Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Circle of Silence

Friday evening I was doing my usual nothing because the work-week was too tiring when I received a phone call from an old friend I had not seen for almost three years. My friend had called me last October and told me she was moving back to the area and did I know of any job openings. We had some, but she eventually chose to go work for our competitor. It didn't last long.

When she called me in October, she told me that she and her husband were "finally" getting a divorce. I wasn't really shocked to hear her say that. She didn't give me the reasons though she told me we would talk sometime. Mostly, we talked about how much her children were growing, how her eldest son Deek was doing in school, and that she had come back to live with her parents and was looking for a job. I gave her the leads I knew of and then we said we'd get together sometime. That was in October and I hadn't heard from her since. Of course, neither did I call. I had erased her mom's number from the caller ID by accident and had no way to get hold of her.

Until she called me Friday evening.

My friend, Dani, and I met when she worked at the same office as I did in town. This was before I had started traveling with the company. Way back when I was first a supervisor for the company. I remember telling a story not long ago about sexual harassment in the work place and how one of the managers slapped an employee on the ass while she was leaning over my desk discussing a report. That was my friend Dani except we weren't friends yet, just employees of the same company.

She and I and another girl, all three single and near the same age, became a bit of a group and we would go hang out for lunch or an occasional drink after work. Dani only had her son at the time. He was 10 going on 40. I remember that he was pretty mature and was always talking about women and their "parts". Dani was pretty and outgoing. She is Hispanic with long dark hair and brown eyes just slightly tipped up. She was petite and perky. I haven't seen her in two and a half years and two children later so I don't know if petite and perky still fit. Maybe perky doesn't fit anymore anyway.

After a year or so at the company, we all three sort of went different directions personally. I became the manager of the billing department and didn't have much spare time. Dani met this guy that she was constantly raving about, Ken, and our friend Tee met a new guy, too. We didn't hang out as much, though we still occasionally went for a drink.

One evening, Dani wanted me to go out with her to a local club. Ken and some friends were going to meet her there and she wanted me to go so she wouldn't be the only female in their group. We agreed to meet at a specific time at the club. I lived up north and it didn't make sense to drive home, but she lived not far away and wanted to change. I got to the club a little early because I was done with work sooner than I expected. As I was standing at the bar getting my requisite soda, three guys approached me. One was about my age and the other two were in their early 20's. The two boys were wearing "PBR" jackets (Professional Bull Riders) and the older one looked like cowboy farmer. They leaned against the bar and the older one, with a snarky little aside to the younger about watching how "it was done", said something along the lines of, "Hey, babe. How're ya' doin'?"

Considering I had just heard his little aside to the "boys", I didn't take him too seriously, just looked at him quickly and said, "Fine," and went back to looking at the bartender with by $5 in hand, hoping to get his attention.

Have you ever gotten that feeling that you were being stared at? I mean, so intensely that your hair on the back of your neck stands up? I had that feeling and noticed out of the corner of my eye that farm guy was staring very hard...at my boobs. I always got a little exasperated about that back then. I was just moving up in the world of business and didn't feel like I had any time to deal with guys like that. I mean, it's not that I don't expect anyone to see them. They are out there and they can't be disguised, but this was getting kind of creepy how long he was staring.

Finally, the bartender came with my soda and I turned to leave, sipping it and trying not to make eye contact with Mr. Smooth while noticing that even his young protégés were starting to look elsewhere. As I started to walk away, he took hold of my arm and said, "Hey, babe, don't walk away so fast."

I really didn't want to hang out there. Aside from him giving me the creeps, Dani would be arriving pretty soon and I wanted to be near the door so we could find each other. It was a perfect exit line I thought, "Excuse me. I have to go meet my friend," and I looked towards the door past the sea of cowboy hats and wannabes.

He continued to hold my arm, "Hang out with us. You can invite your friend over. Besides, I think you're fascinating," he said glancing down at my breasts.

Mr. Smooth. Right. The two 20 somethings were looking everywhere, but us and talking stiltedly about their last rodeos. I figured that they really didn't think he had any better moves than they did at that point. I can testify to that. "Sorry. I really can't hang," I said with a forced, grimaced smile and I pulled my arm away to go.

"Suit yourself." Of course, I was. I could smell a dumb-ass a mile away and he had lathered on way too much "dumb-ass" cologne.

I turned to walk away, taking one step, when I saw Dani come through the door. She saw me at about the same time and started waving. We met half way through the club and she gave me a big hug, exclaiming over how early I had gotten there and had I seen Ken yet. I explained that work was done early and, no, even though she told me what he looked like, I hadn't seen anyone that fit that description. She took my arm and said we would go find him and his friends as she started pulling me along behind her.

Within a few feet she exclaimed, "There he is!" and dragged me along even faster back towards the bar area I had just vacated. "Look, you must have been standing right next to him."

I was looking at the bar and couldn't, for the life of me, figure out whom she was talking about. None of the guys really looked like what she had described to me. We got over to the place I had just vacated and stopped in front of the three guys I had just blown off. "See, Kat, this is Ken. Ken, this is my friend Kat." She was talking to Mr. Smooth and he looked like he had just tasted an "oh, crap" sandwich.

