The Night That Changed My Life

February 2nd, 1981

I spent the weekend with my father in his trailer in Hegewisch, a small town on the south side of Chicago. My parents were divorced, so traveling between homes wasn’t unusual. After a rather dull visit, I was looking forward to being back home. Not so much to see my mother, although things did seem to be getting better between us.

I arrived home to my mother’s apartment on the North side of Chicago, and had to ring the doorbell several times. Whenever I rang it, it would set off a series of lights flashing in our apartment. Both of my parents were deaf , so that was the method to let them know someone was at the door. I began to think she wasn’t home, which wasn’t unusual for her. I would just have to retrieve the spare keys from our neighbors, who lived in the basement of our apartment building. I heard the door to our apartment open and, being as we were on the first floor, my mother looked down the stairs to where I was waiting to be let in. She then signed with her hands, and, with the best voice she could muster up (a voice that was unrecognizable to most people except me), she uttered, “Shirley is not home.” I was truly confused. How could she not recognize me? I signed back to her. “I am Shirley, your daughter.” She shrugged her shoulders and buzzed me in. Within the weekend that I was gone, I noticed she had lost weight. She also reeked as if she hadn’t bathed for a couple of days. I asked her if she was okay, and, once again, she passively shrugged her shoulders. I was trying to figure out what was going on. Then, suddenly, the lights that signaled that someone was at the door began flashing. It was our landlord. I was truly concerned about him seeing her so disheveled and confused. He had come over to collect the rent, and to explain that our rent would soon be lowered, but that we would be paying for our own gas bill. I interpreted what he was saying to my mother. She started screaming and yelling that he was trying to trick us into something, and trying to take advantage of us. So, I had to politely apologize for my mother’s behavior, and ask him to leave. I told him I would explain things to her at a better time, and that everything would be ok. I wanted to make sure she ate something. She certainly seemed as though she needed to. I went to go look for something to make for her. It wasn’t unusual not to have food in the house. That was always a challenge as she usually sold our food stamps to purchase alcohol. I noticed there wasn’t even any beer in the house. Now that was unusual. All I could find was packages of Jell-O and pudding. Remarkably we had milk, so I made her both. She ate very little of it, but I thought it was good that she ate something. I felt as if the day was going in slow motion. She barely talked to me at all. She pulled up a chair by the window in our very small kitchen and stared out of it most of the day. When it was time to go to bed she asked if I would please sleep with her. I was so uneasy with her behavior that day that I grabbed a crucifix that my grandmother had given me and put it under my pillow for some sort of comfort, I guess. Throughout that day I was so excitedly waiting for school. I didn’t mind school, but I don’t ever remember being so excited and wanting to go so desperately as I did that day. I believe keeping positive thoughts and imagining myself going to school was crucial to my survival that night. When I look back, I can still feel how strong that feeling was. I went through most of my life being afraid of being excited about something because I would jinx it. This is yet another experience in my life that leads to me knowing now that keeping positive thoughts and keeping your vibration high is so important in any situation. Learning these kinds of lessons led to my knowledge of training my mind to change my life in my later years.

