An old friend from my university days called me the other day just to catch up. It was terrific to talk about the good old days and what each of us had gotten up to in the gazillion years since we last talked.
She was tough as leather back then and a real drama queen so I expected to hear her tell me she’s been on stage all her life but no, that wasn’t it at all. After we graduated and parted ways, she married her high school sweetheart and immediately began having babies. That’s not such a bad life if that’s the life you want.
Sharon didn’t want that life. She got pregnant by a man she adored and that was that – her life was set for the next 18-20 years. If that was all the story, her life wouldn’t have been much different from the lives of many of the women in our class.
Her story differed because her high school sweetheart didn’t turn out to be so sweet and he didn’t have much of a heart at all. There was emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse that went on for years. “I didn’t know how to stop it,” she told me. “He kept telling me I vowed obedience in our wedding vows and he was going to keep me to that promise,” she said.
As I heard it I kept thinking, “Sharon? This is Sharon telling me this?” As young women everywhere we talked about her behind her back and called her ‘ball buster’ because she didn’t take crap from anyone.
I asked how it started and her experience fit in every textbook on domestic abuse out there. He got rough, promised it would never happen again and little by little he whittled away at her self confidence and self esteem until everything he did was good and right and was done because she deserved it. How sad.
So many would say she just should have left but because this sort of abuse comes on slowly and over a long time, it’s really tough to tell who’s right because you BELIEVE what he’s saying. You ARE worthless and incompetent and undesirable. I know. I lived with something a bit similar but not in any way that serious. I lost my sparkle but she nearly lost her son.
When her youngest was 17, she finally mustered up the courage and energy to leave him and that was the beginning of the real tragedy. He told her (as most bullies do) that if he couldn’t have her nobody could and he’d laugh when she crawled back to him on bended knees.
She didn’t go back. She got a job as a teacher (she hadn’t worked in years because her husband “wanted her all to himself because he loved her so much.”) and got a new apartment and was starting to get some confidence back.
“Then one day he called me and said that either I come to my senses and remarry him or I would force him to do something terrible and I told him I wasn’t going back.”
What happened next is too awful to comprehend. Sharon’s husband went to a fast food joint where his son worked and as the boy came off his shift and was walking to his car, his father shot him. Thankfully, he didn’t die but can you imagine how his mother felt? Sharon said it was all her fault. If she’d gone back as she was told to, her son wouldn’t have been in the hospital for 6 weeks and wouldn’t be scarred for life.
Luckily for both she and her son, they found a great counsellor who’s helped them both through this. The ex is in jail, they moved to a different state and her son finished university and now has a great job and a family of his own.
Why am I telling you this? Sharon told me that not one person who knew about what was going on at her house ever said, “Look, I know how tough things are for you and if you ever want to get away, I’ll be there for you.” Maybe that would have helped and maybe it wouldn’t but I know if I ever meet anyone in that sort of situation, I’m going to say those words.