I Remember The First Time He Hit Me

When I asked Pam Spaulding to promote today’s cyber vigil, she did so and commented “These stories need to be told …”  I agree. And I am hoping some of the bloggers will share their stories. Because they bind us.

The first time he hit me, it was a slap across the face. He was drunk, I was angry He was 33 and and I was 22. We were standing in the living room of his apartment. He had been drinking forever and I had been forgiving drinking forever.

I felt nothing beyond surprise, I guess. Men hit women. I saw this my entire childhood. Not just at home. In the neighborhood. “Mary’s” dad beat the crap out of her mom on a regular basis and everyone knew. So did “Jerry’s” dad. “Alice’s” mom complained incessantly and occasionally her husband smacker her. We all thought she deserved it because she was pretty mean. And so on …

Our neighborhood was filled with smacks, slaps, screams, silent treatments, stares, and a lot of other stuff. It was normal. The police never came. Why would they?

So to find myself 12 year later being slapped because I said something – what? I don’t remember – didn’t surprise me. Of course, I forgave him. He was sorry. That’s what women did. Right? It didn’t stop. The dysfunctional dynamic of our relationship was a two-way street, but the unavoidable facts were his alcoholism, his physical strength and my need to be loved.

As I grew older, I learned more about the complicated dynamics that create abusive relationships – dynamics that transcend values like ‘don’t hit women.’ I worked in a domestic violence shelter for a few years in graduate school. Every job I’ve held since then has brought me into close contact with women in abusive relationships. And not alway the clients – my coworkers, my bosses, my sales reps, the stories just sort of emerged. I worked in the foster care system for three years and perhaps that finally shocked me – I was face to face with the worst outcomes (and still buffered because I was not a case worker.)

But I was still helpless.

Institutions have a responsibility to protect people. Whether that’s fair business practices or checking on the welfare of a 911 call, we have every right to expect that. I don’t know what the answers are – but I’m glad Action UNITED is crafting regulations for the police when responding to domestic calls. Someone has to get that ball rolling.

Ka’Sandra Wade. This past week, I’ve check a thousand times to make sure I’ve spelled her name correctly. I conflate her with Kassandra Perkins – the woman murdered by her ex (and father of her son) last year. Kassandra’s name was lost in the media coverage because her murderer was a pro-football player. Somehow, I hope, Ka’Sandra and Kassandra don’t mind if people might mix up their names because their stories – together – might help us forget the names of men who commit murder.

Trying to end an abusive relationship is so hard. Because 20 years later, I still wonder … what did I do wrong?

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  • As someone who has been a victim of physical and verbal abuse myself at the hands of a family member, thank you for sharing this. And you’re absolutely right … as a victim, your first thought is almost always, “What did I do wrong? What can I do to make (abuser) happy?”

    When police officers do investigate domestic abuse, so often they’re hamstrung because victims begin to doubt themselves and won’t press charges … “He’s different now, he’s going to change” … “She didn’t really mean it, she’s just under a lot of stress.”

    In other situations, partners (usually but not always women) are sometimes afraid to leave an abuser for financial reasons, or because they need their abuser’s health insurance. In the United States, if you’re a battered spouse and you don’t have independent income of your own, leaving your batterer means throwing yourself to the wolves — otherwise known as our fraying social “safety net.”

    It’s sad that in 2013, we’ve made so little progress on this topic.

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