Every morning I read the news. This morning, my husband sent me a link to a Daily Beast story, Silicon Valley CEO Pleads ‘No Contest’ to Abusing His Wife—and Is Offered a Deal for Less Than 30 Days in Jail. It tells the story of a successful, professional woman married to the CEO of an Internet startup. It explains how he hit her and beat her. The abuse went on regularly for years. Finally, when she couldn’t take it anymore, she recorded one of the abuse sessions and went to police. I read her account — and listened to the audio of one such session– with the sick fascination of someone who has been there, done that.
As a teen I dated someone who hit me. Although it happened decades ago, those experiences are still fresh in my mind. I can close my eyes and almost feel the guy, a pillar of propriety today, BTW, putting his hands around my neck and squeezing. He only let go when my cousin and her boyfriend came running out of another room screaming that he was going to kill me. At the time, he released me and I fell like a rag doll, bumping my head on my cousin’s hip bone on my way to the floor. I still have a calcification on my forehead from that assault. The remnants of what was then a HUGE blue egg will be there forever.
I also remember the time he came into my house and, without saying a word and because he was mad at me, smacked a bowl of cereal out of my hands before smacking me, too. The memory of the milk streaming down the wall and my body shaking in terror takes me right back. There were plenty of other episodes over the almost six years I dated him, too. Six years. SIX years. I met him when I was three months shy of 16 and dated him until I was almost 22. How can that be? Why did I stay?
Looking back, I think I stayed (and even took an engagement ring from him) because I loved him and thought it was normal. My dad died when I was young. I didn’t see an example of a healthy male/femal relationship. Besides, my mom loved me and she spanked me, smacked me, pulled my hair. All my friends and family had parents who hit them, too. If parents hit and it was okay of course a man would hit, right?
I wish I could say I left. That I was the one who broke off the engagement and threw him out of my life. I didn’t, though. We had a fight and he broke up with me. I actually begged for him to take me back, something not uncommon in an abusive relationship. He refused. He did try and reconcile with me after a month or so, but by then I realized I was happier (and better off) without him. What followed was a year of horrific, creepy stalking and crazy behavior that only stopped once I called the police. He targeted me, my new boyfriend and my family. He called my mother telling her terrible things about me. He kicked my door. He set off our car alarms at all times of the night. He sat outside my house with a scanner, listening to my telephone conversations. He threatened to kill himself. It was a mess. But I digress as usual.
So after I read that story this morning I sat in bed thinking. I wanted to make sure my girls knew that hitting was never okay. We’ve talked about it in the past, but it had been a while since the topic came up. The big one already left for school, so I went to talk to the little one. I found her in her closet, picking out clothes. I crouched down so I was eye level and told her that I hope she alway remembered that hitting is never okay. I asked her if Mommy or Daddy ever hit her. She said no, never. I told her that someone who loves you — truly loves you — would never intentionally hurt you. I told her that the second someone puts their hands on her she was to come tell us no matter how old she was. I also told her that people who hit also lie. They may say they are sorry and that they didn’t mean it, but they aren’t sorry and they will do it again.
She was annoyed. She didn’t want to hear such things on a rainy Thursday morning. She adopted that voice that 8-year-old girls get, “Mamma, I know!” Then she shifted gears, asking me to help her fix the neckline of her blue ruffled top. I adjusted her clothing, hugged her tightly and we continued on our day. The sound of the audio still gets to me, though. I hear myself in her cries. It makes me feel ashamed and sad and afraid for the future.
As a parent, I know I can’t save my kids from every mistake and problem they will encounter. I can’t prevent boys from being mean to them or stop them from breaking their hearts. I worry, though. I worry about the hitters. The date rapers. The would-be photographers. The liars. The drug pushers. The “hey, it’s only vodka” guys. I’ve been in this world too long and know that these guys are out there. They exist. How do I make sure that they miss meeting them or — if they do — simply pass them by?
For now, I’ll keep talking. I’ll keep showing my girls the evidence of my own mistakes. I did it this morning, taking my daughter’s hand and rubbing it over my permanent bump to the head. Hopefully, the information sinks in and they never have to confront it themselves. I’ll also pray that the parents of the boys my daughters will come in contact with are talking to their boys, too. I hope they are telling them that it’s never okay to hit a girl. I hope their words sink in, too.