The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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I Didn’t Let Years of Beatings Beat Me
Xavier Alvarez
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One day when I was about 8, I got into an argument with my uncle who had been watching my three younger siblings and me while my mother and stepfather were at work. When they came home, my uncle told my stepfather I had been disrespectful.

My stepfather grabbed me by my ankle and lifted me off the bed. He punched me repeatedly on my back, ribs, and stomach. I screamed and cried, hoping to interrupt his flow of well-aimed punches. But no one came to save me from being his personal punching bag.

For as long as I can remember, my stepfather has beaten me ruthlessly. His beatings were random. Sometimes I’d get beaten every day. Other times it was once a week. Maybe I’d even get lucky and not get beaten at all for a week.

If I was slacking academically, or getting too mouthy, he’d beat me. If I got into trouble with other kids at school, he’d beat me. If the man had given me a task to complete in a certain way and I disobeyed or talked back, he’d beat me. Just about anything would tick him off.

For instance, once he told my brother and me to clean all the walls with a Mr. Clean scrub. I protested because I felt cleaning all the walls in the house was too big a task for kids who were 9 and 10. As punishment for “misbehaving,” he locked me in a dark closet for hours.

Caught in the Darkness of His Shadow

Getting beaten all the time made me feel weak and tiny. My stepfather seemed bigger to me than he actually was. He is a short, chubby guy who wears glasses, probably about 5’6” and around 200 pounds. To me it seemed every time he stepped in my personal space, he was towering over me. I felt caught in the darkness of his shadow.

The fear and trauma I experienced manifested in nightmares. I couldn’t remember the details of the dreams, only that they left me waking up in fear.

I developed self-image issues. I became withdrawn. I’d hide my pain and struggles behind a smile and make others laugh. But eventually I could no longer do that.

I thought people had some reason for not wanting to be around me, and even if I had friends, I didn’t trust any of them to stay around. My stepfather beating me made me feel like a target. If I couldn’t even trust my own family not to hurt me, how could I trust other people? I became anxious around large crowds. I fantasized about suicide. I just wanted to disappear. Being beaten by him made me feel I was a target for the whole world.

My Mom, a Witness

My mom often witnessed these beatings and allowed them to happen. She worked, cooked dinner, and paid the bills, but for the most part she stayed in her room. I think she was depressed about the way her life had turned out. She often took it out on me with verbal abuse. She’d say things like: “You’re a piece of sh-t and will always be sh-t. You’re a good-for-nothing and I don’t even know why I had kids.”

I got into fights at school. If you spoke to me disrespectfully or disrespected someone I cared about, I’d fight you. If you spoke about me behind my back and I found out about it, I’d confront you with the intention to hurt you. I was so troubled I even started fantasizing about hurting people.

image by YC-Art Dept

Part of the reason I’d get into these fights was because it was a way to relieve the stress and frustration and fear of being beaten all the time.

Fighting with people was like training to fight my stepfather one day in the distant future. That’s how I thought in my little kid head. Rocky was an inspiration. Every time I won a fight, I heard the movie’s theme song playing in my head. I felt like a champ until my stepfather got hold of me.

One particularly bad incident happened when I was 10 years old. There was a boy who had an older brother who picked on me. One day at my friend’s house, the older brother provoked a fight between his younger brother and me. I got hit in the mouth and started to bleed. I got so mad, I blacked out and went wild. I slammed the boy against my friend’s mailbox, bending the whole thing at a right angle. Once he was on the floor I pounded on him continuously without care, as if I were trying to punch holes through the surface of the planet.

I came back to reality the instant the fight was over. I felt bad for the kid but it still felt like another victory under my belt: more people knowing I’m not a b-tch.

My Stepdad Takes Responsibility

Then suddenly, around the time my mother and stepfather divorced, the beatings stopped. My stepfather moved out, but we still saw him a lot. His vibe changed. Clearly being away from my mother affected him in a good way. He had always been funny and cool when he wasn’t beating me, but it was as if those traits were amplified now. The violent side vanished. He behaved more fatherly and less like a drill sergeant.

One weekend, when my brothers and sister and I were visiting him, I sat at the dinner table helping my baby brother put together a little figurine my stepfather had gotten for him. I was 15.

“Can you leave us alone?” my stepfather asked my little brother. He scurried off with his halfway-built toy.

I figured it was going to be another supportive talk to help me cope with my mother, who started lashing out at me once he left. But then he looked at me with pure emotion and I knew straight away that this was going to be an intense conversation. The room had suddenly gotten colder, or so I thought because I felt a slight shiver run through my body. I was nervous.

“Relax, everything is fine.” He had read my body language.

“You’re older now and I think it’s time we actually had a man-to-man talk and I spill the truth.”

“What do you mean?” I asked hesitantly.

“I’m sorry for the way I treated you when you were a kid—for beating you like that.”

image by YC-Art Dept

My stepfather had never apologized to me and I didn’t know what to think, but I accepted it.

“I know you are. It’s all right, it’s in the past, and I don’t even care about that anymore,” I said, although I did.

As we talked more about the past, the room became warmer and the air didn’t feel as heavy.

“When I was with your mother I wasn’t happy. I stayed for 13 years and tried to make the best of a bad situation, but I realize now that I didn’t know how to handle my stress properly. I should never have put my hands on you.”

My stepfather doesn’t lie, so I knew he meant the words. I finally felt accepted by him, as if I were one of his own children and not just some hand-me-down from some other horrible dad.

I had hoped for this moment my whole life. But I never expected it.

“I want you to know that I’ve changed and I really do love you,” he said.

“What was it that drove you to hit me the way you did?” I asked. I felt the pain of emotion swell in my chest, but the look on his face made me feel like the pain he felt was far worse. It was a look of defeat and shame.

“It’s messed up, I see that now. This isn’t an excuse, but I didn’t know better; you know my mother also beat me. For all of that, I am sorry. But no matter what I did to you, you kept your good character. You remained strong, and strived to be happy. You kept your positive outlook. You still managed to be yourself.”

I realized that he didn’t see me as a punching bag or not his real son. I felt he had acknowledged me and appreciated me for who I was.

The Chance to Change

That was three years ago. Not long after that conversation, he moved across the country, so we haven’t seen each other much since then. It didn’t take my stepfather’s assessment of my good qualities to lift me up, but it helped.

Thoughts of all he’s done to me can still shake me up. There are a few people I talk to about my past, but I mostly keep it to myself.

I spend a lot of time thinking that I don’t want to be like my parents, or a kid who fights every chance he gets. I’ve made bad impressions on people, and I have been able to turn that around. I’m lucky that I have the ability to see both my flaws and positive attributes and I have revised myself, slowly molding this new and improved persona. I do well in school now, I write for this magazine, and when I graduate this year I plan to go to college.

Although my stepfather changed his behavior late, he did change, and his apology meant a lot to me. I’m glad I have the ability to change too. For both of us, our past doesn’t have to define our future.

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(NYC-2018-05-15)