She never spoke an unkind word about her husband. She didn’t complain, she didn’t fight, and she never, ever, had an opinion of her own. She was a non-person. A “wife,” – not a woman who just happened to be married to a man. The sixties were wild times, especially for women raised in the forties and fifties.
My mother had four daughters and one son. Her son learned to box, and play football, he was allowed to have fun; her daughters learned to sew, to walk in heels with books on their heads, defer to “the man of the house,” and not speak unless spoken to. I wonder, now, what good it did any of us.
As far as I know, my younger sisters did not suffer any domestic violence. I was the lucky one on that score. (I was also the most disobedient daughter… I wonder if there is a connection there?) Not one of us had a first husband that didn’t, at least verbally, abuse us. We all ended up with divorces, scars on our hearts and serious doubts about ourselves.
My heart aches for the young women we once were, and for our mother, who didn’t know any better. She was exactly what she was brought up to be. Her whole adult life was spent loving a man who wanted to be free. I suppose she thought she was lucky that his upbringing wouldn’t allow him to pursue his other desires. He was, unfortunately for all of us, required by his faith to stay with her and take care of the children he had fathered.
When he figured he had stayed long enough, he just left. Here was a woman who had last worked at a cash register when she was seventeen. To her credit, she did not cave in. She found a job at the public library. She went to work every day. She showed her daughters that she was not going to be taken down on the count of ten. She fought through it. She never wanted to let us see how much it hurt her. In the end, he took the alcoholic road to insanity: and she died with a broken heart.
So, who is the woman who “draws” violence to her? She is strong. She is tireless. She will not give in, or give up, or go back. What victory is there, for the violent man, in overcoming a compliant woman? What joy in besting an adversary who lies down and waits to be overtaken?
When, at long last, I read Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, I understood what had happened. My abuser discovered Willy’s answer to the strong-woman problem and set about straightening his own marriage immediately. I was stupefied. I was totally unprepared. PBS changed his perspective of the world. My baby daughter changed mine. I was no longer a fighter. I was simply a survivor.
Is there any way to save your daughter this grief? Hardly. Especially not if she is a strong woman. That woman who will do anything for her husband, and everything for her child. However, you might be able to better prepare her for the disappointments in love and life: give her space to argue with you, to rail against the furies. Teach her that she is a wonderful, feminine being, and that she has value beyond what any man thinks of her. Let her see your soul. Tell her the truth. Love her the way you would have wanted your mother to love you, if she had been able.
If you are out there, and you are recovering from being abused, please talk to me, talk to someone, talk to anyone. You can have a happy life. You are not any of those names he calls you. Don’t be one of those so very many women who never get away, who don’t believe they can escape. Believe. Do it. Take a chance. What do you really have to lose?
Today, I talked with my therapist about finally overcoming the urge to duck at every loud noise, learning to look people in the eye, and, finally, having some self-worth. She asked pointedly, “How did you do it?” It took me a minute to put the thoughts together. I think I said something like “I just decided to be proud of myself and hold my head up.” When I thought about it later, it truly was a decision. It wasn’t something that just fell into my lap. I had pointedly decided to be the woman I wanted to be, and to not be afraid any more. Nobody was going to do it for me. My daughters needed a better example than what they had seen in their young lives. I decided to be someone they would be proud of.
So, if you have a story to tell, please tell it. It can not hurt you, and it can help other women like you. If every one of us can find that one little speck of courage, to get away, to look for help, and to help one another, we can build a better world. Maybe your story will give someone else the courage to make that decision. For sure, it will help you to tell it.