Note from the writer: Statistics on violence against women, specifically domestic violence, pack a powerful punch. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women in this country is abused. Native women especially suffer domestic violence at a “disproportionately higher rate,” the coalition says.
Perhaps more disturbing than the numbers we know is that most domestic violence incidents are never reported. Recent stories about endemic abuse in the National Football League are testament to this. But like the women in the NFL who spoke to The New York Times, I have decided it’s time to set aside shame and speak up. After 15 years, I’m finally ready to share my story.
They say you always remember your first. And anyone who has been a victim of domestic violence knows exactly what I am talking about.
How could you ever forget that first moment when the man you love turns on you? That precise and sudden shift in a relationship when the person who you have trusted with your life and your heart betrays you with his uncontrolled rage.
Then again, it’s not always so obvious when you have been tethered to a beast. It wasn’t for me, anyway.
When I was in my 20s, I landed an internship at an ad agency in Los Angeles. I had plans—big, Mary-Tyler-Moore-tossing-her-beret-in-the-air plans. I’d work the internship, go to graduate school to study advertising and move to Mexico where, applying my newfound marketing brilliance, I’d save the country from abject poverty with a few catchy jingles and snappy headlines. Realistic or not, the plan never included falling in love.
But that I did.
He was an account executive in the fast-food industry and was smitten from the moment he saw me, he later confessed. That summer we were inseparable. I was new to Southern California and he treated me to a first-class, grand tour, mostly on the back of his motorcycle. On weekends, we explored Solvang, Malibu, Disneyland, Hollywood, Big Bear and San Diego. It was a season of discovery, and I had found the man of my dreams.
A few months after we met, my car needed a new battery, and my wonderful, fun-loving boyfriend volunteered for the job. “Is he the perfect guy, or what?” I remember cooing like a schoolgirl.
“Goddamnit!” He threw the offending wrench across the underground parking garage and it broke against the cement wall.
I was stunned. Never before had I seen a man go from calm to ballistic so quickly. It was frightening and impressive, all at once: Do you have any idea how hard it is to break a wrench? I think they built the Pentagon out of the same metal.
“Babe . . . you broke that wrench.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“What?! That’s all you care about is that stupid WRENCH?” he screamed back. “You are such a BITCH!”
Have you ever wished you could relive just one moment in your life, convinced that if you could play it out differently, you wouldn’t have taken so many wrong turns? That was my moment—the first “Bitch!” he spewed at me.
Reds of every variation were going off in my head—red flags, flashing warning lights, exit signs, the “woo-woo” sound of emergency vehicles. My head said to flee, but my heart was reluctant to pull out.
It was just this once, I convinced myself. Besides, he was probably just frustrated with the car repair. He’s normally a really great guy. Give him a break, I thought.
And so this dysfunctional dance between us began, though I did not quite know it at the time.
Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.
Indian Country Today Media Network wants to hear your stories, too. We are starting a hashtag campaign on Twitter to draw out Native responses to the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft campaigns that ran on CNN back in September. Go to Twitter to share your own stories at #WhyThisNativeStayed and #WhyThisNativeLeft.