We are often sure of how we will react to a situation-until we find ourselves actually in it. Prior to a man putting his hands on me I had ’nuff chat. Had you asked what I would to if faced with domestic violence a year prior, I would have defiantly told you that I would never accept it. I would have insisted that I would immediately retaliate against any man who did so, have him arrested and charged and never have any contact with him again. But all those plans and ideas on how to react disappeared as I stood in my boyfriend’s living room at twenty years old, my face still stinging from the force of the backhand slap he’d just delivered.
Winston didn’t seem like the ‘type’ to hit a woman when we started dating five months earlier. At twenty years old I was already quite weary of the lies and mind games that the young men I encountered played in their pursuit of sex with as many women possible. Winston’s straight talk and reliability was a welcome change from my norm. We quickly became exclusive and settled into couplehood. I stopped taking the bus as he was always around to drive me wherever I need to go. I slept over at his place frequently throughout the week. Any resistance that my Mom might have shown to this(I lived at home at the time) quickly ended once they met and she learned that his salary was considerably higher than mine. “You need to hold onto that one”, she advised. “As high maintenance as you are you are going to need to marry a man with money. No one else will be able to deal with you.” My Mom’s views on men and money clashed with my Grandma’s insistence that I always work and be able to take care of myself. But I put that inner conflict put of my mind, not paying heed. Besides I was not aware of Winston’s financial situation when we met, and it had nothing to do with my desire to be with him.
Winston firt hit me on one of those nights I stayed over at his place. We arrived home around 7:30pm. Winston checked his work emails, then went into his bedroom to talk on the phone. I stayed in the living room, flipping channels as I waited for him to finish his conversation. I didn’t think he would be that long. As the night wore on and he remained on the phone I grew irritated. What was the point in me coming over if he’s just going to be preoccupied? I might as well have stayed home, I thought to myself. I knocked on the door and asked if he would be finished soon. He nodded yes so I went back to the living room. When another hour passed I went to ask Winston about his call again. This time he did more than nod.
I saw him put down the phone after telling the person to hold on. I saw him rise from the bed and walk towards me. But what was about to happen had not registered as a possibility in my mind. In those brief seconds I didn’t think he was approaching me to hit me. The strong force of his hand against my face made his intent clear. The loud SMACK of his hand against my cheek.
“I’ll get off the phone when I’m ready”, he yelled at me. I said nothing. I walked out of the room and started bawling. He followed me.
“Quit all that fucking crying and carrying on before I REALLY hurt you!” He went back to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him and continuing his conversation. I cried silently to myself as I tried to process it all, my internal dialogue racing. Different parts of me go at it in my head as I try to decide how to respond:
Rage says who the hell does he think he is? You need to hit him back and defend yourself !
Self-Preservation tells Rage Are you insane? Hitting a man who is already that angry? Do you want that backhand to turn into a beating? Don’t touch him!
Reason tells Self-Preservation and Rage Why are we having this conversation? He HIT YOU. Call the police. Isn’t that the smart thing to do if a man hits you? Let law enforcement handle it!
Irrational Love jumps in Well yeah he hit you but you CANNOT call the cops on him. Think of what will happen to him if he gets arrested. You don’t do that to the man you love! And whose to say it wasn’t just a one time thing? You’re overreacting.
My inner child says: Just call Mom, she always knows what to do. She’ll help you.
Memory says: You sure about that? Remember when you were seven years old and Aunty Tee called, begging to come down to Cali and stay with us to get away from the guy who was beating her? Remember how Mom told Aunty she was weak and stupid for ‘letting’ that man beat her? Remember how she told Aunty NO, that she just needed to be stronger ? You know what she thinks about women who get hit by men. You can’t call her. You can’t even tell her because she’ll be ashamed of you.
And finally Insecurity, Doubt and Low Self-Esteem put in their two cents: You aren’t going to do anything because you DESERVED IT. Had you just let him talk he wouldn’t have been forced to backhand you to begin with. Isn’t he good most of the time? He’s still better than the other losers you stupidly devoted yourself to! It was just one slap. Get over it.
The last voice won the debate, and denial set in. When Winston finally came out of the bedroom he acted like nothing happened. He didn’t apologize and I didn’t ask him to. It wasn’t violence; it was just one misunderstanding that I caused. But there would be more.
Winston would later slap me across the face with a plastic hanger. Knowing I was afraid of flames he’d take a lighter and wave it inches from my face, chuckling at my fear. The most chilling incident was when he forced me to strip at knifepoint, tied me to the bed and passed a knife over my body, threatening to cut and/or slice off various parts. To Winston it was a funny game. To me it was terrifying. But even in my fear I didn’t call it domestic violence. I didn’t see myself as a victim and I didn’t admit I was in an abusive relationship. Winston never left bruises on me and he didn’t hurt me all the time. No matter how much he scared me at times I told myself that he still wasn’t as bad as what I witnessed from 1985-1992 in my family…