The toughest Thanksgiving for me began with early morning whispers. That usually signaled bad news in my west Detroit home as a boy. The old ladies whispered the night my father was murdered. They whispered the morning my Aunt Margo got the dreaded diagnosis of breast cancer, a disease she fought for 25 years before dying at age 84.
I heard the whispers again on a Thanksgiving morning as a 12 year old. Oh my God my holiday was ruined. I crawled out of bed to and walked to my grandmother’s bedroom. My cousin Miss Boots laid on the bed as my aunt and grandmother bathed her back with a thick milky liquid.
Red welts boiled off her back. The night before she got into an argument with her live in boyfriend Curtis. She’d argued with boyfriends before. Usually she cut men apart with her sharp tongue and wit. And they fired back with insults.
But this fight was different. Curtis grabbed a belt and beat my cousin to a pulp. The welts were still fresh and they rose from her back like tiny hills across the South Dakota landscape. He not only beat her with the leather part of the belt, but hit her with the belt buckle.
My Thanksgiving was ruined. I did not want to eat. I did not want to be nice to anybody. I wanted revenge upon this man who beat my cousin the night before. I was confused. How does this work? You are making macaroni and cheese and then you decide to kick your woman’s ass?
I knew Curtis liked to drink Beefeater gin because I remembered the man on the bottle in his red suit carrying a spear as if he was on patrol. When Curtis drank he got aggressive. I never knew why Curtis took a belt to my cousin and decided to beat her this badly, but I assume alcohol was involved.
Most women who endure intimate spousal abuse are beaten by men who abuse alcohol or are unemployed. About 2 million women and 800,000 men a year are abused physically by their intimate partner. About 50 percent of women murdered in the United States are slayed by a sexual partner.
Here was the tough part for me. Thanksgiving was still on and it was still set to be hosted by Curtis and Miss Boots. Tougher yet I was instructed not to bring up the incident. Miss Boots still loved Curtis and wanted to make their relationship work. She said she played a role in the beating, blah, blah, blah.
I tuned her out because no one deserved this. Miss Boots rationalized with my grandmother and aunt why she should remain with Curtis. My aunt was a fire ball who had a gun and wanted to “kill this motherfucker.” She carried a gun in her purse and placed the pistol in her nightstand every night for protection. I knew never to sneak into her bedroom at night for fear she’d believe me to be a prowler and bust a cap in my ass.
My aunt wanted to remain home and whip up Thanksgiving on the fly, which was possible. My family had a knack of creating great meals out of thin air. Miss Boots maintained that Curtis was remorseful for his actions and that we should come over to her house for Thanksgiving dinner with him.
I was told not to bring up the incident. We had to get through Thanksgiving as if nothing happened. And that’s what we did although there were anxious moments.
In my 61 years of life I’ve never hit a girlfriend or wife. I never even thought about it. Yeah, I get pissed. I’ve cussed women out. Walked away from them and smashed things because I’m angry. But I’ve never hit a woman. It is not something I brag about. It is one of those things you are supposed to do.
It’s simple. Do not kick your woman’s ass.
Spousal abuse became a common occurrence in my neighborhood. Women would leave the house with black eyes, broken arms and busted mouths. The initial story was usually false. They slipped on a piece of ice, fell out the bed or ran into a door knob. Later we’d discover they were beaten by their husband or boyfriend.
Older boys used to brag about kicking their women’s ass as if it were a rite of passage, like it made you a real man.
After her bath Miss Boot left the house to help finish Thanksgiving dinner. We’d arrive a few hours later. Curtis opened the door and was the nicest guy in the world. He kissed my aunt and grandmother and gave me a big hug that I recoiled from.
There is no way this guy took a belt to my cousins back. I put the incident out of my mind as dinner was served. But an uneasy time hit me when Curtis grabbed a knife to carve the turkey. I had the urge to grab that knife and stab him in the chest. But I didn’t. Instead I smiled and asked him to pass me a mixture of turkey breast and dark meat.
His smile and sweet demeanor began to piss me off. But I held it together and Thanksgiving dinner went off without incident.
Time heals all wounds. My cousin’s back healed. And our anger subsided. My family even began to joke about the beating. We never called Curtis by his given name again. We called him The Belt.Find Terry Foster Podcast here: