October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Ms. Blog will be publishing a series of posts detailing the impact of domestic violence, including personal essays and more, throughout the month.
The following is excerpted from Lion Tamer, a memoir in progress.
I stand by my little studio stove and dial the phone. “Jill. I have a question.” I hold my breath. I’ve never told my friend this.
“Arnold’s got mail for me. But I’m scared to get it—scared I’ll go back to him. See, he raged at me in his truck, with a hammer between us. I know—I’ve seen too many movies. But he also pushed me so hard I fell on the bed, but maybe I’m sensitive.”
“Wasn’t there a guy that beat you up on a ranch?”
“It was just two black eyes. And an egg-sized lump on my forehead.”
“Yeah,” Jill says.
“But that was 15 years ago.”
“Everyone likes Arnold,” I say.
“I noticed that.”
Why doesn’t she say what she’s thinking?
“My mind is showing me the good times. I feel a pull to go back to him.” I stare at the floor.
“There’s a group you should go to.”
“For battered women,” she says.
“I’m not battered.” I look out the window, at the clouds, and feel far away.
“Do what you want, but I think you should go.”
I hate asking for help, but she’s right. “How do I find it?”
“Council office. Seven p.m. Tuesdays. You know, this is a sacred step, Marie. I’d take my God with me.”
I curl up on my bed, and feel better having told someone—so, maybe I don’t need that group.
But now my stomach churns.
Tuesday. Seven p.m. I don’t belong here. Awfully small room. Four other women. They have great makeup and done-up hair—they probably got strangled. Well, the questionnaire said, “Have you ever been hit, pushed,” etc. So. I qualify. Barely, though.
Here comes an old woman with pinned-up white hair, thick makeup, pink T-shirt and baby blue cover-alls. I like her. “I’m Dixie. I’m the facilitator.” Dixie takes the last chair in our little huddle. “How about everybody say your first name.”
“So, Marie, you’re new, would you like to tell us about yourself?”
Dixie’s tone is not quite as gentle as she looks. Can’t she see I’m fragile? She can probably tell I don’t belong here. Shit. Tears well up. These people can’t help.
“I don’t know why I’m crying. Nothing’s happened.”
“Your questionnaire said you’re scared.” Dixie’s nicer now.
I nod. Damn. Just because someone’s nice, I cry hard—so now I can’t talk. I breathe all the way out and look Dixie in the eye.
“I don’t know why I’m scared.” I just tell them everything, real quick, so the people who really need help can talk.
“He pushed you. That’s just the start,” says Rose. She’s got eyeliner like black swords. “You know that, because you’ve already been beat up. Did he push you first, the one that beat you up?”
I think about that. “He did. He cracked my head on the ground, in a little park, come to think of it.” I had forgotten all about that. How could I forget that?
“See? It don’t matter it was a long time ago,” Rose goes on. “You’re in denial. You need to look at the truth.”
Wow. She knows me.
I look to Dixie, but Dixie just raises her eyebrows. I nod, not mad, just confused. They’re right. But I thought there would be some explanation.
They’re quiet. There is no complicated psychological explanation to help me.
I have to be honest. That’s it.
“This one’s dangerous,” Tiny says. “And that’s the truth.”
That’s the truth. Hold on to that.
“I don’t have to worry, mine’s in prison,” says Donna—she’s not more than 18.
“But he’s getting out in nine months,” says Tiny.
“And I’ll be long gone.” Donna smiles.
“She’s moving home to Texas,” says Rose.
Everyone applauds. I join in. A weight lifts off me.
The others take turns saying positive things they’re doing for themselves.
The hour is up.
“This was a good group. Any questions?” Dixie asks.
“I have one. What should I do?” Nobody told me what to do about my problem.
“Take care of yourself,” says Dixie. “Most of us have to work at that. What’s some small thing you can do tonight to nurture yourself?”
That’s not what I meant. “I mean should I call him and explain anything? Or should I just go get my mail?”
“That’s up to you.”
That’s no help.
“What works for us, Marie, is taking baby steps that are self-nurturing. What’s something you’d like to do for yourself?”
Dixie looks like candy, but she’s tough.
Nurture. “Make hot chocolate?” I say.
“Sounds like something you’d really like.”
Well, if I get this assignment right, maybe next week they’ll help me figure things out.
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