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spring 2002

Life is not a silent black and white re-run of Charlie Chaplin films. Some are deaf; others have vision limited to shadows and restricted by color blindness. As life is not a silent 1920's film, abuse is not limited to a specific form. He who strikes, yells, insults or rapes uses physical and psychological forces to overwhelm his victim.

Sammy, the youngest of four children, is defenseless against older siblings. The two older boys are responsible for chores about the house -- the sister, for preparation of meals, ironing, and "women's" work. Mike, the oldest, has basketball practice. He passes his responsibilities onto Sammy. Robert, the overweight bully known for rushing around with a knife, is rather busy. By threats, he imposes his obligations onto the younger. The sister, Nelly, is no match for either; finding excuses, she disappears. Trapped, Sammy knows an existence of abuse and exploitation. Arriving, the father finds chores not completed to his satisfaction. He explodes over a minor detail, striking out at the child. An ashtray is misplaced. The mother, arriving home, begins her litany of complaints and abuse. Sammy's cup runneth over.

Taken Flight

Taken Flight
by Estelle Sharrock Churchill

Sammy knows no other existence. In defending himself against baseless accusations, his single voice does not match the five confronting and tormenting him. Protests are met by further verbal and physical abuse. Passivity and silence become a means of survival and self-protection; he becomes withdrawn -- perhaps inarticulate. He is socially untouchable, as touching signifies violence. To survive, he must alienate himself from his reality. As he cannot control his environment, he withdraws internally to isolate his thoughts from daily exposure. Perhaps he creates a secret identity. Secretly, he knows that he is not guilty of breaking the dishes, or doing "bad things," but becomes convinced that he is "bad" or "never good enough."

At school, teachers demand integration, "assertiveness," or active behavior for which he has no confidence and skill. Unable to respond, he fails because he knows only abuse. Programmed for abuse at home, he lacks courage to overcome the rejection, anxiety and stress within. The teacher reports to his parents, who ridicule him for failure. Grossly insecure, he withdraws even more, afraid to step out into the potentially hostile environment. Predestined by verbal taunts and name-calling, "Hole-in-the-Head" or "Idiot" and "Hey Stupid" from family members, expectations for failure are imprinted. Self-identity is influenced by the mirror of negative comments from his family. Ridiculed in speaking, or upon receiving recognition elsewhere, he is demeaned as "stupid," then sees himself as stupid. Impressed by such negative reflection, Sammy knows that silence is survival and endures it by passivity. Feelings of inferiority and worthlessness are deeply stamped, however silent or intelligent he might be.

Squirming uneasily in a chair, he mumbles, quelling the anxiety, when called upon in class. Repeating the question, the teacher adds commentary regarding an inadequate answer and announces that his siblings were far better. Sammy's self-value plunge again on the Dow-Jones psychological index. Fearful of public humiliation, he reduces answers to an incoherent mumble. Titters and whispers fill the room each time; he must repeat himself. Losing more courage, he ends by swallowing the bitter tears of gross injustice. The teacher labels him "an idiot," "lazy," or possibly "anti-social." The report card borne home bears cryptic remarks: "Sammy is a silent child who tends to be a loner." The school psychologist impresses this further when Sammy is called down and lectured about the importance of social intercourse and communication. Neither teacher nor psychologist see or listen because they know everything. They are in control.

Straggling homeward with new negative concepts of "anti-social," "uncommunicative," and "uncooperative behavior," Sammy feels publicly humiliated. The trap is baited for a deadly future. He shall never know anything positive about himself until presented with a different mirror reflecting a valuable person with useful skills. Taming a frightened, wild kitten requires tremendous patience and warmth to lure it into a new warm environment. Skilled listening is required to hear the frightened voice whispering in the silence that enfolds Sammy.

Instinctively, Sammy senses the hostility of the classroom. The teacher may never strike him, but now, instead of three siblings, he has twenty-four. The teacher's negative comments and impatience isolate him, casting him into a much repeated role. Tormented as incompetent, he realizes the expectations of teacher and class by acting incompetent and satisfying imposed demands. Largely unrecognized, abilities and skills are undeveloped and unappreciated because they were not carefully investigated or encouraged. The failure is not Sammy's, but his mentors'. His protests go unheard; the abuse goes on unseen. The world in which he lives becomes a black and white film where he is expected only to act, but never allowed to speak.

Bio: Born in the beautiful Puget Sound, Mary Legg received a BA in Classics, English Literature, and Creative Writing from SIU-Carbondale, addling her brain with Library of Congress Subject Headings and Dewey Decimal System for an MLS before enriching her life by studying dramatic soprano literature of German and Italian opera in Vienna. A has-been student as well as a has-been teacher, she is presently turning over a new leaf for the pen. Just Say No to Abuse was originally published at as a winning essay to the Just Say No to Abuse Essay contest.

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