At Sixteen, My Mother Gave Me A Black Eye That Took Forty Years To Heal

It’s the haunting memories that guide us toward healing.

Teen girl with a black eye, floral healing Floral Deco, Pro Creators, Canva AI | Canva

In the fall of 1982, I was madly in love for the first time. He was all I thought about. I wanted to be with him 24/7. My parents swatted their hands at me. “It’s puppy love,” they said. “There’ll be plenty more.”

But I didn’t want there to be anyone else. Daniel was the one and only. I’d do anything to see him. We talked about getting married and having babies. He’d go to the police academy to become a cop and I’d teach aerobics. It was us against the world.


That Thanksgiving, we devised a plan that involved me telling a lie to my parents that would allow us to be together at his duplex after he got back from his sister’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“I’m sorry she didn’t invite you,” Daniel said. “She only wants it to be family, so….” He shrugged and lifted his hands to the sky. “Whatcha gonna do?”

Daniel’s two roommates, Chris and Kelly, were with their families and we’d have the place to ourselves. The thought of making out in a bed, rather than in the front seat of Daniel’s Impala, erased any guilt I may have felt about lying to my mom.


My stepdad’s parents had just arrived for their first visit from Czechoslovakia and he was beyond excited to show off how well he’d done in Canada in the two years since we immigrated: the three-bedroom, newly-built bungalow with two cars under its carport, the new furniture from the Brick and Ikea. He strutted around with his chest puffed out, showing off every little detail to his father, who nodded his head in approval.

To celebrate their arrival, my parents were throwing an afternoon party in their honor. All the Czech families they’d met at the refugee camp in Austria in ’79 and who ended up in Edson to work at Luscar Sterco coal mine were going to be there.

My little sister, step-brother, and I were to be on our best behavior. Do nothing to embarrass your dad in front of Babi and Dědek! was the unspoken expectation. “Behave!”

As the party ramped up, the kitchen choked on cigarette smoke and the conversations around the table got louder and livelier.


Time to strike.

“Mom?” I pull my mother’s attention away from what seems like an intense conversation with Mrs. Jurčák. “Is it okay if I go to my friend Leanne’s house for a couple of hours? Her parents said it’d be okay.”

I detect a glow of a few gin and tonics in her cheeks. Her in-laws are impressed with the preparations she has pulled off. Everyone is enjoying themselves. “Sure, why not,” she says. “But be home by 10:00.”

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Daniel opens the door to me and welcomes me with a long kiss.

“You’ll be okay here by yourself?” He rakes his hand through his wiry, red hair. “My sister would be pissed if I didn’t show up for dinner.”


“All good,” I say. “Just hurry back.”

I shut the door behind him and looked around the apartment. It’s a bachelor pad where three guys live. The living room floor is a matted, green shag that hasn’t been vacuumed in months on account of no one owning a vacuum cleaner. In the kitchen, a sink full of dishes — a frying pan, oily with congealed steak grease, probably leftover from a couple of days ago.

To pass the time, I decided to tackle the dishes. I make Daniel’s bed. There’s no way I’m touching the toilet. Gag.

An hour passes, and then another. My stomach rumbles. Daniel promised to bring me back a plate of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.


Where is he?

I go in search of food, but instead of crackers, come across a bottle of half-drunk whiskey in the cupboard above the sink. I unscrew the cap and take a long swig. My body shudders in reaction to the taste and smell. I plug my nose and drink again.

My limbs feel all loosey-goosey. I close my eyes and take another pull. The taste is not so bad now. I take the bottle with me to the living room and flip through Daniel’s prized record collection he houses inside milk crates. “Ahh, John Cougar Mellencamp. Come to Mama.” I plunk the LP onto the record player. A little ditty ‘bout Jack & Diane/Two American kids growing up in the heartland…

I dance. Sing. Drink. Dance. Sing. Drink…


…and then…I’m gone.

I slip in and out of consciousness. I knock over a speaker in an attempt to get up from the shag carpet. The room spins around me as if I was on a merry-go-round. The music fades in and out.

At Sixteen, My Mother Gave Me a Black Eye That Took Forty Years to Heal

Photo: Sinitta Leunen/Pexels

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I black out.

I’m in the shower, fully clothed. The water is freezing. Daniel is there. I’m fighting him and yank the shower curtain from its rod. He’s begging me to drink black coffee. I spit it out at his chest.

