Our interaction was brief, no more than 2 minutes in a typical Saturday scheduled with events and appointments during which my children and I managed to squeeze in a visit to our neighborhood park. And I can’t stop thinking about her… a comment about the heatwave, a genuine smile directed at my daughter, a polite “maybe we’ll see you here again…” as she worked to buckle her cranky toddler into his stroller. And as she turned to wave to me, I saw a dark bruise on the underside of her arm, the size of a large thumbprint. My eyes trailed to her forearm, where there were a series of faint, linear cuts. Self- inflicted? By now her son was in full-blown fit mode, back arched and hollering, and she shushed him with the promise of ice cream and a chance to play video games with dad when they arrived home. And she was gone. But her image lingers in my mind.
Every now and then, I catch a glimpse of it…the faint trace of scar about a half-inch long, on my left wrist right under my ring finger. I hardly think of it now. It serves no purpose but to remind me of a period of youthful hopelessness during which I was somehow convinced that my worth was tied to the boys I was dating. This one’s name was Bryan. He was tall and fair-skinned with hazel-eyes and an inviting grin. The trace of freckles sprinkled across his nose gave off an appearance of innocence, when in reality he was anything but. At 15, he was already on a path of self-destruction that included run-ins with the cops, voluntary homelessness, and sadly, methamphetamines. Like several of the other boys I had dated, he made a habit of exerting power through hurtful phrases and a heavy hand, and he could literally destroy & re-build my confidence all in one day. But I adored him. Our time together was short…it began in early autumn and ended before the last leaf touched down on the cold winter pavement. Thankfully. But as always, my hindsight offers me a much clearer picture of a disaster averted, though at the time of our parting I was devastated. I remember there was another girl (isn’t that often the story?), and she happened to be a friend of mine. I consoled myself with Jack Daniels and my friend’s word that she would never pursue a relationship with him. And in my stupor, I found relief in hurting myself. Hence, the scar. The first, and last time I ever took comfort from the endorphin rush of self-harm. I was 14 years old.
These are not easy memories for me to recall, though it’s interesting for me to look back and see how, by the age of 15, I had silently vowed to myself that I could never put up with regular overt violence in my relationships…although up until fairly recently I did learn to tolerate (and engage in) bouts of covert conflict marked with verbal taunts and emotional stalemates. I know this is a common enough story that I’m willing to bet many of you reading this are nodding your heads, perhaps remembering a time that your broken heart lead you to depression, or self-medication, or injury. Or maybe it was none of these. Maybe your heart lead you to remain in a destructive relationship, and convinced you that a familiar suffering was better than the unfamiliar fate you’d endure if you somehow managed to walk away.
We acquire many scars in the name of love; some are emotional, some are hidden & self-inflicted, others are visible to all. It takes an incredible amount of bravery to remove yourself from a situation that you have grown accustomed to. Or to admit that you are locked in a destructive pattern of interaction, either emotionally, physically, or verbally. The statistics on abusive relationships and related trauma in our country are sobering. Several studies have noted a co-occurance between dating/domestic violence and self-injury. And many sources estimate that 1 in 3 women have at one time been a victim of dating/domestic abuse. One in THREE. Which basically makes violence against women one of the most pervasive human rights crises in the world.
If you are trying in vain to hide the battle scars of your hidden war, know that you are not alone. Know that voicing your struggle is the first step toward freeing yourself from it. Realize that, even if you feel completely isolated, there are people waiting in the wings who will support you are you take your first steps on different path.
I regret not having said something to her. Not to pry or ask questions. But to offer friendship. A phone number. A bridge into our neighborhood network of strong, supportive women, many of whom have experienced similar misfortune at one point in their lives. If we happen to cross paths again, I will not hesitate to reach out…
Sister, you are stronger than the weight of his words. You are whole even in the absence of his presence. You, are a work of art to be admired and protected from defacement—be it from the hands of others, or your own.
Mother, love is not allowing your wings to be unwillingly clipped, even if you convince yourself it’s for the sake of your children. If you live in constant conflict, your little ones may benefit more from seeing you in flight than watching you wither in captivity. True, a nuclear family is worth is weight in gold…but a peaceful home is priceless.
Daughter, as I held you tenderly during your most vulnerable times, so should he respond to you with gentle touch and soothing words. Never expect less. Never settle.
And most importantly; Sons, with your hands, exhibit kindness. With your eyes, respect. With your tongue, honor. With your heart, love. And seek out a partner who will do the same.https://www.facebook.com/pages/VAWG-Dialogue-Ending-Violence-against-Women-Girls/224212490996337 http://www.loveisrespect.org/ http://www.weaveinc.org/domestic-violence-information http://selfinjuryfoundation.org/self-injurers.html