The Ray Rice “story” and (thanks in part to the NFL’s clumsy, clueless handling of its role) the media’scontinued coverage of it is strange in a “wow” kind of way: people are talking about a sometimes taboo subject that I raise whenever I can.
Sometimes talk is only gossip, or herd mentality, or meaningless Facebook likes and shares and Twitter hashtag frenzy.
But talk where there used to be silence can lead to real change: according to Mary Riedel, President and CEO of Women in Distress, “In the week following the release of the video showing Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer, calls to the Women in Distress 24-hour crisis line increased by 60%.” 60%!
Maybe some of the #whyIstayed reasons are shifted by the national conversation. Maybe women are calling crisis lines because they are reassured that the abuse they’re experiencing is not okay. Or that they will be believed. Maybe their friends and family are more supportive after seeing the video.
Let’s keep talking about this long after the gossip machine moves on. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We have a perfect opportunity for more awareness, more help, and less abuse.
I’m not an NFL wife, but from 1999-2007, I was abused by my husband, a charismatic man with a lot of friends who bordered on fans. Today is the seventh anniversary of my divorce.
I totally understand that the last thing you want right now is to be the centerpiece of a national conversation about domestic violence. The first thing you want, if you’re like me, and maybe you still believe that you can have it, is a happy marriage that matches the image you’ve worked so hard to portray, the image in your most deeply heartfelt hopes and dreams for yourself, your husband, your child, and your life.
I don’t know all the reasons you’ve stayed, but I stayed because I wanted that happy marriage, too. Here are some of the other reasons #why I stayed:
I believed him when he told me I was responsible for the way he treated me. If only I would be quiet ….
I believed him when he told me I wasn’t sexy, had no real friends, and was at my core a worthless person.
I kept what was happening so secret, so well, that I couldn’t imagine telling the truth.
I didn’t think anyone would believe that my funny, generous, church-going husband was abusive.
I loved him.
I thought I could help him be a better man.
I was too proud to admit that I couldn’t stop him from abusing me.
I didn’t want to get divorced.
I was listening to my biological clock and wanted to have a baby.
I didn’t want to leave my dogs with him.
I really, truly believed, right up until I didn’t believe anymore, that he was telling me the truth when he promised to change.
I’m sorry, Janay Palmer Rice, that the elevator tape wound up on TMZ. I’m sorry that you’re going through this. I hope you’re safe. I hope that when you’re ready, and only you can say when, you’ll write a list of #why I left.
On Valentine’s Day, I walked in the College Brides Walk to raise awareness about domestic and dating violence and to commemorate the life and death of Gladys Ricart, who was murdered on her wedding day by an ex-boyfriend.
That’s me dressed in white in the middle of the picture (Mr. Z said he didn’t know I owned any white clothes, but that’s another story). For more pictures (and this one), check out this Miami Herald gallery.
It’s the fourth annual event, and I was happy to attend for the first time. Going to events like this is energizing and affirming–so many other people focusing on an issue that is dear to me.
But by the sixth mile of carrying a sign with a photo of Kalyn Denise O’Barr, 19, who died on January 5, 2010, I was emotional. According to my sign, “She was attacked while sleeping and strangled with an electrical cord. Her husband was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for her murder.”
I walked (and I write and I speak) for Kalyn and way too many victims of domestic violence who cannot.
I repeat the mantra “lifeisshort lifeisshort lifeisshort.” Sometimes I add “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.” I check an online calculator again—254 days until my 50th birthday.
Lifeisshort, I chant as I rush from my office to the Women of Tomorrow event before heading back to the office again. I talk with a group of high school girls about dating violence. I want to make a difference in their lives. Lifeisshort lifeisshort.
I tell my story of being in an abusive relationship, and the girls share theirs. One girl feels pressure to continue her relationship with her controlling boyfriend, and one of the other women in the room says, “Girls, you can take your time to find the right relationship, the right career, the right life. It may not seem like it now, but life is long.”
“Life is long”? Hmmm. Maybe for 16-year-olds. I am nearly 50.
Two days later, I sit at my dining room table, coffee within easy reach, Sunday’s New York Times spread out in front of me. Frank Bruni’s op-ed about maturity and Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos’ 37-year-old quarterback, is a celebration of experience: “With a bit of age has come a better grip on the fact that a game, like a life, is long. Stay calm. Hang in. Wait for the inevitable break. Trust your training.”
Now we know that the inevitable break never came for Manning on Sunday night, but I remember Bruni’s column. “A game, like a life, is long.”
I google “Frank Bruni age” and smile. Of course. He’s 49 and he’ll turn 50 fourteen days after I do. 268 to go, Frank. Do you really think lifeislong?