I’m sitting on Daniel’s couch, my clothes are dripping and making a wet spot under me. He’s put a blanket around my shoulders.

Someone’s banging on the door.

“I didn’t know who else to call,” Daniel pleads with my mother. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Holub. I didn’t know what else to do with her so I called you.”

She pushes by him and pulls me out of the duplex. We’re in the parking lot. I don’t want to go with her and wriggle out of her grasp.


“What am I supposed to do with you?” she says, backhanding me across the face. The emerald ring, the giant stone she managed to smuggle into Canada, grazes my cheekbone. I stumble back, covering my eye. It hurts, but I don’t know how much because of the whiskey haze.

I’m gone again.

I wake up in complete darkness. I don’t know where I am. I need to pee. Bad. I get up and extend my arms in front of me to try and find a bathroom. Where the f**k am I?

The right side of my face is throbbing. I touch my cheek and wince.

I fight the nausea that is pressing on my stomach. My hand bumps into something leaning against a wall and it clatters to the floor.


“Hello?” I shout into the darkness. No one answers and I feel a warm trickle down my leg.

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I pass out again.

I wake to opaque light fighting its way through dusty windows beneath a low ceiling. I’m in someone’s basement. I make my way up the stairs and into a hallway. I follow voices into a kitchen.

Mrs. Vysloužil and my mother are sitting at the table. They’re talking in low voices over cups of Turkish coffee and cigarettes. When they see me in the doorway, they stop and look at me.

“I’ll get you a towel.” Mrs. Vysloužil walks past me leaving me in the kitchen with my mother.


“This is how it’s going to go,” she says, butting out her cigarette. “You were here to babysit Mrs. Vysloužil’s little girl because their babysitter got sick. We picked you up from your friend Leanne’s house and drove you here. You slept over because it was late when Mr. and Mrs. Vysloužil got home from the party. And about the shiner,” she lifts her chin in my direction. “You walked into an open door in the dark. Now get those clothes off so I can wash them before we go home.”

In the bathroom, I peel off my wet jeans. They reek of urine. I look in the mirror and see my right eye is swollen and starting to bruise. The events of last night come flooding back. The loneliness. The whiskey. John Cougar Mellencamp singing “Jack & Diane”. The frigid shower. Daniel handed me over to my mother. Her anger and her backhand against my cheek.

I’m grounded for the next month and forced to break up with Daniel who my parents held one hundred percent responsible for getting me drunk. I moved out five months later. I’m sixteen years old.

Why is it that some memories remain in our bodies like insects trapped in amber, while others are erased by time with not so much as a whiff remaining?


I’ve discovered that the memories that insist on making an encore are rooted in unprocessed trauma. They surface and submerge in rhythm with painful events that occur in my life. They pluck the same emotional reaction that although valid, is out of proportion to the current situation.

I learned that to heal, I must find the courage to dive deeper and visit the childhood memories that have been relegated to the room with a sign above that warns, Enter at your own risk.

For forty years, this memory has come to me in flashbacks.

At Sixteen, My Mother Gave Me a Black Eye That Took Forty Years to Heal


Photo: cottonbro studio/Pexels

It reinforced my belief that my mother was not a good mother to me, that she placed what other people thought ahead of compassion for her teenage daughter. I saw her as the villain and myself as the victim.

Our mother/daughter relationship has been rooted in codependency and enmeshment for as far back as I can remember. Sixteen months ago, after a couple of failed family counseling sessions with my mother and sister, I decided to cut off contact with her completely to focus on my healing from childhood trauma.

In the months of therapy that followed, I learned that to heal old traumas, I must feel, reframe, change my perspective, and view the past through a fresh lens of compassion for myself and others.


Today, I believe that my mother did what she did out of fear of what my stepfather’s reaction would have been had he seen me in my drunken state. She wanted to protect me from her in-law’s judgment and from the gossip that would have undoubtedly spread through the Czech community. I believe the black eye was an accident. She wanted me to sober up so I’d come to my senses.

When I heal my inner child, I no longer perceive the world through her wounded perspective. I perceive my mother not through the lens of villain to victim, but through the lens of human to human.

I am working on restoring our relationship the best way I know how. Although it may never be what my inner child wishes, it will reflect two adult women having a human experience.

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Judy Walker writes about the gritty, lovely, naughty, and joyful bits of humanhood. She has written extensively for Medium and Elephant Journal.