I Believe You.

It was a frigid December day. Blizzard conditions, they said. It was close to Christmas time and her friend was getting married. One of her best friends. From junior high, through high school and college. And now into early adulthood. She had to go to the wedding. She wanted to go. Earlier that week she somehow bribed her little brother into watching her kids so she and her husband could go to this wedding. And even though she wanted to go, she was hesitant.

She knew how he could get. She knew how he would act. More often than not she would avoid these types of situations, if at all possible, so that she wouldn't have to deal with his behavior.

She tried to reason with herself.

We’ll only stay for a little bit and then head home. It's not like it's far away. And the blizzard and the kids and the fact that I have to drive home will be a good excuse to leave early. Hopefully, early enough before things get too bad.

They missed the wedding and only made it to the reception. Which was fine by him. It was an open bar. Which means she spent the entire night nervously watching him and counting his drinks; while he spent the entire night drinking. With each drink he had, a feeling of fear and crippling anxiety crept up, higher and higher. Was he drinking the stuff that made him mean? she wondered. Laughable, because she knew better. She’d been on the other side of that too many times. It wasn’t anything in particular that made him mean. It seemed, that it was her very existence mixed with whatever he happened to be drinking, that made him mean.


But come to think of it, sometimes he did those things when he was stone cold sober. So, maybe it was just her.

She tried to control the situation by shuffling him off to the table for dinner. "It's time for the dinner and speeches, now. You should eat something." He slipped away from her up to the bar for more. She sat there alone. Too anxious to eat. Knowing this night was not going to end smoothly. The later it got, the worse she felt. She finally got the courage to tell him it was time to go. She finally got the courage to try to reason with him. The roads were bad and he was drunk and she was tired. 

He said “No.” 
She said “Yes.” 
He said “You go. I’ll stay.” 
She said “No. You won’t have a ride home and you don’t have any money for a cab.” 

He called her the usual names and slammed his drink. He grabbed his jacket and his Marlboros. He gave her a look. She’d seen that look before. It’s the look he gives her when he’s angry with her. The look that means she’s set him off. She pushed his buttons. She made him mad. She just won’t quit. She's so annoying. She isn't any fun. She needs to loosen up. She. She. She.

They got into the elevator and she was grateful to see another couple with them. She felt safe. They made it back to their minivan and she got in the driver’s seat. He fumbled around in his drunken stupor looking for a lighter. He found one on the floor of the van. But it was so cold, it was frozen and wouldn't light. He tried in vain a few times, and then angrily threw it at her. It hit her in the chest as she was pulling out of the parking ramp, onto the snowy one-way downtown street.

"Why did you do that?" She asked. Careful to not let her tone sound too accusatory.

"Shut the fuck up. Ya know what? I want a divorce." He snarled at her as he flicked his ashes out the window.

"Ok." she replied, as they accelerated up the ramp onto the highway. She kept her tone even. They were only a few minutes from home. She knew he was wasted. She knew he was mad. She knew he was ridiculous but she kept her annoyance hidden.

"I'm SERIOUS. I want a divorce!"

"OK." She said again.

And then. It happened. While she drove them home in a blizzard. He hit her. She felt her face go numb. Her ear was ringing.

He hit her.

His big, cold, smoky hand. His right hand. Came across her face and he hit her.

This was the first time he ever actually hit her. This was the first time ANYONE had ever hit her.

Before this he had choked her. Threw things at her. Spit on her. Pushed her. Held her down by her arms. Threw her into walls. But he'd never actually hit her.

She pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. She put the van in park and looked him straight in the face and said "Get the fuck out of my car." This is the very first time she had ever done anything to remotely stick up for herself. She said it again. "I said, get the fuck out of my car!"

He said "No."

She stared at him and with as much conviction as she could muster, she said the only other thing that came to mind because more than anything, at that moment she wished she had someone to protect her. "If my dad was still alive he would kick your ass!"

And then he hit her again. Backhanded her, really. This time with his left hand. The knuckle of one of this fingers hit her square in the lip. She felt it swell. She felt what was maybe a bit of blood.

