeling to know that I’m doing the right thing for my brother. He told me he wants to be like me. I felt proud. That also encouraged me to believe in myself more and to convince myself that I wasn’t like my father. I didn’t turn out like my father and if my brother follows in my footsteps, he won’t turn out like him either.

My mother told me recently that my father was out of jail. Not long ago I spoke with him on the phone. He seemed like a completely different man, more calm. He told me he wasn’t drinking or doing drugs anymore. I won’t take his word for it until I see it for myself but in a way I believe him because he has a new family with a newborn. I don’t fear for my mother anymore; he has a new life and so do I.

Many times when I was lying in my bed I looked up at the sky at night through my window and asked, “Why me?” hoping to get an answer. But I received just silence. I’ve stopped caring about why because it doesn’t change anything. School is my number one priority. I take harder classes and stay after school to ask my teachers how I can improve. I want to go to college and become someone in life and have a better future. If I have kids I’m going to be the best father I can be. It’s hard to think about those bad times but it helps. My past is a reminder not to change who I am. I’m not him. By being a good role model for my brother, I can change his and my life for the better.