de facto – adverb, adjective. actually existing, especially when without lawful authority
I am this; the de facto expert that I never wanted to be.
Last week, three women sought my help. I’m not really sure why. I don’t know if they just recognize it in me. Or if the news of my writing and eventual documentary have begun to circulate. But, I do know that each and every one of them has that wide-eyed look that I have too often seen in the mirror. It is as if they have just witnessed the death of a loved one when what has actually died is their sense of safety in this world and their belief that ‘it’ would never happen to them.
The first. When this woman returns her children to her soon-to-be-ex-husband at the former marital residence she is greeted at the end of her 300 yard driveway with large obstacles. They take varied shapes. Like his pickup truck with loaded gun rack parked across the entrance. Or the entire garden that she invested in for 10 years dug up by backhoe and lying in heap too big to circumvent. Or large electrical spools the size of her sedan smattered with spray painted slurs like “cunt” on them for both she and her children to see. In all cases they are too heavy for her to move, and certainly too heavy for her to forget. She simply parks her car, shrugs at her children searching the corners of her mind for something to explain any of this and then begins the long and dangerous trek to the house with the kids and their gear. She never knows what might be waiting for her on the far end of that walk.
The second. She confessed to one person that her husband hurt her. But, because he was quick to take her to the hospital this time and wouldn’t leave her side for a minute, she told the doctors that she fell down six stairs onto a carpeted landing. Her injuries? Bilateral broken arms. A broken nose. A broken jaw and missing teeth. Oh, and a broken neck. Oddly, not a single abrasion exists form that carpet. And the blood stains still sit on the wall at the far side of that landing and in the upstairs bathroom. Nothing in between. The police were never called to investigate this “crime” and never will be unless she finds the courage to speak. And nobody, save those of us who see those stains or have worn them for years will ever know just how deep they go. The doctors sent her home with her abuser and she sleeps with one eye open in terrified silence convinced that he will smother her in her sleep. Nobody can help her until she finds her voice; and she cannot find that voice until she feels safe.
The third. A young woman who has been struggling these last six months. She was sexually assaulted in a public bathroom at work by a man she was just beginning to date. He forced her to have oral sex despite her pleas. There are no cameras in the bathroom so she cannot prove it happened. She left the job to start over somewhere new; maybe even a step backward. Anything to get away.
In all of these cases, the lives of the men do not change. They are not held accountable. They are not harmed for their choices. They do not feel threatened or unsafe. They just keep moving forward in their everyday lives ~ satisfied in one way or the other ~ possibly choosing their next victim.
But the women? They live in fear and silence but are expected to carry on as if nothing happened. Carpools. Dinner. Work and meetings. Bills. Proms and graduations. Life. Maybe even sex with the man who just devastated her body and her soul in the first place. And nobody knows what that is like but those who have been there.
Sometimes what hurts more than the assault and the physical harm caused; more than the fear or anxiety; more than the fatigue and struggle of putting your pants on to face another day; is the disbelief at the total lack of interest the general public or often the people in their immediate lives have for this damage. It’s shocking and diminishing. It’s unexplainable. And it’s really hard to forget.
Someday, if these others are unlucky enough, their mother, sister, neighbor, daughter, cousin, colleague, or best friend may meet a man such as this. Then….maybe then…they will understand it differently and do something.
resolute – adverb, adjective. firmly determined, set in purpose
I am even more this.
I will exercise my courage. I will write. I will speak. I will work on my film. I will give these women inspiration until they have laid their hands on the last kernel of themselves that still exists despite the shattering…and join me. Until that day I will simply embrace them and their struggle and give them a voice in their time of silence and disbelief.
And with that I’m about to call the fourth who filed for an Order of Protection.
It’s a start; not just for her but for all of us.