I woke at 2am and noticed my mother was not in bed. I started to head out of the bedroom to go find her, but I stopped and turned around to grab my crucifix to bring with me. I decided against it. I proceeded to go look for her and found her in the kitchen sitting on the same chair she had been sitting in most of that day. I slowly approached her. I felt my stomach tighten with fear as I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she was OK. She stood up and hugged me. She hugged me so tight that it made me feel claustrophobic and scared. I tried to back away and she grabbed me by the hair and started punching me. The pain from the blows were very painful Worse than any of the other times she had hit me, She then bashed my head into a fish tank and stuck her fingers down my throat and started pulling up on whatever she could grab in my throat. The fear I was feeling now was sheer terror. I knew I was probably going to die. I bit down on her hand as hard as I could, and she pulled her hand out and went to go get a knife. In the meantime, the lights started flashing on and off. I felt a quick glimpse of hope. My neighbors were trying to get into the house due to all the screaming and noise they were hearing. I looked at her and I looked at the door. She started coming at me with a knife. I ran for the door. As I reached the door and was frantically trying to open it, I noticed she wasn’t behind me. I don’t know why, but I looked down the hallway at her. She looked at me and violently started to stab herself repeatedly in the stomach and throat. I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to do, Somehow, I managed to run down the stairs to my neighbors who lived in the basement apartment. They helped me inside and called the police. I remember waiting for what seemed like an eternity for them to arrive. They finally did. I explained what I had seen to them. They asked, “she’s deaf”? I said yes. The police responded by saying if they were going to enter the apartment that I would have to go with them. I was absolutely terrified and refused. My neighbors said, “look at her”! Does she seem like she is in any condition to enter that apartment? My face was bruised and badly swollen. My nightgown was tattered and torn. She had almost taken my life and I wasn’t about to go back in there again. What happened next was beyond our belief. The police officers left. They informed us to call a relative to come help us with the situation. In the meantime, we had called my father’s neighbor because my father was also deaf. I had his number incase there was an emergency and had to get a hold of my father. He went and woke my father and told him there was an emergency at my house. My father showed up and we called the police once again and they went up with him. After a short while my father came into the bedroom they had me resting in. He looked at me with an expression I’ve never seen on his face, He signed to me your mother is dead. I know if it had not been for those neighbors ringing our bell, she would have taken my life as well. I spent the next few hours answering the same questions over and over again from different police officers. By the time they were done questioning me it was daylight. After determining that I was miraculously ok physically, and they removed my mother’s body, my father drove me to his trailer. I told myself. She probably isn’t dead. They probably took her to an institution and didn’t want to reveal that to me. The mind is a fascinating coping mechanism. My father told me to try and get some sleep. I’m not sure I slept much. I do know I woke with a splitting headache, an aching body, and a desperate need to find out this was just a nightmare. When I stepped outside and seen my father look at me, I knew it wasn’t. It was a s real as real can be. My father explained that we had some things to take care of that day.

First on our list was going back to my mother’s apartment. My stomach was in knots. I couldn’t bear to go back there but he said we didn’t have a choice. He made some breakfast and I watched him eat it in disbelief. I could barely force down a couple of morsels of food into my mouth and I couldn’t believe he could. He even explained finding my mother the night before in detail. He handed me a dental partial she had in her mouth. He said it must of flew out of her mouth while she was stabbing herself. It was covered in bloody specs. He didn’t explain this to me out of cruelty. Some deaf parents, especially in that Era lacked a knowledge of filtering things. The entire drive back to her place I felt as though I was going to throw up. I didn’t know how I was going to get through the day. I started to daydream about the future. I distracted my self with thoughts of a new life. We arrived and the feeling of anguish returned. We walked in and I looked around in disbelief. There was a huge puddle of blood on the kitchen floor. I felt as though I was in a dream. Rather a nightmare. I looked around some more. There were handprints of blood all over the walls doorway mounding. I imagined her staggering around all alone and wondered if she was afraid. I had always been her protector. I felt so devastated and guilty. My father returned from his truck with buckets and mops. Handed me one and we started to clean up my dead mother’s blood. I couldn’t even cry. The feeling I felt is not one I can describe, even to this day. When we were finished cleaning floors and walls. I went to retrieve my pets. My hamster was in his cage dead. I couldn’t believe it. What kind of cruel joke was the world playing on me? I was searching for my cat. She was naturally hiding in fear. I found her under my bed. I decided to feed her before we left. Even the can of cat food had blood on it. I went into my mother’s room to get my crucifix I had placed under my pillow. Intuition must have prompted me and I looked under her pillow as well. She also had a crucifix on a necklace placed under her pillow. I guess I wasn’t the only one afraid that night. I gave that necklace to her best friend. I don’t remember how we were informed but the next step was identifying my mother’s body at the morgue. When we arrived my father entered with me in tow. I did all of the interpreting as usual. They led us both into a room with a projection screen. They showed us her face up close on that screen. It was my mother. I felt a sharp pain on my stomach and a tightness in my chest. I wanted to cry or scream out in anger but I couldn’t do either. I then felt a numbness come over me and that feeling stayed with me for years whenever I thought about my mother’s suicide. She had a big scratch on her forehead. I couldn’t help but think I caused that scratch during the fight for my life. Crazy I know compared to what she did to herself but I was carrying a lot of guilt and that was one other thing to add to the list. I coincidentally had a very similar scratch on my forehead as well. Of course that was very minimal to the other bruising and swelling on my face, but I thought it strange that they were so similar.

