As a survivor of domestic violence, I have been often asked why I just didn’t leave. While I believe that *some* people truly meant well with their question and truly wanted to know, there is no easy answer to this question. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I know I didn’t want to stay. I had plenty of people suggest I take my family to a shelter which used to anger me a bit. Why should I have to take my two children out of their home, their school, their bedroom, the only place they call home, while the monster I was married to got to win? A matter of pride? Perhaps. However, a cycle of violence begins that truly changes who you are, what you *allow* to happen to you and shapes your days and nights for a long time to come. Unfortunately, along with that, comes the judging from many people. Some will listen and look away, some will admonish you for not doing anything about your situation, some will try to offer *helpful* advice, but the one thing I heard the loudest from family and friends was silence.
Sure, they felt bad for me and made comments about how they wished my life was different. People are very uncomfortable around domestic violence for a good reason. It’s scary as hell just hearing about it, so living it is even scarier. The cycle began for me much earlier than I realized. I remember my future husband coming home from work on payday, after having cashed his check (he cashed his own check, in CASH). He was a blue collar man and was paid every Friday. He would ask me to bring him the bills and he would “decide” which would be paid, doling out bills like a mob boss paying off his cronies. He would put the money on top of each of the bills. My “job” was to take all of this to the store and buy money orders for all the bills. I would receive a small stipend for doing the laundry (a roll of quarters back in the apartment dwelling days) and about $50 to cover ALL the food and gas for the week. I had to do all the shopping and figure out how to feed us on that. We had one car and I could only go anywhere when he was home. This began the cycle of control.
Once the aspect of control is established, you kind of think in the beginning that it’s just an organized way of living. With the lower self-esteem I was already feeling, I thought he was “taking care of us”. I remember the first time we had the first incident. Our son was still in the playpen era and we were sitting down to a nice dinner I’d spent all day preparing. We weren’t on good terms that evening, fighting about some long forgotten issue. We were eating in silence and he said something rude and I replied with a snarky response. He stood up, flipping the table on its side, hurling hot food, gravy, ceramic dishes, cold drinks in glasses EVERYWHERE. The walls, floor, me, everything was covered in dinner. He told me to “clean it up you bitch” and I ran to get my camera to take a picture. He took the camera, opened up the balcony door, hurled the camera off the third floor balcony and turned to come after me. I ran to the bedroom, desperately trying to get to the phone to call 911. He threw himself on top of me, ripped the phone out of the wall and hit me with the lamp. I managed to wriggle out and run. I grabbed my son, screaming and the lady across the hall opened her door and I practically tossed my son to her. She said she would call 911 and locked her door, taking my son. He pulled me back inside and slammed me up against the wall with his hand around my throat. He spat in my face and told me, “I will put bruises on you that no one will find, but you WILL feel them.” I believed him.
The lady across the hall opened up the door and yelled, “The police are on their way!” and then shut and locked her door. He grabbed his keys and ran out of the building and took off before they could get there. The police came, saw the destruction, heard my son screaming and even listened to the women tell her side of the story. “There’s nothing we can really do Ma’am unless we see it happening. It’s obvious something happened here, but without proof, there’s not much we can do. Call us IF HE COMES BACK.
“Okey dokey, IF he comes back and decides to not beat me again and I can figure out how to reconnect the phone (corded phone days), then sure, I’ll give you a ring. The woman across the hall was sympathetic and kind. I thanked her profusely and she told me she would help me if she could. I took my son back and started cleaning up. He didn’t come home that night and he went to work after spending the night in his vehicle.
When he came home the next day to his clean apartment, he was bearing gifts…flowers. He said he didn’t understand what came over him and that he would never do it again. He loved me and I “didn’t deserve to be treated that way”. I bought it hook, line and sinker. I don’t consider myself an uneducated, weak woman, yet I accepted that apology and endured many years of violence, severe verbal abuse, control, drunk rages and property destruction that continued on and off until his death in 2010 (in a violent, single car accident during which he was well over two times the legal limit for driving under the influence).
His family were enablers and there was a history of control and submission in his upbringing. So, it was no surprise when I approached his family once for help. I was told and I quote, “No one is going to help you with your problems”. I have never forgotten the night I was told that and while I let go of the hatred since it was poisoning me, I have risen above my situation and now am in control of my life in new ways that allow me to live my life on my terms. It took a lot of hard work, perseverance and struggling to get here, but I am a happier person and I am free of him forever. While I’m still putting the many finishing touches on my memoir, I’m writing a book that I hope will give women hope that there is a way to rise above these lifestyles and not endure the silence I heard for so long. Why didn’t I leave? I truly had nowhere to go. No family or friend said, “Come, stay here” (they had their own families and lives to live, they didn’t want to involve themselves in a mess I was living). I had no money, the one vehicle we had was in his name. Now I know many things I could have done, emotions I could have discarded (like shame) and actions I could have taken. However, when you are LIVING IT, you are living in a place outside of yourself and you don’t make good decisions.