Why didn't I just leave?

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

This is a modified version of an essay originally published in October 2012 by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, Ms. Magazine Blog and San Diego Free Press.

Please join the Week of Action with National Network to End Domestic Violence Oct 20 through 24.

 

2014DVmonth

Picture a sere summer night in Phoenix, Arizona, circa 1982.1

I lay on a crinkly table in a cluttered ER, joking with the doc, bribing him with a promise of homemade shortbread if he could fix my face without leaving scars, looking anywhere but in his eyes, and I noticed a police officer nearby.

When I was all stitched and tidied up, I went to the cop and heard a quavering voice tell him that I wanted to press charges against my husband for assault.

The cop looked across the waiting room at him, sitting with his face buried behind his bloodied hands, his tiny mother, herself a victim, standing next to his chair, her arm around him while she stroked his head and kissed his fevered brow.

The cop looked back at me and said, “You don’t want to do that. You’ll just make him angry all over again, and it’ll be worse the next time.”

I did eventually leave my husband, taking my battered self and VW bus and just enough money for gas from Phoenix back to LA, where I lived in a friend’s basement until I recovered.

Flash forward a decade or so, to a visit to the east coast.

On the graceful terrace of a lovely home, a cocktail party was reaching into the night with storytelling. I was puttering in the kitchen, fixing myself a drink, when someone’s words wafted through the window. They sounded something like this:

“Yeah, he beat the hell out of her. We couldn’t figure out why she didn’t just leave him.”

Forsaking my Southern social graces, I stormed outside and lambasted the speaker—in front of everyone—for telling a story that was not hers to tell, for telling it with such a damnably ignorant conclusion. Unseemly of me, I know, and she responded with her own tantrum, stormed off, and didn’t speak to me for some time.

But the question lingered in the summer breeze, flirting with the fireflies—why didn’t I just leave him? It took me years to be able to answer it, and now I know why.

Because I did, because I did leave him. And I stood at the pay phone at the corner of our city block in the winter night, shivering in the t-shirt I had on when he picked me up from the bed and threw me to the sidewalk outside our front door, and I discovered that the police wouldn’t do anything because I wasn’t injured (that time) and I could always stay at a motel or with friends.

But I had no money and I had no friends—because he didn’t want me to have them.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did. And I was wooed back into the relationship with the promise that he had been in counseling for six months and was no longer a batterer and would live only for my forgiveness.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did. And, with battered psyche in tow, I was shamed back to him with the blame for making him beat me, for ruining his life, for getting blood on his mother’s car upholstery.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did, I finally did. I left him when a skinny, exhausted mama in the ER, with a passel of runny-nosed kids, that woman who, through my battered but still-privileged lens appeared to need some help, that woman who wouldn’t stop staring at me as I talked to the cop, when she came over and said, “I know what’s going on. You don’t deserve it. Come home with me. You can sleep on the sofa.”

Instead of telling a woman in possession of nothing but a t-shirt to spend the night in a motel and call back when she’s really in trouble; instead of joking with a patient about injuries consistent with assault; instead of telling the complainant to be silent or she’ll make it worse the next time; instead of looking the other way; instead of blaming the victim; instead of accepting women’s excuses for black eyes and split lips, their lies about walking into doorways and tripping on coffee tables, their pleas that they must stay for the children; instead of all that, do this —

Say: Did somebody hurt you? You don’t deserve to be hit or kicked or strangled or thrown or belittled or terrorized. It is not your fault. It's a crime. If somebody hurt you, let me help you. There are safe places to go and people who understand. Please let me help you.

Love, K-B

Again, please join the Week of Action with National Network to End Domestic Violence, Oct 20 through 24.

For more information:

If you are a victim of violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call 800-799-SAFE (7233).

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

Same-sex relationship violence counseling in San Diego

If you want to help, visit your local domestic violence prevention agency or Futures Without Violence.

2014 Presidential Proclamation – National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Intimate partner violence (IPV) statistics One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.







1 In 1982, there were few shelters for victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and little training for police. Today, there are significantly more resources, but still many law enforcement officers—and family and friends, victims and abusers—fail to treat IPV as the crime it is, and still it can be fatally difficult to leave an abusive relationship.