She didn’t have a regular wake or funeral. My father came up with $800 for at least some kind of proper burial. My grandmother said it’s better than potter’s field. It was all my father could afford. The day arrived for her funeral. My face had to be covered in make-up to be presentable. On the way there I remember thinking about the past few days and feeling a great desire for everything to finally be over. I was 13 years old and handling everything that had to be done with my father. After all I was his ears and voice. I was used to handling my parents responsibilities, but this situation was above and beyond what a child should be enduring There were only a handful of people present. They wheeled in the closed casket. It looked as though it was a cardboard box covered in Grey felt. I’ve attended a few wakes and funerals already and this was no casket in comparison to what I have seen. I felt sad for her. At the end of her life all she had was a few people present, an impersonal sermon read, and a very basic box to be laid to rest in. Although I felt pain I also felt gratitude that she at least had this much. Thanks to my father. It definitely could have been even less. Weeks went by and I had to settle in at a new school. I was just going through the motions. That numbness was at the core of my soul. I didn’t know if I was ever going to feel anything again. My father informed me that I had received $1000 from some insurance policy she had. He asked me what I wanted to do with it. I told him I wanted to buy my mother a headstone for her grave and he could have the rest of it to pay him back what I could for her funeral. We purchased a headstone for her. I’m so grateful that I did so. Even though I haven’t been to her grave very often I feel better knowing she at least had someone care enough about her to have some kind of marking. I didn’t cry about this situation until I was about 29 years old. This was not the beginning of my abuse or nearly the end of it.

  • I spent the weekend with my father in his trailer in Hegewisch. A small town on the
  • south side of Chicago. After a rather dull time that particular time, I was looking
  • forward to being back home. Not so much to see my mother although things did
  • seem to be getting better between us. I arrived home to my mother’s apartment on
  • the North side of Chicago. I had to ring the doorbell several times even though it
  • would set off a series of lights flashing in our apartment to let my deaf mother
  • know someone was at the door. I began to think she wasn’t home which wouldn’t
  • be unusual for her. I would just have to retrieve the spare keys from our neighbors
  • who lived in the basement of our apartment building.
  • I heard the door to our apartment open being as we were on the first floor. She
  • looked down the stairs to where I was waiting to be let in and signed with her
  • hands and with the best voice she
  • could muster up being deaf said, “Shirley is not home.” I was truly confused. How
  • could she not recognize me?
  • I signed back to her I am Shirley your daughter. She shrugged her shoulders and
  • buzzed me in. Within the weekend that I was gone I noticed she had lost weight
  • and she smelled as if she hadn’t bathed for a couple of days. I asked her if she was
  • OK and once again, she shrugged her shoulders. I was trying to figure out what
  • was going on and then the lights that signal someone is at the door began flashing.
  • It was our landlord. I was truly concerned about him seeing her so disheveled and
  • confused.
  • he had come over to collect the rent, and to explain that our rent soon would be
  • lowered, but we would be paying for our own gas bill. I interpreted what he was
  • saying to my mother. She started screaming and yelling that he was trying to trick
  • us into something, and trying to take advantage
  • of us, so I had to politely apologize for my mother’s behavior and ask him to
  • leave. I told him I would explain things to her at a better time and everything
  • would be ok.
  • I wanted to make sure she ate something. She certainly seemed as though she
  • needed to. I went to go look for something to make for her. It wasn’t unusual not
  • to have food in the house. That was always a challenge as she usually sold our
  • food stamps to purchase alcohol. I noticed there wasn’t even any beer in the
  • house. Now that was unusual.
  • All I could find was packages of Jell-O and pudding. Remarkably we had milk, so
  • I made her both. She ate very little of it, but I thought it was good that she ate
  • something. I felt as if the day was going in slow motion. She barely talked to me
  • at all. She pulled up a chair by the window in our very small kitchen and stared
  • out of it most of the day.
  • When it was time to go to bed she asked if I would please sleep with her. I so
  • uneasy with her behavior that day that I grabbed a crucifix that my grandmother
  • had given me and put it under my pillow for some sort of comfort, I guess.
