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On this page and the other special story page are stories of abuse and only rarely a recovery from it. Read these and realize just how much our help is needed.

Lovely Hands


Karina L. Fabian





            “Shut up!  Will you just shut up?!”

            I could hear myself shouting, could feel the sting as I slapped my 3-year old again and again, yet somehow, it didn’t register that it was me.  All that registered was a blinding rage.  Why couldn’t he just cooperate?  Just once!  When I have so much to do and no help, not from anyone, not from him, not from my husband.  For better or worse?  Or was it better or work?  Barry can’t come home at a reasonable hour, no, and he is no help, no help and neither is Tony and all I want to do is get these groceries bought and get home.  Why can’t he cooperate?  Why can’t he just help?  Why?  Why can’t Tony just sit still in the cart, just quiet?  Just once?!

            “Stop whining!  Just shut up!”

            I raised my hand again.  Someone grabbed it.  I stopped mid-sentence, mid-rage.  Anger had given me tunnel vision.  I didn’t see my son.  I didn’t see the other shoppers.  All I saw was my hand being held by a man with blue-blue eyes.

            “I couldn’t help noticing what lovely hands you have.”

            “What?”  Was he nuts?  I tried to pull out of his grasp, but he held me firmly--yet somehow gently, too.  All I could do was stare as he turned my hand over in his.

            “Yes,” he murmured, “such lovely hands.  Hands for nurturing a child, not hurting him.”  And his eyes pleaded with mine.

            I didn’t know what to say.  I had to get out of there, away from those eyes...  I scooped up Tony and fled, pushing past the crowd that had gathered, trying not to feel their hawk-eyes on me, hooded, judging.  Pleading.  I had to escape those pleading blue eyes.

            Tony’s cries were whimpers by the time I’d packed him into his carseat and climbed behind the wheel.  I tried to wipe his nose with a tissue.  He flinched. 

            I wanted to hold him.  I wanted to cry.  I couldn’t move.

            “I’m sorry, baby,” I finally whispered and started the car.

            At the stoplight, I looked at my hands, forcing them to unclench the steering wheel.  Lovely?  Nurturing?  He was crazy.  They’re veined and too thin.  The knuckles stick out.  The polish was too bight, just like Mom’s.  Bright red.

            Blood red.

            When I think of Mom, I always remember her hands, how they could punch yarn to make a rug with such precision.  How they found the smooth of my cheek with equal precision.  What was it Mom always said?  Don’t need a rod; the back of my hand’ll do just fine.  Suddenly, I could hear her voice.  Just shut up!  Stop your whining!  I could see the rage twist her face, her hand raised, those blood-red nails.

            I wanted to be good, but by then, it was too late.

            Those nails, bright red.

            Blood red--

            HONK!  The blaring of a horn jerked me out of my dark reverie.  The man behind me had his window down and was leaning out of it yelling and shaking his fist.

            “Hey, lady!  Wake up!”

            The light was green.  Shaken, I raised my hand to flip him off--

            --“Such lovely hands...”--

            --but gave him an embarrassed wave instead.

            Tony’s sniffles had turned to snores by the time we got home.  I carried him carefully upstairs and laid him on his bed.  He let out a shaky sigh.

            My poor, sweet baby.

            I caressed his hair, soft and cut short for the summer.  It seemed like forever since I’d just caressed him.  When he was an infant, I used to sit with him for hours, just rocking him and stroking his peach-fuzz head.  I used to sit by his cradle at night, listening to him breathe, so afraid that something would happen.  Those first steps; I set pillows around the coffee table because I didn't want him to hurt his little face. He’s only 3.  Was it really so long ago? 

            I caressed his cheek.  There were no red marks.  This time.  I remembered my own childhood--the excuses, the sweaters in the summertime.

            An old lullaby drifted in my head

            Where they can be petted

            And polished and fed

            And carefully kissed---[1]

            Again, I saw those blue-blue eyes from the store.  “Hands for nurturing a child, not hurting him.  Such lovely hands.”

            Were my hands ever lovely?  Barry used to think so.  The first time he’d come to our house and seen the piano, he’d begged me to play. 

            “I’m not very good,” I’d demurred, shyly, when my mother cut me off.

            “We stopped her lessons ages ago.  She wouldn’t practice so why put out good money?” she’d said, and I couldn’t argue.  I’d hated scales and exercises my teacher forced up on me each week, and whenever I’d gone to the piano just to play, picking through a song of my choosing, my mother would yell at me to stop making noise and just practice.  I had defied her once.  She’d slammed the keyboard shut, just missing my fingers.

            “I don’t play,” I’d told Barry.  “I just made noise.”

            On our first anniversary, he’d surprised me with a used upright he found in the classifieds--and lessons.  “You have such strong beautiful hands,” he’d said.  “I’m sure you can make beautiful music.  I’m betting you just needed to be older and maybe have a more patient teacher.  Maybe, when we have kids, you can teach them.”

            Today, as I was trying to clean the kitchen from the dishes Barry left--he’s supposed to put them in the dishwasher!  It takes 5 minutes if it’s done right away!--and wipe up the mess of oatmeal and jelly Tony left on the wall, Tony had wandered into the living room and plunked himself at the piano.  And I ran over and slammed the keyboard shut just as his jellied hands went for the keys.  Had I even thought I might catch his little fingers in the process?

            I clenched my hands into a fist, pressed them to my lips to keep from sobbing aloud.  I could feel the design of the mother’s ring digging into my lower lip.  Barry had given it to me the day Tony was born.  “You’re going to be such a great mom,” he’d whispered as he kissed first me, then Tony.  I pressed harder.

            Spare the rod...  Don’t need a rod when my hand’ll do...Hands for nurturing...  Such lovely hands...A more patient teacher…

            How long I sat there, I don’t know.  When I could get up, my knees felt stiff and wobbly and I had to hold tightly to the banister as I went downstairs.  I looked at the piano, jelly on the bench form where he’d climbed up.  I tried to imagine him there (clean handed) banging away at the keys, smiling beatifically.  Then later, older, working through a song his face furrowed in concentration.  Me next to him, guiding him gently with lovely hands.

            God, I wanted that. 

            I sat down for a moment, getting jelly on my jeans and indulging in the sweetness of that dream.  I was not my mother.  I never wanted to be like her.

I didn’t have to be like her, but I knew now I couldn’t change myself.  Not alone.  I needed another teacher.

I rose from the piano, heaved a deep, cleansing sigh and headed to the study.  My hands trembled as I flipped through the phone book, found the number and dialed.

            When the lady answered, I could no longer hold back my tears.

            “Yes,  I...  I want to stop hurting my baby.”



            In 2002, an estimated 896,000 children suffered abuse or neglect at the hand of their caregivers, according to the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect.   A 1987 study predicted that one third of people abused as children become abusers themselves.  Research also shows that parents can break the cycle with help.  If you find yourself part of this cycle, get help.  Look for local support groups in the Yellow Pages under Abuse or call Childhelp at 1-800-422-4453. 

[1] From “If Babies Were Birdies” by Janeen Brady (@1988 Janeen Brady, Brite Music)

reprinted with permission

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