Reliving her bad dream

Sunday, April 23, 2006

SHE SAID: She was just a little girl who made one big mistake.

She married right out of high school to escape everything she thought was bad in life, and she discovered life could be much worse than she'd ever anticipated. But that wasn't her real mistake.

She asked him to stop drinking time after time, and he always agreed, but the next night she found him passed out in a recliner, a can of cheap beer between his legs and crumpled aluminum littering the carpet. She thought she was more important than an alcoholic's alcohol. But that wasn't her real mistake.

When she got tired of listening to his lies, he held her down, pried her hands off her ears, and screamed obscenities. Sometimes her ears ached for days afterward, and she wondered, "Is this abuse?"

He was a pusher, not a hitter. He pushed her down the apartment stairs when she caught him hiding drugs in the bedroom. He pushed her across the spare bedroom when she tried to stop him from strangling the cat. He pushed her when she knelt down to pray during one of his screaming attacks. And he pushed her into the kitchen cabinets and waved a knife in her face, threatening to kill her and himself.

And at the time she wondered, "Is this abuse?"

She wasn't a stupid girl. She was raised in a close-knit, nonviolent family. She wasn't an addict. She had a job at a newspaper. She was a full-time college student. She was funny. She loved to read and write, wanted to be an author since she was 4 years old. But she couldn't spell A-B-U-S-E.

His mother blamed the girl and told her to stop making him angry, and she believed her, because what mother would lie?

Then, the girl overheard her own mother talking about someone else in an abusive relationship.

"My daughter would never allow herself to be in that situation," her mother said confidently.

The girl thought, "That must be true. I can change him."

But that wasn't her real mistake.

Sometimes he hid her car keys and unplugged the telephones, taking the cords with him when he left the house. When she had a spare set of keys made, he pulled out wires from beneath the hood of her car.

And she thought to herself, "Is this abuse?"

She tried to leave, but he dragged her back inside. She screamed, "Help me!" over and over, and wondered why the neighbors just turned up the volume on their TVs.

He was charged with one DWI, then two. He went to SATOP and drank a beer on the way home afterward. He went to counseling, took Paxil and downed each pill with a beer. He stabbed himself in the chest with a fork, leaving tiny little holes that scabbed over, making her think of chicken pox. Afterward, he said, "You made me do this to myself."

Sometimes she hid in the bedroom closet, but he found her. Sometimes she hid his beer, but he bought more. Sometimes she prayed to go to sleep and never wake up. And then one day, she did wake up.

That was four years ago, in the spring.

She only has one physical scar left -- from that time she tried to save the cat -- and no emotional scars that she'll speak of. When she washed her hands of him, she rubbed her skin raw.

"Is this abuse?"

If you have to ask, then it is.

That was her real mistake.

One in three women. That's how many the Family Violence Prevention Fund estimates are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during their lifetime.

Don't wait for your family to step in. Don't wait for the neighbors to call the police. Don't wait for coworkers to notice the bruises. And for God's sake, don't wait for him to change.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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