She frantically reached in her purse and grabbed her little brother’s cell phone. She had borrowed it for the night due to the road conditions. She flipped open the phone with the intention of calling 911. But truthfully, even then, she was having second thoughts.

"Do I really want to do this? Did this actually even happen? What will happen to him if I report him?" She was doubting herself. She was doubting the VERY thing that had just happened to her. She didn't even trust herself enough to be able to reasonably comprehend what he had just done to her.

He mocked her. "What are ya gonna do? Call the fucking cops? You think they'll save you? No one is coming to save you. Oh, are you gonna scream? No one will hear you. Go ahead, scream." 

And scream
She did.

On the side of the highway in a -42 degree wind-chill. In blizzard conditions. While her husband was stretched across the front seat, grabbing at her, laying across her, struggling, trying to get the cell phone away from her. She screamed and she cried. 

She was TERRIFIED.

And she was absolutely certain he was going to kill her.

She opened her van door as a last ditch effort to get away from him, but her seat belt was still buckled. And he was still on top of her trying to reach the phone. She was hanging out the driver side door. She was screaming "Help me! Please! Help me!" The wind was loud. Louder than her screaming. There were no cars. There had been a travel advisory that night and she had never felt more alone in all her life. It felt like a bad dream. Like she was in the middle of a nightmare in which a grown man was trying to climb over her to reach some coveted Holy Grail.

He lunged one more time and this time he reached it, and tore it from her hands.

No. No. No.

He snapped it in half, and threw it in a snow bank on the shoulder of the highway.

Then he got out of the vehicle and slammed the door behind him.

Before she even had a moment to think or comprehend what had just happened, she threw the van in drive and drove away.

Her ear was ringing. Her lip was throbbing. Her heart was pounding. Despite the -42 degree temps, she was sweating. She was shaking. Trembling.

The first thought she had was, I can't go home. My babies are there sleeping. I can't go home, not like this. My brother. My babies. They can't see me like this. What if he gets there first? Oh my god, what do I do? 

Her mom’s house was off the next exit. It was close to midnight now and without a phone she wasn't even sure if they were home. Or awake. But she didn't know where else to go. Or what to do. 

She pulled into her mom and step-dad's drive way. The outside light was on but all the lights inside were off.  As she walked up to the front door her shoes crunched on the icy snow beneath her and she silently prayed "Please let the front door be open. Please let the front door be open." Her hands shook as she tried to turn the front door knob, to her surprise - it was open. The warm air hit her like a wall, as she quietly stepped inside. 

Now what?

Does she wake them? She didn't want to scare them but she knew she needed help. She removed her snowy shoes, and slowly walked through the living room of the rambler.  She went down the hall towards their bedroom. She was grateful to see their bedroom door open. 

"Mom?" silence. A little louder this time, but being conscious of keeping her voice calm, "Mom?"

She heard them stir in their dark bedroom. She heard her mom say her name "Is that you?"

"Um, yes. It is. I'm sorry to bother you. Can you come out here for a minute?"

Her mom and step-dad emerged less than a minute later.

"He hit me." She looked down. Shame filled her mind and showed in her body language. She kept her gaze down, wringing her hands and shuffling her feet. "I was driving us home from the wedding and he was drunk and he hit me, twice."

Her mom took a step towards her, and started to cry. "Oh, your face. Your beautiful face."

What happened next was hours and hours of people passing the buck and talk of protocol and proverbial red tape. They called the non-emergency number to report a domestic dispute. The officer showed up and took her statement. He examined her face under the kitchen lights. He had her turn her head different angles. Since it happened on the highway, literally right on the border of two counties AND two cities, the officer said he couldn't help her. She needed to talk to someone from the other county.

So, you can't help me? Now I have to call someone else? I called you for help and now I have to call someone else? 

She called the non-emergency number for the other county. They told her that because the house she was currently calling from was in the other county, they technically couldn't help her. She would have to go somewhere, anywhere, within the county that the act actually happened, and then call back to report it. And then they would come to her take her statement and then decide what to do from there.

