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domestic violence

Abuse, Guest Posts

Fool Me Twice

July 14, 2017
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CW: This essay discusses domestic violence.

By Zoë Brigley Thompson

So a student e-mails me. She works at a domestic violence shelter, and she has a question.

Many of the women I meet, she writes, have been abused not once but multiple times by different people. But why?

I think about the problem logically. I see what she is thinking – how perhaps without realizing it, she is shifting the blame from the abusers to the women. I send her a study from the Department of Justice on “repeat victimization.” I point out the victim-blaming. I do not say that I know repeat victimization very well. I keep the personal to myself.

There is a well-known saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, and it applies so well to what people think about repeat victimization. But this framing of victims as masochistic is just another way for abusers to excuse responsibility. People often ask about victims of intimate partner violence, Why didn’t they just leave? But they don’t understand the emotional and psychological power that abusers have over their victims, especially in repeat victimization. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

The Gatekeeper I Couldn’t Leave: Why an Educated Woman Stays

March 24, 2017

By Joyce Hayden

No, I wasn’t poor.  I didn’t have five children.  I wasn’t disabled in any way.

I was college educated.  Privileged, white, middle-class.  Had parents and siblings who loved me.

Friends who cared.  I had a job and a checking account.  I had a car, or at least access to one.

It’s difficult to recount how love became control in such a short time.  Or how long it took for me to see it.  And then accept.  And then take action.

I’m not sure any of the reasons make sense of it.  But, it matters, because:

  1. Though I often doubted it on wind-lashed winter nights, I was never the only one. We are countless.  We are too often the silent countless.
  2. Too many of us continue to remain stuck, unable to put the first first down. To stop the ride.

Kevin was my partner on Magical Mystery Rides in our shiny orange Karmann Ghia on dirt roads through New Hampshire and Vermont.  He was smart.  He was funny.  He was street wise.  He was handsome.  He was an artist, a writer, a wood carver.  Using sharp metal tools and sandpaper, he could smooth the bones of a leaf fairy’s ankle skin soft in thick basswood.  That’s right: he didn’t carve stout orcs and wart covered trolls or guns and muscle cars. He carved leaf fairies and forest gnomes. And I  was in LOVELOVELOVE!

It’s true he was my gatekeeper.  My tormentor.  My abuser.

He accounted for every second of my time and every cent I made.

It would be impossible to count the days and months that added up to years of living in real or expectant fear.

As a result, sometimes the rebel in me needed to yell and I would start something.  Purposely press his buttons, even though it would have been so much easier to walk away.  Like the time I gave a co-worker a ride to the restaurant, and after our shift, she finished first, she went to the nearby bar, the bar Kevin had forbade me to enter, and I had to go fetch her for her ride home.  Would it have been just as easy to say No, when he asked if I’d gone to the bar?  Of course.  But some nights I was tired of so many rules, so many seemingly ridiculous demands. Rules made from possession and jealousy.  So instead, I stood my ground.  In my purple mini skirt, my bare legs, left hand on my hip, I threw my long blonde hair back and said “Yes. Yes, I did go in.  I had a beer.  Then I got Shari and we left.  What’s the big fuckin’ deal?”  Well, I should have known not to turn my back and walk away.  I had carpet scrapes on my knees and elbows, cauliflower shaped bruises on my chest for weeks after that.

But the main reason I didn’t shake a fist and run, grab the keys and speed away, was this:

