It Was Just a Branch

Trigger warning: This post contains descriptions of child abuse. Read at your own discretion.

I must have been around 10 years old. It was a summer day and I was in our front yard playing alone. Like most little girls, I pretended to be cooking, and I scavenged the yard for bits to include in my concoction. A low hanging branch from our maple provided the perfect green salad leaves. I just got my dad’s pocket knife from his room and picked off a branch.

Dad came home and walked over to see what I was doing. “Did you pick that branch off the tree?” he asked. There was something unsettling in his tone. I felt I was about to get into trouble.

“No. I found it in the yard.”

He questioned me again, and again I lied. Clearly, he wasn’t buying my story.

As he continued to press the issue, his voice grew louder, his face harder, and his manner more threatening. I couldn’t go back now. I had no idea what so crucial about a little branch, but I feared what would happen if I told him I had lied. No, I stuck firmly to my story. He went inside.

A moment later he was back with his pocket knife in hand.

“Why was this out?”


“You used this to cut the branch!”

With my secret out, I admitted I had lied.

“Go to your room!” he yelled. Those words always meant one thing — a spanking was next.

I saw Dad’s stern mouth first, then the paddle.

I waited in my room for what felt like an eternity. Then the knob turned. I saw Dad’s stern mouth first, then the paddle. It was wooden, about 18 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 3/4 inch thick. We were well acquainted.

He came over, sat on my bed, and lectured me for about 5 minutes. He told me again that lying was one of the worst sins, adding a story about when as a teenager he had lied to his father. He had been woken from sleep to the worst beating of his life.

I was terrified when he told me to lie over his lap. My waist wouldn’t bend. So he reached up with his arm and forced me down. I began kicking and screaming. He held me down with one leg and began hitting me will all his might. As I cried and begged him to stop, he only yelled over me to shut up.

I don’t know why I chose to count this time, but I lost track after 40 “swats.”

Then my mother came in the room yelling at Dad to stop. He did, probably out of shock that she had dared to interrupt. He raged at her, telling her she had no right to question his authority, accusing her of being “unsubmissive.” They both left my room and continued arguing outside my door.

The bruising extended from my hips to my knees and lasted for weeks.

The bruising extended from my hips to my knees and lasted for weeks.

I swore to myself that I would never lie again.

Of course, I did lie again, to him, to others, and the fear of retribution was overwhelming.

These incidents, along with constant fundamentalist teaching at church and school, convinced me that I was inherently broken and evil. No one could possibly love me if they knew the truth about who I was.

I love my dad. I always will. Before he died 10 years ago, we had the chance to apologize and forgive each other. It was one of the most treasured moments of my life. But there are many incidents in our past, like this one, which I will never be able to forget.


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