A Family Vacation Gone Awry: The Pain of Child Abuse | Sojourners

A Family Vacation Gone Awry: The Pain of Child Abuse

I was on the verge of my tenth year of life. My stepfather rented a big cabin next to Lake Mead and several families joined us for a week of vacation together. The parents filled us children with images of fishing, swimming, and boating. Only later did we understand the visions filling the imaginations of the adults: nearby Las Vegas. It was the '70s, and we kids were not the center attraction. My family piled into our Datsun B-210 and headed out from the desert heat of El Paso, Texas to the desert heat of Lake Mead, Nevada -- the place of imagination and fun. Other families would join us there.

When we arrived at the lake, it was hot. The whole week the temperatures were above 110 degrees, but, like I said, the lake was the excuse for the trip. The adults would go off in groups of four and five to pay homage to the myth of becoming big winners. Sometimes, the grownups would be gone for whole days at a time. They just had to make sure that one couple stayed and watched all the kids. This became a point of struggle among the adults. Everyone wanted to gamble, and the children were the liability no one wanted. The fight over the kids issue almost led to fistfights, until someone found what seemed like the final solution to the kids problem. They would all go to Las Vegas. In their thirst for the neon life, the adults made a mistake.

The kids were to stay in a hotel room in Las Vegas by themselves for one night. We had money for pizza. We had sodas and chips. We had candy and sugar in various forms. The plan: One of the parents was supposed to come every couple of hours to check that we were being kind to our surroundings. The children had the phone numbers (yes, before cell phones) to the casinos where our parents were.

They thought that we would be okay. Four boys and three girls all under 11 years old, and the two teenage girls who were forced to control the party, were alone for the night. The predictable disaster followed. The parents left before the sun fell bellow the horizon. We saw none of them until they all returned with the sun at 5 a.m.

All of the parents were angry with the mess they found, but Bobby's dad was the angriest. He drunkenly surveyed the sea of chip crumbs, sodas cans, and chewed up pizza slices. He knew he was going to have to pay for his share. He grabbed his son Bobby by his Superman underroos. Bobby looked like an insect waving its tentacles. Bobby's underwear stretched to its limit. His father started spanking, and then punching, his child repeatedly. Bobby pleaded for him to stop. Bobby screamed and screamed, then he just stopped, as if he ran out of a voice. He was awake and silent. His eyes looked straight ahead. He then made eye contact to all of the other children. His mouth clenched tight. After a while some of the other adults stepped in.

"It's enough," they told Bobby's dad.

I have come back to this event many times. I have tried to understand what Bobby went through, even though I know I can never really understand. Why was he silent? Knowing his father was an alcoholic, what Bobby must have endured is unfathomable to me. Later in life, Bobby retained his sense of silence. In his dark brown eyes, there is an italic phrase of, if only you knew. He would not say anything, but in his slight unexplained smirk, he would say everything.

Many times child abuse is present in terms of statistics, as if numbers could capture the damage a person experiences through abuse. My experience with that silence was what kept the abuse in place.

Jesus calls us to be a witness of love, and being a witness is in breaking the silence about child abuse. Being a witness is speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves. The cross gives us the power to break the spell of abuse and the curse of silence.

Remember to speak for the Bobbys of the world. For if we Christians won't, then who will?

portrait-ernesto-tinajero1Ernesto Tinajero is a freelance writer in Spokane, Washington, who earned his master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. Visit his blog at beingandfaith.blogspot.com.