I often think of my husband’s dealings with his abusive ex wife as being akin to being trapped in a can of soda that is being shaken. You know what happens when you shake a can of soda. The bubbles get agitated and pressure builds. If someone happens to open the can while it’s agitated, the liquid spews out all over the place, making a huge mess. As we were talking about the most recent situation last night, I was reminded once again. It’s like dealing with a can of soda that has been shaken. Once you’ve been exposed to such a situation, it can replicate in similar situations. You learn habits that might not be the best for dealing with problems. Instead of taking a deep, cleansing breath and being mindful, maybe you’ll explode, like a can of Coke that was just used as a maraca.
This morning, I read about Will Smith’s decision to resign from the Academy in the wake of his decision to hit Chris Rock during his performance last week. I’m sure that this decision wasn’t an easy one for Smith to make. In fact, I’ll bet he’s had a difficult week. I don’t necessarily think he’s wrong to step down, in spite of his Oscar win. What he did was very seriously fucked up, although many people are still saying that Smith was only standing up for his wife. But, as I read about the decision Will made, and remembered what happened at the Oscar Awards ceremony last week, I was suddenly a little bit “triggered” by an old memory. Seeing Chris Rock being hit on live television reminded me of something that happened to me in 1993.
It was June, and my family decided, for some strange reason, to rent a beach house in Corolla, North Carolina. My parents, my three sisters, my brother in law, my baby niece, my brother in law’s brother, Mike, and my ex friend and my sister’s ex friend, Peggy, were all there. The house was very full, with many different personalities in attendance and a lot of alcohol flowing. I was twenty years old, and would be turning twenty-one in a matter of a couple of weeks.
I remember that at that time in my life, I wasn’t getting along with my dad. Actually, for most of the time he was alive when I was an adult, I didn’t get along with my dad. He was often abusive to me, although I’m not sure I recognized it at the time. Add in my sisters and their strong personalities, my brother-in-law, who loves watching us fight, my former friend and Peggy, as well as a baby, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. To make matters worse, I had PMS and was about to start my period.
One night several days into the “vacation”, we all went out to dinner, and my dad was really getting on my nerves. I made some snarky comment that was directed at my dad. I don’t remember what I said, but my sister’s friend, Peggy, heard it and apparently thought I was talking to her. Suddenly, all hell broke loose. The next day, my sister’s friend suddenly decided to leave. I remember she had given me $10 because I had planned to make dinner the next night and she asked for the money back. At the time, I didn’t understand why she was leaving. I had no beef with her.
All that day, my sister was being shitty to me. She wouldn’t tell me what her problem was. I finally lost my temper and confronted her. She said she was mad at me. My dad, who had been drinking, decided to break us up. He stormed over to us and took me into a room, where he proceeded to berate me for two or three hours. At one point, he hit me in the face, HARD. I was shocked and told him that if he had been someone on the street, I could have him arrested for assault and battery. And then I told him that if he ever raised a hand to me again, I would have him arrested.
He exploded. His face turned beet red and he said, “You go right ahead! Call the police!” Then he made some comment about how I lived in his house and I could just pack up and leave. At some point, I hit my arm on something and developed a really nasty bruise.
I remember that no one helped me during that confrontation, which left me really upset and feeling completely worthless and stepped on. And then, by that point, I’d started my period, which is probably why I was so irritable and made that rude comment in the first place.
My sisters later came in to talk to me. The one who had been mad at me explained what had upset her so much that this huge blowup happened. I told her that I hadn’t been talking to or about her friend, and if she had just asked me, we could have avoided this whole thing. The scene was embarrassing and traumatic, especially since there were a couple of people there who weren’t family members and had witnessed this Mommie Dearest moment between my dad and me. The worst part of it, though, was that the next day, my dad acted as if nothing had ever happened. My sister ended up losing contact with her “friend”, who turned out to be not such a good friend after all.
Five years later, my dad lost his temper again and threatened to hit me. I reminded him of the last time he hit me and what I said to him. He backed off and then started screaming at me. I ended up leaving. Unfortunately, at that time, I was kind of paralyzed. Though I was 26 years old at the time, I was living with my parents and had nowhere to go for more than a night or two. Not long after that, I got on the right depression meds and finally managed to start making plans to get out of my parents’ home. I needed to for their sake, but especially for mine.
Every once in awhile, those old memories resurface. I get “triggered” by certain things. I think watching Chris Rock being slapped by Will Smith was very triggering for me. And the more I think about what happened, the more I realize how wrong Will Smith’s actions were. I think it’s right for him to resign from the Academy. I hope he gets some help for his issues.
Then I started thinking about Chris Rock’s actual joke. Yes, it was tasteless. I don’t really find jokes about other people’s looks funny, as a general rule. But then I think of all of the jokes my favorite comedian, George Carlin, told over the years. I remember when he described former second lady Marilyn Quayle as looking like Prince Charles. I remember jokes Joan Rivers used to make about celebrities and their looks. Don’t even get me started on Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, and Don Rickles! I’m not saying it’s “PC” to make fun of how people look, but comedians have always done it. Kids do it on playgrounds. It’s almost like it’s instinct.
And while I think it would be good if Chris Rock and his fellow humorists came up with other jokes, I also realize that when it comes down to it, Rock was comparing Jada Pinkett Smith to a beautiful woman. Demi Moore, who was the lead in G.I. Jane, was in her prime at the time. She was strong, badass, and gorgeous. Yes, she shaved her head for the role, but she was still amazing looking, even if the film itself was kind of stupid.
Jada, herself, even said that she didn’t give “two craps” about what people thought of her bald head. So why was Will Smith so enraged? His profane tirade after slapping Rock also brought back terrible memories. I wouldn’t want to see that again. I think if there’s any chance that Will Smith would ever feel so entitled to walk up on a stage and hit someone like that, he should not be part of the show. This isn’t to mean I think he should be canceled, per se… If he gets some help and learns to control himself, okay. But that was traumatizing for me to watch on video. I actually chose to watch it, knowing what happened beforehand. I’m glad it didn’t take me by surprise.
In any case, watching that event unfold– a triangle involving Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock– reminded me of that “shaken can of soda” sense I get sometimes when we talk about Ex… or I’m reminded of that time in my past, when I was regularly having to deal with my dad and his tendency to be violent when the mood struck. Maybe it’s a mild form of PTSD I have, because I realize now that I am no longer able to tolerate abuse. I react badly, as if I’m “saturated”, when there’s abuse afoot. What Will Smith did was definitely abusive and traumatic, not just for Chris Rock, but for everyone who watched it unfold. He reminded me of my dad… and that is not a good thing.