So I was in a TJ Maxx yesterday, washing my hands in the ladies’ room, when I saw the plastic container, like a mini file folder, screwed into the wall beside the door. Obviously, it had been deliberately placed there, designed to hold brochures, but I thought it particularly clever in that its contents consisted of a bundle of business-sized cards all containing the same message with the same hotline on the back. Such a perfect place for those cards — the ladies’ room, a place where privacy in a public place exists, for the most part, and the cards can be discretely hidden away in the deep confines of a purse pocket.
I picked one up, not because I need it now, but I did once upon a time. Where and when I was dealing with my own situation, those sorts of thing just didn’t exist, not until recently anyway.
No, I picked it up to remind me.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I was not aware of that until last year, and I feel badly because I ought to have been aware of it earlier. Every other woman in my life (including my mother…and me as I’ve blogged about before), and a handful of men, has had to struggle with the pain and humiliation, the secretive behavior, the denial, the isolation, the suddenness, the hope that All Will Get Better, the betrayal, the constant cycle of mental and/or physical violence round and round…
I remember once an old crush said he didn’t feel any sympathy for women who stayed with their abusers. Keep in mind, this was way back before the #WhyIStayed, post-Ray Rice case, was even a thing. Perhaps now, old crush, old ignorant crush, understands it isn’t quite as simple as all that. At the time, he didn’t even know I was dealing with that very issue, the constant, searing fear of the thought of leaving for a life I was completely unprepared for. I’d already been so shamefully codependent, and he was shaming me further by insinuating I was cowardly. It made me all the more angry at him, at others who’d echoed his thoughts on the issue. None of them know what it’s like to lose yourself altogether to the point where you don’t know how to set one foot in front of the other anymore.
Anyway, I’m not writing this simply for myself. I’m writing this because of all the girlfriends I have, the strongest ones — all of them empaths of some sort — have suffered this, and there are still a couple who are struggling with the dilemma of What To Do.
With all the assistance available, the love and support, the hotlines, the shelters, it isn’t all that simple to leave. It never is.
I’ve been thinking of a friend and her situation right now. It’s vague to me. I don’t press. I don’t expect her to divulge simply because I know how it is, that sense of helplessness and the shame one feels, a smart woman who thinks, How the hell did I get here? Her situation recently brought back a horrible memory, but it’s one that has aided me, internally, in my own personal fight against the ignorance…
He and I were living in a tiny duplex in a village not too far from Ipswich in England. The first sign of abuse, the abuser isolates his intended so that no one is within easy reach for her. Yeah, he’d picked the place. My family lived approximately 27 miles away, not too far from the base where he and my father were stationed. Our place wouldn’t be as far as the military would take us, and later, not nearly as far as the place he’d volunteer us for, thousands of miles across the world. Still, it was far enough from my family to be punishing, and I’d only recently learned how to drive at 21.
My little sister and I were in a theatrical show together. It was nice, even it meant I’d be her ride. Sometimes, we’d have rehearsals that lasted well past the midnight hour when the roads were dark, the traffic was minimal, barely any life on the A14. I got back to “our” place one night just after 1:30 in morning, having dropped my sister off at my parents’ home. The dog went crazy as he always did, ever the puppy.
As for him, well, I’d expected him already in bed asleep or still up playing computer games. I wasn’t so lucky. He was there on the couch in our sparsely furnished, little living room, sitting so stiffly, staring right at me with his flat eyes as I stepped through the doorway. He knew I’d been in rehearsals, that there was the possibility of it going well into the after hours. I know that I’d told him of it. Still, it didn’t matter.
He said, “You’re home now, so you can fix me dinner.” Dinner, at 1:30 in the morning.
Stupid me, I’d assumed he was a grown man able to fend for himself, able to fix a simple meal. Stupid me, I asked him why he wasn’t in bed and why didn’t he make his own dinner.
It was the first time he struck me, and it was across my face.
Later, I’d pull the old “medicine cabinet door” excuse when my sisters wondered about the bloom on my cheek. He didn’t do it often. His words were a lot worse, as I’ve illustrated before, and they pummeled me often moreso than anything physical. It got to the point though where I’d rather him get it over with, not to hear his words about how ugly I’d become. I’d rather endure the rare bout of physical violence than hear the words, the taunts, the steady stream of fresh insults specifically created to exploit my own insecurities.
To the old ignorant crush who’d questioned the very idea of staying, I stayed because a few years later, I’d had nothing left and was thousands of miles away in a country with no resources to help me (aside from an Air Force NCOIC who simply called to ask if I was safe, while my husband was in the room with me). Others stay because they’re scared for their lives, the lives of their kids, their parents and siblings. Some stay because they’ve not been able to develop their own identities because they’ve been prevented from doing so. Even more stay because during the Honeymoon stage of the cycle of violence, all genuinely seems as if things really will change, that the abuser has seen the error of his (or her) ways. And, of course, there are many more reasons why…
All in all, it isn’t as simple as “Well, he/she is just STUPID for staying.” Jesus Christ, no, and to those like old ignorant crush who honestly think this, get educated on the matter before you speak.
Be aware of the situation first because after all, it’s October.