linden_jay: (Daisy)
[personal profile] linden_jay
This is a post that I've been intending to make for awhile now, and a story that someone told me tonight is finally prompting me to actually post. Some of you have heard this before, most of you haven't, but it forms the basis for my opinions on the issue of domestic abuse, specifically on people who are in abusive relationships and don't "simply" just leave.

(And before I tarnish the Academic Husband's reputation, this is not a story about surviving domestic abuse. That's not something that has ever happened to me... this is just a story about something that happened to me that changed some of my thinking.)

I was married when I was nineteen, (still am married, eight years as of tomorrow) and when I was nineteen, a lot of my opinions were very narrow, and very absolute... I just didn’t know that they were. And one of the simplest issues in my been-married-one-month head was the issue of domestic violence.

Someone hits you–that’s it. Done, out the door. Your boyfriend hits you, a parent, a relative, anyone, you tell someone, and you get out of that situation right the hell now. And if you don’t, you’re stupid, because it’s just going to happen again, and you know it’s going to happen again. I wouldn’t have gone as far as saying people who stay in an abusive situation are asking for it, but I would have said that if you touch a stove once and get burnt, and touch it again, well, you knew the stove was hot. Yeah, I was into some pretty lame metaphor too. Anyway, I had it all figured out.

I was taking a performance class for acting, and I was paired up with this guy. One of those types of guys who’s got the snake oil charm, always bragging about how many push ups he can do, blah blah blah. Thought me being married at nineteen was a bit of a joke, but whatever–it was a scene, we were off in a room on our own rehearsing it. And he wanted to take the scene to a very sexual place, not at all in the script, and I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t think it was necessary, and I explained why I thought so as politely as I could, not wanting to block him, but just not willing to go there.

He stared back at me a few moments, then he drew his arm back and slapped me hard across the face, gave it a beat, and said, “Bitch.” And then he smiled at me.

I’d never been struck in the face in my life. A stray elbow to the lip while wrestling with my sister or cousins, a girl who grabbed my hair and pulled it. Maybe half a dozen spankings–if that–from my parents, I have no doubt completely deserved. But no one had ever struck me in the face before. It hurt. I remember sitting there just stunned, analyzing it almost as though I was outside my body. I could feel that my cheek was hot, that it felt like my skin was tighter.

And I just sat there and said nothing. Did nothing. I didn’t scream, I didn’t call for anyone, I didn’t swear at him and ask him who the fuck he thought he was. I just sat there, wondering if I was going to cry, and I went on with the scene after awhile, then left without meeting up with my friends and walked home. And the marks from his fingers were still showing up against my skin when I got to my apartment.

They were gone by the time the Academic Husband got home, and I didn’t tell him. I didn’t tell any of my friends, my parents, the professor of the class. I was stage managing Macbeth at the time with a cast of twenty-one boys, all of whom had adopted me and had decided it was up to them to take care of the wee married girl, and I didn’t tell any of them either. I couldn’t make the words happen. Why did I let him do it? How come I didn’t see his hand coming? How come I didn’t tell anyone right away that it had happened, right after it happened? I felt stupid for not saying anything, and I felt angry at myself, almost more than I was angry at him.

Almost a week went by–that class had been on a Wednesday, and the next one was on a Monday, and I’d decided that I wasn’t going to skip the class, although I thought about it. I’d go, I’d avoid him, and I’d keep myself always with a group of boys who were in Macbeth so I’d always have someone around me. It wasn’t five minutes before he walked right up to me, huge smirk across his face.

“Hey, Jay,” he said, cool as cool, before he pulled his arm back and punched me in the shoulder. Like how you’d give someone a friendly chuck in the shoulder, unless you were actually putting muscle behind it like he did, enough that it spun me halfway around and made me wince, which made him laugh.

The two Macbeth boys just froze, jaws dropped. Almost like they really couldn’t believe he’d just walked over and done that... was it really as hard as it looked, had they missed something, what?

And this time, I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t as frozen, and I spoke up and told him not to do that. He laughed, and hit the same shoulder, harder. Macbeth boys were still stunned. I told him again, angry enough that my hands were balling up into fists. He flexed his arm and stood right in front of me, started taunting me, telling me to go on then–hit him. Smirking the whole time.

I hit him in the face. Probably hurt me more than it hurt him, but it shocked the hell out of both of us. He yelled at me, I yelled at him not to ever touch me again, and the Macbeth boys finally pulled out of their stupor and told him to get out of the classroom, which he did, after which I finally broke down and started crying.

I explained it then, to the prof, (who’d come in about the same time as I hit the guy) and the Macbeth boys, who refused to go away without an explanation. The story flew through the department, and pretty soon everyone knew. He denied ever hitting me, and since the only proof anyone really had of seeing anything was me hitting him, there wasn’t much of anything anyone could do, even if I’d wanted to take any ‘action’, whatever that meant. But the prof never paired him with another girl in scene class again, and I always had a wall of Macbeth boys around me whenever I was in that class. I told the Academic Husband the whole thing when I got home later, and my family, and I’ve told a lot of people since.

At this point, maybe you’re wondering, why? Why do I tell people this? It’s a simple story–it’s not the hell that so many people have lived with, abusive parents, spouses, boyfriends, siblings. It’s just a slap on the face.

Exactly. That’s exactly why. Because it was just a slap on the face, from a man I hardly knew, and didn’t give a damn about. There were no stakes here, nothing at all, no reason for me not to spit in his face the moment he did that and holler for the people in the next room to come running in. I could have, technically. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t say a fucking word to the people I loved about this person who had hurt me, and to this day, I don’t know exactly why.

If I couldn’t speak up about this no-stakes incident in class where a misogynistic jerk decided he was going to teach me a lesson, how many times harder must it be when the person who’s just hit you is someone you love. Someone that you’re tied to, emotionally, financially, legally, if it's a spouse. Someone who you’re biologically linked to, if it’s a relative, parent or sibling? All these sociological factors, and then go ahead and add in that this person who’s just hurt you is someone that you love, despite the fact that they’ve just done this. A split lip, hell, getting the shit kicked out of you doesn’t necessarily take away that emotional reality, even if a person wants it to.

If a person who wasn’t even a part of my life was able to exert that amount of power over me from one blow to the face, how can I even think of sitting in judgement over a person who’s being abused? I can’t. I won’t. Not after that.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t have a solution, a true epiphany that came out of this experience. Except that I don’t get to judge. I don’t get to point fingers at a person and cluck my tongue and say they should know better and that they should just get up and leave, go off and tell. Because it’s not that simple. Trade judgment for compassion. It took a slap in the face to teach me that. If you need it–let this be yours.
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February 2012

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