It was close to 3am now. She and her mom drove about a mile down the road and called the police from a gas station. They took her statement and asked her to come down to the station. It's now close to 4am. Nearly five hours after it all happened. They checked in at the station, waited about another 30 minutes or so for an officer to come take her official statement.

She sat in a room with two male officers. They asked her questions. Lots and lots of questions.

Where were you guys tonight? A wedding downtown. How much did you have to drink? Nothing. Nothing? Not even a glass of wine? No. How much did he drink? A lot. Where is he now? I don't know. He took off on foot. He took off on foot on the highway? Yes. Did anyone pick him up? I don't know. I don't have a phone and no one I've spoken with tonight has heard from him. How long have you been married? Five years. Has he ever done anything like this before? Yes, kind of. What does that mean? He's never hit me, per se. But he has choked me, pushed me, thrown me around, spit in my face, and called me names. Have you ever reported it before? No. Never? You never called the cops when he did those things? No. I see, so tell me again what you said to him right before he hit you. He asked for a divorce. I said Ok. He hit me. I told him I wished my dad was still alive so he could kick his ass, he hit me again. 

On and on and on. They asked her over and over and over again. They questioned everything she said.

Finally, they took some pictures of her face. It was close to 6am. Seven hours after the incident. She filed an order of protection. And they sent her home with a case number and a business card and told her they would be in touch regarding the investigation.

The next day she put on a brave face for her kids. She fielded phone calls from family and friends.

"Please think about what this could do to his record if he gets charged. Maybe reconsider pressing charges. Are you sure he hit you? Maybe he didn't mean to hit you in the face. He was just drunk. He didn't mean it. He's sorry."

Later that week, the police called her and told her that they were going to drop the charges. There wasn't enough evidence. The pictures didn't show enough proof. No one saw it actually happen.

"It's your word against his." Is what the detective told her. And just like that - it was almost as if it never even happened.

It was MY word. Against HIS. 

The story you just read happened 10 years ago. TEN YEARS. And I can still recall the tiniest details. The smell in the van. The sound of the wind. How his cold hand felt when it hit my face. The sound of my shoes on the snow in the driveway. I cannot write it down or even talk about it without crying.

I was not mistaken. I will not forget. It is something that is BURNED into my brain. It's something that has affected me as a mother, as a wife, as a woman.

I'm sharing this with you because I know what it's like to be doubted. I know what it's like to not be believed. I know what it's like to have your story picked apart and minimized to the point where you start to doubt your own memories. You doubt that what happened to you was an actual experience.  

That is, until one of your kids runs at you for a hug, and instead of reaching out towards them, your brain tells you to flinch, and to put your hands up in front of your face in order to protect yourself.

And then you cry. You cry because your brain isn't able to comprehend the difference between your child coming towards you with love, and a man coming towards you with violence.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And while the issues we've been hearing about lately in the media are largely about assault that is sexual in nature, I think it's important to bring to light that many times when women are assaulted, physically or sexually; the events tend to provoke similar reactions from people.

The victim will say I had it coming. What could I have done differently?

Outsiders will say Did anyone actually see it? Was there proof? Why didn’t she report it sooner? Maybe then they would have had some evidence and maybe then they could have moved forward. Does she know what this will do to his record? Are you sure you want to press charges? Did she provoke him? Was she drinking? Was he?

I urge all of you to ask instead, "Is (the victim) okay?"

And while I do not know what it's like to be sexually assaulted. And I will not pretend to know the pain and turmoil that is associated with that - I can only guess it's an event that does not just vanish from one’s mind unless it is needed to vanish for one’s survival, as is often the case with children and young people. Shame on anyone who thinks Dr. Ford is mistaken. Shame on anyone who is more worried about Judge Kavanaugh's reputation. She's in hiding. While he's been appointed to the Supreme Court. You're worrying about the wrong damn people.

To all the survivors. To all the victims. I believe you. And I stand with you.

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence please reach out to the domestic violence coalition near you. http://www.mcbw.org/dvam 
 


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