For about 15 seconds, I really didn't know what to say. "Oh, yeah, we did just make an acquaintance a few moments ago. I'm afraid I didn't recognize him by your description." Yeah, like he wasn't a god and he was definitely not the kindest, most considerate guy I had ever met. I stared at him, daring him to tell her how we'd just been introduced, sort of. The two 20 some things were now distancing themselves even further. They weren't so young and dumb after all.

However, Mr. Smooth was at least quick enough on his feet to get a barrier in place and he turned to the two boys to introduce them. They made stilted "how do you do's" and shook both of our hands. I realized that they had never met Dani before and they were probably wishing they hadn't agreed to come along with this guy they barely knew who was about to embroil them in a domestic problem. After a few minutes of introduction, Ken offered to get Dani something to drink and made a quick exit.

"See? Didn't I tell you he was cute?" She was all smiles and brimming with pride.

I felt like such a party crusher as I contemplated what exactly I should say to that, "Mmmm...real cute."

She continued on about how great he was with her son and some plans they were making to move in together. God, it was getting harder to just stand there and say nothing while she lauded him. He was a good worker. He had some credit problems, but he was working them out. He had this great job and he was getting it all fixed. Did she tell me he was great with her son? They had just decided to move in together somewhere further out in the rural area. Wasn't that great?

The two boys had walked off again and I decided that I needed to say something about earlier before she came in, "Uh...Dani? How long have you been seeing this guy?"

"Six months. Why?" She was a little confused to hear me interrupt her rave review.

"Have you been dating that long? I mean, how much do you know about him really? Have you met many of his friends or family or anything?" I was very serious and I was keeping my eye on the bar to see when he was coming back.

"Well, we just got serious a couple of months ago, but he's a really good guy. This is the first time I've met his friends." She was looking at me inquisitively. I think she was wondering why I was already bringing her down. "Why are you asking?"

"Dani, hon...umm," I did NOT want to say it, "well, he was..ahem...hitting on me over at the bar just before you came in." There, I said it. I was still looking at the bar to see where he was. He was paying for the drinks.

"Are you sure?" Was I sure? Hell, yes, I was sure. It's not as if I'd never been hit on before. But, I didn't take it too personally.

"Yeah, I'm sure." I was looking at her and she was looking over at Ken who was gathering up the drinks.

"Maybe he was just trying to hook you up with one of the guys. They're kind of cute aren't they?" Okay, classic denial mode. I've seen that before, too.

"Dani, did you notice that those boys are almost 10 years younger than me?" I gave her an incredulous look. "They're barely old enough to get in this place, much less hook up with me when there are a hundred other 20 something chicks in here. Besides, they were standing at least three to five feet away when it happened." And I knew a pick up when I heard it, although, knowing that she was coming, I wondered what the guy was expecting to happen if we had hit it off and she showed up.

"Kat, I think you misunderstood. I mean, he knew I was coming. Besides, he wouldn't hit on my friend. I'm sure he was just trying to hook you up with one of the boys."

Ken was on his way back over and almost to our position again. He had taken the long way around. I really didn't know what to say to her after that. I mean, the guy didn't know me and I didn't know him from Adam and he had certainly made no effort to introduce me to the two boys. I could tell that she wasn't going to listen to me, "If that's what you think it was, I'm sure you're right."

What was I supposed to do? I had already been in a situation where I lost one of my friends because I said her boyfriend was an asshole and treated her like crap, cheating and everything. She had gotten angry at ME and we eventually parted company. So, I decided that discretion was the better point of valor and shut up.

Ken showed up with the drinks and we passed a few stilted minutes, everybody thinking about the "hit" and nobody wanting to talk about it for their own reasons. I was finally saved when another guy asked me to dance and I went off to the dance floor, spending as much time finding a partner and dancing as I could. I could see she and Ken were having a serious discussion, so I stayed away a little longer. Finally, he went towards the back room full of pool tables with the two boys and I took a break from dancing.

As soon as I walked up, she said, "See? I told you. He was just trying to hook you up with one of those guys."

I tried not to roll my eyes. This woman was usually so damned smart, but she was willfully going into denial. "That's nice," I said, sipping my soda. "For the record, please tell him 'no thank you' because they are waaaayy too young for my tastes."

We spent the rest of the evening trying to avoid each other. If Ken was walking up, I was leaving. At some point, we were all together again and Dani told the 20 some things that I was a rodeo buff so they proceeded to tell me their rodeo stories. I think they were happy to have a safe, neutral topic. Eventually, Ken joined in and started bragging about his "rides". Both boys looked a little uncomfortable. Anybody who did the rodeo circuit knows a blowhard when they hear one. I just chalked that up to another big "L" for loser and didn't say anything. At the end of his story, the 20 some things and I both had the same idea and decided we should split. Ken was getting drunk and starting to make a big ass out of him self.

The next day, Dani, Tee and I were standing around chatting and Dani was telling Tee that I met her wonderful guy. She was called away before she could finish the accolades. Tee and I watched her go for a few minutes, not speaking and then she asked, "So? What'd you think?" I had it from Dani that she had already introduced him to Tee.

"Honestly?" She nodded her head, "He's an asshole." Tee almost broke out laughing, but stifled it by pressing her lips together. She kept darting her eyes over to where Dani had walked off. "I mean, I wasn't even in the bar five minutes and, out of the hundreds of women that had to be there, he had to hit on me. I didn't even know who he was until Dani showed up and "introduced" us." She was still nodding her head. "I take it you met him already?"