  • Throughout that day I was so excitedly waiting for school. I didn’t mind school,
  • but I don’t ever remember being so excited and wanting to go so desperately as I
  • did that day. I believe keeping positive thoughts and imagining myself going to
  • school was crucial to my survival that night. When I look back, I can still feel
  • how strong that feeling was. I went through most of my life being afraid of being
  • excited about something because I would jinx it.
  • This is yet another experience in my life that leads to me knowing now that
  • keeping positive thoughts and keeping your vibration high is so important in any
  • situation. Learning these kinds of lessons led to my knowledge of training my
  • mind to change my life in my later years.
  • I woke at 2am and noticed my mother was not in bed. I started to head out of the
  • bedroom to go find her, but I stopped and turned around to grab my crucifix to
  • bring with me. I decided against it.
  • I proceeded to go look for her and found her in the kitchen sitting on the same chair
  • she had been sitting in most of that day. I slowly approached her. I felt my
  • stomach tighten with fear as I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she was OK.
  • She stood up and hugged me. She hugged me so tight that it made me feel
  • claustrophobic and scared. I tried to back away and she grabbed me by the hair
  • and started punching me. The pain from the blows were very painful Worse than
  • any of the other times she had hit me, She then bashed my head into a fish tank
  • and stuck her fingers down my throat and started pulling up on whatever she
  • could grab in my throat. The fear I was feeling now was sheer terror. I knew I was
  • probably going to die.
  • I bit down on her hand as hard as I could, and she pulled her hand out and went to
  • go get a knife. In the meantime, the lights started flashing on and off. I felt a quick
  • glimpse of hope. My neighbors were trying to get into the house due to all the
  • screaming and noise they were hearing. I looked at her and I looked at the door.
  • She started coming at me with a knife. I ran for the door. As I reached the door
  • and was frantically trying to open it, I noticed she wasn’t behind me. I don’t know
  • why, but I looked down the hallway at her. She looked at me and violently started
  • to stab herself repeatedly in the stomach and throat. I was so shocked, I didn’t
  • know what to do, Somehow, I managed to run down the stairs to my neighbors
  • who lived in the basement apartment. They helped me inside and called the police.
  • I remember waiting for what seemed like an eternity for them to arrive. They
  • finally did. I explained what I had seen to them. They asked, “she’s deaf”? I said
  • yes. The police responded by saying if they were going to enter the apartment that
  • I would have to go with them. I was absolutely terrified and refused. My
  • neighbors said, “look at her”! Does she seem like she is in any condition to enter
  • that apartment? My face was bruised and badly swollen. My nightgown was
  • tattered and torn. She had almost taken my life and I wasn’t about to go back in
  • there again. What happened next was beyond our belief.
  • The police officers left. They informed us to call a relative to come help us with the
  • situation. In the meantime, we had called my father’s neighbor because my father
  • was also deaf. I had his number incase there was an emergency and had to get a
  • hold of my father. He went and woke my father and told him there was an
  • emergency at my house. My father showed up and we called the police once again
  • and they went up with him. After a short while my father came into the bedroom,
  • they had me resting in. He looked at me with an expression I’ve never seen on his
  • face, He signed to me your mother is dead. I know if it had not been for those
  • neighbors ringing our bell, she would have taken my life as well.
  • I spent the next few hours answering the same questions over and over again from
  • different police officers. By the time they were done questioning me it was
  • daylight. After determining that I was miraculously ok physically, and they
  • removed my mother’s body, my father drove me to his trailer. I told myself. She
  • probably isn’t dead. They probably took her to an institution and didn’t want to
  • reveal that to me. The mind is a fascinating coping mechanism.
  • My father told me to try and get some sleep. I’m not sure I slept much. I do know
  • I woke with a splitting headache, an aching body, and a desperate need to find
  • out this was just a nightmare. When I stepped outside and seen my father look at
  • me, I knew it wasn’t. It was a s real as real can be.
  • My father explained that we had some things to take care of that day. First on our
  • list was going back to my mother’s apartment. My stomach was in knots. I
  • couldn’t bear to go back there but he said we didn’t have a choice. He made some
  • breakfast and I watched him eat it in disbelief. I couple a morsel of food into my
  • mouth and I couldn’t believe he could. He even explained finding my mother the
  • night before in detail. He handed me a dental partial she had in her mouth. He said
  • it must of flew out of her mouth while she was stabbing herself. It was covered in
  • bloody specs. He didn’t explain this to me out of cruelty. Some deaf parents,
  • especially in that Era lacked a knowledge of filtering things.
