Ray Rice, Domestic Violence and my experiences with the second topic
But I was obese, depressed, unable to walk delicately in high heels, fashionably style my hair, wear stylish clothes and put on makeup like those women. In other words, I hated being ME. The only thing I had going for myself was that I had managed to snag an internship with the Sacramento Observer Newspaper, which turned into a full time position as a staff writer. I regretted dropping out of my English program at California State University, Sacramento, but I was so depressed at that time that I would go to the campus, buy some food, find a place to sit in the dining area of the University Union building, and stare out of the huge pane windows at people walking across the quad until I fell asleep. Consequently, I missed a lot of classes, and my grades reflected that problem.
After working for the Sacramento Observer for a little over a year, I met the man who I would eventually marry. At the time, I had been very influenced by many activists who had written and published numerous Black Power Movement books and articles, and I believed that my place in that post movement had been illuminated by this passage, written by Amiri Baraka (Everett LeRoi Jones):
We are beautiful people
With African imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with African eyes, and noses, and arms
tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun.
We have been captured,
and we labor to make our getaway, into
the ancient image; into a new
Correspondence with ourselves
and our Black family. We need magic
now we need the spells, to raise up
return, destroy,and create. What will be
the sacred word?
From "Ka' Ba" by Amiri Baraka
Partly because I felt disconnected from my culture because I grew up in a somewhat "privileged" middle class family (and it was, compared to my parents' impoverished lives growing up in the Jim Crow South), and partly because I've always been the kind of person who "fights for the underdog", I felt an obligation to "help" (alarm bells should go off in your heads, dear readers), by marrying a man who would acknowledge my willingness to do what it takes to make up for whatever racism has stolen from him. Seems noble enough, right? It isn't. It's pure ego. It's not within my power to "lift up" anyone except myself. And with my less-than-zero self esteem, I should have been working on lifting myself up out the dregs of self pity, food addiction, depression and codependency. But I had no clue what was going on with me at the time. I thought if I could just find a Black man who would appreciate my willingness to help him get past whatever obstacles were in his path through life, I would feel complete. Yes, those are five alarm fire bells you hear going off right now.
Short version of the story: I did meet a Black man who...well, I don't know what he thought. I only know what I thought. He was my rehabilitation project. I was going to make over a guy who came from a horrendously abusive family and had been in and out of juvenile detention centers and jails since he was 13. He was 19 when we met. Almost two years later, we got married and had our first child, a girl. When that baby girl was only four months old and I was still breastfeeding her, he leaned over the front passenger seat of his mother's car while she was driving us to a Fourth of July gathering at her friend's house, pinned me against the back seat and smashed his fist into my face several times. We had been arguing, although I don't remember what it was about. He had quit his job, which was a violation of his solemn promise that he would "take care of his family" while I stayed home with our baby. I had to go back to my parents house because we lost the apartment we were living in. On top of that, he was sleeping around with other women.
But the clincher was when he called my mother a bitch. I saw red. No one calls my mother a bitch to my face, especially since the man who did so wasn't doing anything that I thought was productive to our little family, unless you consider doing drugs and sleeping around with a bunch of skanky chicks "productive". In a state of unbridled fury, I poured the can of soda that I was drinking on his head. That's when he pinned me against the back seat and proceeded to punch my face into an unrecognizable mass of blood and bruises. Did he knock me unconscious the way Ray Rice did to his then girlfriend, now wife? I honestly don't remember, which probably answers the question. I remember being pummeled, and hearing sounds that resembled Rocky Balboa hitting that cow carcass in that meat processing plant scene from the first "Rocky" movie, The next thing I remember was being on the ground beside his mother's car. Somehow, I was taken to his mother's friend's house, and laid down on a bed. I stayed there while complete strangers placed ice wrapped in towels on my face. At one point, I had to go to the restroom. I peered into the mirror and nearly fainted. My face was an unrecognizable mass of black, blue and purple bruises and welts. I looked like a monster. My eyes were nearly closed slits. After that, I don't remember much.
At some point, I was taken to the emergency room at Mercy San Juan Hospital in Citrus Heights, where X-rays were taken of my head. Again, my memory is sketchy about the details of my hospital stay, but I was told that in addition to the numerous cuts, bruises and swelling on my face, I had a crushed right cheekbone and a concussion, which turned out bad enough to cause traumatic brain injury and memory loss, which was something I didn't realize until I was tested for what I thought would be math learning disabilities in 2013.* Moreover, the doctor told me that if I had been struck one millimeter closer to my temple, I would have been killed. He was shaking with rage as he told me this, and asked me who had done such a thing to me. I was too ashamed to tell him it was my husband. How could I be so stupid to marry a man who would beat me so badly that I was unrecognizable? I told him it was "a relative". When he demanded to know who this "relative" was, I couldn't answer him. Deep shame, confusion and remorse seemed to pour over me like hot tar. What could I say? That I was a lonely, desperate woman who married a complete loser who nearly beat me to death? I wasn't surprised when the doctor stormed out of the room.
I had surgery to repair my broken cheekbone, and, after three days in the hospital I was taken back to my parents' house, where bedridden for two weeks. My breast milk had dried up so I could no longer nurse my daughter, which I grieved about when I wasn't drowsy and weak from the pain medication. I had bandages wrapped around my entire head, which made laying down on the stack of pillows on my bed very uncomfortable. At some point, my ex mother in law came to visit me, which was something she NEVER did before. My ex husband was on the run from the police, and she wanted me to drop the felony assault charges that had been filed against him. She was firmly persistent, coming over every day to convince me to go to the police and tell them it was all a mistake, and I didn't want to move forward with the criminal case. "Just tell them you're going to file for divorce, and that will be punishment enough for him", she told me.
