The beatings I received as child in South Carolina had a ritualistic flavor. I was told to go into the living room, to drop my pants, and to stand in the middle of the room till my father arrived. Sometimes out of forgetfulness or laziness or just plain meanness, I was made to wait for some time as, while picking at my nose, I worked myself into a frenzy of dread.
The three blows were usually administered by belt. It could be applied two ways: one with the buckle out and exposed; the other with the buckle clasped in the hand. I preferred the latter naturally and could find no rhyme or reason why one instead of the other.
Sometimes, I took the blows silently. Sometimes I cried fiercely. I don’t think this had to do with the pain of the blows, but from the way they were administered. My father’s face would get red, his eyes would start to pop out, he would bare his teeth and hiss spit through them. At those times, he was enraged. That’s why I cried. Perhaps I sensed the depth of his hatred of me, his desire, as I later concluded was the case, to kill me outright. I can think of no other reasons for his having, in his last demented years, brought up to me so frequently the story of Abraham and Isaac. He had wanted to kill me, yes, but because God had ordered it; and if I had lived, I should thank god.
When I cried, he would say, “If you don’t stop crying I will give you something to cry about.” I didn’t know what to make of this saying except that if I didn’t stop crying I would get more beating. Consequently, I would stifle the tears in my chest and pull myself together.
Once I cried out that I had not done it. He said he didn’t care whether I had or not, for surely, during that week I had done something that had deserved punishment, and this was the punishment for that.
In California, any pretense to ritual was abandoned. He struck me with whatever came to hand, most frequently wire coat hangers, and on several occasions a broom handle.
One day in junior high, as we undressed for gym class, a kid said, pointing to my ass: What’s that. Looking around I saw in a big mirror four deep blue bruises starting just above the knees, extending evenly across both legs, and ending in the middle of my buttocks.The kid asked me what that was. I said I didn’t know. At that moment I really didn’t. It took a while for me to connect the blue welts with a beating I had received.
The following year, the beatings stopped. I asked my mother why, she said I was too old to receive beatings. Who knows perhaps she had read something about beatings at a certain age causing sexual confusion and possible erections. Deep in my heart, I have always hoped somebody in authority noticed my wounds and spoke to my parents. But most likely my mother, realizing that people other than she and her husband would see the damage done, ordered the beatings stopped to avoid any possible public shaming.