Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why She Stayed

What I’m about to share is a part of my story, a part of my life and is only told from my perspective. One thing I’ve learned is there is always two sides to a story and so I do not pretend to know everything that took place to lead to this ending.

I’m not really into sports. Like, I know the fundamentals but I don’t make it a point to watch them on television so any kind of sports commentary is quickly skimmed over and placed in the waste receptacle in the back of my brain. After all, I have to make room for training plans and dinner ideas for a 3 year old and which shoes to buy to annoy my husband. You know, important things.

So, when Ray Rice, a football player for the Baltimore Ravens, was indicted for aggravated assault towards his fiancé (now wife) in March of this year – I didn’t hear about it. I simply don’t recall anything about it on the news – now, that could be because I’m sports deaf or it could be because it just wasn’t that big of a deal to the news media because he’s you know, a famous football player and his fiancé was not.

But now it has become a big deal - because a video of the assault has surfaced. You can view it by clicking here. If you haven’t seen it, or really aren’t interested, Ray punches her (Janay) in the face hard enough to knock her unconscious and drags her body out of the elevator (security cameras caught this). It’s domestic violence. Straight-up.

I’ve talked a bit about my mother in past posts, she is an amazing person whose positive outlook on life would never let you know that she was a victim of domestic violence. Sure, you could probably tell by the bruises, the black eyes, the scratch marks if you wanted to see those things but most people didn’t. But I saw them, I saw them every day of the week – I dreaded the weekends (when things were more likely to escalate) growing up and I did everything I could to never be home. I was really fortunate to have a couple of great friends with wonderful parents who did their best to protect me and my siblings, but they could only do so much.

I was 9 the first time I saw him hit her. I did what I was taught in school – I called 911. She cried for me not too because it would make it worse. I never thought it could be worse than that. It was explained to me that sometimes adults fight – she was my mom and why would she lie to me, so I just said okay. This was in the early stages of their relationship, we lived close to our family, and these “occurrences” were very spaced out. To a 9 year old who knows very little about the world, I took what my mother and he said and tucked it away. Sometimes adults fight. Big deal.

But then we moved. We moved to a city where all of his family lived and none of ours did – and things got worse. The violence became not only more frequent but more vicious , the blood splatter across the carpet became increasingly difficult to clean and the more I ventured out and witnessed my friends’ parents relationship I became more and more ashamed of my home life.  I didn’t want any of my friends to know what was happening, so I would lie and say I wasn’t allowed to have sleepovers. I never knew when a fight was coming and couldn’t risk it. That was, until my mom promised me for my 13th birthday she would make sure he wasn’t around so I could have one of those coveted middle school sleepovers I had only every participated in but never hosted.

I invited friends, we rented scary movies, and holed up in my living room – I felt normal and happy. We had all went bowling earlier and hopped up on Surge and cake. But then he came home. And he was drunk. And she was insistent he leave (full disclosure, she too had been drinking) because she had promised me he wouldn’t be around. He got mad, lashed out and I was standing there screaming at them to stop.

They didn’t. They never stopped. I don’t know why I thought this night would be any different.

He drug her by the hair into the kitchen and one of my friends called the police while I begged them all not to say anything to anyone. I tried to play it cool but that’s really kind of hard when the police officer comes to your front door and knows you by name - not because someone told him but because he had been there enough times to remember. And then, you know, you have to sit in his police cruiser filling out a police report of what happened on your 13th birthday while your friends called their parents to come pick them up.

At school on Monday, I vividly remember sitting in the library at a table for four and some girl I didn’t really know leaned over and said, “So, your dad beats your mom”. I quickly cleared up the fact that he was not my dad but then what else do you say to that other than, “Yes, it happened.” And then silently think to yourself as you watch the look of pity and disgust come across someone else’s face and think, “Wow, my mom is one of those women.”

I hated that she thought she wasn’t more, I hated that she allowed this to take place in front of us – that we weren’t enough for her to leave, but mostly I just hated. I can’t tell you the number of times I researched safe homes, was offered a place to stay for all of us, and then told my mom we could do this, we could get away. She would dismiss it with a wave of her hand as if to say, “Silly girl. You don’t know.”

She was right, I didn’t know. I had no idea what she thought he was capable of but there was one time she answered. They just had a fight, her face was swollen but no blood this time – although, I could tell her cheek would be bruised in the morning – she sat next to me on the bed and apologized. I was 11.

She apologized for screaming my name while he hit her, she apologized for the fact that he ripped the phone out of the wall so I couldn’t call the police to help, she apologized for him and as we went through what was now a routine apology, I asked again - “Mom, why don’t we leave?”

And she turned her head slowly, looked me straight into my eyes and said, “Because he will kill me.”

And two years later, if he hadn’t been too drunk/high to take the gun off of safety – she would have. Instead, she shot him. Years of abuse and she was finally free of him. It cost her children, it cost her freedom, it cost her name – but nearly 5 years later she was finally released from prison after being charged with manslaughter.

I don’t know exactly what happened that night. We were lucky enough to be visiting with family in Texas when the phone call came in that Mom was in jail and he was dead. I’ve never pushed Mom to explain in detail one of the most terrifying nights of her life, although she has shared bits of it over the years with me. But there’s one thing I do know – she stayed with him because she was scared for her life.

She wasn’t strong enough – and a lot of that has to do with her own childhood. Things I learned later on as an adult. Things I won’t share because those are not part of my experience. But they are things that help me piece together why I wasn’t enough for her to leave. On why it’s not as easy as just getting up and going when it comes to domestic abuse (verbal or non-verbal). There is so much more to it than anyone can know.

No one, man or woman, deserves to be abused. I’ve shared with you one story of many I have growing up witnessing domestic violence – and there were times when my mom fought back. He would be the one to wake up with a bruised eye or swollen lip.

So, Ray Rice beat his fiancé. She’s now his wife. People can’t understand why she’d choose to be with him after that and so they make assumptions.

She’s only with him because he’s rich.
She must be really stupid.
If she’s sticking around, she deserves it.

I can’t pretend to know what their relationship dynamic looks like, I just have my own perspective into this world – and having a little empathy/sympathy can go a long way in helping people find their way. Whether that way is to overcoming anger issues by counseling (which they have been involved in & I hope it works for them) or whether that way is packing it up and leaving – just be a human being and acknowledge each other for what you are and for what you hope to be – someone who is capable, who is beautiful, who is strong. 1619445_776791332331471_1851068138_n