SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2014       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Nikkole Sawyer

The Defining Night

            On the night of Christmas in 1999, I was eleven and my father decided to take my sister and me to our cousin’s house for a couple of hours. Soon after we got there I noticed my dad and uncle were gone. I asked my aunt where they were and she said they were at a bar having a drink because my dad needed to relax for a little while. I wanted to go home so badly to be with my mom. After everyone went to bed, I was still awake and didn’t want to stay at my cousin’s house anymore. I didn’t know what to do so I called my mom every few minutes to complain that I wanted to go home. My mom said that I should try to sleep and my dad would be back before I knew it. I did try but I just couldn’t fall asleep. Thinking about it now I wonder if I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t have known that this moment would change my whole life.

At around midnight or one in the morning my dad and uncle got back from the bar. I demanded that my dad take me and my sister home. I wasn’t aware of the dangers of driving under the influence, but he took us home. Once home I wasn’t tired so I decided to watch a movie, “The First Wives Club”. Ironically, I was about a third into the movie when I heard my parents fighting. This wasn’t out of the norm since they used to argue often enough that it didn’t faze me. It wasn’t until I heard a loud thump that I became concerned. I ran upstairs to my parents’ room to find that my dad had hit the wall in anger. It didn’t end there though. In a drunken rage, my dad proceeded to tell me what my mother had been up to. He told me that my mom had been chatting online with a man in Germany using naughty language. I’m not sure why my mother chose a German man to talk to but perhaps it is because we are of German decent. Again I didn’t know what he meant by this since I was eleven and still naive. He told me about the other sexual encounters that he and my mother had together. My mom tried to put in that he cheated on her with the babysitter but that only made him angrier. He started to beat my mom and rip off her clothes right in front of me. He threw revealing pictures of himself and my mother at me and pushed her into my room, which wasn’t the cleanest. My father at this point was so enraged he got on top of her and started to wail and hit her. It wasn’t until I yelled that he was scaring me that he got off of her. His words were “I will stop for you, not for HER”. In a sense I saved my mother. I was shaking so badly that I couldn’t even call the police. All I could do was bring my sister down stairs and make sure that she didn’t see anything.

I decided to take my daughters, Nikkole and Melissa, to see their cousins in Oceanside on December 25, leaving my wife at home. I needed to get away and vent to my brother. My brother and I escaped to a local bar for a few hours then went back after having a few drinks. When we got back my eldest daughter was still up and demanded we go home. I got her sister from her cousin’s room and put her in the car as Nikkole got in. I knew it was dangerous to drive after I had had a few drinks but Nikkole looked very upset and I knew I needed to get her home. Thankfully we got home with no problems. Nikkole said she wasn’t tired and was going to watch a movie downstairs. I took Melissa upstairs to her bed and headed to bed as well.

After I put Melissa in bed I walked down the hall and saw my wife on the computer. This was a normal occurrence since she does tri-cem painting, which is a special paint for decorating shirts and other fabric items. I went up to her to ask her to come to bed when I noticed my wife chatting online with someone. I peeked behind her and noticed she was chatting with that German man again and I got angry. She always told me it was nothing but fun, however, I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t talk to me like that. My wife and I had been sleeping in separate beds for a few months. We always argued and never spent too much time together unless the girls were with us.

I walked away but my anger got the best of me and I started to scream at my wife; things got physical. I shoved and slapped her. Nikkole heard us and had come upstairs by the time we were in the hall. All I saw was red. I went back into our room and grabbed our private pictures. I wanted my daughter to see who her mother really was. I threw graphic pictures of naked body parts and suggestive photos of my wife and I. Everything coming from my wife’s mouth was a lie and I didn’t want to hear it. I couldn’t help what I was doing until I heard Nikkole’s voice screaming. She was scared and wanted me to stop. I paused and took a breath. I looked at my wife, then at Nikkole. My little girl was physically shaken and this made me realize what I was doing. I told Nikkole I would stop for her but not for her whore of a mother. I walked into my room and slammed the door. Ten to fifteen minutes later I had calmed down, and saw that someone had called the police. They were in the front of the house with the lights flashing and talking to my wife. I put a shirt on and walked outside where I saw my daughters both crying in fear of ME. I spent two months in jail and lost my daughters forever.

My family lived in a middle class two story home in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. This was a new up and coming area for families in the 1990s. Since my father was a Marine we always lived on base and this was the first house that we had that wasn’t on a military base. The house was on a brand new housing tract with almost identical houses. Some were two stories and others were one story. They were a nice size but were the typical cookie cutter houses of the 1990s. When we first moved to this house I thought we were finally going to stay somewhere longer than a year or two. I thought my family had finally settled and I would have lifelong friends. But after only a year at the new home, tension between my parents started to emerge and like a tornado tore apart my happy family life. Not one of my neighbors knew anything was wrong, until the night my father was hauled away in a police cruiser. This house meant a lot to me. It was a symbol of a stable happy home, the prospect of lifetime friends, and a place where I could find out who I would be as a woman. Now I think of this location as pain and think that maybe my neighbors were just as scared of my father as the rest of my family. In the end, that the house wasn’t meant for me to find out who I was as a woman because that wasn’t the woman I was meant to be.

In recent years US society was finally evolving to become safer for the wife of an abuser and encouraged victims to come forward. When my mother and father got married if a man hit or abused his wife there weren’t many laws that protected the woman’s rights. The woman was expected to endure it and figure what she was doing wrong. No one wanted to see what was happening to women in these abusive relationships.  The case of O.J. Simpson is a great domestic violence case to look at. Even though he was acquitted of all charges some still think he is guilty. However, because it was such a high profile case and O.J. was a part of high class society, no one knows what really happened except for the people involved. In 1994, five years before my family’s incident, the Violence Against Women Act tightened federal penalties on sex offenders, funded services for victims, and started special training for the police force. This helped women feel safe if they were to come forward and helped the victims of rape and domestic violence to get back on their feet. Then in June 1999, “The Green Book” was published and used to properly help victims of abuse in the court system. With these laws in place my mother was able to get the help she needed.

During the end of the 1990s my family was going through some rough times. My maternal grandmother had passed away from breast cancer a few years before the incident. My mother’s father wasn’t doing very well. To top it off my parents weren’t getting along. The fighting escalated until my father severely beat my mother right in front of me. This taught me a very powerful lesson: to respect myself no matter what the situation and to want a healthy stable relationship.  It taught me that a man shouldn’t hit a woman and that communication is important to a successful relationship. But the incident also left me with ongoing grief and trust issues. I still remember every one of my feelings during that night, even if the events themselves are a little foggy. My feelings of anger towards my father who felt it was ok to hit a woman, my mom, in front of his then eleven year old daughter, still haunt me. However there are some good things that were a result of this event. My mom and I are best friends and I will not stand for domestic abuse of any kind. When I think back to that fateful night, it helps remind me of what I should require from a husband or partner. It helped shape my identity as a strong and powerful woman.

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