Tracy was seventeen when she found out that fathers were not supposed to beat the crap out of you.

She was sitting in her room, huddled at the end of her bed, listening to her father ranting at her second brother. He was always mad at him and Tracy knew that if you weren’t invisible you would get the overflow.

Her father was more careful, since the time he threw her brother against the wall and bones were broken. Tracy heard him send her brother to his room and held her breath, practising being not present.

She jumped when her door flew open and her father yelled,”What are you doing?”

“My homework.”

“That’s not your homework! You’re just reading a book.”

“It’s my English homework.”

He stared at Tracy, eyes furious, then left. Heart beating hard, Tracy pulled her knees up to her chest, her jumper sleeves down over her arms and wrapped them around her knees with school dress pulled down as far as it could go. Tracy tucked her head into her knees and waited.

He was back, strap in hand.

It was the waiting that was always the worst. Anticipation. Waiting for the strap to fall. If he used the strap on the flat Tracy would have long welts. If her used it on the edge, which cut and lifted the skin.

When Tracy was tiny, she would huddle into the wall and say, no daddy, no daddy, please daddy no. Never worked. By seventeen Tracy knew it was best to say nothing at all.

Tracy heard the strap whooshing through the air and jumped when it found the strip of skin she hadn’t been able to protect. He ripped up flesh and Tracy knew she would be marked.

Having vented his fury, he left with dire warnings for uncompleted homework.

Sobbing, Tracy dragged out anything that would look like homework even though she was up to date.

At dinner, she let tears roll silently down her cheeks, knowing that got to him. Knowing that he was always repentant. Repentant but still blaming anyone but himself.

The next day at school Tracy hoped no one would notice the cuts and rips in her legs. She had never been good at lying on the spot, hopeless at dissembling. If people asked questions, Tracy would usually answer or her expressive face would answer for her. Keeping quiet, anywhere but at home, had never been Tracy’s forte.

Tracy’s friends noticed her legs immediately. Tracy was mortified. She explained that her brother had annoyed their father and Tracy got his beating. They were horrified.

At first Tracy thought they were horrified with her, her shame that she had received her father’s attention. It took some time to understand that they were horrified for her.

After getting the full story, they explained that no parent was allowed to do that to their children. Tracy was shocked. They told her about child rights and child welfare. Tracy didn’t know what the words meant. It took the rest of a very inattentive school day for their words to sink in. They wanted her to go to the school counsellor but Tracy just couldn’t. She was too embarrassed.

When her father got home that evening, heart thumping in her chest, Tracy told him that he wasn’t to hit any of them any more. She told him the words child rights and child welfare.

He stood over her and yelled in her face, “Don’t you tell me about child rights and child welfare!”

Tracy could feel the sweat rolling down her back and her breath gasping. This time, though, she stood her ground.

He had other ways to abuse his family but he never ever hit any one of them again.

(c) CLHHarper 1999

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