Thursday, January 11, 2007

Have We Forgotten? The Glass House: Domestic Abuse and Homelessness

Completely off-topic:

1. If you haven't yet, please go read Sandy at Organized Chaos. She responded in her own blog about some issues I brought up in my post, "Parenting as if I might get hit by a bus tomorrow." She wrote "What if I had died instead" and "Does Death Scare You?" These posts are powerful, insightful, and terrifyingly honest plus well-written.

2. It's Delurk Week! Please, feel free to delurk this week, or any week, and let me know what you think about things. Anything, really, doesn't even have to be relevant to my post, but boy do comments make my here's a good week to say hello!

I'm late, oh so late to a very important party. But I am finally here!

This is my second post in the Have We Forgotten? Just Post for a Just World series.

Last time I spoke about the Day of Reconciliation.

Today I am going to tell you a story. It's not really one story, about one person, but is, instead, the story of a number of women I've met. I'm going to keep it vague, because I have to, but I am going to tell the story so that we all remember, but mostly, so we all relate.

Once upon a time, a woman had a dream to meet Prince Charming, marry him, and raise a family. She knew they'd never live in the castle because she was Ordinary People and she would marry Ordinary People, but a home with a loving husband and children would be a castle, to her.

She wanted no more than most of us, and chose as many of us do. She met a man, same as you or I did. They dated. There was something about him. Something beyond just "he seemed to care." She believed they had that special love, and so she married him. They had two children.

Life, and children, brought stress. Money was never plentiful enough, budgeting often meant arguments, division of chores and labor in the home was a constant struggle, and the kids were a strain as much as a joy. She found herself frequently irritable, intolerant, and she used this to dismiss the first time he got so angry and yelled, shoved a little, and became a threatening presence rather than the man she loved.

She lay in bed that night, next to him, trying not to shiver, praying he was asleep, sleep eluding her, entirely. She looked at his face, illuminated a bit by the bright glow of the digital clock. She thought back on important memories, shaking them out and looking at them first with the same eyes, and then with her new eyes, and she tried to figure out whether she was living in a fairy tale she'd made up, or if any of it was real.

The next day, she decided she'd made up all of her happiness, manufactured little stories so that it looked and sounded the way she and others expected it would. She decided she'd created what everyone needed, rather than what was.

As the time for her husband to come come approached, her nerves stretched, and she felt like her body was humming and vibrating from this tension.

The children felt it, too, and acted up, arguing more that day, tantrumming more. She yelled more, and punished more.

So when he walked in the door, with flowers, she felt like she had no standing to throw stones in a glass house. They were both quiet during dinner, and after they put the children to bed, he cried, and told her he was sorry. He was stressed about work, and money, and he didn't mean it. It would never happen again. She had some doubts, because she felt they had crossed a line. But she looked at his face---dear, familiar, him---and she had to believe him. They hugged, and went to bed, where they slept with each other, rather than just side by side.

The human's great strength is adaptability. But great strengths can also be great weaknesses.

His stress at work, you see, was fear of losing his job. Eventually, this happened. She was never clear on the details of why, and she always suspected he covered up the truth because his story about how he came to lose his job was inconsistent, and always focused on others, how they ruined things for him, didn't value him enough.

Tight money became even tighter, and stress and tensions got even worse. The arguments...they got worse too. He was home too much, saw too much of the home life, in which he didn't really have a day place. He criticized, but didn't help. He was on the phone a lot, or reading, or watching TV, and yelled at the kids---used to their freedom of play---to be quiet, sit still, go away. She'd try to explain, and he'd get angry. She thought, if only he could find a job, everything would be okay again. She thought he felt ashamed, emasculated. She thought he was just trying to feel a little bit of power.

He never beat her up, not like you see on TV movies on the Lifetime channel. He'd grab, shove, slap, just get a little physical, a little rough. She never broke anything, or had a bruised face. Sometimes the shoves felt a little like punches, and she'd bruise a bit, on her shoulders, or on her ribs, maybe her wrist. They mostly yelled, and she believed she gave as good as she got.

The turning point for her came after a holiday, when she went to visit her sister for a long weekend, while her husband went hunting with some friends. The second night they were there, she actually slept, really slept, for the first time in a long time. The next day, she ate, really ate, and relaxed. She felt pain in her teeth, jaw, and neck where tension lived. She understood she had relaxed enough to feel how tense she was. The bigger change, though, was the children. They stopped fighting, her son went two days without pushing his sister over, and the crying and yelling was less.