"Yeah," Tee said, "He's an asshole. He kept staring at my breasts the whole time we were talking. Right in front of Dani. Then he made some rude comment and she smacked his arm, telling him to stop teasing me."

Well, Jesus H...I couldn't believe it. "Dani must be in serious denial. Or, she is blindly in love with the guy." I can't believe he'd done the same thing to Tee and she denied it both times. We both looked at each other, but didn't have anything to say. What the hell was there to say? Our friend had gone dufus over a jackass, too put it mildly. Take it from me. You can never talk your friend out of loving a jackass. It is a historically and literarily known fact. Literarily known because even Titania, Queen of the Fairies, couldn't be talked out of loving a jackass in A Midsummer's Night's Dream."

We shrugged and went on our way. When we were hanging with Dani, we'd both be rolling our eyes every time she started talking about Ken "the man". Even when he wrecked her car. Bounced a $2000 check out of her account. Lost his subcontracting job and did not come home several weekends after going out. But, he was with friends, you know and drunk. Better to not drive drunk, she said. Yeah. How badly I wanted to whip out my deed to that ocean side property in Arizona and sell it to her. It was a bargain after all and she was digging bargains.

They moved in together, way the hell out in BFE. I mean, this was BFE's BFE. She drove an hour to work everyday and an hour back. At Christmas time, she asked Tee and I to come down to her place and make a bunch of Christmas cookies for the office. I drove down with Tee. We had a good time. Ken wasn't there. We made canolis, those little thin, rolled cookies with cream cheese filling and some regular sugar cookies that we frosted. Her boy helped us frost. He was a laugh a minute. He really did think he was going to be 40 any day.

Dani had some puppies she wanted to give away. She kept insisting that I go out and see how cute they were even though I insisted that I didn't want a dog and didn't have time for a dog and did not know where to keep one in my present living arrangements (I was living with my folks while I searched for a house). The puppies were a mixed breed. Mutts, bastards, Heinz 57s, whatever you want to call them. Ken was raising American Pit Terriers as a side business and Dani had a registered Bassett Hound that apparently was smarter than the male Pit Terriers because he had gotten three of the bitches pregnant well before the others even thought about it.

This was the last batch. She said that Ken was going to destroy them if she didn't get rid of them. She had already given five away and it only left this one little dog. He was tiny with a big ass hound dog head on him. She picked him up and rubbed him with her face making those "oochie-coochie" noises, saying how cute he was and didn't I think so and wasn't it too bad that, after all the puppies were gone, this one would be put down?

Okay. You might have guessed it. I am a walking, talking hard as stone on the outside, big, gooey marshmallow on the inside.

"Okay, dammit. I'll take the dog. If only to save him from being destroyed." God, I was such a wimp. She told me that they needed two more weeks before they were weaned and then I could take it home. If I brought her a kennel, she'd bring it to work. Now I just needed to figure out how to tell my folks I was bringing a puppy home.

Ken finally came back later that evening with a bunch of illegal Mexican guys that he was using for his labor. They were staying down the road in somebody's apartment. About eight of them and they were sending all their money back to their families in Mexico so Ken had decided to invite them to dinner. Dani rushed around and tried to defrost some more food since she hadn't planned it and Ken put in a tape of him down at the practice ranch where he was trying to learn to ride bulls. Seriously, bull riding is a young man's sport. You have to be flexible and you have to be able to get up off your ass and run like hell even if you still couldn't breath after hitting the arena dirt. Based on comments from Dani, I could tell that this was an ego thing. He wanted to be those 20 something rodeo boys again. Maybe even so he could pick up some buckle bunnies on the side.

Oh, I realize I haven't explained this yet, but a buckle bunny is like a ski bunny. Buckle bunnies just dig rodeo cowboys, preferably ones with trophy buckles. I.E. buckle bunny.

He kept calling me over and asking me to critique his riding as I had been on the scene for about 10 years. I even rode a practice bull once. While it is interesting and exciting to watch, it takes a pair of cajones to get on a real live 1300 lb bull, strap yourself on with one hand tied in a rope and digging your spurs in, praying that you didn't go down in the well and end up getting "hoof in mouth" disease the hard way. That, or you just had to be crazier than a crack addict. Those little practice bulls were about 500lbs and didn't get up to much, comparatively speaking and that was scary enough. If my friends hadn't bet me...alright, aside from that, I'd be lying if I didn't say I wanted to know what it was about. Once was enough. Besides, that stupid kevlar vest wouldn't go all the way around certain areas.

Anyway, my vast interaction and viewing and one time ride into the annals of stupidity apparently made me an expert in his eyes. Or, at least, he was trying to make conciliatory efforts towards normalizing what had been a rather stiff relationship after that first encounter. I tried very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt. As it was, I actually did know a thing or two about proper seating, body position and balancing on those big nasties because I had spent some time at the behest of one of our cowboy friends recording his rides and making comments on a tracking sheet he had devised. That guy had been serious. It was all business with him. It was money and ranking and improving. Ken, I'm afraid, wasn't even good enough to shine his boots or pull his rope (that means helping the riding cowboy tie his hand to the 1500lb slab of beef).

