The Cats in the Bag

When you grow up in an abusive environment, you really don’t realize its abusive. Its normal; everything is normal – beatings, screaming, throwing dishes, butcher knives, terror, and more. As a child, this is the only life you’ve known, therefore you have nothing to compare it to.

Its what I call “a lack of reference”.

I’ll never forget (though he has forgotten; I know, I asked him) – when my brother got stuffed into the bag.

My dad was an Army warrior. Enlisted, short-tempered, he had very little to do with us boys. Plus he was gone most of the time – fighting in Vietnam, touring in Korea (I think he fought there, too), touring here, TDY there – but rarely at home.

That was fine with us, except it left us stuck with our mother, who had an even shorter fuse on her keg of anger than his – and was given to much more explosive, violent outbursts.

But this story isn’t about her. (Though it some ways it is.) It’s about him.

One day (evening) he came home from work. He worked at Ft. _, a big military base not far from here. And I guess my brother had done something. What, I don’t know – but I do know he paid for it. Dearly. Very, very dearly.

Daddy came home, momma told him something . . . I don’t know what, but it implicated HIM, my older brother, who was about a year and a half older than me.

So my father put him into the bag.

Now, my dad had a temper. And a mean, cruel, sadistic streak that I inherited until I grew better. He used to beat us with his ‘war belt’. Do you know what a war belt is?

It’s those old time military belts they used to use to hang their gear on. It’s wide, and it’s ribbed, and its made like a thick and heavy canvas – rigid and hard, with black metal eyelets and metal clips all around the sides. The buckle is made like a wire hook, with a little knobbed beak on the end. The other end isn’t much better – it’s a thick piece of wire, crooked back into the belt.

He’d come at us, swinging that thing like a man flailing wheat, never mind which end struck us or where. And he’d pound us into the ground . . . the floor . . . anything until we were sobbing white messes. Making us take off all our clothes. At least down to the underwear, anyway.

That belt left marks; it left bruises, big wide straps of purple and red across our backs and legs and more.

But this time he was really mad. Madder than a wet hen. Madder than a raging fire. Madder than a man gone insane this time, I reckon, ‘cuz he stuffed my brother in that bag. And that bag was an old green Army laundry bag, with rubber inside and a thin canvas texture on the outside. And it had drawstrings for loops.

So he takes my brother – half stripped or naked, I can’t tell – stuffs him in that thing, and hangs him up in the living room doorway. (Maybe holding him up by one hand? I can’t tell – I was only four or five at the time.)

Then he starts whaling away at the form in the bag with that old war belt of his, beating at the bag and beating at the bag and beating at the bag and beating at the bag . . .

Well, you get the picture.

Mom, meanwhile, is standing there, hands on her hips, watching her husband beat the living s**t out of this bag. I’m across the living room; I can hear my brother’s screams – God! – he screams LOUD – and as the beating continues he screams higher and louder and more and more until . . .

Well, you get the picture.

Meanwhile, I’m pressing myself up against the wall; sinking down against the wall, into the corner between it and the floor. I know I’m pressing my hands against my mouth; against my face; I’m full of horror.

Not over what is happening to him.

But the fear that I’m going to be next.

I can still feel echoes of that fear, writing this, even though the event is long gone; my dad is too old to touch me now (but he still hurts me with the memories of his ‘perfect storms’ – as well as my momma.)

Eventually my mom reached out and stopped him; she had to touch him, call out to him to get him to stop. I don’t remember much of what happened later; in mind’s eye I can see him lowering the bag . . . my brother must of gotten out . . . but I didn’t see anything else (or can’t remember it). My hands had gotten pushed up to my eyes, trying to hide from the chance I might be next, or maybe in my child’s mind thinking if I can’t see them they can’t see me. Or maybe they were covering my ears, trying to choke out his screams.

I dunno.

But at any rate . . .

It’s strange that the fear still touches me later, here, now – forty-five years away. And that I still feel a touch a guilt that I feared for myself – that I was going to be next in the bag – instead of feeling sorry for him, my own brother.

But I reckon things are like that sometimes.

Completely normal, I’m told.



It’s just a label on my clothes washer.

And it definitely doesn’t apply to my childhood.

Not with I know today.

This is a drawing we all did, done back in about 1996.  We then scanned it in about a year later.  We don’t know where the original drawing is, but here we now located the scan . . . enjoy.