Warning – The following contains topics and details that some may find disturbing.
My first husband beat me. Violently, relentlessly and without remorse. Until I finally left.
I don’t talk to a lot of people about the past. Most of my friends have no idea. The gap that exists in all my years between high school and when I started my family and began reconnecting with people through this new fangled thing called social media is large and full of stories, good and bad. None of my neighbors knew me before we moved into the neighborhood. My husband is only learning some of the details as he reads this. I chose a long time ago to put my past down somewhere, and leave it there, because until I did that, it impacted me every day. I wasn’t hiding it, there’s nothing to hide, but it was a difficult thing to get into without a whole lot of other stuff having to be explained. And it made me think harder about the past than I wanted to anymore. But my past has formed who I am today. It also makes me think about domestic assault and femicide a bit differently than some people appear to on my newsfeed.
With the increase in discussions around domestic violence, misogyny, toxic masculinity, and femicide in the media and on the web this week, since the mass shootings here in my home province, I have been brought back in time over and over again in my mind. Whenever there is a global situation like #metoo, like the femicide protests this year, like a mass shooting that started with domestic violence, the discussion around this issue flares up. And by discussion, I mean the defensive counter arguments, mostly from men, who seem to be experts in a lot more things than the women who have a lot to say. When I say experts, they are even talking like they are experts on me or other women who they have never met. And they don’t seem to get the irony in trying to commandeer this conversation. People share the devil’s advocate blogs and comments, because they think they are being helpful. But it just stirs the pot and never offers any real defense for any violence against women anywhere. This point being the most important. There is no defense for it, so don’t try to offer any.
I engaged in conversation online (more than once) in which I was told I was no expert on men’s psychology. (That, like most every STFU, came from a man.) Men are being blamed for everything, but women play a role too. Women abuse men all the time. Man-haters. Women like their men masculine until they want to use it against them. There was a comment that women are just jumping on board with whatever nasty trend about men is going any given day. I was told that women giving men the silent treatment is a form or domestic abuse. My head pounded. The silent treatment is comparable to punches or even a gun? One guy told me that women like being victims of everything… That dialogue ended when I said the simple words… You have no idea. And that’s really it… how do you judge someone or disregard their opinion, when you know nothing about them. Sometimes I feel like some of these debaters truly just believe they are more entitled to speak. Maybe I have to provide a resume to warrant the right to speak… I walk away instead. But I get angrier and angrier when I read these non-fact based male truths and debates.
It’s a common phrase, and it’s an honest statement. You have no idea… Sometimes I am challenged to explain what I have been through. I normally don’t get into details, but if the questions are not posed as confrontations, in the midst of an argument, I do offer the fact that I have lived through my own experience. Most times, they don’t want to know, it’s easier not to, and they move on to someone else they can brow beat with their profound knowledge of the issue.
No one generally ever really asks or pushes for details on your past. They just look at you today, and decide they know you. It amazes me how many virtual strangers think they know all they need from a short comment on a topic. But if anyone spoke about me today, they would say I am a strong woman, a smart woman, a capable woman. They would never guess that I was a woman who stayed after being hit, many times over. I could say the same about so many other women who were faced abuse in the past. I am not unique. And make no mistake, I am not a victim. I am a survivor. I don’t want you to feel badly for me, because I don’t. I don’t ever want to be seen as a poster child, but I am a good example. A great one, really. But don’t ever tell me I do not know what I am talking about when it comes to violence against women.
I had thought of a career in social work, but while working in co-op, I learned I get too invested and it isn’t the right fit for me. Most advocacy groups are populated with people who are “experts” in the field – because they studied it in school, and I am not a psychology major, nor a doctor, so I have actually been turned down for advocacy opportunities in the past because I am not deemed qualified. Life experience was not good enough. I have also had hesitations with opening up because of the complexity of my story, so I stopped trying. No one in my family knows the details, they never wanted to. And so, as a general rule, mostly I stay quiet.