He was the first human being I ever told that I’d been molested as a kid.  He said exactly what I needed to hear, and feared I never would.  It was Christmas time, two months after we met.  We’d just bought a tree together at Faneuil Hall one snowy night, threw it in his pick up, and half drunk, pulled and pushed it up the three flights of stairs in my Brookline apartment building.  When it was standing up right in the red metal base, and a couple strings of colored lights adorned the branches, Kevin motioned me to his lap, and although I can’t recall what prompted me to say so, because we’d already been having sex, but I confessed that I’d been molested.  I didn’t dump the full trilogy on him.  I just told him about one time when I was 12, lying on the gurney, alone with Dr. Palmer in the examining room on Hinsdale Drive.  I don’t know why, but I needed Kevin to know.  To know then, two months in, not in two years or 20.  And Kevin, seeing me turn red in the telling, probably feeling my body stiffen, contract, pulled me closer and said something to the effect of, “I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t change anything.”  And for a sparkling moment, I too thought, “Right.  It doesn’t matter.”  But it did.  It did for years.  It made me feel wrong, feel guilty. As if I’d lured the doctor, as if I’d seduced him, though that word was not part of my vocabulary back then.  But Kevin’s consolation helped ease my mind.  Helped me put the PTSD on the back burner for awhile. That might seem insignificant, but for me, who had held the secret for years, Kevin’s response was a tremendous gift.  I was accepted, not blamed, as I had anticipated.

Perhaps one incident of molestation wouldn’t have mattered, wouldn’t have misshapen me so poorly.   But when they are spliced all together, from the babysitter’s foster child, to the family doctor, and the uncle, the years of fear, of hide and seek and trying to stay as invisible as possible, the ages 5 to 12,  then it’s clear why that girl only felt safe in shadows. She was home alone at the house on Dixon Drive while the rest of the family went to Uncle Bob’s every weekend. She wiggled her way out with babysitting jobs she lied about having.  Alone from Friday night til Sunday afternoon, keeping herself awake with Sgt Pepper and The Animals, until the sun came up, then sleeping til noon.

By the time she found a man who loved her, despite the sexual abuse, by the time she found a man she felt she could have consensual sex with, she, me, I, was 25 years old.  He loved me.  He accepted my flaws.  My past.  My body of what I then believed to be “damaged goods”.  He wanted me.  And that made me feel safer than I’d ever felt in my life.  Ever.  Why would I leave that?  How would I ever find that again?

When things got tough, after words and name calling thrust through the air like swords, after wine bottles missed my head and smashed to pieces on the floor, I had one focus:  To get us back to those early days.  The magical mystery days.  The sitting on his lap, loving me despite days.  We had it all once.  I was convinced we could have it again.  That was my goal.  If I just did xxx; if I would stop doing zzz.  If, if, if, I could get us back there.  Kevin gave me everything I’d never had.  What I interpreted as complete passion and devotion.  No judgment.  He knew about me and he wanted me with him.  He never used my past against me.  Not once.  Not the way my own mind used it against myself.

That is why I stayed for another five years after the first time he hit me.  I never thought I’d find that initial approval and tenderness.  Someone like me doesn’t throw love and acceptance away very easily.  Not when it took 25 years to find in the first place.  Not when I was convinced and repeatedly told I’d never find it again. Not when the man I loved would stop for birds that lay wounded at the side of the road, take them home, try to nurse them back to health.  He did this even though the birds, despite his eye drops of water, despite him staying up with them all night, despite the worms and bugs, would inevitably die.

When Kevin brought me into his world, it was fun.  It was the three of us together.  Kevin, me and our black lab Crystal.  It felt like a fairy tale.  I don’t care what it looked like from the outside; from the inner circle of us three, it was playful, it was adventurous, it was loving, it was camaraderie, it was thick as thieves joy.  And that’s it.  When it comes down to it, that’s why.

We finished each other’s sentences.  We knew each other from the inside out.  We knew each other’s deepest secrets.   One night I was driving home from my waitress job at Daniels in Henniker, NH.  It was early November. I was driving slow.  Really slow. My grandfather had just passed away, and on top of that, our favorite dishwasher, a kid who studied at the local college, had been killed a few hours earlier in a car wreck on black ice.  So I was driving 30 mph in a 55, on a sharp curve near Lake Todd, when a car came flying around the bend, tires squealing, and he wasn’t slowing down.   And he was in my lane…about to hit me head on.  What they say is true:  I saw my life flash before my eyes.   I thought I was dead.  I thought I was going through the back windshield.  I thought I was a nano-second away from becoming star dust.  But I turned my steering wheel to the right, quickly and sharply, and my car stalled in the ditch.  Mr. 100 Miles Per Hour kept going, fast as hell in the wrong lane.

