Triumphing over a life of cruelty, trainee nurse turns suicide attempt into service to others

Aba Crawford

Following years of physical abuse at the hands of those closest to her, 17-year-old Aba Crawford decided to end it all by dousing herself in kerosene and scratching a match. But it did not end the way she intended and while the scars are there, today at age 19, the trainee nurse says she is in a better place.

Now a board member of Childlink where she advocates for the rights of children the teenager shared that she had experienced physical violence, not only being perpetrated on her but also on the person she loves most, her mother.

Aba’s father physically abused her mother and her and he later taught her brother, who is one year older, to abuse his sister.

“I just say God forgive me, and I lit the match… I put it by my jersey and it light. I only shouted for my mom once and I didn’t say anything else… I just allowed it to consume me,” she said of that not-so-long-ago day when she wanted to die.

While her face is untouched, save for a small scar on her right ear, her left arm tells a whole different story and also parts of her upper body including her breast.

Sharing her story took a lot since it exposes those closest to her, her parents and her older brother, but Aba said it is a story she wanted to tell and it is one that she believes should be told.

As she shared her life’s horrific experiences Aba showed little or no emotion.

‘Abusing my mom’

“I first experienced abuse in my house with my father abusing my mom constantly,” the young woman told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview.

At that time she was just a toddler and because of the abuse an aunt removed her from the home, but about a year later, her father demanded that she be returned to their home.

Her mother remained with him because of what she now believes was fear and because she had two children for him. Her mother had eight miscarriages before she delivered her two children and Aba believes this also contributed to her clinging to the man who was destroying the lives of her children. While her mother never said it, Aba believes her father’s constant abuse also contributed to the miscarriages.

“I really can’t remember like how the abuse started, but I know like every little thing I do he use to start hitting me for it. If me and my brother got into an argument and if my brother get hurt he would beat me, but if I get hurt he would just scold my brother but he wouldn’t physically hit him,” she said.

Her father hit her with his hand “or anything around” and any attempts by her mother to protect her resulted in her being hit, so eventually her mother silently observed her young daughter being physically abused, at times with tears running down her cheeks.

“Over time he used to allow my brother to hit me, he used to give my brother the whip to scold me and sometimes if my brother is not hitting me how he wants him to hit me he would say ‘hit her harder’…and if he is still not satisfied he would take the whip and show him how to beat me.”

Eventually, her brother started to abuse her even without her father’s prompting and her mother never protected her as if she tried all her brother needed to do was complain to his father and she would be subjected to a beating.

At one time, the family did not live together as her father lived separately following interventions by her aunt but she noted that even though her father lived somewhere else he still controlled their household. She believes it was financial difficulties that resulted in her mother moving back with her father.

“I was like six, seven then and we moved back – is then things got worse. He would abuse her still and he would abuse me,” she said.

She recalled one terrifying incident when her father beat her mother with the easel of a blackboard he had purchased for his son, while the children were upstairs. She was about to rush to her mother’s defence but her brother held her back.

“He knew what was going on, but he didn’t want me to go downstairs and stop him… One time I even had to pull a knife on my father just to stop him from hitting my mother and I told him I was going to stab him, I wasn’t joking…,” she related.

At some point, her father stopped hitting her mother, but then he started to abuse Aba more. “He would… use his fist and cuff me or use his feet to kick me and if he find a wood or a piece of wire he would beat me with it,” she recalled.

She knew when her father was about to abuse her mom because he would “start opening and closing his fist and then unexpected a cuff would go her way. It didn’t take long for him to start hitting my mom again.”

And while her brother never physically abused her mom as he became older he started to emotionally abuse her. “I don’t think he knew it but he would say things and he would like degrade her…,” she said.

Started to write

Because she was afraid to talk to people about her experience, Aba started to write, “and I would put my feelings into it… and my school recognised me for that…” She was also well known for her acts of kindness; the horrific abuse did not make her into a bitter child but one who was always willing to help. “Even the cleaners sometimes would ask me for money to go home and if I don’t have it I would borrow from somebody and give them,” she recalled.

“People never know how much I would be hurting or breaking inside, sometimes I used to have to go behind the school and I would sit down and cry and try to drop all the load I had at home right there…”

She remembered she was badly beaten by her father because someone saw her go into a car with a male student. The two were on their way to meet their class teacher to complete a science project, but her father never gave her the opportunity to explain, instead he beat her so badly that persons commented on her swollen face. She told them she fell in the bathroom and hit her face.

“I wanted my mom to do something. I am getting hurt and I wanted her to do something about it but she never did,” the teenager said sadly, but she quickly stated that she loved her mother very much.

