Glamour magazine launched their Tell Somebody campaign today to raise awareness and help end relationship violence in America… which kills 4 women a day. It’s definitely no laughing matter.
I am somebody who has seen relationship violence very up close and personal. Fortunately, I have never been a victim. But my mother was, and I witnessed a cycle of violence that ebbed and flowed throughout their 21 year marriage. As a kid, I didn’t even know it was “wrong,” it was just a fact. Just like I brush my teeth – dad hits/pushes/punches/scratches mom when they fight.
I only have one clear memory of my father being affectionate to my mother, and it really stuck with me because what kid doesn’t want to see their parents happy together? I was about 8, and the night before he had pushed her into the wall and scrapped up her back. The next day he came home from work with a bouquet of flowers, and I watched from the living room as he gave them to her in the kitchen and apologized with what always looked like genuine regret. It was not the first (and wouldn’t be the last) time she forgave him.
On May 6th, 2002, the fight started suddenly, and ended violently. It happened in front of all of my brothers and I, and the more we screamed and protested the worse it got. She was on the floor while was punching, kicking, yelling and even spitting. My oldest brother stepped in between to finally end the scene.
Later that night, while I was hiding in my room, the doorbell rang and a police officer asked to come inside. My mom’s best friend who lived halfway across the country had taken the liberty of calling the police, since my mother would not.
My dad spent the next 24 hours in jail, and the next 10 months living in an apartment across town. In those 10 months he never spoke to me even once. I would see him in passing while we dropped off and picked up my brothers from play dates with him and at their sporting events, but he never talked to me. I’ve never to this day asked him why.
At the end of that 10 months, I came home from a friend’s house one evening to find my dad at home again, my parents drinking wine at on the couch with the candles lit. Things just went back to the way they had been before. Again.
Relationship violence isn’t something you can simply tell somebody about and things will get better. It can be harder to kick and more damaging than a drug addiction. Stopping relationship violence isn’t only about saying something, but it’s so much more complicated. Who do you say something to? What do you say? Of course the problem lies with the abuser, but in most (not all) cases of domestic violence the victim is not a captive audience; they could leave but choose not to. Why? Of course there’s not only one answer. They feel like it’s what they deserve, or because they think it would be too difficult on the kids, they believe they are in love with their abuser, or they believe nobody else would have them.
I have witnessed relationship violence in several friendships, and even lost one very close friend because I expressed to her that I was worried for her, and pressured her to ditch him. They are still together.
So if telling the police fails, and telling the victim fails, then what do you do?
The hardest realization for me was that there wasn’t much I could do except continue loving them. I still love my friend that I lost, and I didn’t hold any grudges against my mom for going back to my dad. I supported her, and waited.
I left for college in 2007 and moved to Chicago, far far away from the troubles at my childhood home… but not so far away I couldn’t go back. I’d been living on my own there for about 4 months when my mom called me very, very late one evening. She said she was done, she was leaving and not coming back this time.
I didn’t tell her good job or how proud I was of her like I had in the past. I told her the truth: that’s bullshit. I said I’ve heard it before and I’ll believe it when I see it.
Three days later she called me as I was leaving my job and dropped a bomb on me: she was in the car with all of the kids and all of the furniture, driving 4 hours to a house near her sister that she was able to rent. I had no idea if I should laugh or cry.
One year later the divorce papers were signed officially, and these days my mom is living in a house she owns, working full time, has friends who come over, and she’s even had a boyfriend! I’ve never seen her so happy, free and full of life.
The lesson I learned in my encounters with relationship violence is that it’s not about who you tell. In a “perfect” world we should be able to point out this enormous error in judgment to victims and they would simply free themselves.
Unfortunately, only the victim can end the violence.
If you are fed up with a friend or loved one who is in an abusive relationship, don’t give up on them. Don’t belittle them, and don’t assume they are unintelligent or inferior, for they are not. Instead:
Support them, love them, and don’t be a fair weathered friend.