Getting Physical (Abuse, that is)
As I held the telephone receiver in my hand with the 911 operator asking me what is the problem, and with my husband screaming at me about his career—I was numb. I didn’t answer her. I had called, but I was overwhelmed by the situation. I had never been so scared in my life, scared for my life because of my husband, but fearful, too, perversely (or as evidence of how cowed I was of him) of the consequences of calling the police on my husband. “Luckily” he yanked the phone cord out of the wall, solving that dilemma, and enhancing the existing—the existential— one, of his now physically violent behavior.
It had started as another of our fights which ended with me (as usual) trying to get away from his insults and threatening attitude, and with him following close behind me, as if I were the energy he needed to keep going (which surely must be the case). I went down to the basement, hoping that he would not follow, hoping that he would stop, hoping that I could get away from him in my own home, hoping that I did not have to go out for an escape drive, hoping that my not answering him would result in his losing interest (as some experts suggest) in harassing me. Alas, he followed me down the stairs into the basement and to the laundry room in the very corner of the basement.
As I bent over to pick up clothes to do a load of laundry, keeping myself busy with the rhythms of a normal life, he was there—near me, menacing me with his physical presence. It was as if he was an anti-peacock, ruffling his black feathers to warn and threaten his peahen instead of to entice and woo her. Suddenly, I felt something hit me on the side of the head—he had kicked a large garbage bag at me. “Luckily,” it was full of other garbage bags so it did not hurt too much (physically), but it bent my glasses and knocked them at an angle. “You hit me! You hit me!” I screamed, partly in shock that what I had feared had finally happened, and partly to protect myself from a continuation or intensification.
His reply, as always, was to deny, deny, deny. “No, I didn’t. I didn’t do anything.”
What, I would fabricate that? I would be cornered in the basement with this six foot tall big guy and I would lie about the outcome? That was insulting. Goddamn it, why won’t he take responsibility for his actions?
I went upstairs, acting on some kind of behavioral auto-pilot, and told my daughters that I was going out for a while, afraid that it would seem that while saving myself I was leaving them. Then, I went to the phone in the kitchen and called 911.
When he saw me pick up the phone he started yelling again, this time, “My career! My career!” Unbelievably, he was placing his guilt onto me; he was trying to make me feel guilty about something that will happen to him because of what he did to me, as opposed to what he had just done to me.
When he yanked the phone cord out of the wall I realized that I really needed to get out. Shaking, I got into my car. As I closed the door I realized that I had forgotten my keys. I held myself as tightly and as compact as possible and went back into the house for them, terrified, terrified of this man who I had once craved. When I got back in the car, I realized that I was barefoot, but I was not going back for my shoes. (I had never driven barefoot before.)
As I was pulling out of the garage, he came out holding the phone in front of him, “For you,” he said.
It was the 911 operator calling back. “What happened, what’s the matter?” she asked me in a concerned tone.
I closed the window, locked the door, and started to blubber into the phone, a true bawling blubber, “my husband kicked something at me.” At that moment it was so hard to speak; speech was another rung up the evolutionary ladder from where I was, it was too hard to find words amidst the emotional turmoil. The operator said that she was sending some police cars over. I was thankful that I did not need to give an address because I was having such a tough time focusing on speaking. I told her that I would be waiting at the end of our drive, fearful of being at home with him. I drove up to the top of our little four-house street and parked. Still stunned at the negative development, I sat there and cried.
Finally, three police cars pulled up, one male officer in each. It seemed excessive, but also comforting. They asked me what had happened; I explained it as calmly as possible, as objectively as possible. Why did I feel a need to be objective, to be the detached observer relaying what she had seen? Did it make me seem more reliable, more truthful, more intelligent, more trustworthy? Who knows, but that’s the persona I thought I was conveying, not the dismayed, battered, wife. Maybe I didn’t want to be that woman, and so I acted as if I was someone else.
They went to the house to get his side of the story.
While I was waiting, a neighbor pulled up, stopping his car beside my car, rolling down his window to talk to me. I needed to wipe my eyes before I could open the window. “Is everything okay?” he asked. I replied that it was, and thanked him for asking. Why is the husband across the way concerned about my welfare when my own husband obviously is not? Why is this man who goes hunting and calls people “buddy” more tender than my charismatic lawyer husband? I know this shows my bias, cultural and educational, but it is true. Why does this man, who I barely interact with except to say “hi,” stop to inquire? I know my husband would have just driven by if it had been this man’s wife at the top of the street and three police cars at his home.
When the police officer I spoke with came back, his deepest insight was that my husband “seemed to be mad at the world and that he did not intend to kick anything at you.” Amongst other things I wanted to say. He had been three feet away from me and kicked a bag in my direction, what was that if not on purpose? The police did suggest that I not go home immediately. I didn’t. But why did they not tell him to leave? Why did they not issue a restraining order on him? Why was I punished for being punished?
When I did return, I saw that he had taken that bag that he had “innocently” kicked at me; moreover, it wasn’t even in the garbage bins in the garage—it was gone. His guilt, though, was not. My naïveté that he would not hit me was gone.
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