The following story was written by a supporter of Steps to End Domestic Violence. Please note potential triggers in this piece.
Every nine seconds a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten. I wasn’t going to wait another nine to get out of that house. 69% of family violence against a son or daughter takes place at the victim’s home. Like the rest of the 40% of family violence victims that don’t report the incident to the police, I instead arranged to stay at my boyfriend’s parents’ house for a few days to get out of dodge.
“Try to have a level-headed conversation with your mom. Explain that your house isn't a safe place anymore and that you need to spend some time away for everyone to cool off. I’ll meet you at the end of your driveway in fifteen minutes.” My father had taken my phone, computer, and power (having pulled the breaker to my room), so we were relying on one short phone call to make it all work smoothly. Of course it didn’t.
I haphazardly packed a bag for the next few days, went downstairs at 4pm for the first time since the night before, and walked into my mother’s office. I knew it was the perfect time - a contractor was inspecting the outside of the house with my father - there couldn’t be a scene. “Mum, I’m leaving the house for a few days. It isn’t safe -” “NO!” she screamed. “You stay right there, you aren’t walking out this door.” My fight or flight instinct revved, and I was out the door before she could stand up. She clawed at my arms, leaving red welts and spilling my toothbrush onto the tiled foyer floor that I’d hit just as hard the night before. I felt ungainly, childish, as I ran to the end of the driveway and stopped, panicked, hoping that at any minute John’s black four-runner would come over the top of the hill. But with a growing sense of dread I knew he wasn’t coming. Not for another ten-odd minutes, because we had allowed for a level-headed conversation.
“Liam! Liam!” my mother screamed, and I wasn’t waiting around for him to come around the corner of the barn. I bolted down the street, no idea where I was going. There he was, right behind me, asking in a sickly sweet fatherly voice, “Where are you going hun?”. Where was I going? I started pacing at the entrance to the state forest, waiting in desperation for that car. “I’m leaving, I can’t be here, it’s not safe…” The words gushed out like a mental patient’s rant. I was crying, I was shaking, I was so confused. “Why don’t you come home?” Why the fuck do you think I’m not coming home? I was dead-armed, aching, welted, scared.
I wasn’t thinking. “Why would you run into the woods of all places?” John asked. I suppose it was because the woods have always been a safe place to me, full of friends and beauty. I jogged pitifully down the path, shaking and screaming and telling him to stay back. All those packs of cigarettes made it slow going. He skipped behind me. When I ran, he ran, and when I walked, he walked. Taunting me with memories of better times, he crooned: “Come on, let’s make some tea and talk about it. Where are you going? Hun, you know there are repercussions when you stay out late”. I knew it was to keep me quiet. I felt like a wailing child hurt by another on the playground, being begged and shushed in the bully’s nervous anticipation of the arrival of a teacher.
It was the longest twenty minutes of my life. After a time, he grew tired of his ruse and got angry. He told me that John was destined for jail, and that perhaps a little ass rape would “straighten him out”. He sang of my accomplishments, rewrote parts of my childhood into an idyllic Norman Rockwell story, chastised me for coming home late. Never once did he mention slamming my head against the wall, wrenching my arm and throwing me to the floor, banging me off the walls all the way up to my bedroom like a sick game of Pong. He still hasn’t, and neither has my mother, who witnessed it all.
Just as we were approaching the end of the forest, a man was jogging into it, visibly perplexed by my now hoarse screams. My head pounded, my lungs seized. “Please help me” I begged, swerving to intercept his path. Why wasn’t he stopping? “Is this your father?” “Yes and he assaulted me, please help!” “Hey Liam! Kids…” and, shaking his head, he jogged on. I’ve never felt so alone. It was worse than the series of nightmares I used to have that Nazis were chasing me across an endless snow-covered field.
As I ran clear into the yard of the house across the street, my mind suddenly alerted me that I was trespassing - as if it mattered. I was still screaming the whole way, and a woman walked out of the horse barn and told me to get inside. She then called the police as I explained to her who was standing awkwardly at the entrance to the woods across the street. In a quiet moment of childlike comfort, I stroked the nose of a brilliantly white horse and cried harder than I had at any other time during the initial and subsequent events.
I watched my father be handcuffed and pushed down into a cruiser, just like on COPS, and then I too got into a cruiser and was whisked away to John’s, where his mother buried my face in her chest for the onslaught of tears, standing in the rain on his back porch. When the officer told her I had been a victim of domestic assault, all she said was “I’m not the least bit surprised”. She always knew, and I never knew she knew until that moment. Not letting on that she knew was the nicest thing she could have done for those four years.
I saw my mother in the fifteen-minute window I had to collect my life’s possessions from the house, throwing everything out the third story window as if flames were engulfing the building. Everything that made it out is in my dorm room now, and it’s all I have. After she saw me, she called to break down crying and promise to still pay for college because I “deserve that experience”. Knowing my mother, it was to preserve her upper-middle-class status within her book group.
The following month was chaos. A detective took photographs of my injuries. I took out a restraining order against my father. I filed in small claims court to retrieve the money from my savings account. John’s parents paid for a lawyer and a new toothbrush. And then, it all died down. I was a college freshman, just like everyone else, except I was homeless.
60% of domestic violence victims show signs of depression, and suicide rates greatly increase after such incidents. I may have to drop out of school to avoid mooching off friends or returning home and having to apologize for the financial strain my involving the police created for my family. That was the incident that made me an adult, and being an adult sure is depressing.
The author of this story has since completed college and graduate school, and works as a teacher and mentor to young women in her field.