A Headbutt Hits Home
This past week, the headbutt-heard-round-the-world between Evelyn Lozada and Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson has the subject of domestic violence all over the internet and in everyone’s conversations. Twitter, Facebook, blogs – every place you look, folks are weighing in. Frankly, some of the rhetoric is disgusting.
Domestic violence, whether it happens to a reality personality or to your mother, is NOT funny. It’s just not. And there’s no such thing as a stereotypical victim. Any woman can be the face of domestic violence.
I’m going to tell a story that only a few people nearest to me know. And even they may not know all the details. I’m telling the story in the hopes that it will change the way even one person views their life, or maybe the life of someone they love. Keeping silent does not help anyone. Speaking about it might help someone.
When I was 19, I committed the classic mistake: I moved out of my mother’s home and in with a boyfriend.
The first time he beat me, I didn’t see it coming. Literally. I had been stranded on a NJ highway the night before. My car broke down at around 4am, and when “Marcus” didn’t answer my pages to his beeper (yeah y’all, this was THOSE days…), I called a male coworker who lived nearby to come get me. He got me and brought me to my home. In that timeframe, “Marcus” had returned to our small basement apartment from a night out of cheating on me, only to find me not there at 6am. When we arrived, he was furious, but quietly so. He shook my friend’s hand and thanked him for the assistance.
“Marcus” and I went inside, him a few steps ahead of me. He stood behind the door as I passed, as if to close it, and as I walked through it, he backhanded me across the face. My head swung into my shoulder and I fell back against the wall from the force of the blow. Stunned, and tasting blood, I took no more than three steps toward the bedroom, stammering “…but baby wait! It’s not what you think!”. The next blow to my face knocked me to the lightly carpeted cement floor. My nose and mouth were now both bleeding. I tried to stand. From across the room, he hurled a small statue at me – hitting me square in the right kneecap. I fell flat to my face in excruciating pain. As I cried and begged him to stop, he walked silently to me and kicked my right side. The blow from his booted foot fractured my lowest right rib. I curled into a ball on the bedroom floor as he walked away, calling me a slut and a whore, and cried myself to sleep. Right there. Bloody, snot, tears, and all.
Some hours later, he woke me with a warm washcloth, wiping the dried blood and mucus from my face. He smiled and spoke softly and warmly as he said “Come…I’ve run a warm shower. Let’s get you cleaned up.” “Marcus” helped me stand, and I shakily walked to our small standup shower bathroom. I undressed and stood in the shower. The warm water felt good – I was already getting sore – and my side throbbed. A minute later, he was nude beside me…trying to force intimacy between us, groping my body and kissing my cheek. I cried and softly begged him not to touch me. He listened only when he realized that being in a standup shower required my cooperation to make the mechanics of intercourse work. No matter how he moved me, it wasn’t working. He left the shower.
Later, he wrapped my side in athletic bandages, convincing me that it was “just sore…a trip to ER wouldn’t help…it’ll get better on its own. We’ll go in a few days if it’s not better”. So I didn’t go to the hospital. (Years later, a trip to my doctor would reveal an old fracture, and I knew instantly how I got it. From time to time, I have to take anti-inflammatories, and occasionally, if the angle and rainy weather are right, I can move part of that rib a little further than I can move the left side.)
I hadn’t seen the ways he was passive aggressively manipulating me, the ways he preyed on my emotions, and slowly created conflicts between me and my family and friends. Or, more likely, I chose to ignore those things and continue making excuses. “They don’t understand him”, “so-and-so just doesn’t like him”, “he’s not like that,”…etc etc. Classic battered woman’s syndrome.
Over the years since, I heard my own foolishness spewed back at me, from other women’s mouths, …and I realize how hard it was for my mother and 2 younger sisters to witness these things take place. They hurt too, all the while listening to my 101 tales of falling into a bookcase. And all they could do was wait for me to be strong enough to stop it.
One day, about a year after the beating described above, after many more smaller beatings, he was away on a tour of Europe. I packed everything I could carry in my knapsack and left. I took only what I really needed. I went to my mother’s house…and she knew I was home. When he returned to find my favourite things missing, he called to ask when my “visit” at my mother’s would end. Surely, he reasoned, I had only gone there to quell the loneliness two weeks of him being on the road created. I never went back. And I never missed him. I realized that I had really missed ME.
I shook my head clear in my new found freedom. What had I been trying to save with all my lies and excuses? His dignity? My own face? Yes on both counts, in some twisted logical way. I was saving his dignity with my lies, as his actions were stealing my own and telling the truth. I was saving my face in front of people with excuses, even as he marred it with black eyes and bruises. I spent the last year of our relationship that way. Crazy, right? A lot of women do it though. It makes sense at the time….and this is what battered women’s syndrome is about. The mindfuck that takes place is a powerful one, kids.
Be gentle in your comments on this post. While many of you may want to leave me a “You go girl! Women who stand for abuse are blah blah blah” encouraging remark, someone who doesn’t have the courage to tell her story might lose my message. It’s hard to understand the big picture when you’re in the center of it…and harder to find your way out of it.
So while you’re out there on these world wide interwebs, encouraging your cousin down at the welfare to continue making these “Ev and Ocho” memes and creating funny Twitter parody accounts, consider that people you know might not find them funny, for very personal reasons.
Count me among them. And keep your hands to yourself, ladies and gentlemen.
**Writer’s note: Despite the title, no one was headbutted in the writing of this post. I have never been headbutted, by a football player or otherwise. ::Kanye West voice:: “The only thing I wish / I wish a nigga wouuuuld…”