  • The entire drive back to her place I felt as though I was going to throw up. I
  • didn’t know how I was going to get through the day. I started to daydream about
  • the future. I distracted my self with thoughts of a new life.
  • We arrived and the feeling of anguish returned. We walked in and I looked around
  • in disbelief there was a huge puddle of blood on the kitchen floor. I felt as though I
  • was in a dream. Rather a nightmare. I looked around some more. There were
  • handprints of blood all over the walls doorway mounding. I imagined her
  • staggering around all alone and wondered if she was afraid. I had always been her
  • protector. I felt so devastated and guilty. My father returned from his truck with
  • buckets and mops. Handed me one and we started to clean up my dead mother’s
  • blood. I couldn’t even cry. The feeling I felt is not one I can describe, even to this
  • day. When we were finished cleaning floors and walls. I went to retrieve my pets.
  • My hamster was in his cage dead. I couldn’t believe it. What kind of cruel joke
  • was the world playing on me? I was searching for my cat. She was naturally hiding
  • in fear. I found her under my bed. I decided to feed her before we left. Even the
  • can of cat food had blood on it. I went into my mother’s room to get my crucifix I
  • had placed under my pillow. Intuition must have prompted me and I looked under
  • her pillow as well. She also had a crucifix on a necklace placed under her pillow. I
  • guess I wasn’t the only one afraid that night. I gave that necklace to her best friend.
  • I don’t remember how we were informed but the next step was identifying my
  • mother’s body at the morgue.
  • When we arrived my father entered with me in tow. I did all of the interpreting as
  • usual. They led us both into a room with a projection screen. They showed us her
  • face up close on that screen. It was my mother. I felt a sharp pain on my stomach
  • and a tightness in my chest. I wanted to cry or scream out in anger but I couldn’t
  • do either. I then felt a numbness come over me and that feeling stayed with me for
  • years whenever I thought about my mother’s suicide. She had a big scratch on her
  • forehead. I couldn’t help but think I caused that scratch during the fight for my life. Crazy I know compared to what she did to herself but I was carrying a lot of guilt and that was one other thing to add to the list. I coincidentally had a very similar scratch on my forehead as well. Of course that was very minimal to the other bruising and swelling on my face, but I thought it strange that they were so similar.
  • She didn’t have a regular wake or funeral. My father came up with $800 for at least some kind of proper burial. My grandmother said it’s better than potter’s field. It was all my father could afford. The day arrived for her funeral. My face had to be covered in make-up to be presentable. On the way there I remember thinking about the past few days and feeling a great desire for everything to finally be over. I was 13 years old and handling everything that had to be done with my father. After all I was his ears and voice. I was used to handling my parents responsibilities, but this situation was above and beyond what a child should be enduring. There were only a handful of people present. They wheeled in the closed casket. It looked as though it was a cardboard box covered in Grey felt. I’ve attended a few wakes and funerals already and this was no casket in comparison to what I have seen. I felt sad for her. At the end of her life all she had was a few people present, an impersonal sermon read, and a very basic box to be laid to rest in. Although I felt pain I also felt gratitude that she at least had this much. Thanks to my father. It definitely could have been even less.
  • Weeks went by and I had to settle in at a new school. I was just going through the motions. That numbness was at the core of my soul. I didn’t know if I was ever going to feel anything again. My father informed me that I had received $1000 from some insurance policy she had. He asked me what I wanted to do with it. I told him I wanted to buy my mother a headstone for her grave and he could have the rest of it to pay him back what I could for her funeral. We purchased a headstone for her. I’m so grateful that I did so. Even though haven’t been to her grave very often I feel better knowing she at least has someone care enough about her to have some kind of marking I didn’t cry about this situation until I was about 29 years old.
  • This was not the beginning of my abuse or nearly the end of it.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Shirley Buck

I am an adult child of deaf parents with a story to tell. I coach people with severe trauma in their past from experience of successfully overcoming it myself.