This week the discussions were more than I could tolerate. People had opinions about the first victim. Most wanted her to know she was a victim, that she was loved, and that she could call on them for support. That was in the safe confines of a group dedicated to posting and sharing supportive and compassionate, caring posts in the aftermath of the shooting rampage. But one doesn’t need to stray far to hear the inexplicable hate toward this woman. Lots are saying she is a liar. Many say she likely deserved it. Some said she was partly to blame. A friend told me of a man speaking in a line up outside of a store, and there’s comments like she probably deserved worse. The RCMP press conference needed re-explaining after the comment that she may have been a catalyst sent social media, bloggers and advocacy groups into turmoil. It all made my head hurt. And in the end, no one has a right to their opinion, since they were not there, and there should have been no room for interpretation. A GoFundMe page was set up for her, received some support initially, and then was inundated with hate mongering and the account was closed, the money refunded and no one else was going to frontline any attempts to help her. But, she was not a catalyst. She was not to blame. She did not deserve any of it, and definitely not worse. She is not a liar.
I looked lots at the comments and posts from people offering to be a shoulder, offers to help. I know many would like to be supportive, but she’s likely in a state of shock, on a guilt trip, scared what else is coming, and who is going to talk to complete strangers who reached out on social media about the darkest days of their lives? Who would trust someone to simply be a listener, not a gossip monger or a leach? Considering what others are openly saying…
Over the last few days, I felt compelled to answer to a few of the queries, by giving my own life as an example. Like I said I haven’t been hiding it… it was just easier to not talk about it. As time goes by, as social media provides the insight into other people’s opinions of what happens, what did happen this time, frustration and exasperation are setting in. The tolerance for the hateful talk is just as bad as the talk itself. All the kindness we are known for here on one hand has been overshadowed by the awful things people are willing to say and write, and the others who laugh or join in. So many others are bystanders. It is obvious that even in this very sad time, a lot of people care very little about others, and cannot put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Maybe it’s the lack of actual details that are used to make up those statistics. A few years back, a friend taught me about the message he was trying to share, and how he felt it would be best presented. His theory was that those on the receiving end did not believe in the spoken word, or the lack of permanency provided in conversation. The only accepted method seems to be when we put ink to paper, either in a report or a book or in an article. So, here I am putting my ink on paper.
People thought my ex-husband was a nice guy. His father loved him immensely. On the surface, everyone he introduced me to thought he was a good fellow. We were always included in group dinners and parties and welcomed into many of his friends’ homes. I thought he was a great guy while we were dating. He was very loving and treated me like a princess, had a pet name for me. He took me out and shared his world with me. He was the first person to tell me he loved me. I married him at 22 years of age.
The first time he hit me was ten days after we were married, we were sitting around our apartment one evening. I had a can of Pepsi, and after a drink, I burped. He leapt up, and stormed over and started slapping me. Hard. I tasted blood. He called me disgusting, demanding to know why I would do something so disgusting. Was I an animal? I was in a corner, on the floor, he was looming over me, I kept apologizing. Then I said nothing.
After he finally backed off, I waited until he went to the washroom. I grabbed my purse and jacket and quietly left the apartment; I went to the elevators and waited. Stunned more than afraid. He came out of the apartment and called for me to come back, then he came down the hallway, and as the elevator doors opened, he caught up to me. He tried to stop me from getting in, but I was adamant that he did not touch me. There was a man in the elevator and he started to speak, but my ex wanted to apologize, then he was worried about the blood on my face, could he help me clean up my face. I turned away from him, saying nothing, and my ex left the elevator and let the door close. There was silence for a moment, until the gentleman said, it’s none of my business, but I think you need a drink of water, and I can offer you a cold cloth. I had no idea where else to go, so I let him take me to clean up and have a drink of water. He didn’t pry, he didn’t lecture, he didn’t advise. He just simply let me gather myself.
