On Abuse Part One (Thanksgiving)
Is it domestic abuse if they never hit you? If their skin never makes contact with yours, two bodies never collide? If it’s only words from raised voices? Or the chill from stolen blankets? What if it’s only matter between you that breaks, that grazes the body, that breaks the skin? A stray shard from weeks ago that you missed when sweeping the next morning pierces your foot? What does it mean when it’s the words that paralyze you but you’re not physically restrained? How you edit your own thoughts and curate the situations you find yourself in, lest you be blamed for whomever else might enter the room? Can you call yourself a victim, or a survivor? Can you join the ranks of broken and bruised women when your scars can only be found in your words and the way you flinch?
Just over a year ago was the first time I brushed up next to the reality of domestic violence. It was the night before Thanksgiving and my partner and I had been out drinking with friends. Nothing new. Nothing different. I knew, we all knew, that he was an alcoholic. He was convinced that he had everything under control. It was all about moderation. And stress management. As long as everything was going they way he thought it should, everything was fine. I had recently started to open up to a friend about his drunk actions, his aggressive words, the outbursts when he was losing at video games, the objects that had a habit of breaking in the other room while I lay in bed unable to sleep unless passed out from too much whiskey.
‘If I spill my guts, the world will never look at you the same way. Now I’m here to give you all my love and watch your face as I take it all away.’
That night I was fading off into the whiskey and nicotine. I was awoken by screaming, the words ‘lying bitch, cunt, whore’ and walked into the living room to see my black leather couch being flipped. Then the black leather chair to follow. I don’t remember how I was able to calm him down. I think I rearranged the furniture while he smoked in the bathroom. I cannot remember if he slept on the couch that night. All i remember was skipping the family pleasantries the next day and taking refuge with a friend. My friend was kind enough to not ask too many questions. I did my due diligence to stay wry and cheerfully dismissive about the night before.
He called to apologize and I agreed to meet him for a drink. There were apologies. There were tears. There were promises to do better, be more open, drink less. A night cap. A kiss. Then off to bed.
It would be almost exactly one month later when he ripped me out of bed screaming the same things and would proceed to punch through all the framed photographs in my hall, leaving broken glass and blood everywhere. The police would come. He would leave. My friends would come over and clean up the glass. I would wash the blood off the stairwell walls. And our relationship would end.
What do you do with the guilt and the shame? How do you process all that Catechism about turning the other cheek, putting up with the fear in an attempt to help, to save your fellow man. You know they are hurting. You know they have not been given the tools, tools that society demands of those lacking power and opportunity, to deal with adversity and setbacks. They are victims of classicism and have never been taught what to do with that anger and fear. Aggressively acting out has always been excused as ‘boys being boys’. They don’t understand the fear that courses through you when alcohol has clouded their mind and testosterone has steeled their ego. How your fight or flight response is suppressed by the immediate need to deescalate the situation. Quieting the statistics running through your head about how often women are killed by their significant others. What do you do with the feeling that you can survive anything and should sacrifice your own well-being in service to someone else?
Eight months later, I would find myself being flipped off my own mattress, the objects on my bedside table crashing to the floor with my body following. It would be another two months before I could find the words asking him to move out.