Thursday, August 03, 2017

Today I Witnessed Domestic Violence and I Couldn't Do A Thing

I didn't expect for this blog to detail domestic violence (DV) and/or abuse quite so much. But, as it's a blog that more or less chronicles my life, I suppose recovery and recognition of these things is a big part of who I am and what I'm going through now, so it's fair to be open.

Today I witnessed DV in action.

I emerged from the train station to a man yelling at a woman. They were both walking down the street, with the man pushing a stroller with a little boy, probably about 4. The woman was dressed nicely, holding a stack of papers, like she was going for a job interview or dropping off something in the Financial District. I don't remember his exact words, but I'll try to chronicle it as best I can, retaining the sentiment.

"Don't be saying that to me! That is flat wrong! What's wrong with you that you say that shit about me?" he yelled.

"I was saying don't disrespect me. You can't be doing that," she yelled back.

"I am NOT disrespecting you, woman. You come in here, acting like I'm doing all this stuff wrong. But YOU are the one yelling. YOU need to go do what you need to do. I'm fine. Why are YOU making it all about me? YOU are the one that needs to go. Go do what you want to do. I'M going to take care of MY child." He yelled this entire phrase.

As I heard this interaction, I started to turn to say to the woman, "You don't have to take that!" But as I listened a bit more, I realized it was heated, heavy, and scary. I decided to wait around the corner and see if there was more I could do. When I was in the throes of this kind of public yelling (a HUGE red flag for DV or verbal abuse--if your spouse or significant other will actually yell at you in public, or your arguments escalate to that in public, there is a serious problem--and for me it started around 2007), I was laser focused on the argument. I couldn't see anything around me, except people looking at me. But, in retrospect, I WISHED someone would have stepped in or told me I didn't have to tolerate that. And, I wanted to be there in case something got violent. I had an experience once where someone (a friend who was playing) slapped me in public and no one even reacted, which I thought was a very bad thing. And I wasn't going to do that to anyone. I was going to react, call the police, anything, if it got there.

The woman immediately lowered her voice after that and got closer to the man, so I couldn't hear what she was saying. But I COULD hear him. He yelled things like, "Stop yelling! You're making a scene. Look! These people are all looking at you? Why do you have to complicate things?"

The woman said something, which I imagine was "where will you be when I'm done?" The response was an exacerbated sigh followed by, "I DON'T KNOW! JUST CALL ME, OK? GOODNESS!" He was so angry. So bitter. So... mean. His body language was that of a man trying to tell the woman she was worthless: turning his back to her, walking away in the middle of the conversation. It was painful to watch. He was sending a message to her, "I don't care about you, but if I keep turning things around on you, I'll keep you interested and have control of the situation and probably you."

I kept waiting on the sidelines, hoping that the guy would leave and the woman would be on her way, so I could pull her aside and tell her it was ok. Stepping in can make the situation worse or more dangerous for the woman, so I didn't.

And then I got seen. The man said, "LOOK. THAT WOMAN OVER THERE IS WATCHING YOU. YOU ARE CAUSING A SCENE." Then I got a little scared and walked away and pretended to be on my phone. I heard him turn things around on her. "Why aren't you...?" "Why did you..." "You have to just...." "What's wrong with you that...."

I know these phrases. I know this public yelling. I know the look in her eyes of pain and confusion and torment and sadness. No anger. She is listening to him. She is internalizing it. "Maybe I did do X, Y, and Z," she is thinking. I know she is. I can see it in her eyes. She is pained because her child is watching. She doesn't know how to get out of it. She doesn't know how to make this man hear her. But he can't hear her. She follows after him when he walks away. This could go on for hours. It will ruin her day. It will cause her to be worried about her kid, about herself, about her relationship with this man, whatever it is. She will wonder if she's crazy. She will wonder if she did something wrong and what she could have done differently. She never walked away in the 5 minutes I stood watching and followed him around like a puppy instead. Tears were in her eyes. Why did she follow him instead of walking away? Because she was seeking closure. She was seeking some kind of agreement. Something that would pacify this man and put them back on good terms. Anything to get him to be nice and hear her point of view.

What she doesn't know is that there IS NO RESOLUTION. There IS NO CLOSURE. She will never get from him what she wants because he cannot give it. He can only see his side. He can only blame her for things. He is controlling or selfish or just plain blind to her needs, for who-knows-why.

In the end, I couldn't help. They walked too far away. And it pains me that I couldn't. But, I am proud that I recognized this for what it is. I am thankful that I saw this in action and knew that I had been in a DV situation. Because I experienced this exact. same. thing. Without a doubt. This was my experience in many, many, many public places, on the phone, and at home. Sometimes I think maybe I am crazy or imagined it. But then I see something like this and I recognize the pain and I am reminded of the feelings I had. I could almost have told you what she would do next, it was so classic. And I realize I'm not alone. I DID experience this. I am not crazy. I cannot control the actions of the other. But, I now know that I can walk away and I do not have to take it. Not from a spouse, a friend, a significant other, a family member. No one.

If you see this happening to a friend, don't stand back. Tell her that she doesn't deserve to be treated like that. That she doesn't have to take it. That she is not at fault or to blame for his behavior. Sure, maybe she DID do something wrong or make mistakes. BUT, that is not a healthy way to handle conflict. And she needs to know. And if she can't hear it, be there for her and be watchful.