I was shaken when I arrived home.  Legs like mush as I climbed the long flight of stairs to our house.  The second I opened the door, Kevin bolted over to me. I shrank back.  He grabbed my biceps and shook me.  “Where’ve you been? Where’ve you been??”  I couldn’t speak; I was still in shock from the close call and confusion of Kevin’s fear disguised as anger.

“Ten minutes ago,” Kevin said, “I felt in my entire body that you were in mortal danger.  I felt your heart stop.  I called the restaurant and you’d left.  But you should have already been home.” We lay down together on the couch.  There’d been many nights I’d come home to him yelling at me for being so late.  I was used to that.  It was normal everyday life.  But this night I knew we were connected in a way I’d never experienced with another soul.  I had nearly died.  He had felt it.  He knew it.  How does one turn her back on that  kind of love?  There were more days like that than there were filled with fists.

When I love someone, I see their potential.  I’m too often blinded by it.  I know the goodness in them.  I couldn’t leave until I saw that potential fade.  Until I’d watched him throw all his chances and potential out the window.  I couldn’t leave until I realized in my bones, not just understood in my mind, that nothing I’d ever done was enough to make him hit me.  I couldn’t leave until my love had turned to pity, my respect to disgust.  No one but me could carry me to that moment.  No one could tell me it was time to go and expect me to act.  People tried.  They told me I deserved better.  People saw who he was.  They saw who I was.   But I couldn’t leave until I could see it: see who he was; see who I really was.  I stayed until I realized he was never going to change.  I stayed until I realized that I wanted and deserved something better.  I stayed until I believed that the next time he really might kill me. I stayed until I finally believed I had the right to open the gate, put the key in the ignition, and go.

Former English Professor, Joyce Hayden, recently left her job to complete her memoir The Out of Body Girl. An artist and writer, Joyce’s work can be found on her website: joycehayden.com

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Abuse, courage, Guest Posts, healing

Me Too.

December 23, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Lizz Schumer.

There are some things the body never forgets. The sound of my cell phone splintering against the dorm room wall. How my feet felt cool against the cinderblocks moments before it hit, that breaking I felt in my own chest because I thought I could save myself from him.

Those cinderblocks are never clean in my memory. A handprint in blood smears across three, after we wake up the night after carnage, I mean carnal, relations and my body is fetal away from him, oceans of space between two bodies in a dorm size bed.

“Good morning beautiful,” and he smiled that lazy grin I’d get lost in.

If I don’t look in his eyes, I won’t be ensnared.

Valentine’s Day. He sent me a black and white photograph of a heart-shaped ring of stones. “I took this for you,” he said. Only later, I found out it was part of a class project and this was the photographic outtake, the shot with no clear blacks or whites, uneven borders, textbook darkroom failure.

My own photography class taught me what my heart didn’t want to see: Nothing was ever for me.

“You’re sick,” he screamed, moments before my phone hit the wall. “You’re a sick, fucked up slut and I don’t know why I even date you.”

If the tears coursing down my cheeks made sounds, they’d be wimpers, not screams.

I hadn’t found my voice for him. My neck still remembers his hands around my throat, warm where his fingers hit veins. I pulsed for him, in ways my body remembers every time a new man touches me there.

Touches me anywhere. The body remembers what the mind works hard to forget.

Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

Underwater.

December 19, 2014

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By Kelly Thompson.

The first time. The shock of being punched.

Walking down Nevada Avenue after an afternoon shopping. We look at fish tanks in a pet store. Greg is captivated by the angelfish and chooses two blue ones, a small tank, supplies; all are tucked into the baby stroller with Shawna in it; she reaches fat baby fingers to touch the fish before they are tucked away in the catch-all. The fish stare through big eyes – dart and dash about the plastic bubble.  The costliest purchase, a life-like resin castle, causes a brief disagreement.  I worry about the groceries it might replace and start to say something, but Greg shoots me a warning glance.  Later, when we get home and release the fish into the glass box, their bluish wings will flash like warnings as they weave between the swaying green plants, flit behind the castle turrets, disappear in its corners.

