A lifetime in the shadows

Discover resilience in this real life poignant story of overcoming childhood abuse and finding strength in the shadows of a tumultuous upbringing.

In this life, I learned to support and not to lead. I was the one who stood in the shadows and this has been the greatest gift of this particular lifetime.

The Candlelight Cafe was our new home. My parents purchased the business and we lived in a tiny apartment above the saloon. After closing hours, my father would stay downstairs to continue drinking and remain in an inebriated state. During the day, my mother managed the tavern alone.

My siblings went to school and I was only four years old, so I kept busy in the barroom playing the jukebox and watching the men shoot darts while I would sneak their french fries to eat. I recall how I loved to entertain the customers to sing upon request. I would sit on top of the bar, front and center and sing my heart out like a little Shirley Temple.
I was quite the center of attention with a waterfall of coins thrown at me to gather when I finished my song.

My confidence and sass wasn’t permanent. In the years to come, all of it would be stripped away.

One day, I played with boxes outside, not far from the entrance door to the saloon. I was stacking my boxes and looked up and saw a man with a hat sitting in a Cadillac using his finger to lure me over to his car.

I wondered what he was doing and then went back to playing. I was curious so I lifted my eyes again, and I saw his finger doing the same motion for me to come. I thought about it and took a step towards him. I saw his eyes shifting from me to the entrance door. A voice in my head said, don’t go. I wanted to see what he wanted but the voice again warned me of the danger. In that moment, my mom appeared at the doorway and he sped away.

She explained to me that he would have kidnapped me and I would never have seen my family again. God was keeping me safe.  This is when I began to mistrust humans.

The Candlelight Cafe began losing money quickly from burglaries and hired help stealing from the cash register. My parents lost their business, but the turbulent marriage and alcohol addiction continued.
The fighting and abuse became our way of life. Normal interaction was to stay completely quiet keeping one eye on his hands as he walked around in his underwear.

It was Easter holiday and we looked forward to coloring eggs together. My mom left to go grocery shopping, and my father had just arrived home sloshed from drinking. My brother wasn’t sharing the hard boiled eggs, and my sister and I weren’t going to let him cheat us out of another holiday activity. All of us began quarreling. My dad walked into the room and started to unbuckle his belt. Each of us quickly scattered and because I was the smallest, I was left out in clear view. I made it to the first step on the staircase but he was directly behind me and grabbed on to my back pocket. I grabbed the railing with both hands and held on to dear life as he pulled my body weight backwards. We were shifting back and forth with his hand holding on to my pocket and I was holding on to the railing knowing that if I let go the beating would be unbearable.

In that moment, my back pocket ripped off and I had time to run. I quickly made it to the top of the stairs and needed to decide where to hide. I ran down the hallway to their bedroom and slid inside the back of their closet. My heart was beating so rapidly and I couldn’t breathe, but I needed to stay quiet. Now I heard him walking room to room yelling, “I will find you Cindy.”

He approached the room and stood for a moment in the doorway. He bent down to look under the bed and couldn’t find me. He was out of breath as I heard him huffing and puffing. He needed to sleep off his drunkenness only to begin the cycle again when he woke up.

God was with me again.

I only played with my sister because my father was an embarrassment and my brother became a loner locking himself up in his bedroom. It was a typical day. My sister and I were staying out of sight in our bedroom. We were goofing around and laughing loudly. He yelled upstairs to shut up, and of course we continued to laugh. I looked up and there he stood at the doorway unbuckling his belt. My sister ran in the closet and I laid on my bed bracing myself. He stood over me and as he began to strike me, his belt caught on the ceiling light shade. This infuriated him and he accused me of grabbing the belt out of his hand. Angrily, he looked around my bedroom and began unplugging the electric cord to my television. He began striking me and the wire cord sent excruciating pain throughout my tiny body. I cried and pleaded for him to stop.

Just then I heard my mother come home and she yelled up “What’s going on?”

He stopped beating me and his last words to me were, “If your mother didn’t come home, you would have gotten more.”

This is the day I completely disassociated from my body and from the world.

A few days later, I had a dream that my head was decapitated from my body and I walked into the room where both my parents were sitting. I stood in front of them with a missing head and they didn’t even notice me. My shoulders were bloody without a head as I desperately waited for my parents to save me.

My entire life of living in the shadows away from the world has taught me fortitude and resilience. Over the years, I built a warrior strength. These are the gifts I possess to take care of my special needs child.

As tragic as all of these things seem, I no longer need to seek refuge within the shadows and go unnoticed. Building confidence and speaking my truth has shined light unto my path.

To all of you who have been abused as a child or are still being abused and are clinging onto hope: I hold a candle with a brilliant flame shining out to you. Please step inside the light and join me.

Cindy Nevius Avatar

Additional resources

Related content