“My whole secondary school days I was being abused. I used to have to go to school sometimes with black and blue eyes or sometimes my ribs would hurt and my friends can’t hug me too tightly and when they asked me what was wrong I would say I slept on the wrong side of the bed or something…

“I couldn’t tell my friends that my father had hit me or he sat on me on the ground and keep cuffing me, stuff like that…”

And it was not just the beatings, her father put both of his children to work long hours in the sun scrubbing the yard or some other arduous chore without given them any water. They would eventually become tired and lag in the chore and Aba would be beaten, at times with a rope he used for exercise purposes.

And at least one time he used her mother to abuse the young Aba. She had retaliated to something her brother had done by throwing some water on him and her father forced her mother to drench her with a cold bucket of water.

“I don’t think my mom really thinks I remember those stuff, but I do and I think over the years I was smiling and so they thought I had gotten through it and think maybe licks doesn’t kill anybody…”

There were other forms of abuse as well, since her dad compared her to other people’s children, pointing out how fat she was and saying that she should stop eating so much. “I would be exercising with my brother every morning and I would be afraid to eat…” she recalled, adding that at times her father would even take away some of her food. She would be hungry but was forced to watch her weight.

She pushed herself in school, but her effort was never acknowledged by her parents and when she wrote the Secondary School Entrance Exam, she did better than her brother and cried; her teacher could not understand her tears. “But knowing that my brother who was favoured by my father and even my mom at times… to know that I did better it was a good feeling even though it was never acknowledged.”

Her father finally stopped hitting her mother when she had him arrested and charged. He appeared in court and while they had counselling, it did not help as her father continued to emotionally abuse her and continued his physical abuse of Aba.

They finally separated and Aba recalled that her father told her to choose between him and her mother. It was not something she had to ponder; even though her mother had no money and many days they had nothing to eat she preferred to live with her.

Suicide attempt

Speaking about the events that led up to that day, Aba recalled that she had a boyfriend who had falsely told her brother that they had sexual relations. Her brother related this to her father, who in turn confronted her. She denied it and even asked her father to take her to the hospital to verify it, but he refused and told her it was okay and that they should keep the issue from her mother.

Some time passed and after her parents separated, her father one day told her mother that she had sex, “and told her, ‘you don’t what else she must be doing, she must be whoring down in the school.’”

Her mom confronted her and when she told her the truth she did not give her a hearing.

“It was then I remembered that she had told me how my father didn’t want me and how he wanted her to do an abortion. And right then I felt like she didn’t want me because she was not listening to me, even though I asked her to forgive me… she just walked up the stairs crying and I am calling her…”

She then decided to end it all to stop the pain and she took a bottle of kerosene, went into the backyard and doused her body.

Aba said she felt no pain, but her mother rushed to her assistance and started to scream and called for her brother who rolled her in the sand.

“But at that point I was accepting that I was going to die. I was fully prepared to leave this world. I felt nothing. I felt numb and blank that day and my mother was watching me and crying and slapping me and telling me not to close my eyes.”

She was rushed to the hospital and while her family was prepared to say that she had an accident, Aba she said related that she wanted to end her life. She remembered that her father turned up and even though he had abused her for most of her life, it was still unbelievable that “he did not even shed a tear.”

She spent five months in the hospital and even as she underwent operations as the doctors attempted to fix the scars, she also underwent intense counselling; many nights she could not sleep.

While still in school, Aba became associated with Childlink and while she was being taught about various forms of abuse, she never shared her abusive living situation. Following her suicide attempt, she was counselled by someone from the organisation and is now a proud board member.

She remembers seeing many persons in the Burn Care Unit who were suffering not just from their physical injuries but the pain on the inside was worse and sometimes the treatment was good and at times it was not.

“I met so many persons who attempted suicide as well and they had so much pain. I believe with me being burnt and becoming a nurse I can help people more and when they want to give up I can tell them I got burnt too and I got infected two times… So when I see my patients and they say ‘I want to die or give up’ I can tell them I thought the same thing too but here I am.”

Her father has never hit her since her suicide attempt but she has “learnt that nothing is going to be acceptable to my father.”

Still fearful

Even today, Aba still believes her mother fears her father, though she does not acknowledge it and she still speaks to him. She has also become fearful of her now 20-year-old son.

“I can see it in her that she is afraid of both parties now,” she said.

“I love my mom, she was the only person who came to see every day when I was in the hospital. She was the only face I saw every day. Out of my five months in hospital my father only came six times.

“I think when I was burnt it was an eye opener and we are closer now, but there are still moments…”

Aba said she forgave her brother, but there is always that thought that he, like her father, is just waiting for that moment to hit her. She has told her father if he ever hit her again she would report him. He still calls her names at times, but she hopes that one day he would stop.

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