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Short Stories: The Day the Neighbor Tried to Murder His Wife

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Bruce “Butch” Gerencser and his younger brother and sister, 1960s, San Diego, California. First time I noticed that my pants are unzipped, underwear is above my waist, and no shoes. I was quite the fashion statement.

In the early 1960s, my dad packed up his family of five and moved us to San Diego, California in the hope of finding the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Dad never found his dream, but while there the Gerencser family found Jesus and became members of a large Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. I attended kindergarten and first grade in California. My memories, as to be expected, are spotty, but one moment in time stands above all others, one I have not forgotten sixty years later.

Most of my time in California was spent living in a small single-story home on Columbine Street. The house sat across the street from a canyon that would provide my siblings and me with countless hours of fun. That said, I can’t imagine letting a 6-year-old, 5-year-old, and 3-year-old play by themselves without adult supervision. Such were the times, I suppose.

In our backyard was a courtyard of sorts, with three other homes closely situated to ours. One day, I heard a bunch of screaming in Spanish. Always a nosey little boy, I went to the courtyard to see what was up. Much to my fascination — at the time — a Mexican man was savagely beating his wife. Adults stood by and did nothing — out of fear, I suspect — as the man inflicted such damage on his wife that one eye popped out of its socket on her blood-soaked face. The man’s white T-shirt was covered with his wife’s blood. As I think about this event decades later, it’s clear that the man intended to murder his wife.

By the time the police arrived, the man had fled the scene, and could be seen attempting to escape via a water pipe of sorts that traversed the canyon. Soon apprehended, he was placed in the back seat of a police car. As the car began to pull away, the man turned to look out the back window. Still filled with rage, his mouth was foaming.

Little children should never have to experience such things in their lives. I am not sure where my mother was at the time, or why she didn’t shield us from the carnage. Perhaps she tried to do so, but my curiosity won the day. Regardless, this event made a deep mark on my life. When confronted with circumstances later in my life, I chose to intercede instead of standing by and fearfully doing nothing as those adults in the courtyard did over half a century ago. I refuse to stand by and do nothing when people use physical strength or power to psychologically or physically harm others. Yes, that means putting myself in harm’s way, but imagine if all of us stood up to bullies and those who use violence to make a point or get their way. If we don’t, who will?

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    What a horrifying thing for a child to witness.

    It’s amazing how much kids were allowed to roam as children. My mom in the 70s was much more like the parents of today and didn’t allow me to do much ar all because she suffered from anxiety and was terrified of everything. For example, I wasn’t allowed to drink from a straw in a moving vehicle because she feared the straw would go down my throat if she stopped suddenly (which she did frequently as everything scared her).

    • Avatar
      Angie

      ObstacleChick: So funny! I can relate, as my mom had social anxiety and was very overprotective – especially of me as the girl-child. That said, my brothers and I had quite a lot of freedom – but the boys definitely had more. I really resented it.
      As for her driving: she was so fearful of left turns she would drive in a complete circle just to get there by making only right turns. She once guided me while driving somewhere as an adult and I couldn’t understand why she chose the route she did, until I realized we had gone in a circle. My grown son is amazed at how “normal” my brothers and I turned out!

  2. Avatar
    mary g

    What a terrible thing for a kid to see. But in that time, people had the attitude that a man abusing his wife/kids was none of their business. cops even ignored it. our society is getting better w/this but we have a way to go. now we have the weird religious folks gaining power who literally want to go back to those days,much like the handmaids tale. what a deluded bunch.

  3. Avatar
    BJW

    That’s horrible. And yet, it shaped you into a person who would intervene. A lot of people would still turn their backs on someone in such dire need.

  4. Avatar
    GeoffT

    I think things have changed, at least a little. First off, everyone around would have had a mobile phone these days and, even if unwilling to intervene, would at least mean the police would have been alerted sooner. Secondly, whilst ‘wife’ beating has never been socially acceptable (even though it has an item of clothing named after it!) it was certainly regarded less seriously than it is now, particularly if behind closed doors. Then again, I’d be terrified of escalating this situation by intervening and suddenly discovering the guy had a gun.

  5. Avatar
    Lacy

    That is a horrific thing to witness as a child. It follows you into adulthood. As someone who grew up in a violent home; I can surely relate. It isn’t something children need to be a witness to or be involved in, unlike what some of these religious, misogynistic jerks think. Being a child from this sort of environment has caused me a great deal of harm and of course, you grow up only to end up in abusive relationships, typically. It has caused me irreparable harm that I don’t think will ever go away.
    I, too, will intervene when it comes to bullies, wife beaters and abusers. When I see or hear this sort violence, a switch flips in my head and the adrenaline rushes to every nerve cell in my body. My fight, flight or freeze response kicks in and it’s almost always in fight mode. I told my counselor I wished I didn’t have such a strong response to percieved threats sometimes. She explained it to me in a very deep, meaningful way, that made sense to me. Paraphrasing to my understanding-basically, we are trying to resolve issues in our lives that we didn’t have control over by repeating patterns and solving them.

    The harm done to children in families with DV is unconscionable. I have trouble talking about it today and I am 56 years old. I am trying, though.

  6. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, you witnessed something that no child should While it helped to shape one of the more positive aspects of your personality, I am sure that it also scarred you.

    I’ve noticed that some men who beat their wives and children are contemptuous of other men who do the same thing. (Think of John Gotti.) Could they be “overcompensating?”

  7. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    What a horrific thing for a child to witness. And yet, people DO that. Learning to manage your anger is critically important, and alas, some people don’t learn it. Women are less likely to lash out violently at their spouse/significant other, but Zeus help their kids.

    I’ve never been a victim of physical violence, other than that first slap of my cheek by my mother when she discovered that I was old enough to have differing opinions. I’m not stupid, and she might never have realized that at that moment, I put her on a lifelong information diet. It was a wise choice that allowed us to have a reasonable relationship until her death.

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Bruce Gerencser