I just smiled and gave him a few pointers when he froze the screen and told him that it takes a lot of time and practice. I wanted to say that only the guys who start out around six doing the little cowboy rodeos ever became a Ty Murray, but I wanted to be nice. Later, he went into the bedroom and came back with a belt buckle he had recently bought. It was silver with a big "K" on it. He gave it to me and Dani went into oohhing and ahhing about how nice he was. Tee rolled her eyes and I jsut said, "Thank you" after trying to insist that he keep it for 15 minutes.

Anyway, the evening over, Tee and I rode all the way back into town and talked about how fun it had been and the cookies. Neither of us mentioned Ken. I think we were both hoping that we had been wrong about him.

Dani brought me my puppy a couple of weeks later. He was still tiny and I didn't know what the hell to call him. I kept kicking around some names. I had bought a puppy book and it talked about using a name with at least one harsh consonant because dogs respond better to those. I thought of literary names like "Nemo". No, no..not that stupid fish. I mean Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You gotta know that this story happened several years before anyone ever thought of drawing that fish. Everyone laughed at the name and said it sucked so I went back to the drawing board. In the meantime, I was keeping him in the kennel in my room by the bed every night. I would get up every two hours at his whimpering to take him outside. It was just like having a baby. The book said if I kept him in his kennel, since it was his sleeping place and dogs don't like to shit where they sleep (well, they said "defecate"), he will hold it long enough for me to get him out doors and show him where he IS supposed to pee.

It actually worked, but it was a long two weeks before I had more than a couple of hours of sleep every night. In the meantime, I bought him this little Sylvester the cat mini stuffed animal and we played "tug" with it. Watching him bounce around, it finally came to me that he reminded me of Cassius Clay (the boxer currently known as Mohammed Ali). So I called him "Cash" for short. It was kind of ironic because I was the billing and cash manager. Everyone assumed that's why I named him. Nope, it was for his “back off, dance around and pounce” move on the kitty.

Eventually, Cash slept through the night and so did I, but I thought my parents were going to kill me. At first, all they did was talk about how stupid he was and he made messes and bounced around. Finally, he grew on them. He loved to sit next to either of them and have his ears scratched. I kept telling them that he wouldn't get too big because the father was a Bassett hound.

Boy, was I wrong.

Anyway, eventually, I moved up the ladder, Tee was all into her boyfriend and Dani was talking about having another baby before her biological clock ran out. Ken wanted one really badly she said. They were having a little rough spot and maybe this is what they needed. She was convincing herself that, if she gave him what he wanted it would all be okay. Of course, there are soooo many couples in this world that have done that very thing, only to end up divorced a year or so later fighting over custody. Children do not save your marriage. Just remember that.

She did get pregnant and they ran off to Vegas to get married. A few months later, Ken was out of work and they were struggling to pay their bills. He convinced Dani to leave her well paying job and sell their property and move down to Oklahoma where his family lived. He claimed that he was 1/4 Cherokee and on the roles so they could go down to the reservation and get free medical care and register the baby on the roles. Besides, his parents were down there and he wanted to live near them awhile.

That's what Dani told us. I tried to talk her out of it. Ken had continued to do odd things, drink, lose money. All the bad signs of a future of continued crap, but she kept making excuses for him. Tee and I tried many times to convince her just to stay in the area where she knew friends and had family. Isn't that better than going down somewhere she didn't know and live in the backwaters where there was no work? That's where his parents lived and that was what was wrong on the Rez: no jobs.

They went anyway. She continued to call every once in awhile and tell us about their latest and greatest plans. She always sounded so optimistic, right up until the end of her pregnancy, which I put down to the pre-delivery angst. Of course, they were on house number three already, trying to arrange to buy it, but Ken had really bad credit and now she was married to him and he was the bread winner while she worked a little $7/hour job part time at a doctors office just to get a little grocery money and help on the bills. Ken was doing odd jobs.

Tee went down to be with her after her delivery. She came back and told me that Ken had been off somewhere running around for two days and hadn't returned. When Dani went into labor, she had to call Ken's blind mom and get her to contact a friend to drive 50 miles to their little farm and take her to the hospital. This was Dani's second child and they almost didn't get there in time. Tee was pissed, but Ken had came back all apologetic and trying to be helpful. He had some money with him and insisted that was the reason he went. However, his parents had known where to find him, at least his dad, and Dani had not. I think that about said what was up.

Of course, when I tried to talk to Dani about it on the phone, she kept shoving it off and talking about how great he was with his new little daughter and how interested he was and helping her out.

That lasted about two weeks. He started in his disappearing thing again. Dani wouldn't tell me, but Tee did. She went down a couple more times. Tee had some interesting things going on with her multi-boyfriend world that I'll write about some time, but, eventually, she got home sick and moved back Michigan. Dani stopped calling. We lost track of each other except through an occasional mention by mutual friends.

Until she came back last October.

There are some things in this life that you just know are going to happen. You know the sun is going to rise in the east and set in the west. You know that rain falls down. You know that some people are just assholes and that's all they're going to be. And, eventually, the thing that you predicted will come true: abandonment and divorce.

But, sometimes, you really don't know the half of it and, when you find out the other half, you can't believe you were that stupid or blind. You also wish that you did not have to know that other half because, somewhere deep down, no matter what you did or tried to do, you always feel guilty that you didn't do enough.

