At some point, an abuse victim eventually has an epiphany. That specific moment when the light finally goes on and she realizes that things will never get better and that she simply cannot tolerate the violence and angry outbursts any longer.
At least, I hope that realization happens for everyone.
The old adage that you should stay together for the kids, no matter what, never resonated with me. It was quite the opposite. I had my husband arrested because of my children. As a woman raising two young girls who would be women themselves someday, I had to teach my daughters that you don’t tolerate any kind of abuse from a man. Period.
I didn’t want them to think this dysfunctional behavior was normal because they saw their mother put up with it, and eventually fall into doomed relationships with men just like their father. They deserved something more joyful. And so did I.
In her experience working with abused women on the Navajo reservation, Gloria Champion said that protecting children was the greatest motivation for these domestic violence victims to come out of the shadows.
“Their children would be taken away from them by social services because the situation at home was too violent,” said the former executive director of Home for Women and Children. “It was the last straw, and it gave them the courage to come forward. We worked with a lot of women to try to get their kids back.”
In my stormy 13-year relationship, which I affectionately refer to as “Dances with Wolves,” I perfected a clumsy waltz with a man who became my husband: He would overreact about something trivial, I’d react to his overreaction, and then it would escalate to verbal abuse, withdrawal and eventually denial thinly disguised as forgiveness. And if I didn’t forgive him soon enough, he would call me a “fucking bitch” and accuse me of being unforgiving. Step, two, three, four …
After we got married, our fights became more frequent. We even fought on our honeymoon in Maui on the twisting, winding road to Hana. If ever there was a metaphor for our life together, that frightening, edge-of-the-cliff passage was it. In fact, we would engage in arguments of epic proportion on every vacation.
At his 15-year reunion, he tried to push me out of a slow-moving car because he didn’t like the “tone” in my voice. At the Statue of Liberty, I stared in such awe at this monument I was seeing for the first time that I didn’t hear a question he had asked me. He thrust his face inches from mine, screaming and spitting at me in front of shocked, passing tourists: “YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!” I was humiliated. While camping, he threw dog food on me when I was pregnant and called me a “cunt” because we disagreed over how to cook a hot dog.
Honestly, being with this passive/aggressive man was like living with a grenade: It seemed pretty harmless just sitting there, but I never knew when it was going to explode in my face.
Finally, my epiphany: I had put my 2-year-old down for a nap. I still used a baby monitor so I wouldn’t have to run up the stairs to check on her. She could barely talk, and I loved listening to her babble before she fell asleep.
“Da-da-da . . . Fucking bitch, fucking bitch, fucking bitch.” What?? I turned the monitor up higher. “Fuckingbitchfuckingbitch.” Sadly, my sweet little girl, who could barely say three words, was lulling herself to sleep with those familiar, destructive words she had heard so many times come out of the father she adored.
I not only finally saw the light. I saw the aurora borealis.
I had always told my spouse, “If I ever leave you, it will be because I heard ‘fucking bitch’ one too many times.” I just never imagined that what would put me over the edge would be hearing it from my toddler.
Let’s keep the conversation going about domestic violence. We invite you to share your story of abuse with us on Twitter at #WhyThisNativeStayed and #WhyThisNativeLeft.
Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.