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This is an article written for and featured in Phoenix magazine in 2009. I thought it was time to review and republish an update as our Raising Cain Podcast will feature a series of domestic violence and abuse over the next year followed by a nonfiction book.
Eleven years have passed since the research and interview was done and I wanted to compare the statistics and Michelle’s life as it is 12 years later (name changed for privacy). She has agreed to tell her story in my upcoming book with Jenny Muscatell. For now, let’s take a look at the article, a true story and how or if the statistics have changed over the year.
Here is the original article:
Even though it has been several years since her divorce, Michelle still wakes in the middle of the night from nightmares of her past life, only to realize that she is free from the physical pain, anguish and feeling of utter fear and horror from her eleven‐year marriage to Tommy, her high school sweetheart.
“It doesn’t just go away,” she said. “It took everything I had in me and years of counseling to escape and cope with my low self esteem, emotional pain and the ability to trust another man. The signs of external bruises go away but the emotional scares are everlasting.”
Her divorce from Tommy wasn’t a mutual agreement or irreconcilable differences. It was a break away from the life where she was captive to a man who promised to love, cherish and protect her.
Michelle remembers the first time Tommy hit her. He had always been jealous, making negative comments about her appearance and analyzed her conversations to others, especially with other men, always questioning her intentions. However, it wasn’t until they were into their second year of marriage and she was pregnant with her second child that he lashed out at her physically.
“I was folding laundry, when Tommy stormed into the room and grabbed me, pulled me towards him. I don’t remember what he was upset about, nor did it matter. Screaming in my face, he grabbed me by my shirt and in one big move, threw me down a flight of stairs. As I fell toward the top of the stairs, I grabbed my belly tight, cupping my arms around my body like a cage in hopes not to injure my unborn baby, but I had little control. Fear and gravity carried me to a place that I could have never even imaged. I was shocked and full of fear.”
“Running down the stairs, as if I tripped and fell, Tommy came to my rescue. He was so sorry for what he had done, he didn’t mean it he said and I forgave him, I was convinced that I was to blame for not complying with whatever he was feeling. He told me (and himself and his mother that was in the next room) that I slipped and he didn’t mean to let me fall but couldn’t reach me in time. I owned up to my part in the situation and felt that in the future I needed to toe the line, get the laundry folder or anticipate his arrival and have a hot meal ready. Feeling like a child for disobeying their parents, I tried even harder to please my husband, the man I loved and trusted with my life.”
“He didn’t hit or even verbally abuse me for weeks after that incident, but once he started again, it never stopped. There seem to be no reason for the abuse. Drunk or sober, happy or sad, it was my fault and he had all the answers and excuses to use me for his punching bag.”
The abuse went on for eleven years, sometimes daily, sometimes months in between. “I was filled with shame, fear and embarrassed to tell anyone. Talking about it was never an option I thought I had. It was part of my life just like cooking dinner, laundry and taking care of the kids. The one thing I knew in my heart was that I didn’t have a choice, or so I thought at the time.”
“One night he was drunk and playing around with his rifle. The kids were asleep and he was waving the gun around their bed wanting to shoot out the window. For the first time the fear and rage overtook me. I needed to protect my children; it wasn’t about “us” anymore. I remember Tommy coming after me with the butt of the gun as I begged him to stop. The next thing I remember was my father-in-law standing over me with a wet cloth on my eye, trying to pick me up from the floor, I don’t know how long I was out but long enough for Tommy to call he father to come over to our house to help me.”
“Nothing was said or done, I didn’t go to the doctors even though I had a black eye and lay unconscious. The left side of my face was lacerated and swollen with a golf ball size goose egg. “They” agreed Tommy would be arrested if we got medical attention. His father took all his guns that night and that was his punishment.”
“Tommy always reassured me that no other person could ever love me. How could they? My medium framed, 130‐pound body was disgusting and I was lucky that he loved me, so he told me. He had me convinced that even my family didn’t love me.”
“I attended college parttime for years. Tommy said I could go if it didn’t interfere with our life and my responsibilities as a wife. My desire to better myself left little time for sleep, but I was determined to finish school and get a job. Some how I thought working would stop the abuse, and in some ways, it did. Tommy never hit me from the neck up again. That didn’t stop the verbal abuse, beatings, rape and the horrible threats of death if I tried to leave.”
“I would daydream of what it would be like to live without Tommy. What if he died? Then I would finally be free. I knew he would never let me go. He would always tell me that if I ever left him, he would find me and kill me and I believed he would. When the movie, The Burning Bed was released, I realize the agony and terror I lived was happening to other women. The support systems and awareness programs were not available like they are now. I had a choice. I started thinking that maybe I could live a different life.”
“At work, I would try to figure out how to live on my own, how much money I would need and how I could hide without Tommy finding us. The hope chest my grandmother gave me was secretly stuffed with three of everything in preparation for our escape.” Michelle confessed.
“My parents were never happy about my relationship with Tommy, so I was compelled to let them think the marriage was perfect. I finally remember getting up enough courage to talk to my mother about the abuse, thinking she would jump at the chance to save me. I sat at her kitchen table sipping a cup of hot tea, shaking in fear. As the kids were playing in the other room with my dad, I told my mother about the years of abuse and that I needed to get out of the relationship before something terrible happen.”
“And then something happened that left me paralyzed and stunned. She told me that I didn’t want to be divorced, what would people think? I should at least stay until the kids graduated from high school.”
“I was devastated; it had taken me years to work up to this conversation and to admit that just maybe I should make the prison break, only to be shot down by the one person I thought would understand. My realization at that time was, I married my mother and in later years learned of narcissism.”
“One morning I called in sick to work. As soon as Tommy left for work, I packed the kids in the car with all our clothes and the contents of the hope chest, stopped at the bank, withdrew my four hundred dollars in savings, and drove away and a new life began.”
“My oldest daughter once told me she was surprised to find out from her friends that not all fathers hit mothers. I was so sad and ashamed that I had put my children through this nightmare. I thought I was the master of disguises and no one knew what was going on. Everyone knows, or at least they suspect, it’s just that nobody tells.”
Why do people abuse others? The National Hot Line for Domestic Violence says domestic violence and abuse stem from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partners, and they may enjoy the feeling that exerting power gives them. They often believe that their own feelings and needs should be the priority in their relationships, so they use abusive tactics to dismantle equality and make their partners feel less valuable and deserving of respect in the relationship.
This interview is a true story. Names were changed to protect the victim.
Title is from the 1984 movie The Burning Bed starring Farah Fawcett
Need help? Contact: https://www.thehotline.org
· 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men has experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime (e.g., hit with a fist or something hard, beaten, slammed against something).
· 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the US will experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. Nearly 3 in 10 women (29%) and 1 in 10 men (10%) in the US have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner and reported it having a related impact on their functioning.
· Just under 15% of women (14.8%) and 4% of men in the US have been injured as a result of intimate partner violence that included rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.
· Most domestic violence is committed against women (82%), compared to men (18%).