The Tale of Gretchen Brown and Her Beat-Down
Intro: Who didn't love that Potential who grabbed the striking arm of her abusive father? I decided to explore her a little bit at that moment her Power came. Also, this story is a bit personal to me since I used some experiences from my life so its part of why I chose to write about this Potential.
Setting: Day of the Series Finale
Warnings: Verbal and physical abuse.
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon is God and I love playing in his universe. He owns all things associated with Buffyverse.
I know I shouldn't grasp at the tendrils of memories past. That train of thought has no functional value. But sometimes, like now, I take a rare quiet moment and dream of what my life used to be.
I was happy once. With a smile I remembered my kindergarten class where we created a dinosaur made out of cereal boxes or my first best friend Adrian as we chased boys on the playground. My family was small, it was just my parents and I, but we were happy. Fondly I could recall the princess 'castle' my father bought for me that was actually a cardboard house in some Burger King display. Or the times when we would have barbecues outside where my mother would gently scold me for eating my corn on the cob like a ravenous wolf with butter dripping down my chin.
But those days are over. My quiet moment is interrupted with a metal crash from the kitchen and my father yelling obscenities. He's always so angry. There have been so many times when I used to daydream that all the beer factories would be blown up so he would be forced to quit his addiction. Or that he would have a 'A Christmas Carol' type moment; would abandon the bottle and be the type of father you see on television.
Eventually I realized the futility of those daydreams. There is no fairy godmother and there is certainly no happy ending. My only escape from this life is in the books I am constantly reading. Reading provides the only happiness I have because I'm able to explore the universe of C.S. Lewis or Charles Dickens. Plus, I do find it mildly amusing to use big words that my idiot father doesn't understand.
Sometimes, just sometimes, I think the best I can hope for is a quick ending; unlike what my mother received. Today is the anniversary of her death and for five of my fifteen years I have been motherless. She suffered in such a horrible way that I cannot help but weep silently when I think of it.
It was New Year's Eve and I had celebrated the ball drop with my mother. Since it was a special occasion she had given me a real manicure and nails the color of my choice- hot pink. As I looked down at my nails the brightness of that pink made me ridiculously happy. Such a simple thing made me feel pretty, like I was somebody; unlike what father always said.
While I was in bed I dimly heard the sounds of objects being thrown downstairs, the tell-tale clatter of an angry, drunken father home from a good time at the bars. I crept out of bed and peeked between the railings of our wooden staircase. Father was in such a fit that his pale face was ruddy with anger and spittle would fly out of his mouth. Mother had been cowering in the corner, her arms raised pleadingly. "Slut! Whore!" would fly out of his mouth as if it was natural to him to speak in a tone full of deep hatred.
Sometimes I wondered if my father was a demon. Or part demon. I simply cannot understand where such great depths of anger and hate came from. When he wasn't an angry drunk he looked pleasant enough. But when I looked into his eyes sometimes I wasn't sure if I could see any warmth in them; like he was an empty shell rid of a soul.
Indeed, I believe after that night he lost the last scant piece of soul he may have possessed. My stomach had been turned in knots of acidity as I watched him slap my mother. First once across the cheek, then again on the other. As she begged him to stop and said I was sleeping he punched her straight into the mouth; his knuckles had drops of her blood on them as he pulled back.
This utter feeling of despair descended upon me as I lay on my stomach watching, helpless. What was I, a ten year old girl, supposed to do? Once I tried to stop him, but instead he just beat both of us. Mother had yelled at me terribly afterwards. She had said she was strong enough to take it, that she was like an Amazon warrior, that my father didn't really mean it, and I was to stay out of it so I would remain unscathed. As much as it pained me to do so, I never helped her again.
But that night I had begun to get worried for she looked worse for wear. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she sat on her knees and tugged on my father's flannel shirt to protest his actions. Her protest was in vain because he kicked her in the stomach to get her off of him. "Get the fuck out of my house!" he had screamed as he dragged her out the door and threw her keys to her beat-up Chevy to her.
That was the last time I saw my mother.
I had scrambled into bed quickly lest he spot me. After he gets his rage out its usually best to just let him pass out on the couch while watching late night TV. The last thing you want to do is draw attention. A knock on the door woke me up sometime later that night and I had ran to get open it to make sure it didn't wake up my father. At the time I had thought it was my mother sneaking in, since it was awfully cold and icy outside in the Michigan winter. It didn't matter though, he got to it before me.
Behind the door stood two policeman. One had graying hair and stern features and other was lanky, younger, and had a solemn expression with eyes lighted in pity. The latter's eyes had widened at the sight of me but he quickly calmed himself.
"Are you Mr. Brown, wife of Haley Brown?" asked the older man.
"Yes," my father had said gruffly.
"There's been an accident. I'm sorry, but your wife died in a head-on collision with a semi over on Kali Drive."
My mind was unable to process his words. Surely he didn't mean MY mother?
Meanwhile, my father had covered his mouth in shock and his knees weakened.
