(Following is a text between Miguel's sister, Ellie, 16, and her boyfriend, Diego shortly after the family moves to the shelter.)
Diego: hey. sorry i hassled u yesterday. i was messed up. mom kicked dad out. changed r fone to unlisted.
Ellie: how come.
Diego: long and short he drinks 2 much. cant keep a job.
Ellie: she mite change her mind. my mom always does.
Diego: dont think so. i am so down. need u so bad. lets go out tonite. cheer each other up.
Ellie: i cant. i m exhausted and miguels acting crazy. hates this place. hates us.
Diego: i could lean on him.
Ellie: no need. he will calm down. gotta go. fone bill due an i m almost broke.
Diego: i keep tellin u. let me pay 4 it. if i get u unlimited we can talk and text all we want.
Ellie: i dunno. have 2 think about it.
Ellie: u there.
EXCERPT following an incident when Miguel goes ballistic, almost hurts Ellie in a serious way, and insults Mom.
(Miguel) What I hate most about the House of Hope is there’s no “half way” around here. It’s too quiet or it’s too noisy. You feel lonely or wish people would go away.
his morning, though I wake up early and feel okay for some reason. Look around the room. Ellie’s dressed and perched on the desk. Texting like mad. Mom’s sitting up in bed, reading a small white book.
I dress under the covers, make my bed, and head out.
“Hold on,” Mom says. “I need to talk to you kids.”
Ellie raises a finger. “One sec, okay? I have to tell my boss I’ll be out a couple more days.” A minute later, she flips her phone shut. “Okay, shoot.”
Mom takes a deep breath, says, “See this book? It’s about our state’s family violence laws. I’ve been reading it off and on since we got here.”
She blinks hard. “You know I’m worried Dad will make trouble for me at work or try to pick you kids up at camp, right?” She closes her eyes, sighs. “So this morning I’m meeting with Marsha, a family violence advocate. She’ll help me get a temporary restraining order.”
“What’s that?” Ellie says and finger-combs her curls like they’re on fire.
Mom stuffs the book in her purse. “It’s a paper signed by a judge that says Dad can’t abuse us or even come near us for two weeks.”
“And then what happens?”
Mom shrugs. “I'm not sure. I’m taking this one step at a time.” The bruise on her jaw is fading to green and yellow. Maybe her evidence against Dad is fading, too. Maybe he won’t go to jail.
Dad in jail! Can’t believe I’m even thinking about it. I don’t know anyone else whose father’s in jail. What if the guys find out? Will they rank on us, tell everybody?
My voice squeaks. “Did you get Dad arrested?”
Mom frowns. “No. When this order runs out, though, I have to go back to court and try to get long-term custody of you kids. Dad will be there to hassle me, that's for sure.”
“But we’re already living with you,” I say. “Why bother?”
“Because if I don’t get legal custody, he can snatch you anytime and nothing will happen to him.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to give him another chance?” I ask. “He’s gotta be sorry.”
Ellie rolls her eyes. “He’s always sorry, estupido—until the next time!”
Mom nods. “Miguel, he’s had too many chances already and now he’s hurt Ellie and Moochie. You could be next. I don’t want him around me or you kids, period.”
“Fine with me,” Ellie says. “I don’t want to visit him. He’ll spend the whole time trying to find out where we’re living.”
“That’s bull,” I say.
Mom shakes her head. “I don’t think so, Miguel and I refuse to deal with him anymore. I’m done.”
“But what about Tae Kwon Do?” I ask. “Dad’s the one who always takes me to my dojang and watches my practices and promotion tests.”
Ellie’s neck does its snaky thing. “Right, let’s be sure to keep up the Tae Kwon Do lessons so we’ll have two guys in the house who punch and kick real good.”
"I never punched or kicked you!"
“No, you just almost clocked me with your football!”
I hear Master Han, my karate teacher’s gentle, firm voice in my head. Students, never forget: Tae Kwon Do is about self-control, not aggression!
He would never do what I did to Ellie yesterday. He would never say what I said to Mom.
“You’re right, El. I’m sorry. I won’t do that again, ever.”
“Hmmm, lemme think,” Ellie says. “How many times has Dad made promises like that?”
Mom goes to the door. “Okay, that’s enough! Time for breakfast. I’m due at court in an hour.”
The anger and confusion Miguel and Ellie feel is fairly typical. The abuser may have been good them for years. May have been supportive of their school and outside activities. Sometimes the abuser may even be able to hide his abuse from the children until they grow old enough to understand or witness it.
Parental love is not easy to shuck off. Some kids have by the time they come to the shelter because they are angry at the abuser and the restrictions he puts on their lives. Others may have seen many "amends" and what appears to be genuine remorse on the abuser's part. Like their mother, they hope he will change into the person they used to or still love.
Meanwhile, it is safer for anger, the imitation of Dad's behavior, sadness and confusion to surface once chidren are at the shelter. They hear others describing similar abuse, begin to understand they are not alone, not crazy, and not stupid.
It is the beginning of a long, scary but potentially rewarding journey. They deserve admiration for their courage and they certainly have mine.