Calling for Help: Tom’s Story

Calling for Help
Calling for Help
Calling for Help
Calling for Help
Calling for Help
Calling for Help
Calling for Help
Calling for Help

Nobody wanted to raise the alarm despite very obvious signs that Tom needed help. And then one day a friend and a guidance counsellor finally did the right thing.

I grew up for 15 years experiencing abuse day in and day out.

I also grew up for 15 years hearing the cliché “sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” People would constantly say this to me when I was growing up, to comfort me, to make the abuse all magically better. Yes, I was beaten up – all the time – but the part that hurt the most was the emotional abuse. The people around me didn’t understand that though sticks and stones will break your bones, physical abuse is nothing compared to the pain and trauma that words cause.

My mother used physical abuse as a way to show me that I was worthless. But it was her words that showed how little value I had in her eyes that hurt the most.

Most kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up. It’s a choice for them. They can dream about becoming a doctor, or a lawyer. Or even a butterfly – that’s okay too.

From my earliest childhood, I remember my mother telling me that I would become a garbage man when I grew up. My mother meant it as a disgrace. She was telling me that she saw me as so worthless that all I could hope for was a job that she considered at the very bottom of her society. I listened to and believed my mother. I believed I didn’t have a future. In elementary school, I started wanting to end my life.

The abuse I was enduring stared everybody in the face. It was obvious to my teachers. And it should have been obvious to my doctor: he would see me every year and there were signs. I was severely underweight. I was in high school but wearing kids’ clothes, with my belly button showing. But he didn’t say anything.

Social workers were involved with me from day one. They would visit my house and they would ask me if I was being beaten. But my mother was down the hall. I am never in my life going to tell a social worker in my house that I am being beaten because my mother is listening. One of the times they asked, I responded, “I don’t get beaten other than playfully.” I was trying to bring it down, to get the message across without bringing attention to it. The second she left my dad grabbed me from the back and threw me down the stairs. He told me that the next time I said something like that he would kill me.

My friends and their families also saw what I was going through. One time I was kicked out of the house. I have a vivid memory of running down streets to get to my friend’s house. But my dad got to me first. He pulled up in a car, jumped out, grabbed me, and physically dragged me back to the car and pushed me in. People were watching but they did nothing.

One of my iconic memories was when I was kicked out of my house with a friend present. It was rare for people outside my family to witness the abuse. My mom got angry, started yelling, and kicked me out of the house. I ran outside with my friend. When she came out I thought she might ask me to come back in. But she said, “Take your shoes off, I bought those shoes, those shoes belong to me.” I got scared so I threw them at her and walked barefoot all the way to my friend’s house. He let me take a pair of his old shoes and I wore them for the rest of the year.

My friend wanted to do something to help me. But then my mother called his parents and told them that if they got involved she would call the cops. It made no sense but they got scared and never spoke to me again.

It took a long time for somebody to give me the help I needed. The person who made things change for me was another friend. He had witnessed the abuse in my life, and I think it was mostly the small things that shocked him, like how little food I had to eat. He asked me to start taping my parents’ yells, screams, and insults. I kept a little tape recorder in my pocket and started recording. One day my friend went to the guidance counsellor at our school and told her what was happening. My guidance counsellor asked me to meet with her, confidentially and privately, outside the home. This guidance counsellor was different. I am still in touch with her years later.

It was my guidance counsellor who told me that I do have hopes, that it is normal for a kid to eat more than once a day, that it is normal for a kid to be able to use a computer to do school work. It was my guidance counsellor who recognized that those who rebel at school are those who can’t rebel at home. It was my guidance counsellor who understood the danger of the sticks and stones cliché and the power of words.

My story is about how important a community can be for somebody experiencing abuse and neglect. My story is about the hush in society about abuse. And my story is about the fear that prevents people from helping. What I haven’t told you about yet is how I also was part of this hush and this fear. If we are going to help kids who are dealing with abuse and neglect we have to understand how they think.

I felt a crippling amount of fear about telling anybody about what was really happening in my life. Your backbone is your family, even if they tell you that you are garbage. They are still a backbone you rely on. I was afraid of dishonouring my family and my community. I was afraid of being alone. It wasn’t worth it for me to be safe, if there is nothing left in my life to be safe for.

I also stayed quiet because I was afraid of foster care. What is most important to you when you are in high school is your social status. People would tell me that if you go into foster care you will have to change jurisdictions. But if you’re a kid like me, with only one or two friends, you don’t want to move.

My first friend had told me that he wanted to speak up and get help for me. I told him no. He was too scared to ruin my life, so he listened to me. My second friend didn’t wait for my permission, he didn’t wait for me to say ok. And he stood by me until I entered foster care.

There is something else everybody must understand if they are going to help children and youth who are experiencing abuse.

A kid who grows up in an abusive house doesn’t have choice. I didn’t have any choices ever. I was told what to eat, who my friends could be, and what I was going to be when I grew up. And then I am expected to make choices about whether my life can be traumatic or not? I needed help to understand my own situation.

It was my guidance counsellor who helped me on the next stage of my journey. My awareness and understanding of what I had experienced developed over multiple sessions. The most important thing that happened to me – perhaps in my whole life – was that my guidance counsellor made it clear that nothing was going to happen without my permission. That it would be my choice. And when I made the decision to leave my home and my biological family, it was the first time in my life that I had choice. By the time I was removed from my family I had had a week to pack. One day I left for school and when the bell rang at the end of the day I didn’t go home.

hope
I started to live with a foster family. I also started counselling. Slowly the words that hurt me started to lose their power. I also started to find the words to express all that I had been through. I started to realize there is a future for me, that I can be whatever it is I hope to be. And I know that part of that future is going to be to tell my story. I want to fill the hush around abuse with words of hope. I want the community to understand how important their help can be.
I want anybody out there who is going through what I went through, to know there is a way out.
I question the status quo and want to make an impact through owning my own businesses, and to make a difference with the passions I pursue. Like many people my age, I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my life, but with the support of my community, I’ve been given the opportunity to explore my future, and discover who I am.

I would not be here today without those who broke the silence, those who gave their time, and those who cared.

Thank you,
Tom Alfandary

If you are a child or youth and you need help, here are some organizations that can help you:

Contact your local Children’s Society. You can find the contact information here. Remember that the age of protection has now been raised to include 16 and 17-year-olds.

Call Kid’s Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.

Check out our List of Resources and Organizations that support youth.