by Shell Madden
Anyone who has ever experienced domestic violence can tell you it makes no sense.
What rational human being resorts to physical force against another? What sensible person allows someone to hurt them, and often returns to the abusive situation voluntarily?
I can’t say I ever found the trigger; there was no one thing that resulted in me taking a beating. What would set him off one day would be blatantly ignored another. I just knew the moment it all went bad. There was no build up, no warning, no three- second safety delay. I could never deflect it; never diminish it; only make up my mind to endure and survive.
It was my twentieth birthday, I’d been home to spend a bit of time with my Mom and sister before my husband came home. He wasn’t happy around my family, would have preferred I not have any contact with them, but knew better than to forbid me seeing them. We lived in the same town. It would have been impossible, not to mention suspicious.
I had intended to ask my mother if I could move back home; things were not going to get better and I knew I needed to get out. At one point, my sister was outside leaving Mom and me alone. I remember thinking I had to ask, and I was trying to get my courage up. Mom just looked at me…
“So? You ready to admit you made a mistake?”
One sentence and hope crashed. I felt she’d closed a door, made it virtually impossible for me to open my mouth and save myself.
Pride. The price I have paid for mine.
August in Kingston could be unbelievably hot and humid but that was a rare breezy day. Walking on Division Street, an old friend fell in step beside me and we chatted pleasantly for a few blocks before going our separate ways. As we parted he gave me a bit of a hug, a peck on the cheek and a “Happy Birthday.”
A couple of hours later I was home. I had all my chores done, the table was set, dinner was simmering on the back burner and I was making our salad when Glenn walked in.
“Where were you today?” There was nothing in his voice to indicate his mood.
“I walked over to my folks’ place to see Mom.” I continued to cut tomatoes.
“Who else did you see?” His voice was casual, coming from the doorway.
“Just Mom and Faye, Daddy was working and Kay was out with friends.”
I didn’t hear him move, but his hand came down on my shoulder, swinging me around to see his face scarlet with anger and his eyes blazing.
“You lying bitch!”
He back-handed me hard enough to slam me down and back against the edge of the counter; I felt a sharp pain and threw my arm up between him and my face as I dragged myself back upright. I backed away frantically, searching for a way out of the corner I was in. There wasn’t one…
That was when my hand found the knife I’d been using to slice tomatoes; it wasn’t big but it was razor sharp, and for a moment I stood up for myself.
Clutching the knife, I looked him straight in the eye.
“Back off Glenn,” My voice was dead calm and very quiet. “I mean it. Get away from me. I swear if you take one more step I’m going to use this knife, and right now, I don’t give a fuck which of us I use it on.”
His eyes widened, his hands spread out palms flat, parallel to the floor; he crouched just an bit, and I prepared to get bloody. He must have seen something new in my eyes because he took one slow step backward, then another, then he was gone from the room.
Emotion overwhelmed me; I dropped the knife from my shaking hand and started to sob. I was done…headed for the bedroom to get my jacket and purse; I intended to leave. Right there. Right then. Daddy would plead my case with Mom and I would have a place to go.
In the bedroom I looked for my jacket and could not find it. It was the middle of August and I really didn’t need it, but my mind was focused on an inconsequential thing. When I finally gave up, grabbed my purse and turned to leave, Glenn was standing in the doorway, fists balled and a look of pure bloody rage in his eye that was worse than anything I’d ever seen before.
After seven months of beatings I’d learned a few things. If it was inevitable, present the least damageable side, curl or tuck yourself as small as possible and protect your head. I dropped to the bed, curled myself up, wrapped my arms around my head, and waited.
Moments later Glenn’s fingers closed on my shoulder and he tugged.
“Roll over.” I curled tighter. “I said, roll over.”
He yanked again and I resisted. His voice rose.
“Do you hear me? I said, ROLL OVER!”
I swear I heard something snap inside me, it was as if a flash bulb went off in my head. The next second I was on my knees facing him.
“No!” I yelled. “I’m not a dog. I don’t sit up, I will not beg, and I am not going to roll over at your command…”
His left hand came up fast and powerful, connecting with the right side of my jaw. I heard a pop and pain exploded in my head. His follow-through lifted me and slammed me down between the bed and the wall, with a ricochet off the edge of the electric wall heater. It felt as if a knife had been driven sideways through my chest tearing my breath away.
I saw him above me, leaning in to strike again and I kicked out connecting with his shins, which dropped him to his knees over my now outstretched legs. As he raised his fist I remember dragging my hand along his chest, fingernails gouging bloody troughs as I aimed for his groin. I saw the look in his eyes as he understood my intent, and he was gone.
I have no memories of the rest of that night, or even much of the next day. I was a mess–a dislocated jaw, popped back in and bruising spectacularly; several cracked ribs; rainbow-coloured making each breath a new experience in pain…and the comforting absence of Glenn. I never saw him again.
Not all scars are on the outside. I carry mine invisibly. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there, aren’t a factor in my life.
Thing about my scars; no matter how sweet, no matter how kind, no matter how gentle and caring and good the man in my life is; even today, more than forty years later, a raised voice, a raised hand, that prickly uneasy silence that heralds displeasure all tighten my gut, make me withdraw, make me remember.
The damage still haunts my life, my relationships and my nightmares.