The gentleman offered to come with me to the apartment to check if he was there, and only left me there when I promised not to let my ex back in. I would keep the door chained. Very soon after a friend called to say she knew what happened, that my ex was at her place with her and her husband and was scared and really sorry about what he had done. He wanted to come see me, but I was not interested. She “understood”, but she wanted me to know they had known him for so long, and this was not how he was. They had been very firm with him he was never supposed to hurt me like that. She wanted me to meet her so we could talk about it. Eventually, she said he would stay away from the apartment. Over the next several days, she and more of his friends came to check on me and explain to me he made a horrible mistake and was so very sorry. They were sure he knew he had screwed up. So eventually, I agreed to meet him, and talk about it, and eventually he was back in the apartment. And I stayed.
Over the next 9 months, I was hit many more times. We had to move multiple times when landlords kicked us out. We were banned from places. We were slowly being avoided by all of that broad circle of friends he had introduced me to, and I had stopped communicating with everyone else I knew. The friends who convinced me to give him another chance no longer wanted anything to do with us. There was a never ending list of things to not do. And it was a surprise every time something else was added to that list. A very dark and immensely painful surprise.
He would get angry if I embarrassed him. I wanted to try backgammon with a friend of his after watching lots of games, and I struggled with some of the rules, stumbled a few times, and eventually lost. That embarrassed him. He hit me mostly in the head that afternoon, so not a lot of marks were visible, but we were banned from ever coming back to the café where this happened. He got angry at me for that too, but did not lay any punches for it.
He would get angry if I didn’t dress the way he wanted me to. He would buy me a piece of clothing, and if it wasn’t my first choice for a party or a visit somewhere, I didn’t appreciate him. One time, he punched me, or maybe plowed me is better description, in the stomach before even telling me I had offended him, knocking the wind out of me.
He would get angry if I was late. If I said I would be home from work by 10, I learned not to come at 5 minutes after… even if I had been held up getting out of work. I lost a job after I had to miss several days due to the fat lips and bruises.
He could not handle it if I stood up for myself. If I tried to explain anything that he didn’t like, he would slap me or punch once for every word I uttered.
He was very upset with me when I bought him Christmas presents. He proceeded to return everything I had purchased for him and kept the money I had spent. I did not go with him, because I had to go to the hospital to seek treatment for my jaw. He had punched me in the face multiple times, and there was one punch that locked my jaw open, dislocated it. I was gagging, choking trying to close my mouth and ended up getting help from a neighbor who came as he left. He hit me so hard my head rang for three days. I could not eat anything solid for two weeks. To this day I think about how much pain I had, every time I drink soup from a cup, a normally comforting and heart-warming thing to do.
He was irate when I bought a Walkman for myself. I didn’t have permission. I was leaving to go for work, so gathered my things and headed out the door before a fight erupted. He caught up with me on the street a half a block away from home. He accosted me, hit me several times, and took the Walkman, and left me there. People came running thinking I had been mugged. I pleaded with them not to call the police. We had just been arguing and I walked out on him. I caused it…
Once, when we were out, I was not feeling well, so I told him I wanted to go home. He told me to wait, and after an hour or more of his ignoring me, I told him, you can stay. I’m just going to go home and go to bed. He didn’t seem to care, so I quietly left. About ten minutes later, as I was walking in broad daylight on the sidewalk, people all around, a car pulled up beside me, he jumped out, grabbed me and shoved me in the back seat, jumped in, and his friend who was driving put his foot on the gas and sped out of there. We happened to be about 500 feet from a police station. As I gathered myself, and looked at what I had in my hands, I realized my wallet, with all of my ID was missing…. likely laying in the street where I had been snatched. When I told my ex… he stupidly believed he could take me back to retrieve it. As soon as I got out of the car to look, people were running toward me, pointing at me, including several police officers. They had most of my ID and bank cards in their hands; I was picking the rest up. He and his friend sped off, and I was left there trying to make it look less insane than it was. One officer refused to give me my ID, until he checked me out. He grilled me for an hour. I would not give him any details about my situation. He let me have my items back and included a business card.