"We're not sure what happened. The semi driver claims that she was driving straight at him, but the roads were icy," the younger one added with a shrug that tried to say he surely thought it had been an accident. After all, why would my mother drive in the wrong lane?
"How? How did she die?" my father had gasped as his eyes blinked back tears. A surge of anger coursed through me at the sight. How dare he, of all people, act like he cared?!
"She suffered major trauma to her body. There was nothing the medics could do."
And like that, I lost the one person who in this world loved me. Unfortunately, my only inheritance was the acquisition of an even angrier father who has spent the last five years using me as his punching bag. My days followed the same consistent pattern. Wake, make my own breakfast, go to school, come home and do homework, make dinner, do chores, and help my father get into bed when his world got woozy from alcohol. Meanwhile, I endured his cruel verbal remarks and meaty fists.
I look into the mirror sometimes and just stare. Now I was eyeing my pallid complexion, round face, and dull brown hair with disdain. My father was right, I was ugly, not to mention overweight. I was disgusting.
But… There has always been a part of me, part of my practical side, that argued against those dark thoughts. It told me that I was someone special and that maybe someday someone would notice. They would look past my bloated body and acne to see that specialness. I hoped that they would even see part of my mother in me, that part that was a strong Amazon warrior.
I turned away from the mirror, eyes downcast. I've never felt strong. It took all my energy just to make it from one day to the next. Sometimes it was almost too hard and I would just lie in bed and think dark thoughts of suicide; anything to end this life.
"Gretchen! Get the fuck down here! I'm fucking hungry!" My eyes winced at his angry speech and I began the slow trek to the kitchen. Homework today had taken longer than usual and I was late with dinner preparations. Unfortunately, my mind was unfocused today. Something just felt… off. I couldn't describe it. In my state of mind I let the chicken get burnt and I almost wanted to cry when I pulled it out of the oven.
Mentally I prepared myself as he thudded to the kitchen. "Bout damn time", he mumbled as he grabbed a plate and sat down. I followed suit, although I suddenly was not hungry.
After tearing a forkful and shoveling it into his mouth, he spat it out. "What the hell is this shit?" He looked at me with drawn eyebrows. "I work hard all goddamn day, have to wait even longer for dinner, and its dryer than Betty White's cooch?" His fork clattered on the table with a sharp twang. "What the fuck is this, Gretchen?"
In class once I saw a documentary on animals and they mentioned its always best to avoid eye contact if you want to make it out alive. Now I followed that advice and kept my eyes lowered. "I'm sorry, sir," I mumbled meekly. "I think I might be getting sick, I feel funny and must not have paid close attention."
"Damn straight you weren't paying attention! This shit," he held up the plate of chicken, "is fucking inedible!" The plate crashed into the wall and the chicken made a dull thud.
I tried to make myself as small as possible, which is hard when you're my size. "I'm sorry! It won't happen again," I said hastily. I could already tell he must have started drinking while he waited and today was not going to be a good day for him.
He yanked me out of my chair by my hair and pulled me to the oven. "What the fuck is this?" he asked as he pointed to a once-white kitchen timer that was now a faded yellow from cigarette smoke residue.
"A timer," I said quietly. Please God, please God, please God, make him leave me alone tonight. Please please Please please Please please Please please Please please Please please. My bruises from last week were still a dark, sickly yellow and it was so embarrassing when I had to change for gym class. The other kids already think I'm white trash; the abused kid marks don't make that any better.
"That's right," he said in a condescending tone. "Now if you are too stupid to use one maybe I should just smash it into your fat face. Do you want me to do that?"
I shook my head vehemently. "No." Fear constricted my throat and my speech came out in a breathy whisper. "I-I promise to always use the timer from now on. Sir," I added quickly.
He released my hair. "Good," he sneered. "God, sometimes I think you're as stupid as your mother was. Except at least she was real pretty and skinny, even if she was a slut." Father let out a harsh laugh that grated on my nerves. "Oh well, at least I can rest assured knowing your virginity will be intact since no man alive is gonna wanna touch your disgusting body."
Shame filled me; I knew I was fat and ugly.
Sadness filled me; I loved my mother and I knew she would hate to see how he treated me.
But then anger filled me.
The bitter taste of it hung on my tongue and my fingers twitched from the adrenaline that was flooding my system. This. Was. The. Last. Straw. Too long has he said cruel things to mother, or about her, or to me. I looked at him know and truly saw him. He was a bitter, old, evil man that thrived off hurting others. His heart was cold and his soul non-existent. It was if he wasn't human and I suddenly had an image of him being born in a place shrouded in darkness.
The adrenaline sped up and electrified me. That strange feeling that had been haunting me today surged forward and I gasped as my body jolted in response to it. My body suddenly thrummed with power and a new wave of confidence spread over me. For the first time ever I felt a lack of fear as I stared into my father's eyes. He seemed to cower in response to my fierce look.