When she called me back in October and told me that they were getting a divorce, she didn't say a lot about why. I didn't ask a lot either because I assumed it was because he was a loser and had either abandoned her and the three kids (she had number three down there too) or cheated one too many times and was finally caught for the tenth time.

You know, it never does any real good to assume.

She called me Friday night and we talked for a bit. She was depressed because she was fired today. She had been there less than 90 days. She said she had a lot going on, getting with her lawyer, trying to find a place to live, her second child had to have mouth surgery and her eldest needed to get back in school, etc, etc and the company decided that, even though she'd let them know the first couple of months might be rough, it was just too much for them to support and it was disrupting the department she was working in with her lawyer calls and such.

She told me she didn't know what to do because she had no money. The 401k she had withdrawn and put into a joint savings account. Obviously, she did not understand the power of "or" on the account. They used part of it to put a “down payment” on a farm when they first got down there. That's what Ken told her it was. Unfortunately, he lied. He had gone and made arrangements by himself and it was leased, not a mortgage to own. Eventually, he lost his job and they lost the farm. In the meantime, he had secretly withdrawn the rest of the money and went and bought a dually pick up truck. He dropped the insurance and wrecked it, driving home from the bar one night. He had called her on the cell phone and she packed up the kids and drove out to get him before the cops came, then she claimed she was driving it the next day when she had it towed.

She then had three kids and couldn't find any work in the back forty so they were relying on Ken's salary to make it. He lost three jobs in less than a year. They repossessed her SUV that she had bought before she met Ken and had almost had paid off.

None of these things were surprising me. But, I still didn't know anything.

"Kat, you don't know. Nobody knows what I've been through." I could tell that she was going to open up, so I got comfortable in my chair, lit a cigarette and played on the computer expecting to spend the next hour or so half-listening and making appropriate noises while she told me what a complete bastard he was. You know, the usual things that people tell you as their shitty marriage goes down the toilet. "He threatened to kill me," she said matter of factly. So, matter of factly that I wasn't sure exactly how to take that. I mean, divorces are ugly and people say some stupid, ugly things.

"Really?" I was now a little more interested in her story, but still waiting to see. "You mean, when you told him you were leaving?" I was expecting heated words or something simple.

"Yes. When I told him I had had enough and was leaving, he grabbed me, threw me on the bed, tied my feet and hands with some belts and held a knife to my throat. He said I could never leave him because he'd kill me first." She choked up a bit at that point. I could tell she had been very scared. "He did it right in front of Deek. I was afraid that Deek was going to try to do something, so I yelled at him to get out of the room and told Ken that I'd stay and do whatever he wanted." She gulped a bit and went on, "He was crazy. He'd done things before, but I was really afraid this time. He finally calmed down. All I kept thinking was I hoped that Deek was with the little ones and that Ken would finally just go. He did and he took the only truck with him. I got up and had Deek help me pack some stuff. I called the only taxi in town and prayed that he'd get here before Ken came back."

At this point, I was blown away. I mean, really blown away. I'm not sure until a few hours later that I even comprehended what she was saying. Somebody I knew had to flee for her life from her husband in the middle of he night. That can really rock your world.

In the end, she said she went and filed a restraining order and assault charges on him as soon as thy made it into town. That's why he's "in hiding" to avoid arrest. She told me she was sure his "in hiding" was in plain site because his sister just told her he'd stopped by the week before. None of his family will turn him in. Not even his sister who was horribly shocked by the whole thing and by the story Dani finally told her. They don't do it because he's family, they love him and people have a hard time comprehending, even when told the story, just how terrible and frightening it is to the victims. They don't comprehend what it means that he is free because they can't comprehend ever feeling threatened by him themselves.

I said to Dani, "Jesus! I thought the guy was an asshole, but I never thought he'd go that far. I mean, he just snapped and threatened you?"

You know, I've always read the words, "bitter laugh", but I never heard it before Friday night. She laughed and then croaked, "Kat, he's been doing it since we moved in together."

"What the fuck?! You mean while you were living up here and working here he was doing shit? Why the fuck didn't you say something? I mean, you always acted like everything was peachy and you were always sticking up for him when we made some comment. I mean, what the fuck?" I really was trying to hold it together and not say anything because, you know, this wasn't about me. It was about her and her story. But, in some way, it was about me. It was about me and the millions of other women out there who might find themselves powerless in a situation, scared for ourselves and scared for our children. I think some part of me wasn't just angry for her, I was angry for me because there aren't many things that scare me in this world, but being at the mercy of someone you think you love and should love you and take care of you, not hurt you, must be the scariest thing of all.

It is the deepest betrayal.

"You don't understand. I felt I deserved it. This is the price I had to pay for, you know, the bad things I did before." Her voice was a little soft.

"What bad things?" I really had no idea what she was talking about. I'd known her for several years and she was your average, middle class mother working to raise her boy.

"You know, about Deek's dad. I treated him really badly and I figured this was my punishment." Dani and Deek's dad were 19 when they met. At 20 she had a baby and at 21 they were divorced. She always said he was a really good guy. She just never said why they had to part exactly besides "youth". "I didn't work on the last marriage. I threw it out. I knew I had to work harder, be better, try to be the perfect wife. I thought if I was perfect, he wouldn't be so angry all the time. I thought some of it would rub off, you know? And, he'd want to settle down and live like he kept saying."