On another occasion he hit me in a department store, and security intervened. I cannot remember why he hit me that time, but his actions were noticed immediately. The police were called and they brought in a social worker to pick me up. She convinced me to leave. She told me she would help me. He was detained at the moment; she could take me to get my belongings. I needed someone to give me the encouragement I think. No one I knew ever tried to convince me to leave him before. So, I agreed. She put me in a shelter until I could find somewhere to live. They offered to help with that and also to find me someone to provide support. After about three days, he found me at work and followed me home. Somehow, the shelter staff knew he had followed me, and they asked me to pack and leave immediately. Urgently. Before he decided to come to the door. A friend offered to come and get me from a transit station, and I went to stay there for a few days. All the help and supports offered from the shelter were lost. And when he found me at work the next time, I agreed again to talk and eventually reunite with him.
I got pregnant right after that. And I had done a test about an hour before he came home one day. When he arrived, I hadn’t done something he told me to do before he left, and so he started punching me in the stomach over and over and over again. I went to the bathroom and threw up, and he came to find out why. I told him I was pregnant and showed him the test thinking he would have some remorse, maybe be concerned. At least maybe he would stop punching me. He punched me again and then kicked me several times. Sometimes in the stomach. The next day he made me get it confirmed by a doctor. I went, being very calm and cool, to get the test done. When the doctor gave us the “news” that yes I was pregnant, my ex got up and left. I sat there staring at the doctor, and something in my eyes told him, this baby was not even close to good news. In my state, I was only worried about this pissing my ex off. I was scared of what he would do next. I wasn’t even thinking about whether I could be a good mother… it was his anger. And was he going to punch me again in the stomach and again and again… I had to sign a form for the doctor and without too many words, he understood my situation, I know I had no choice and a week later my ex drove me to the hospital to terminate my pregnancy.
It made him angry if I was unwell or tired. In the days after my hospital appointment, I was feeling pretty rotten and resting, as I had been told to do. My ex was coming and going from the apartment like usual, but on day three he came home at around suppertime, and I was sleeping, and he was immediately enraged. I was sleeping again? I told him I wasn’t feeling well since the procedure. He punched me in the stomach. Then again. And again. And again. A few days later I was bleeding almost black blood, and had to go back to the hospital. I never told them I was punched. They assumed the procedure had left me with this issue, and took care of me for the next few weeks as an outpatient.
After about five months – yes all of that happened in five months – he wanted to move back to Europe, where he was from, for a year or two. And I went with him. I should have stayed here, but I was his wife, and I wanted things to get better. So I was willing to go. I believed if we were near his family, things would likely improve. They did for the most part. He did not want his life long friends and family to see me in the shape he had left me so many times before. I knew he was happy being home.
About three months after we moved there, his father had given us a house he owned to live in, just outside of the city, and many days he would leave me there, out in the country. I would pick fruit and clean and do things to keep busy. But after the first couple of weeks I was finding it isolating. He asked a friend if we could meet for dinner and we met this friend and his girlfriend for supper. I had met her before and thought she was a really nice girl. After dinner, we were driving them home, and they were in the back seat. He started pushing her and growling at her trying to force her to give him a blow job. I asked my ex to tell him to stop. That made this guy hit her. My ex did order him to knock it off. When she protested he started beating her, viciously, I was screaming at him, reaching back trying to stop him, my ex was yelling at him, she was crying for help. We stopped at her home, and they got out, and I never saw them again.
Three days later was the last time he ever hit me, and it was the last time I ever saw him. He had brought me to a club, with a swimming pool, and some of his friends were there. I spent the entire time sitting with one of the girls I knew, while he sat with another girl he knew, completely ignoring me. They were laughing and having fun. I went over to join them and he told me to go back to where I had been sitting. After hours of this, I suggested I would like to head home. He did not want to go home. I did. Then I heard him tell this girl I was his cousin. I told him in front of the girl he was sitting with, that I was his wife not his cousin, and that he had no business bringing me here so that he could spend the day with another girl.