"Shut your mouth, old man," I hissed. "You will never speak like that to me again or talk about mother that way." A part of me wanted to laugh gleefully at saying these long awaited words. Yet, another part of me was surprised that they came out; it was like I was drunk on this feeling of power and I suddenly felt impervious to the world.
He let out a sinister laugh and smiled, but it was a cruel smile. "So, is that what you think?" He advanced forward and my recently acquired courage faltered at the look in his eyes. I had seen that look once before: on the night of mother's death. I stumbled back against the wall and he cocked back a fist.
A tremor ran through me as I took him in. He wanted to kill me; I could almost sense that level of hostility pulsing off him. Suddenly I felt like that ten-year old girl again who was powerless to help her mother; my mother that so many times had saved me from his wrath.
But that feeling dissipated as that strange sensation of power vibrated in the core of my being. No, I was no longer that ten-year old girl. I was no longer powerless. I will no longer cower in fear.
Today I will stand up.
I caught his arm as his fist descended. Shock was evident on his face and I was surprised at how easy it was to stop him. Frowning, I pushed him against his arm and he flew back against the opposite wall. What the…? Whoa! I don't think I was this strong before.
"You fucking whore! Who the hell do you think you are to push your own father? I'll kill you for this," he growled and stood up.
He took two swings at me that I easily avoided. It was strange. I could feel that my body had changed in the moments before. Suddenly I felt indestructible, strong, and fast. I certainly didn't fear this beer-bellied man. This time when he came after me I pulled a wrestling move that I had seen on WWE Raw and I flipped him onto his back. I placed my foot against his throat and felt a twinge of happiness as he looked up at me in terror.
I had no idea his eyes could showcase that emotion. Good to know.
"Listen to me, father. I am finished with you. For too long you have beat me down in this house and I am not dealing with it anymore. If anything, YOU are the one who deserves a beat down, do you understand?"
"Yes," he croaked. His eyes were wide in fright and his mouth gaped in astonishment.
"Good." I nodded sternly. "But you're also a lying alcoholic jerk so don't be offended if I don't take your word at it. But I want you gone. I want you to go someplace and get sober or die trying. But you will leave me here and give me money to live."
He laughed. "You want to get placed in foster care? That's where they rape little girls like you." I pressed my foot down on his throat and he gasped.
"As you've said many times before, I am certainly not little so I'm sure, especially after this, you'll agree I can take care of myself." I stepped off him, grabbed his wallet out of his coat, took the cash, and threw it at him. "Now get out. And never, ever come after me again, or you will be sorry." No doubt the vehemence in my voice or deadly glare of my eyes assured him I was serious.
Shakily he put on his coat and walked to the door. He turned back to me one last final time and whistled. "Little Orphan Gretchen. Mommy killed herself five years ago and now she gets rid of Daddy dearest."
I could feel that power crackling over my skin. "She did not kill herself. It was a car accident," I said acidly.
Father smirked. "She drove straight into that semi because she couldn't take one more minute of being your mother anymore. It was better for her to kill herself than take care of your disgusting ass."
My fists clenched and my vision swam for a moment. "You are a liar," I said heatedly. "It's your fault for kicking her out; YOU killed her!" Then I hurled myself at him in anger and began punching him. My vision was red and all I could do was think about paying him back for all the abuse hr had happily delivered to him. Each time my fist slammed into his flesh I felt a great sense of relief. It was as if all my hatred was finally pouring out of me through hitting him. Over and over I just hit him as images of my mother crying or past moments of abuse flashed through my mind. All the while I just whispered "Liar" over and over.
He tried to counter my blows but eventually he just stopped. I blinked and looked closely.
His right eye was rapidly swelling and blood ran out of his nose and mouth. His mouth gaped open. "Father?" I asked frantically. Oh no. I shook him but received no response. I hesitated but then I laid two fingers on his pulse… But there was no pulse to lay my fingers on.
He was dead.
I had killed him.
With my bare hands.
The man who had abused me for years.
The man who had caused my mother's death.
The man who I knew had wanted to kill me today.
I began weeping then. Not because I loved my father, because I didn't at all. But because I realized the truth.
When I looked in the mirror I would never see my mother's inner Amazon warrior.
No, I would see my father's inner evil. For in that one moment I had turned into him and used my hands for violence, for death.
I was a Killer. Like him.
My tears fell quicker and I prayed they could wash my sin away.
*Kali Drive: Kali is a Hindu Goddess who devours the souls of the dead. I thought it was appropriate, plus I find her utterly fascinating.
*"Today I will stand up."- From Buffy's speech where she says "Can Stand Up, Will Stand Up." Its also the moment where the abused girl from the episode (who I named Gretchen Brown) stands up against abuse. Fitting, no? :)
*Also, I know this doesn't end very happily… *shrugs* But I found it fitting and I would like to use Gretchen in my SA: Vol 1 so this is something I wanted her to deal with. A lot of children who suffer from abuse tend to internalize their anger and become abusive in the future. I thought it would be interesting to explore this: that when Gretchen does get her own Power she loses control from her anger and in the process realizes that she isn't who she thought she was.