We buy ice cream; a Jimmy cone for me, Greg shares his banana split with the baby. She laughs. He gives her the cherry. We stroll by the park, a warm day. Sunshine. The trees are old and offer what must have been welcome shade on a hot summer day. I am surprised to see someone I was acquainted with in high school walking our way. He recognizes me, nods, and pauses, as if to talk. We say hello, have the briefest of conversations. Yes, this is my baby. My boyfriend Greg. Nice to see you. Take care. It seems there was a breeze blowing, caressing my hair. I always wore it long back then. I imagine I felt beautiful, carefree, the afternoon spent leisurely, my boyfriend and baby with me. A day as good as any I’d enjoyed with Greg. My naive ideas of romance, love, marriage, how to be a grownup, a mother, this must be what it looks like, are tumbling, jigsaw puzzle pieces, in the air.

The blow comes moments, seconds after the high school acquaintance has passed. His fist slams into my face. Who was that? What? Who was that? What? What? Who was he? John! I don’t even know him. From high school. What?

Disbelief. Followed by interrogation. I barely knew the guy who had been politely conversant as he passed us on the street. I might have last seen him in the halls of Palmer High School a year before, maybe less before I dropped out, a teenager displaced by unwed motherhood, to join Greg, a lost boy I met in a bowling alley, who grew up in foster homes, juvenile hall, abandoned by his mother. There is no discussion about our future. As soon as we meet, I’m his. Continue Reading…

Abuse, courage, Guest Posts

The Seat: On Domestic Violence.

December 9, 2014

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By Candace Roberts.

“Somehow I’ll manage to get through this day, too.” I thought to myself. It was a Monday. I had a full day of blocked lecture hours ahead of me. Ancient Greek History—8:30-10:20a.m., Women and Law—10:30-12:20 and Buddhism—12:30-2:20pm.

“Please, God, let this go by quickly.” I said under my breath. I knew it wouldn’t though and the day’s forecast was adding to my anxiety.

Seattle has flippant weather, sometimes. People that don’t live here usually have a grim view of the Northwest. No thanks to the media, Washington has the reputation of a dreary, depressing, state with consistent downpour. One day I’ll write about the beauties of this weather as they are magnificent and are never given enough credit. But this Monday’s ambience lived up to all of Hollywood’s generalizations. There wasn’t a break of sunlight as it was January and there was a constant airy midst that throughout the day would, at random, turn nasty for a minute. What a little tease, pouring for just a minute. Aside from the rainfall, it was freakin’ cold to the bone.

I looked around and saw that almost everyone, at least the girls anyway, were dressed like me- going for the standard wardrobe pick for Seattle winters. Ugg boots sloshing about, velour sweats tucked in, and a big Northface rain coat with the hoodie tied up under neck. No matter how rough the night before was for the typical college girl, no one really cared about committing fashion faux pas because no one wanted to feel the cold rain. Oh yes, and everyone was bookin’ it to class as fast as they could without looking like that one idiot actually running. Let’s be realistic, we have all been “that guy” before and probably not for the last time either. Whether we were running or not, it was the combination of wet, cold Seattle winter and sweaty college kid that inevitably created a class room environment that was simply gross.

Seated and feeling a hot mess in my unbearably hard, public University, sad excuse for a desk-slash-chair, I realized that the dang chair was actually kind of a problem underneath my bum. Early Greece at 8:30 am was not on my prioritized list of troubles, in fact I don’t remember a single thing that was said in class that day. My body was there…my mind was not. It was traveling methodically through the day that lay ahead of me. This day of scheduled sitting.

“Okay 570 minutes of class—did it before, I can do it again. Forty-five minute commute to work,—same shit, different day…totally do-able. Sitting in my wheelie chair at work for 5 hours— you’re getting paid, deal with it.”

My self-talk that day was not inspirational. It was hardly the usual positive vibe I mentally set myself up with, but it was completely necessary because I needed to distract myself. Continue Reading…