The next day I read, as I do most days, Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog, which linked to a story about Janet Yellen, who, at 67, has just become the Chairwoman? Chairman? Chair? of the Federal Reserve. “Life is long,” says the article, which continues, “It’s a liberating notion, really, to think that you don’t have to accomplish everything in your life – or ‘have it all’ – simultaneously; that leaning back during one life stage doesn’t preclude leaning in later.”
I haven’t had it all, at least not in any conventional sense or in any conventional order, but I notice that phrase again. Lifeislong. And Janet Yellen, at the top of her game, the beginning of the peak of her professional life, at 67, inspires.
Okay, if Anyone is coordinating this onslaught of “lifeislong,” I’m listening. I’m thinking.
But maybe this is mere coincidence; maybe everyone is saying “lifeislong” now and I’m just noticing. Is this the new YouOnlyLiveOnce?
I google again. The search leads me not to urbandictionary.com but to this quote from a Chris Rock movie, I Think I Love My Wife: “You know, some people say life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it’s your last. Bullshit. Life is long. You’re probably not gonna get hit by a bus. And you’re gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next fifty years.”
And then I click on stanza V of T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”:
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
So. A woman advises girls. A man praises Manning’s long game. Janet Yellen has it all, in her own time. Chris Rock calls “bullshit.” I shake my head at the beauty of Eliot’s words. I pay attention.
Lifeislong invites exploration, slowing down, mixing in at least a little rest and reflection with the urgent drumbeat of “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.”
Over the next 254 days, I’ll write a series of 50 posts. 50 posts before 50. They’ll be less “lifeisshort” bucket list and more “lifeislong” what’s next?
I hope to have some guest posts, too, maybe even 50 of them, from women who have already looked 50 in the eye, as well as women who still look forward to it 500, 1000, 2000 or more days from now.
Is life short or long? I don’t know yet. I hope to have a better idea by my birthday.
I know two women who left their abusive husbands over this New Year’s mid-week holiday. As soon as the new apartments were ready, while the men were at work, with careful planning and the help of friends and family, they shed possessions and made a break for it.
The moment of leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous one possible for the victim; it is the instant when the batterer (statistically most often a man) loses what he has sought above all else, what he has sought to obtain via physical, emotional, or financial abuse: control over the victim. It is the moment when he is most likely to be most violent as he attempts to regain what he is losing.
To those courageous survivors who left today, may you be safe. May you inhale the fresh paint smell of your new apartment and know that your life will never be the same, that you’ve done the hardest thing already, that each day will get a little easier.
And to the rest of us who are already safe in our homes tonight, may we remember those who left and maybe even our own leaving, and may we take whatever risks we need to take now in order to have the lives we’re meant to have.
The law was first passed in 1994, and reauthorized without incident in 2000 and 2005. It worked. More women had access to more protection from violence and abuse.
When it was time to reauthorize VAWA in 2011, additional provisions were added to offer protection to groups who need it–LGBT people, Native Americans, and immigrants. All of these groups experience intimate traumas at equal or greater rates than the rest of the population. That’s when the trouble began. The law has become stuck in the mire of partisanship.
Even as I cheered the bill’s passage in the Senate on Tuesday, I fumed.
Do the 22 male senators who voted against it have no sisters, daughters, or mothers? Is protecting states’ rights to allocate funding and the rights of American-citizen men who commit rape or battering or sexual abuse on tribal lands more important than protecting the women who are or would be the victims of violent intimate crimes?
And I was frustrated with myself for my own supposed politeness and my unwillingness to write here about politics.
I went to the gym, and read the quote at the bottom of the white board:
I am angry enough to leave my polite no-overt-political-talk comfort zone.
Angry at the 22 Republican men of the Senate, including Florida’s Marco Rubio, who voted no. Angry at the news media that was too obsessed with a manhunt in California to give this issue any real coverage. Angry at the House which hasn’t even scheduled a vote.
Angry that one in three women on the planet will experience violence–sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence–in her lifetime.
I’ve been writing a series of freedom-centered writing prompts, and I want to share some of them here.
Here’s the first one:
In ancient Rome, slaves who were to be freed were given a hat called a pileus during a ceremony of emancipation. Reading that, I thought, “why would they want to wear a special hat–couldn’t they want to look ‘normal’ and hatless, not showing that they had ever been enslaved at all?
I caught myself. Isn’t that the same thing as asking why we can’t “pass” as someone who’s never experienced abuse or trauma of any kind?
Most days I can accept, and some days I can even celebrate, who I am because of my experiences. I am proud to wear the hat of a survivor.