While I announced last week that Fiction Friday was about to go on hiatus, today I’m back to share some excerpts about domestic violence from No River Too Wide.
This week most people were stunned to see an elevator video of pro football Ray Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back, assaulting his girlfriend Janay Palmer and beating her until she was unconscious. Janay married him the next day and continues to defend him.
So many people are asking how something like this could happen, and how she could continue on with a wedding after such an event.
If you’re interested in the subject of domestic violence I urge you to visit my website to see what professionals have to say and to get the number of the Domestic Violence Hotline to pass on if needed. Go to Goddesses, then to the drop down menu under Links and Resources. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you’ll find insightful answers to the questions many of us are asking, including two excellent TED talks to watch and listen to.
Since No River Too Wide explores the life of one abuse victim after she manages to leave her attacker, I wanted to Jan to tell her story, or at least a little of it here. When I set out to write this novel I didn’t want to focus on Jan’s past, but her present and future. However to understand Jan, it was necessary for my readers to understand what she had undergone. So I chose to let Jan tell her story in bits and pieces as she tapes it for the organization Moving On, who has helped her get away.
These are just some of the excerpts from the story, but I hope you find them thought provoking.
Jan begins by trying to explain how she allowed The Abuser into her life:
My parents shielded me from life’s darker side, and whatever their reasoning, they never encouraged me to be independent. I was their only child, and their role as parents meant everything to them. Looking back on my life, I see how ripened I was by grief to replace their love and guidance with more of the same. I was also primed to trust strong men who seemed to know what was best for me.
Had The Abuser been anything but kind and charming before we married, I think I would have been smart enough to back away. When we met I still believed I was worthy of a good man, a man like my father who would treasure and protect me. This man was knowledgeable and able to help me settle my parents’ estate, and he seemed to be all the things I wanted. Best of all, he stepped forward to help make the decisions that faced me. He helped me sell the house I had grown up in, helped me drop out of school without penalty so I had an opportunity to heal.
Now, of course, I know this was the beginning of a campaign to strip me of all my connections. My family was gone. Then my home. Finally my college friends. The investments he recommended were long-term, and while sound enough, yielded nothing for my immediate use. By then, of course, that hardly mattered. The Abuser adored me. He wanted me to be his wife. He would support me whenever I decided to finish my degree in early childhood education. We would have the kind of marriage I had witnessed up close.
We would be happy.
Like many abusers, Jan’s husband moved slowly, even insidiously, in that direction:
Before I married were there signs that all wasn’t what it seemed? Were there moments when my confidence in our happy future was shaken?
Had I been educated enough, wary enough, perhaps, I might have wondered why The Abuser was in such a hurry to put a ring on my finger. Or why he often planned surprises on the nights I intended to spend with my friends. Or why he suggested we begin a family immediately after we married instead of waiting until I completed my degree. I might have wondered why the house he bought had no immediate neighbors, or why he worried so frequently and loudly about our city’s dangerous traffic that I began to question my own ability to drive through it.
But The Abuser and his kind are masters of subtlety and excuses. He was in a hurry to marry because he loved me so much. He always seemed genuinely sorry that I’d made other plans when he arrived for a surprise date. Why not have children while we were young, so we could still travel and enjoy ourselves after they left home? Didn’t I love the countryside where I could have a larger house? Not only was the country lovely, but I was safer there, outside the city, with all its hazards.
In those early months, before we said our vows, he never lifted a hand to me. He rarely even lifted his voice, although he did talk over my comments frequently enough that alarm bells should have sounded. Nor was he aggressive or belligerent when we were in the company of others. Not that we often were. The Abuser wanted me all to himself, and like the romantic girl I was, I thought that showed how much he loved me.
He was often critical of others, but less often of me. When he did criticize, his words were framed as suggestions, patiently issued, lovingly meant. He wanted the best for me. A friend I’d chosen, an activity I loved? Perhaps there were better options.
I can’t place all the blame on the man I chose to marry. I wanted to be loved and taken care of. I wanted to believe that someone could turn my sadness to joy, and I could be happy again. I had never learned one of life’s most important lessons. I was responsible for my own happiness. Letting somebody else take on that responsibility was like diving into murky waters without checking for rocks or sharks.
And to end this blog, Jan’s belief about where abuse against women comes from. You may or may not agree:
Some people believe violence comes directly from the traditional family, when one person is awarded all the power as well as the right, even obligation, to enforce his values or lack of them. Others believe domestic violence is caused by the disintegration of the traditional family. Neither view is true. Domestic violence is the result of one family member with sickness in his soul and the desire to infect those who are weakest and most vulnerable. Sometimes fatally.
And yes, I’ve used the word “he.” The vast majority of batterers are men. Mine certainly was.
And yes, I’ve also used the word “was.” Now that I’ve left The Abuser I have no doubt that if given the opportunity he’ll cause more and greater pain, perhaps ending our struggle once and for all, as happens too frequently. I’ve been warned that seventy percent of all women who die from domestic abuse die after they leave their abusers, as I left mine.
For now I’m free of him. I have dreams in which he finds me and exacts his final vengeance, but I believe that someday, I may have just as many dreams in which I find him first.
To read more about why I decided to tackle this subject, please visit my inspiration web page for No River Too Wide.