He erupted. I shamed him, embarrassed him, stood up for myself. He slapped me and pushed me, and everyone started yelling. The staff quickly started to shuffle us out. He pushed me to the car, and as soon as we had driven out of site he started swinging while he was driving. I was knocked unconscious. I came to when we were back at the house and he was shaking me awake. He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out of the car, dragged me into the house, slapping me and twisted my arm behind my back, dragged me up the stairs and shoved me onto the bed. He punched me about a half a dozen times. I black out. I came to and tried to get up, but he started punching me again. I lay still, hoping he would leave. All through this, he was screaming at me for behaving the way I did. He stopped hitting and yelling at me for a while and when I tried to get up, I heard him say, I am going to rearrange your face so no one knows who you are, and then I am going to send you back to your family in a box. I quietly went down the stairs, he started to follow me. I made it to the door and got outside and started screaming at the top of my lungs. Screaming for help. My ex was yelling at me to shut up, trying to drag me back in the house. One neighbor from a distance yelled back, and then another neighbor appeared. He pulled me away and stepped in front of me. Enough. That was all he said. He looked at me, and then turned to my ex and said it is finished. He took me back to his house to stay with his wife. Then he went and spoke to my ex. He came back, and said you are never going to scream for help like that again. About 20 minutes later, my ex appeared with my bags, my purse, and spat on me. He said I never want to see your stupid face again. And he never did.
I finally left. I saw his friend beat his girlfriend. So he had others encouraging this heinous behaviour. He lied to people saying I was his cousin… He essentially told me he was going to kill me. I finally, after all of this, in really such a short period of time, had had enough.
No matter a police officer, a doctor, all those who spoke out and told us he should not be hitting me, the damage I had suffered, the strangers who had tried to help me… none of it worked, until he told me he was going to kill me. I don’t know if he would have, but I do not know that he wouldn’t have. If not for that neighbor, I don’t know if I would have gotten away that night.
If I had to explain why I stayed and lived in those conditions, there are a number of factors that came into it I think. I believed he was what I had come to know before that first assault. He had been kind and treated me so well, and really was a wonderful guy to me. I didn’t have a lot of supports, living far away from home and not really having a great family relationship. I was lonely, and somewhat shy. I wanted to believe he did love me. I wanted to try to make him happy. As everyone turned us away, he blamed me for the loss of his friends, so I was taking on that shame, and trying to be better every day. Hoping it would get better. He was not the first person to hit me.
I am not a liar. I did not deserve it. I am not to blame. And, I am not defined by it.
When the discussions erupt about domestic violence and men come out either refuting statistics, or questioning the validity of the stories, it makes me think about my silence. When people are surprised by the violence, it makes me think about my silence. When men deflect and dig for evidence that women are not always victims, it makes me think about my silence. When people refer to him from his childhood and younger life, I think about my silence. And when we talk about the women, we run with statistics, and I think about my silence. Maybe me and all the other women out there who have faced these abuses, should be lining up to tell our stories. Your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers… Maybe if we all opened up the gates and started filling in the personal side of the statistics, men would be less inclined to slough them off. Maybe they would be embarrassed or ashamed or shocked by those standing up and speaking for themselves.
Today, I am 50 years old. My husband and I have been together for almost 17 years, living together and married for most of that. We don’t always agree on things, but I have always had my own opinions. We do not end an argument until there is an understanding. He has never once hit me, pushed me, called me names, controlled me… I have two daughters with my husband. I got through a cancer battle last year. My past is a big factor in how I raise my girls.
People, who know me today, will be shocked to read this. It does not jive with who I am. And that is a good example of why no one has a clue about this woman, what she faced and why she would stay. Speaking about her and what she should and shouldn’t have done, did or didn’t deserve… anything you read or hear, unless it comes from her directly, is a guess. But if my story can offer any perspective, it is this: You never really know someone. You have no clue what they deal with. You never fully know what is going on in someone’s life.
Statistics are supposed to be informative, but I find they are just more numbers on white paper. Empty unidentifiable numbers. We are inundated with numbers on every topic. But these numbers are actually people with very personal and immensely troubling stories like mine. Thousands of them. People don’t feel a whole of anything when they only see numbers. Mixed in with all the other numbers. And when the victims are silent, we are doing the violent and dangerous a favour. We are the voices for those who do not survive the violence and the silence is deafening. It is time we stop being silent.
In writing this, I am not silent anymore.