Like Lisa before her, Clara was young when she started dealing with my Uncle Philip. Clara was a senior in high school;my Uncle was in his late twenties by then. Clara was actually my uncle’s side chick, and when Lisa left him she was delighted to finally be the only woman in my Uncle’s life. As she came around more she talked very badly about Lisa. Now although Lisa was not my blood and had made the wise decision to leave my uncle, I still cared for her deeply and viewed her as family. So Clara’s denunciations of my Aunty Lisa did not sit well with me.
I didn’t like Clara at all. However my dislike gave way to empathy when I saw her with the same dark bruises as Lisa before her. Uncle Philip clearly had an issue with anger and putting his hands on women. Clara was now the third woman that he’d abused. My Uncle’s treatment of women was shameful, but my family’s reaction to it was downright bewildering. A two-week episode in 1992 between Uncle Philip and Clara would lay bare the difference between what was preached and what was practiced.
Law enforcement would become involved within the domestic violence situation between Clara and my uncle early on. Clara lived in a local housing project. The housing authority became so frustrated with neighbors calling the police on Uncle Philip that they simply banned him from the property. This did not end the relationship between them. As the saying goes: where there’s a will there’s a way. My Grandma’s apartment became the means to the end.
I went to bed that night, shocked and confused by the events of that day. Uncle Philip and Clara were in the bedroom that was mine that morning. My Uncle-a repeated and current batterer of women was welcomed in by my Grandma! As I watched Grandma roll out the red carpet for my uncle I felt like I was in a twilight zone. Either I was crazy or they were. The fact that my uncle could act this way and still command such loyalty from his mother and the woman he was abusing baffled me. When the police finally came and arrested him I was relieved.
Uncle Philip would be in and out of jail for the next ten years. Clara, playing the role of the quintessential ride or die chick, remained with him. They married, and he eventually stopped beating her. Perhaps we should be glad that Uncle Philip finally changed. But the havoc wreaked by his abuse would reverberate through the lives of his children. Two of his daughters with Aunty Lisa would go on to have a string of abusive relationships with men as well. Multiple lives were harmed by his abuse.
When I look back at it and think of all the unnecessary suffering, the attitude of my family is frustrating. Uncle Philip’s violence towards women was not hidden. I could see it at the tender age of five years old. Yet though it was well-known he was not ostracized because of it. The pass given to Uncle Philip is all the more confusing when you consider that I come from a matriarchal family.
I wonder if the answers lie in our past, the decades in Indiana that we don’t talk about openly. I remember the hushed voices when I was a kid, the rumors that Grandma’s second husband(Uncle Philip’s father) beat her and eventually kicked her out. If it is true it would explain both my family’s nonchalant attitude regarding DV and my uncles’ comfort with abusing women. Unfortunately I will never know for sure. My Mama is the only one I could rely on to tell me the truth about such matters. I’d have the courage to ask her but she’s no longer here to answer.
I can’t verify what happened within my family forty years ago, but I bear witness to what happened in the 1980s and 1990s. I bear witness to the bruised bodies of my aunties. I bear witness to the devastation that the abuse wrought on the children who witnessed it. And I bear witness to the mixed message that it sent to me regarding my worth as a woman.