"You never said," I didn't know what I could say to that. She hadn't and maybe I'm not as observant as I think, because I never noticed. Some part of me feels guilty. I could have noticed, I should have noticed. I knew all that happy, happy stuff was bull shit, I just didn't realize just how filthy and terrible it was.

"I told Tee some of it. Not all of it, but she knew." I could almost hear a small accusation in there. Not that she meant it like that, but reading it, it looks like an accusation. Either way, the entire time, Tee never did tell. Why? “I told her not to tell anyone. I was embarrassed. I thought, you know, I did something wrong and I could do it better and it would all stop. I didn’t want anyone to know. I always had that face. I was happy and successful, right? Nobody needed to know differently”

Part of me asks why did Tee not say anything? I mean, it's really not about friendship. Friends don't let you drink and drive, much less get smacked around every once in awhile and not tell anyone.

I decided that it will be called “the circle of silence” here. I don't know what they call it in therapy world. I just want to make it clear how we, as individuals and even in groups, can effectively keep secrets from each other and from the outside world, for whatever reasons. Because we think we are helping. Because we think if we don’t say anything, the situation will eventually get under control just like the victim is telling us. Because we think, if we become involved, we will lose our friend. Because somewhere deep inside we are afraid we might be them and we can’t deal with that.

Why is it that shame is attached to the victim so much that they don’t want to tell anyone? They don’t tell their families. If they do, sometimes the entire family goes into “shame mode” and refuses to accept that it’s happening.

Dani told me that, up here, it had just started as a slap now and then when he was in a bad mood or they had an argument. When he convinced her to move down to Oklahoma, far away from her friends and family, that is where it began in earnest. After making sure she had no money, no car and no job and they were living far out of town, far away from other people, the violence escalated. During the pregnancy with their first child (her second), he punched her and knocked her down. While he had ostensibly wanted her to go down to Oklahoma to get registered on the Cherokee roles and get free pregnancy and delivery care, after the first visit, he refused to take her. She found a couple of rides from some of his family members and associates to make her appointments, but that was few and far between. When she went into labor, Ken had been gone for two days with their only mode of transportation. She didn’t know where or how to get hold of him.

When Tee went down to stay with her after the delivery, so did Dani’s mom. Dani didn’t tell her mom, but she did tell Tee and she made her swear not to tell anyone. It was her problem, you see, and she’d figure it out. She didn’t want her mom upset and, since the baby had been born a week before, Ken had seemed like a different person. Maybe it was the stress of being the sole breadwinner and a new father while already raising someone else’s child?

After everyone left, it started up again, but it was getting worse she told me. Several times she thought he had broke something and she needed to go to the hospital, but he wouldn’t take her, of course, and he threatened to kill her if she called anyone about it. The last night that she finally decided to leave was not the first time he had pulled a knife on her.

She also did not realize that she was not the only victim in their situation. The entire time she thought it was just about her and she tried to hide it from her boy, Deek. But, she was hiding nothing. She was not saving him. She was not protecting him the way she thought.

Ken told Dani that he was taking Deek out fishing with him or to do other father son things. That’s what she wanted, she said. She just wanted somebody who was interested in her son, could be his dad. That’s what made her interested in Ken in the first place. He seemed to take interest in her son. It’s kind of strange, from an objective viewpoint, of all the things she could have wanted or got out of the marriage, maybe the second worst thing was Ken as a role model for her son. I don’t think, even at the time she was saying it that she understood just how horrible that thought was, even if Ken hadn’t been abusing the boy and only her.

It seems that, instead of Ken taking Deek fishing, he would take him with him to the bars and make him lay down in the back seat, in the dark and stay there while he would drink all night. Then he told Deek that if he ever told Dani, he’d kill both him and his mother. It wasn’t the first time Ken told him not to tell. It wasn’t the first time he threatened to kill him or hurt him. After coming back here, Dani decided they needed to go to family counseling and that’s when Deek started telling her about his own experiences.

The circle of silence had been very big and none of those in it could lift their eyes long enough to see who was standing in it with them. They all thought they were doing what was best.

I asked why she didn’t tell me. She said she didn’t want me to know. I asked if we were friends, if she thought we were friends, why she didn’t tell me. She kept saying, over and over that she thought it was her punishment, that it was she who was not the good wife and the good mother. Besides, what would I have done? That’s what she asked me. What would I have done differently than the rest of those people in the circle of silence?

I’d like to think that I would have tried harder to persuade her not to go to Oklahoma. Maybe, I would have tried harder to tell her I thought he was an asshole when I first met him. Maybe, I should have realized that there is something more wrong than I thought when your friend defends their husband to you after everyone just saw him grab her arm and frog march her away from the dance floor and she tells you he was just “jealous”.

Would I have told someone? Would I have just tried to keep talking to her and convincing her to leave? Would I have gotten her help?

I want to think I would, but you know something, I don’t know that for sure. I would have been just like Tee, silent to the rest of the world while quietly trying to convince Dani of leaving. I would have considered her “feelings” first and tried to preserve our friendship thinking that was the best way to convince Dani to leave. All the time, never really knowing or understanding just how dangerous it was to wait, or how ineffectual it all is if you never break the circle of silence.

