Six years ago today, I fled domestic violence.
If you had any idea how tired I am of starting essays or blog posts or journal entries or emails or any piece of writing with those words… Fled domestic violence. Escaped domestic violence. Left an abusive relationship. Fled abuse. Escaped violence. Fled. Escaped. Left.
Action words. Movement words. Going words. Going going gone.
I write about it every year on this day. I might be tired of writing those particular phrases, but it’s only because language is so limiting sometimes. Because how can I be fed up with the fact that I survived?
It’s the phrase “domestic violence” that’s been bothering me so much. So clinical and clean, sanitized, legal, even polite. On a day like today, six years out, I could let that phrase stand in for What Really Happened, let it create some distance between my two selves, my before and my after. I could push away this part of my identity, when I get the shits of it. But how to do that without killing myself, again and again? I could say clean and polite things, or I could say nothing at all and be even more clean and polite, let the day go by like it never happened, like I never lived through it, like I died.
Domestic violence. Sweeping broken pint glass shards into a neat little pile. Washing uneaten meals off the dishes with cuts on your hands, the soap seeping in, the sting. Folding torn laundry. Hospital corners on the bed, sheets ripe with the stench of force and faking.
More action words: Shoved. Kicked. Bruised. Bashed. Thrown. Forced. Bruised again. Spat. Yanked. Raged. Smothered. Smothered again. Going words. Going going not quite gone. A job unfinished.
Six years after my escape, and the world is trapped inside by a pandemic. I think now about what it would have been like to be quarantined with the man who abused me, and my gratitude to myself for leaving is enough to bring me to my knees. Back then, even without stay-at-home orders or the fear of becoming sick or making those around me sick, I felt imprisoned and helpless. Nowhere to go. No one nearby to talk to or ask for help. I can’t imagine how amplified those feelings would have been during a shutdown.
Usually on this day, I focus on my progress. I talk about how far I’ve come, how close my son and I are, how much happier I am. I do feel strong, and I have worked hard on healing.
I also need to work hard on letting myself feel, feel what it was like, from this place of relative safety. No matter how much I might want to be done with that phrase, domestic violence, and with people’s perceptions of it, and with people’s ignorance of it, I can’t. I didn’t choose it. My only choice in this matter was to live through it.
I want to tell a tiny story. Once, there were two people who were very much in love. They felt like they had waited years, maybe lifetimes, to find each other, a second finding after misunderstandings and mistakes and distance. A second chance. They dreamed and touched and laughed and grew a garden. They argued, and sometimes, rarely at first, he was terrifying, thunderous, physically hurtful, and often she was confused. But it always shifted back to that place of light where they seemed so sure of the rightness of their being together.
One day, on an upswing from a recent rough spot, they were goofing off, wrestling, playing, and he pushed her down on the bed, laughing as she kept trying to get up and retaliate and he pushed her down over and over, the springs catching her and encouraging her back up again, over and over until without even realizing it, she’d had enough, rolled on her back, pulled her knees up, then arched her spine and snapped her body straight, slamming her feet into his chest, knocking him backward. His face in that moment registered maybe a little pain but mostly shock. He had stumbled, struck off-balance. He had coughed, wind knocked from his lungs. He had put his right hand to his sternum, eyes wide and locked on her. She braced herself. He stared and breathed hard. Maybe 10 seconds. Shook his head. Flashed a smile, walked away.
His surprise, a flicker of anger, an almost imperceptible trace of fear, the instant he first realized it—not that she could truly injure him, not that she could dominate him, but that she might start fighting back instead of lying down and taking it.
Six years out from a trauma, there are little stories you’ll remember, if you let yourself, if you fight for the truth they hold. Little moments that remind you: you were always who you are.
No matter what you’ve been through, or how long it’s been, or how you’re coping with the onslaught of horrible that has been 2020, I hope you remember the fight you have in you. I hope you remember that when you, when we, fight from a place of love and compassion, we win.
Love is love.
Black lives matter.
Wash your hands.
Register to vote.
Be kind to yourself and others.
And as always, if you are being or have been abused, or you know someone who is, and you need to talk, I will listen or help you find other advocates who will listen. Use my contact form. Please take care of yourselves, and please inform yourselves with the resources below:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: Statistics you should know
Safe Horizon: 10 Signs of Domestic Violence and Abuse
“30 signs of emotional abuse in a relationship” (Because emotional abuse is not as obvious, even to the victim, which contributes to an even greater sense of isolation and confusion.)