I am sitting down to knowingly write what will most likely be my most unpopular column, and I’m strangely okay with that. In writing about our failings as a species yesterday, I left out one topic: Domestic Violence. When I was growing up, my mother, grandfather, and almost every adult that I came in contact with, at some point would remind me that is was never okay to hit a girl. This was all fine and well until one time, at a family reunion when I was about twelve or thirteen years old, my cousin (a girl just a little younger than myself) decided to spend all afternoon harassing and striking me, and according to every single adult figure of authority, there was nothing that I was allowed to do to defend myself. After all, it was never okay to hit a girl. As I grew older, and entered high school, I frequently saw my friends’ conversations with their girlfriends punctuated by punches, kicks, and slaps, all which was not only tolerated, but cheered on from the sidelines. Say something stupid? Deadarm. Say something cluelessly hurtful? Slap across the face. Bored? Just kick your boyfriend somewhere and then make that cute face that he seems to really like.
Let me go on record as saying that I am against Domestic Violence. Let me go further by saying that I am generally against violence altogether. My son has been taught that it’s not okay to hit anyone, except in times of self-defense. And then I’ve told him that he is only to use the bare minimum of violence necessary to escape the situation and allow the authorities to sort everything out. I do not say this a snarky rebuttal to feminism or as a counterpoint to undercut calls for equality. I am not allying myself with the Men’s Rights Movement, which only seems interested in saying the foulest things that its members can come up with regarding women. I am teaching my son to defend himself as such because I have been the victim of domestic violence. At the hands of two different women. Four years apart. I am willing to accept that I am easily one of the most infuriating people that it is possible to come to know, but that is no excuse for “violent or aggressive behavior within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner.” Unless I’m completely off-base, at which point, please excuse me, I’ve got a gritty reboot of Caillou to start working on.
No, I did not report these incidents to the police, nor did I spend time receiving comfort from my friends. Until recently, it seems we were still too “manly” to feel comfortable talking about one of us getting the shit kicked out of us by “a girl.” I stand roughly five and a half feet in height, and my extra weight is most definitely not muscle mass. Hell, the first time that someone I was dating decided to beat the daylights out of me, I had never even heard of some guy calling up the cops on his abusive girlfriend. I mean, to be fair, this was in the late ’90’s, but that still doesn’t feel right to me. By the time I lived was being introduced to the fists of my next (and last) abuser, I had begun to believe, despite the overwhelming evidence against me, that maybe even I did not deserve to be wailed upon by someone whom I cared for and her tiny little bony fists. That relationship ended shortly thereafter, and it was at that point that I decided that I wouldn’t allow myself to be a victim anymore. I realize that I am using humor here and there, but about this, I am deadly serious.
I began a period of self-reflection after the last time I was abused, and wondered if maybe it was my fault for being so strongly attracted to women who seemed to want nothing other than to break me. Maybe not at first, but imagine living with Gilbert Gottfried (but imagine that he’s funny). I blamed myself for finding them, and then for learning to provoke them. I felt ashamed that I was beaten by someone whom society deemed “weaker,” and was terrified to call the cops for fear of ridicule, or worse, that they would take me away because I don’t bruise all that easily, and when you’re holding someone’s arms away so that she cannot keep on hitting you, and your girlfriend bruises like bananas… well, you get the idea. I blamed myself for so long, that when I met my wife, I was still jumping at every shadow. And when we talked about taking our relationship to the next level, I could only recall the last two times that I had lived together with a girlfriend, and I have to admit that I was a little terrified.
When my wife and I began to live together, we sat down and spoke, at length, about what types of behavior we found acceptable, and also, what wasn’t necessarily on that list that we were willing to put up with. Despite the stereotype of the drunken Mexican beating his wife, or perhaps because of it, my wife told me that if I ever laid a finger upon her in anger, we were through. I wholeheartedly agreed and told her that I didn’t find it cute for women to attack their boyfriends, and if she tried it, she’d be out on the street before she had the chance to blink. Now, since we’ve laid down that groundwork, we’ve found ways to come right up to the edge of our own prohibitions, her with dishes, and myself with walls, but we’ve never struck each other (intentionally; there have been a handful of occasions on both sides where and elbow doesn’t quite clear the head, or a foot sinks someone’s knee backward into the bed), and I don’t believe we ever will.
This is not satire. I’m not trying to be cute. These are real experiences. Domestic Violence is not a laughing matter. If you are being abused, please try to get some help. Get out of there. I have found that you can only beat the living shit out of someone who you don’t respect, and if he or she doesn’t respect you, then please: Get The Hell Out!
There are resources to help you: http://www.thehotline.org/, or call 1 (800) 799-7233.