Weekly Local Biography

  “J”


By Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.

We sat in my living room and talked, and I thought about how many times I had talked to Local Personalities who sat in exactly the spot she had chosen. But I won’t use her name, and I didn’t take her photograph. She told me that he has followed her half way around the world, he telephones and emails constantly when she’s away from him, he tells her how much he loves her. And when she’s away, she remembers how sweet he can be, how considerate, how loving.
But this isn’t a story about true love. This is a story about violence, about confusion and fear and ambivalence. This is a story about living in hell, and it isn’t over. She wants to tell you about it, and she wants to be whole. Hope with me that she will be.
She has lived in America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Her father’s job took the family all over the world. Some of her childhood memories are good, some not, as is the case with many. But unlike many people’s childhood memories, hers include domestic violence. As a small child, she witnessed her father hit her mother on more than one occasion. And he had witnessed his father intimidate and abuse his own mother. Domestic violence gives birth to domestic violence. She remembers being afraid. She was only five when her parents divorced. The violence in her home ended, but the damage had already been done.
She did well in school, had many international friends, enjoyed extracurricular activities and sports. She had boyfriends, but no serious relationships. She went off to the university, graduated and got a good job. And then she met him. Like her, he had grown up internationally. Like her, he had witnessed violence in his own family. He was also educated and had a good job. They understood each other; they had a lot of friends. They moved in together and life was good for a while.
He didn’t like one of her friends, and then soon he didn’t like any of them. He didn’t want her to see them at all. The first time he hit her she had gone out to dinner with friends from the university, all young women. He was waiting when she returned home. She woke up the next day with bruises on her arms and back where he had hit her with his fists and kicked her when she curled into a ball to protect her head. He was remorseful, crying until she comforted him. He promised it would never happen again, but explained that he was so worried when she stayed out late that she made him lose control. She was confused. Did she cause his behavior?
But he had crossed the line, and physical violence would become a way of life for them. She did not understand that domestic violence follows a typical pattern no matter when or where it occurs or who is involved. The cycle repeats itself, and each time it does, the level of violence may increase. And at every stage the abuser is fully in control of himself. Domestic violence is not simply the result of somebody becoming so angry that they lose control. It is how the abuser controls and isolates the abused. She did not understand that he expressed remorse to excuse himself for his behavior and focus the blame on her. But he was always willing to forgive her, court her again and remind her of how thoughtful and charming he really was. Sometimes, when violence happened she felt that he had set her up. He probably had.
Months passed. She tried so hard to please him, but the violence escalated. She was slapped, punched, and kicked. He twisted her arms behind her back, he threw her against walls, and he locked her up in the bedroom for three days without a telephone, food or water. He knew just where to hit her so that the injuries didn’t show, and nobody at work suspected a thing. Through it all she never reported the abuse to the police, never told a co-worker or friend, never mentioned it to her family. She was ashamed. Then he pushed her down the stairs, and she realized that she could have died. She left, but came back to more abuse, left again, and returned. Finally, she told an aunt, and the aunt offered her shelter, and talked her into seeing a therapist.
A few weeks have gone by, and she has read the literature. She understands the patterns and progression of violence. She knows that her abuser is not remorseful. She knows that she did not cause the abuse. She knows that he will not change without intervention. She knows all of this in her head, but in her heart she misses him. She misses the tender and romantic man he could be. She reads his email messages. She dreams that he has really, truly changed this time. Her ambivalence is frightening.
A long time ago, I knew a woman whose husband killed her. I saw the crime scene photos and read the autopsy report. Her hands had been raised in front of her face to protect herself from the gun. The coroner called the injuries “defensive wounds”. Her husband said he didn’t like her cooking. She died in front of her two small children. She was an educated woman with job skills. No drugs or alcohol were involved in her murder.
Domestic violence occurs to men as well as women. It happens in all cultures, across geographical boundaries, in all socioeconomic groups. Old people as well as children can be victims. But they, and the woman I interviewed, can also be survivors. With physical protection from their abusers, and psychological treatment for their wounded souls, they can emerge strong and victorious. And they can stop the vicious cycle of violence once and for all before it infects another generation.
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/help/dv.htm.