At that point, I felt extraordinarily stressed out, exhausted and in constant pain. I had trouble remembering where I was and how I got there. The only thing I was certain about was that my head never seemed to stop pounding, and the only thing that helped me feel better was holding my baby girl. After a week of those strange daily visits from my mother in law, who I was never close to in the first place, I consented to dropping the charges. She drove me down to the police station, where I signed the papers, and drove me back to my parents' house. With her oldest child finally safe from the police, she finally left me alone to heal. I didn't see or hear from her for nearly three years after that.
I didn't know it at the time, but what I was also suffering from is now known as Battered Woman Syndrome. , an emotionally vulnerable and confusing state of fear and uncertainty that makes leaving an abusive spouse extremely difficult. During that period, my ex husband threatened to harm my family if I tried to divorce him and take his daughter away from him. I knew that wasn't going to happen; my father had already gone after him with his 30 OT 6 deer hunting rifle (outfitted with a scope, of course), and Dad was such a well trained marksman throughout his 24 years in the Air Force that he had exceeded the qualifications for the FBI whenever he went to the shooting range. He also brought along my 16 year old brother Ricky, who was armed with his trusty 22 rifle, which he had been using to go duck and pheasant hunting with my father since he was 12. He was also a very good marksman. My ex ran and jumped his grandmother's backyard fence when he heard my father's truck come to a screeching halt in front of her house. He knew he didn't stand a chance if they got a bead on him. For my part, I didn't want to be responsible for any bloodshed, and my father and brother going to jail for my mistake (another symptom of Battered Woman Syndrome). I went back to my husband, and an uneasy truce between my family and his was in place for the next six years.
For most of those years, he refrained from beating me up. He slapped me twice, and I grabbed a butcher knife in retaliation. What he did more often was frighten me by saying he would take our children (we eventually had three, girl, boy, girl) away from me, and at one point, threatened to throw them from our second story apartment balcony.
These were acts of emotional terrorism, and for me, much more painful than being hit. I began planning to divorce him after our third child was born, and secured loan to pay a paralegal firm to help me fill out the paperwork for a simple divorce, since he had ravaged all of the money in our joint bank account for crack and sex with various unsavory women, so we had no money or property to argue over. His drug addiction and behavior had been reeling out of control for nearly six months. The death note for the marriage was struck after he went on a month long drug binge in which he went into hiding with a 14 year old runaway girl, an act of insanity that made the front page of the local newspaper. The police kept calling me to see if I could give them information I didn't have about his street life adventures.
He finally called me, tweaking badly from the crack and screaming obscenities into the receiver of a pay phone, I told him that he shouldn't bother coming home; he was not welcome, and I had changed the locks. He shrieked that he was going to be there in five minutes to kill me. I was tired of the drama. I hung up, called my mother and informed her that I was going to kill my husband because he had threatened to kill me. I hung up again, then called the police to tell them that the man they had been looking for had finally called me, and if they didn't get there soon they would have to come pick him up with the coroner's wagon because I wasn't going to let him hurt me again. I hung up from that call, went to bedroom closet, pulled down all of the clothes that were on hangers, dumped them on the closet floor, then grabbed the pole, which I intended to use as a weapon. There was a crash on glass in the living room, and my ex husband was bellowing obscenities. I ran out of the bedroom, and he lunged toward me brandishing a large Bowie knife , which he seemed to intent on using to open up a vital organ in my stomach. He would have been successful if I hadn't instinctively met each blow with the closet pole. The battle ended when I struck him on the side of his head just as my mother came through the front door, followed by several members of the Sacramento Police Department. A few of the officers were fruitlessly pleading with my mother to stay back, which she ignored as she gathered up my terrified and sobbing children and took them outside. Other officers successfully convinced me that it was safe to put the closet pole down; they weren't going to let my ex husband hurt me. I complied. Of course, he roared in anger, and threatened me, my mother, and the police. He continued to do so as he was led away in handcuffs.
I filed the papers successfully, and a year later, we were legally divorced. I didn't ask for alimony or child support because he was in jail for almost two years, and I knew that he had no inclination to secure any kind of employment once he had served his time. I now consider myself very fortunate. The Ray Rice case has brought all of this to the forefront of my mind, but as I was looking up statistics concerning the physical abuse of women in the United States, I came across stories on Twitter about South Africa's Para-Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorious, who was found not guilty of killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. All I can do is realize that I am indeed fortunate. My experiences with domestic violence could have ended very differently.
Janay Rice, I'm sure, loves her husband and wants all this to go away. While I can't say that I relate to the love your husband part (as ugly as this is, the fact remains that I selfishly wanted to feel better about myself by "rehabilitating" a troubled person, and that is not love), I can relate to wanting domestic violence and the subsequent fallout from it to go away. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. Once a person stoops to punching, biting, pushing, burning, slapping or throwing objects at the woman he claims to love, the door becomes wide open to increasingly more violent incidents. I hope and pray her situation doesn't end tragically the way Ms. Steenkamp's did.
*I do have a spatial perception disorder, which has caused me enormous problems with handwriting, art projects in school, measuring things, using scissors or a knife, trying to sew, organizing my living spaces, etc.) I was shocked to discover that my short term memory is pretty bad, especially for someone my age. The first question the psychologist asked me after the test was, "Have you ever had a head injury?" Of course I had.