At first when she told me, I remember being shocked. Not Dani. She was always funny and outgoing. Then, I felt kind of sick because I couldn’t believe that would happen to someone I knew, right before my eyes and I never really knew. I wondered if it could happen to me and no one would ever know? Then I was angry. I felt my face heat up and my heart pounding. I was angry for Dani and Deek. I was angry with everyone for keeping silent. I was angry because I didn’t notice it and did nothing. I was angry that just talking about it with her, I felt my own vulnerability, I found myself questioning my own strength of character. What would I have done?

After talking for so long, she finally said she had to go. She just wanted to talk to me because she knew she hadn’t since October. She said she felt ready now to tell some people.

Ken is still out there, right now, running around free. His family knows where he is, but they won’t turn him in. I guess they don’t believe he was all that bad. Besides, what would happen to him? A year in prison for assault with a deadly weapon and then parole? Then what? Do people like this change? Who is the next woman or girl to be his victim, because that’s what happens. There was somebody before Dani. I remember her talking about Ken talking about the other one. I remember Dani gloating thinking the other one had been such a loser to lose Ken. I wonder if Dani ever thinks about that?

Somebody came before and somebody will come after. Another one will join the circle of silence.

After staying up late last night and writing most of this piece, I finally was so tired, so drained that I had to sleep. But I couldn’t sleep because it kept going through my mind, what would I have done?

I know some of you are thinking now that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I didn’t know. It’s the person’s own decision. You can’t save everyone. She’s okay, now, you don’t have to kick yourself. It doesn’t help the situation. Now she just needs someone to listen.

Thank you, but I’ve already been telling myself that and many other things.

I decided that, what I could do, what I would do was to break the circle of silence. Even all the way up to the end of this posting, I was not sure if I would actually publish it on the website. Sure, I changed the names and places to protect the innocent. If it didn’t mean exposing my friends, I think I would have posted Ken’s real and full name here. Maybe somebody in the not to far off future will read his name and be warned. But I can’t. You see? That’s just another way we live in the circle of violence, the circle of silence.

This is a true story. I really did get a phone call from someone I hadn’t seen in over two years. I really did just find out why she was really getting a divorce. I really was shocked to know that she was a victim of domestic violence.

I swear today that I will never stand in the circle of silence again.

Look around you today. The odds are, one out of every ten women you meet has been or is being battered by their husband, boyfriend or other domestic counter part.

ONE OUT OF TEN!

If you know someone who is being abused, don’t be silent. Break the circle of silence and tell someone. Tell anyone. Tell the police. Call a hotline. Tell their family.

Be prepared to say it more than once. Be prepared to insist. One of the things I’ve just learned trying to do some quick reading on the subject is that domestic violence does not receive the same treatment as violence against a stranger in our court system or by all police forces. While the help page I was reading said that, if you know that abuse or violence is occurring, call the police, but that does not always mean that the abuser will be put in jail. I know that many police forces have tried to give officers more information and more direction on arresting perpetrators of domestic abuse. Still, officers are loath intervene. In some situations, the victim is so scared they refuse to tell the police and insist that everything is fine.

I remember watching that show “COPS” once and listening to a woman tell an officer that everything was okay now and it was obvious that her nose had been broken and blood was still dribbling from her nose. I remember thinking with little pity how stupid that woman was to not tell the police. Now, talking to Dani, I think I have a new appreciation for the fear that must follow these women. Fortunately, in the case of the woman on COPS they arrested her husband anyway. Unfortunately, according to the officer, the woman came and bailed him out. She didn’t leave.

According to the information I was reading on this subject, even if the abuser is jailed and the partner seeks a divorce or other separation, 74% of all victims continue to be victimized by their abuser. Court systems and social assistance are often geared toward, “family preservation” and even if the separation is completed, if there is custody of children involved, there is a very high chance that continued interaction with the abuser will lead to continued abuse.

According to statistics, 42% of all women murdered are murdered by their domestic partner.

The risk of being murdered by their domestic partner or abuse is 75% higher when the victim tries to leave. This is why many victims choose to stay in their relationships. They are afraid of what will happen if they stay, but they are more afraid what might happen if they leave. These folks do not need statistics to tell them that they might not survive. They live it every day.

But, we have the power to overcome. We still have the fear of intervening in a “family” situation. We still equate embarrassment or shame to the victim or being related to such a problem. We still think we can handle it ourselves. The victims of domestic violence are often mentally abused by their partner or have such low self esteem that they think they deserve what they are getting and refuse to do anything about it.

But we on the outside can. We do not have to be part of the shame. We are the strong ones. So, if you know someone whom you think is being abused, don’t be silent.

Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website National Domestic Violence Hotline to find out what you can do to help somebody you know.

If you are a victim of abuse, don’t be silent. Tell a friend or family member. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website National Domestic Violence Hotline to find out how they can help you.

Break the circle of violence.

Break the circle of silence.

5 comments:

Jamie said...

You're right, Kat, we've all known women who are in abusive relationships. Of the abused women I've known, the situations have all been different, but they all stayed with the guy, albeit for different reasons. Some stayed because they thought they deserved it because they were "bad wives". Others stayed because they thought that all husbands beat their wives, after all their dad beat their mom and it was all they knew. Others stayed because they didn't have anywhere to go, didn't have a job or training and were afraid that they couldn't make a living and support themselves and their kids. Still others stayed because "he didn't really mean it, he said he was sorry, he really does love me!". I even knew of two women who stayed with an abusive man because they didn't want to have to work for a living. And they actually ADMITTED IT in those very words!