It surprised her sister when, the last night there, she began to cry.

It surprised her sister when, that same night, she told her the truth. Not the whole truth, because she had to defend not only her husband, but also herself. She said they were very angry all the time with one another. They yelled, fought, and had shoved one another.

Her sister, who up to now had liked her brother-in-law, and who felt torn about what to say, who to criticize, said, "You have to leave him. This isn't good for either of you."

She agreed. And resolved that when she returned home, she'd tell him.

You might say he took the news badly.

He railed about her sister, claiming her family had always hated him, never thought he was good enough.

"I had no idea you felt like this!" she cried back at him, "They've never been anything but nice to you!"

He bellowed about how she was the problem, the one who would ruin the family if she broke it up. He threatened to never pay her a dime, and told her she'd lose the kids, and the house.

She could tell he was warming up. She knew he was ready to grab her, or shove her, maybe even slap. She felt a childish urge to spit on him, so great was her anger just then. She tried to bite her tongue. She tried to be smart, and read the warning signs, just walk away.

Instead, her mouth yelled, "You are a PATHETIC LOSER who HITS HIS WIFE! Your kids are afraid of you! You'll never see us again!" She froze, after saying this, knowing.

That's when, for the first and last time, he tried to kill her. First, though, he dragged the kids out of bed, and made them watch as he hit her, telling them how awful she was, the awful things she did, how she'd ruin their lives as she'd ruined his, and telling them nobody would leave him. She didn't even hear the children crying, and some might call her un-natural, but her fear just then was mostly for herself.

Someone heard her, her screams, and someone called 911. Later, she reflected, it was probably more about the noise than her personal safety, but she tried not to look a gift horse in the mouth because the police saved her life, no that call saved her life.

When she got out of the hospital, and got the children back from Social Services, he was still in jail, waiting for his araignment. It didn't matter, now, whether she chose to testify against him. They had other evidence, and they were going to use it.

So they went back to the house, and she packed a small bag for herself and the children. Then they all got into the car, and drove as far as they could. They had their bags, a few clothes, the cash on hand, and the car. That's it.

She was afraid to use the bank account---not that there was any money in it---and didn't have enough money for motels, so they slept in the car, and used the little money they had for gas and food.

The children were too quiet.

When the last tank of gas she could afford was three-quarters gone, she stopped in a town, and knew she needed to find help. Only then did she look around and notice all the decorations. It was Christmas.

Would you be surprised how many families like this are around you? Would you be surprised to learn that a battered woman, hiding from her abusive spouse, lives in your neighborhood, has children in the same class as your children?

7% of women (3.9 million) are physically abused by their partners, and 37% (20.7 million) are verbally or emotionally abused.

Every 9 seconds a woman is physically abused by her husband.

95% of assaults on spouses or ex-spouses are committed by men against women.

30% of women presenting with injuries to the emergency department had injuries caused by battering.

Source: A Safe Place

There's an unamed network of women. They don't have an official name, don't file for any nonprofit tax status. They keep their ears open, like an underground railroad. They ask there anyone? someone with a need? And someone always knows someone.

The women rally. There are active volunteers and passive volunteers. One-timers, and long-timers.

Some people get a reputation, and are go-to people. "I heard about your work with such and you know anything to help...?"

The admirable thing, I find, about most people, is that everyone has a little something they can, and will, contribute.

These are women helping women. No questions asked. No recriminations, no judgments. A woman has need, the need is met.

It really can be that simple, it really should be that simple.



Didn't you know...?

Couldn't you just have...?

How could you...I would never...!

These aren't your questions to ask, nor are they mine.

The help and support can't come with conditions or expectations. And it must, at all costs, preserve dignity.

There's need out there. More demand, than supply.

Next time you are about to host a garage sale, donate outgrown clothing, settle an estate, whatever...ask a woman you know, "Do you know anyone who might need...?

I bet she, or someone she knows, will know someone. And maybe, it will be someone with a story like this.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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jen said...

if i was clapping any louder right now i would break off my hands.

you. are. so. right. about. this. and hopefully if there is anyone who reads this, or the Just Post roundtable, they'll know that there are places they can go. and can even come to us.

thank you.

Mad Hatter said...

Thanks Julie. Thanks. This post hits me hard. Harder than I'd like. 'nuff said.

Thailand Gal said...

Thanks for a great post! This is another topic that has fallen through the cracks lately. It needs to be revisited... often.