Friday, October 14, 2011

"He says he hits me because he loves me..."

Several years ago a friend called me because she had decided to leave her husband. Although he had been verbally abusive for many years, she never really saw herself as a victim of domestic violence. In her mind, that was something that happened to those women. However, it was when he threw the puppy against the wall in a violent rage and then pulled his gun on her that she realized she had to get out of the situation. Immediately. When she arrived at my house, she had her purse slung across one shoulder and her young son bundled in her arms. She looked so young and vulnerable it made me want to cry. As we sat in the comfort and relative safety of my living room drinking coffee, we explored her options. The only problem was that she had few. Like many women she had given her husband  complete control over their finances and he rationed out an allowance to her although she worked full-time outside of the house. Additionally she had allowed him to poison her relationships so that she had very few friends left. 

While she attended to her son, I called domestic abuse shelters and organizations in our area from my home phone. My husband placed calls from his cellphone. The more calls we made the grimmer the situation seemed. The reality was that she would have to leave her home and most of her belongings behind in order to go to a shelter, and it would only be a temporary fix. In the shelter she would live, for a while, with other women whose plight was similar to hers. She was completely defenseless: no clothes, no money, no security. She couldn't even go to work because she knew that eventually he would show up there.

Thankfully the shelter was an option, but a dreaded one.

I could feel the fear pulsating off my friend. I shared with her the information that my husband and I had gathered while making the phone calls. She listened still unsure of what she was going to do. And then something broke in my spirit and I told her my story. I told her about the boyfriend from years ago before I married who managed to place seeds of doubt in my mind about the trustworthiness of my friends and family. I told her about the time he and I were on the freeway and I said something he didn't agree with that made him hit me so hard that my head knocked violently against the glass in the passenger side window causing the semi-driver in the next lane to lean on his horn and yell something at my boyfriend that I could not hear because of the buzzing in my ears and the throbbing in my sore head. 

I told her about the courage I finally summoned to break up with him, but when he showed up on my doorstep with two dozen long stem red roses and a sheepish smile saying how sorry he was I foolishly opened the door. And it was only when he had wrapped his massive hands around my neck and squeezed did I realize he was going to kill me. It  was the look in his eyes as he looked into mine that left no doubt that I was taking my final breaths. 

I told her that it was only God that made him get up and walk back out the door leaving me gasping on the ground with a black eye, bruises and roses strewn everywhere. He had come to kill me and I had gotten lucky-that time. 

Like I picked up the destroyed roses that day, my friend ended up having to pick up the pieces of her own life. I won't lie. It was hard. There were tears, doubts, anger and mourning for the relationship, but she survived. I survived.

There are many survivors of domestic violence and then there are those who don't. There are those women who the system fails. Women who get restraining orders and who are later murdered when he chooses to ignore the law. Then there are those women who foolishly go back home thinking that the situation will get better. Unfortunately according to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, an average of three women die as a result of domestic violence each day in America and one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Keep in mind that statistic only includes the women who share their experiences.

Each of us must work to end violence against women in all forms. We have to speak up when we hear young men objectify women and call them outside their names and we must remind our beautiful young women that it's what they answer to that matters. He might just be calling them a bitch now, but if he is disrespecting her like this today, what will he do tomorrow? If we suspect domestic violence we have to find ways to help without making the situation worse. We must provide financial support to shelters in our communities who open their doors to abused women and children.

We also have to get past the belief that "he only does this because he loves me" or "a woman's place is..." This logic is idiotic and we have to call it out. If he hits you, belittles you, or threatens you he does not love you in the true sense of the word because love is "patient and kind."

Further, women must have their own resources. There's absolutely no getting around this. I know my mother, aunts, and godmother always told me to have enough money to get my own place even if I never needed it. Even Billie chimed in at times when she sang, "God bless the child that's got [her] own."

Recently my heart leaped for joy when a young student came to my office. Anthony had just finished reading The Other Side of Through and told me that he had truly been moved by it. When I asked him what it was that affected him, he said it was Claire's story. The way she suffered at the hand's of her husband and how it ultimately affected their daughter, Jessie, the protagonist. 

I guess that is what this month is about. Making sure that people, like Anthony, become aware of the reality of domestic violence because it's more pervasive than we realize. It truly is not just those women's problem. According to the DVAP website, this month is about connecting "advocates across the nation who [are] working to end violence against women and their children."

Please do not think that I have forgotten my American brothers, one in every thirteen who is victimized in his lifetime at the hands of a loved one. I feel his pain, just as I felt the pain of my situation so many years ago and the pain of my terrified friend who had fled an abusive marriage. Perhaps I feel my abused brother's pain even more because he may not be able to speak up because of the added embarrassment of being an abused man. 

This issue is so big and we have so much work to do that I fear that the month of October just isn't long enough. Nevertheless, will you join me this month in making others aware?

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