But there are actually women who instigate beatings as a way to KEEP their husbands. My ex and I knew a woman like that. She would instigate the fights and the beatings. It was the strangest relationship I have ever seen and hope to never see again! She would start a fight with her husband, during which she would get right up in his face and taunt him, call him names, curse him, tell him "go ahead and hit me" until he got so angry he would beat her just like she knew he would. And she did it for two reasons. One reason - for sympathy. After the beating, she would run to friends and ask for help (usually people who didn't know her very well). It was weird. The first few times that she came to OUR house at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., we were sympathetic and would let her stay with us for day or two. But then we happened to be around them one night and she started a fight with him and we got to see her in action. And the other reason she did it was that she knew that he would feel guilty about it the next day. He would be all contrite and beg her to forgive him and take him back. After witnessing this happen on a few occasions, we realized that it was almost like a game to them. Both of them were nuts. I had never seen such a sick relationship. They were beyond help. My ex and I tried talking to them both, but they insisted that they "loved" each other. I finally gave up and avoided them.

I guess what I'm saying is that not all of the abused want to be saved. You can't help those who don't want to be helped. I know that there are women like your friend who do need help getting away. And I agree, we should help those who accept it, but if they don't want that help, there is really nothing you can do about it.

dcat said...

Ahem, Well Kat, I came from Indiana, I was glad to get away because of the mentality, that I noticed. I knew I was not going to have this kind of life! I got into climbing, skiing, kayaking, traveling and working. Being married and having children was not going to be my destiny and now I’m with a man that has been my buddy for a very long time. Since 81 in fact! I sold my house in 93 and moved in with him. We just got married in Oct., and I didn’t change my name. I really don’t understand my friends or family back home and this is why I severed all contact with them! They are all abusers in the worse way! I love my life and really pity them. Nobody listens.

Glitch said...

Kat...

(looking in lap and feeling ashamed)

I know YOU know this but just wanted to say: "Yes, ALL MEN ARE PIGS - But not all of us are abusive sicko pricks that could do that kind of crap to ANYONE, much less a woman.

At least that's what my wife and 2 daughter's keep telling me :).

You did the right thing - that kind of behavior counts on shame and fear to maintain silence.

Kender said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kender said...

What a powerful powerful post. You amaze me Kat.

and now for a brief bit of levity to counter the feeling of helplessness.

More years ago than I will admit to or care to think about I was at the fairgrounds in Vallejo CA. for the Solano County Fair. Like alot of fairs it has horse racing. That is why I was there.

One afternoon while I was sitting in the Jockeys Room, playing cards and BSing with friends one of the other riders came in yelling that there was an amateur rodeo that very night after the races and he signed up and who wanted to join him.

Now most people never go inside the jocks room, but imagine a high school locker room with the football team gearing up for the big game, subtract the pep talk, multiply the adolescent pranks by three, then multiply the "Balls Factor" to the power of ten and completely erase the common sense factor and you begin to understand the mindset in a typical jocks room. But what else would you expect from a group of men who are dead fit, (average bodyfat, 3.5%) and willingly place their life on the line everyday at work chasing fortune, glory and bragging rights?

As you would expect not one of us even thought about not signing up.

I drew a bull that must have been satans pet and he seemed about as big as a dually truck with a look in his eye that said "I eat steel and piss hot lead".

I had never ridden a bull before. I had never been to a rodeo. I had never even been closer than 20 feet to a bull.

I was completely unaware of the fact that unlike a horse, a bulls skin isn't actually attached to their body, it is simply there as an after thought and I am still certain to this day that if their legs weren't there to stop it from happening that their skin would spin completely around them.

Did anyone bother to tell me about this little bit of totally vital information? Hell no!! The ones that knew this fact were my friends, and friends never stop friends from making an ass of themselves.

Now, I have been literally on countless horses. I can sit a bronc. It almost takes an act of congress to get me out of the saddle. When I was younger it was a matter of pride. Now it is a matter of the ground got real damn hard when I hit thirty, and if I can stay on one then I will.

But like I said, I had never ridden a bull.

Well, I can now say I have ridden a bull. I can also say that I will never, ever, even if God himself begged me pretty please with sugar on top, and I mean EVER ride another bull.

I rode him.

I finished third for that little ride.

I got a buckle for my trouble.

Been there, done that, got the bruise to prove it.

I have known a few bull riders. I think they are insane. Great guys to party with, honest as a summer day is long, and will back you up till the end of time if they call you friend. Simply put they are the embodiment of "cowboy" and deserve the title along with every accolade that goes with it. But still they are insane.

Of course they think I'm crazy for jacking up my irons (stirrups) 'til I am almost standing on a horses back and making them go as fast as they can, but like I tell them, the goal there is to go as fast as you can, and if you don't you still generally stay ON the horse, dismounting when YOU please at the end of a race, and WALKING AWAY without the horse coming after you with murdeous intent in their eyes.

At the end of a race you come back in one piece and dismount and walk away.

That seems sane to me. It's just a little horsebackin'.

At the end of a bull ride you may come back in one piece, but you still gotta bail off and alot of times run like hell when that bull comes for revenge.

That is fucking insane.

Like I said, bull riders are insane, and they have my utter, honest and undying respect.

BTW, I rode 4.7 seconds.