Last Sunday we welcomed a colleague and her infant in our home . Her partner, an aggressive bully had kicked her out in the middle of the night and continued to emotionally abuse her through the day. She ran with just the clothes on her back and her one year old child in her arms, from HER home. They were not married and he was not paying his share of anything – he lived in the apartment she rented. Not that it would have made a difference in the abuse, but just saying …
We called the police three times only to find out that, just because he did not break in but was invited in by her at some point, gave him the right to stay there for as long as he wanted or at least until she got a court order to evict him. In the meantime, he was texting her the most awful profanities and threats. It was Sunday, and Romania and this wasn’t Law&Order where actors fly into judge’s chambers and demand a court order during the weekend. So the bully rested nicely in his bed while our colleague, for the second night in a row, barely rested in a strange bed, in someone else’s home. And we ask women in this country to stand up for themselves? We criticise them for going back to bullies and aggressors? Really? What is their choice? Who protects them when they gather the courage to run?
Sunday brought a lot my trauma back. I lived in a house with such a bully for six months. Because I had decided to end our marriage and more so because I had chosen a woman over him, my former husband considered it absolutely fit to wake me up at night and threaten me, to hit my dog in front of me, to yell and threaten he will take my child away, to use his computer skills and hacker friends to break into my phone and computer and steal every message I wrote. And why would he not, he was supported by my own family, the police, society and church. I was the whore and I had it coming. And emotional abuse leaves no visible wounds, you can’t prove it in court. Emotions are a “womanly” thing … a weakness.
I do not doubt the fact that my actions had turned everyone’s lives upside down (though they were mine to live with) BUT that should never have invalidated my value as a human, my right to demand what I want, my right to privacy, my right to quiet, choice and the life I want for myself.
This Sunday it all came back to me in full force: my parents judging me and telling my former husband, in front of me, that they don’t know how he puts up with this, my then priest laughing about me “getting caught and now having to dance as the husband sings”, my brothers shrugging their shoulders when I went to them in desperation, scared and alone, the police measuring me up and down when I went to file a complaint which most certainly ended up in the trash. And all of this, on a chorus of threats made be a man who, yes, was hurt and confused, but lived in a house I paid for, a man I made three times more than and who parented our son probably 2%, demanding my specific instructions for everything he did do.
The hypocrisy of our society that demands of women to work, care for the home and earn their keep while treating them like third class citizens when they demand their rights, is sickening. In the wake of my divorce my mom, clearly trying her best to give me good advice and mirroring her own life, gave me a gift: a fridge magnet saying “mothers are like buttons, they keep things together.” I stepped on it. I am not a button. I am a human being who deserves respect, freedom and choice. And sometimes that means letting everything fall apart so that I can live.
“Second to creation, first to sin.” – I read this phrase from Elisabeth Lesser in her book about what history would be like if it were written by women. Though millennia old, this sits over the heads of women today. Regardless of how much we bring into the home, how good of a mother we are, regardless of abuse, of pain and suffering induced by someone we chose to trust at some point in our lives, our choices often turn against us and we run from place to place trying to find ways out, while constantly hitting walls and deaf years.
For me, the escape was my current partner and my workplace. Having found real love and understanding that I can be loved just the way I am, the community at work and the fact I could easily support myself – I had done it all of my life. But how many of us are this lucky? Even for me, one of the lucky ones, the trauma remains and ten years later, I recurrently dream that I am still back there, in that living room, heart beating fast, in the foetal position on a couch, someone yelling incredible threats to me, that escaping was a dream and that my beautiful life of today was imagined. It takes a while on every such morning to help myself understand which one was the dream.
My teenage son watched everything on Sunday with his big, wondering eyes. At some point, when we were alone, he asked, was it like this for you? I was amazed at his wisdom. I respect him too much to lie, I said yes it was. But, I added, I understand your dad was very upset. Still, you NEVER, do this to another human, look at the consequences – I hope this stays with him. I hope, when he is an adult, he is able to be human above anything else. A week later, my sign he had been thinking about this still, he sent me the link to a domestic violence NGO he had heard of from his teacher and asked about my colleague’s baby. I think he will be ok. Raising boys and girls who understand the impact of our actions on other humans is the only thing we can do to change. Changing the world one human at a time.