Survivor Story: Creating Art is Helping Me Heal from Childhood Domestic Violence

Written by: Aron, Survivor

Domestic violence rarely, if ever, only affects the person experiencing it firsthand. Various studies conducted estimate between 3.3 million and 15 million children witness physical violence at home. Witnessing abuse – regardless of whether or not it ever turns physical – has lifelong consequences for the children exposed to it. Survivor Aron shares how witnessing his mother being abused at the hands of his father affected him and his sister and how he now uses his experiences to create art and help others tell their stories.

My story started 19 years ago in the Midwest. By the age of 10 years old, I was living in a home where I regularly witnessed domestic violence. I would go to school black and blue with bruises. I was often bullied and acted out in school by starting fights, arguing with my teachers, and other things that caused me to get detention. In some ways, I feel that was my way of seeking help from my teachers, principal, or my classmates when I needed it most, but it never helped me. It affected my life socially and mentally.

The night before they left, Aron’s father had bound his mother in chains, doused her with gasoline, and nearly set her on fire before neighbors intervened.

I still remember the night we left like it was yesterday. One Saturday afternoon, my father had decided to take my sister and I out to get lunch at a nearby McDonald’s. As we were sitting in the car, he told us, “Don’t let anyone in the car. I will be back.” He left us in the car for about three hours, and, during that time, he had gone back upstairs and assaulted my mother.

Afterward, he came back to the car and led us upstairs. When he opened the door, my sister walked in first, and I followed behind her. I smelled gas, so I checked the oven; it wasn’t on. My sister started screaming from our room, and we saw our mother in a fetal position crying. Our mother started crying out to the both of us, “Look at what your father did to me!”

Seemingly unaffected by her cries, my father’s response was to yell at me and ask if our mother had been cheating on him.  When I said that she wasn’t, he punched me in the chest a few times and went down to his room.

Image Credit: Aron T., survivor
Image Credit: Aron T., survivor

When he reappeared, he carried a canister of gasoline, a bike lock chain, and a lighter. He locked my mother up with the chain, poured the gasoline on her, and was about to set my mother on fire when I jumped on him to prevent him from hurting her any further.

My neighbors heard my mother scream. They came over and banged on the door, asking my sister and me if everything was okay. I told them we needed help, but my father came out from behind me and told them that everything was okay, and it wasn’t any of their concern. The neighbors called the cops anyway and told them what was happening.

After the incident, he calmed down and took us to McDonald’s as though nothing happened. When we returned home afterward, the police were there waiting and arrested him on the spot. That night, before anything else happened, my mother took us with nothing more than the clothes we had on our backs, and we fled by train out west.

After they fled to another state, a stranger noticed that something was wrong and contacted a domestic violence shelter to help Aron’s family.

We arrived halfway across the country safely within about three days, but once we got there, we didn’t know anyone and had no food or money. A local cab driver noticed us, and he pulled up beside me and asked what happened. I told him our story and how we ended up at the train station. He had a few passengers in the car, so he said that he would make a few calls and come back.

About an hour later, he came back and said that he made a call. I picked up the pay phone and on the other end of the line was a lady who told us that she ran a domestic violence shelter for women and their children. We lived in shelters on and off for about three years until we got a place to call our own.

Image Credit: Aron T., survivor
Image Credit: Aron T., survivor

I realized that I had to make money to support myself, mother, and sister. Sometimes, I would do odd jobs around the house like picking up the trash and things like that, but I also asked my neighbors if they had any jobs I could do for them. They found some things for me to do, and from there, I saved money up to help my mother pay the bills and get other necessities. 

Aron struggled with anger and disappointment, and his mother suggested that he use art to help process his emotions.

At this point in my life, I was mad and questioning God, “Why did this happen to my family and me?” I was having a hard time reconciling the fact that my parents were getting divorced. During my parents’ divorce, while we were still living in a shelter, my father had threatened to find us and kills us.

Throughout that part of my life, I felt helpless. Along the way, I made a few friends that I could trust and care about, but I never told them my story. My mother knew that I was full of anger and disappointment, so one day, she gave me a piece of paper and a pencil and told me to start drawing using what I was feeling.

From the age of ten to fourteen years old, I was illegally doing graffiti art but had never gotten caught. After seeing my work, a store owner promised me that I could create my artwork, and they would tell others about the work I did for them.

Later, we moved further south, where I would start high school before going on to college, and my sister eventually would do the same. After I graduated from high school, I decided to take some time off and travel the world, showcasing my talent and telling my story of how I came into the world of graffiti art. When I create graffiti art for others, I put my emotions into it and tell their story in a unique way.

In a sense, by going around the world and telling my story, I would say, “Yes, I was dealt a hand, but turned something tragic to triumphant.”

Image Credit: Aron T., survivor
Image Credit: Aron T., survivor

**This story is an adapted version of an interview that previously appeared in the San Diego Voyager and has been shared with the survivor’s permission. The images are the property of the survivor and are used with his permission.

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page.

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