I have a friend. Let’s call her … Simone. As a girl she felt abandoned by her absentee dad and stifled and ignored by her mom. But she dreamed of getting married and having kids, the “white picket fence” picture. In fact, there was this big white house with black shutters on the corner of her street and every time we drove past it she’d point to it and say someday that would be her house.
Then one day Simone met a boy at her church, let’s call him Joe. Joe was the same age as her (about 10 at the time) and he seemed to like her. They ended up in the same social circle – socializing in Sunday School, choir, service, and any other church related events. One warm Sunday afternoon just as church was letting out, the two of them ran out the double doors into the parking lot. To anyone watching it would seem like they were playing a game. Tag or something like that. Simone darted this way and that, running in a semi-circle over the gravel of the church parking lot. She wasn’t nearly fast enough to evade him and when he caught up to her his fist pounded into the middle of her back. Not once. Not twice. I honestly lost count. Yes, I saw it happen with my own eyes. I screamed for help, screamed for him to leave her alone. Joe’s father stepped out of the church, watching the scene from his place next to me. He didn’t move. He didn’t speak. He just watched.
Eight years later Joe’s father dies. Months pass and he’s overcome with grief. Both he and Simone are now high school seniors. And dating. Seriously dating. They went to prom together. Joe’s mom actually made her prom dress. And one night after she had dinner with his family or a date night with him, he took her up to his bedroom. They argued. Joe withdrew a knife and threatened her with it. Poked her with it (her words, not mine). Then he traded the knife for a big wooden block which he began to hit her with. Later, she would explain his behavior saying that he was just upset about his dad passing away.
Three years pass and just before beginning their last year of college, Simone breaks up with Joe. She dates two other guys – both of which she deems too nice (again, her words not mine). And by the time school starts again, she and Joe are engaged. They marry in secret because by now everyone in her family knows about the knife-poking incident and she knows they would not approve. Before spring, the secret is out and Simone’s mother insists that married women do not live with their mothers, they live with their husbands. So, Simone and Joe get a small apartment together.
To date they’ve been married for 8 years. Due to a terminal illness, Simone is not able to work. Joe is the sole provider and she is oh-so-very grateful for that. She knows that if she didn’t have him she wouldn’t be able to survive. Yes, he works from seven in the morning until ten or eleven at night but that’s normal for high school coaches. And sure, he gripes that they never have enough sex but that’s normal for most men. He never goes to any of her doctor’s appointments but she doesn’t complain. Threatens to throw her out of the house. Pushes her … and god knows what else. But he loves her. And she loves him. He’s fun and smart (her words not mine).
She recently took a huge step and decided to divorce him. She drew up papers and got a restraining order against him but dropped everything after two weeks. It was just too hard not being able to call him (her words, not mine). And then he apologized. Said that he was hurt too. By what she’d done. Trying to leave him and serving him with a restraining order and all … it hurt his feelings. So, they are working it out. Going to therapy. Because he loves her and she loves him. And she believes that he can change.
If you know someone like Simone, here’s what you can do:
- Listen without judgment.
- Tell her about her legal rights.
- Tell her where she can go for help.
- Tell her about nearby resources specifically for women in violent situations.
- Let her know it’s not her fault and she’s not alone. It may not sink in right away but it doesn’t hurt to say it anyway.