May: Reflection

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​Domestic violence awareness month happens in October. Maybe that’s because it’s getting closer to the holidays, and that’s a prime time for tempers to flare, control to be lost, and violence to erupt. Domestic violence impacts 1 in 3 women. That is a huge number of victims. In addition, there is a double standard when it comes to defending one’s self against domestic violence: women are more likely to go to jail for defending themselves than men are for the initial attack. Men murder their partner, and they go to jail for maybe a few years. Women killing their partners in self-defense after years of abuse will often get sentenced into the decades.

This isn’t about statistics, though.

About now, some of you may be wondering, if domestic violence awareness month is in October, why am I bringing this up in May. A week and a day ago was the seventh anniversary of my friend’s murder by her ex. She was murdered while washing out a tea kettle in the bathroom. One of her roommates was also killed. I am sad and embarrassed to say that I was in the ranks of being a victim-blamer, and I take every May to reevaluate her situation, realize how little I was able to see from my vantage point, and promise to do better when I see things in the future.

I made assumptions based on the little I knew, not realizing that there was an iceberg hidden that I was only seeing a very small, tiny bit of. That tiny bit gave me a false sense of security as well as superiority. Hubris.

It took me a long time to come to grips with my part as something of an enabler by dismissing what I was hearing as nonsense; by ignoring the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I’ve prayed. I’ve journaled. I, along with other friends, did an anniversary/memorial tea tasting meditation ceremony (not sure how else to describe it.) It brought me closer to my friend and closer to closure for myself.

Leaving an abusive situation is not as simple as walking out of the door. There are emotional factors. There are economic factors. The one thing I learned is that it’s easy to judge someone from the outside. It’s easy to know the “right” call to make when you’re not the one who has to make it.

I wasn’t close enough to the situation to have stopped her murder, but I could have been less judgmental. I could have been more patient with her idiosyncrasies that in hindsight made sense even if they didn’t at the time. I could have been more supportive.

If you are, or someone you know is living in an abusive situation, ask what you can do to help. Offer options and solutions. Don’t tell the person what they “should” be doing or what you would be doing differently if you were in that situation.

The number to call for help is the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233

This is a tree I used to sit across from in my car and think about my friend. I just sat and stared at this nearly daily. It belongs to the church I now attend, so I see it fairly regularly. It both gives me sadness and peace. (c)2018


Domestic Violence Should Not Be Politics as Usual

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​Sunday will be the sixth anniversary of my friend’s death. She was murdered by her ex while simply living her own life, washing a tea kettle out when he came up behind her and ended her life. For all of us who are touched by domestic violence and abuse, we ask if there was something we could have done, something we should have been aware of. I participated in my own share of victim blaming until I saw the larger picture of having your finances and only home tied up with someone who is threatening. 

I think we all like to believe the best of people, and if we’re wrong, we just pick up and walk away. Everyone has friends they can rely on, but how true is that really? Can a mom, the mom who seems to have all the problems, is never on time, offering flimsy excuses with the two kids, both in diapers – can she crash on your sofa or spare room indefinitely? Are you friends with her domestic partner? Who will you believe?

Domestic violence can happen to anyone, and it takes on a variety of forms. Some, though not many, don’t realize they’re abusive; it’s the way they were raised, and they think it’s “normal” to slap your wife and kids or grab her or slam doors and drink a little too much. Others seem like the perfect couple, family, etc, and no one knows what’s going on inside someone else’s home?

For B, my friend, when she had nowhere to live, she arranged to live in her house. Her house, that she paid for, contributed to the down payment of, was responsible on the deed for, but also on the property where her ex lived. I thought that was crazy. However, what else could she do?

He threatened her, but people say things they don’t mean all the time.

Why didn’t she call the police? Well, she did, several times. In fact, the police paid a visit to their house the night before she was murdered. They didn’t believe there was a problem; not a real one. Don’t set him off, though.

I didn’t understand.

Now, in Congress, in the House of Representatives yesterday, a bill was passed that will now go on to the Senate to be voted on. If it passes the Senate, I have no doubt that President Trump will sign it. He signs whatever he’s told to.

This new bill, that might become a law, which by the way also exempts members of Congress from its new rules and changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as affecting private insurance and employer insurance along with Medicaid and Medicare, defines pre-existing conditions in horrific ways and will affect someone you know.

They say that pre-exisiting conditions will be covered, but that depends on the state you’re in, and legal access to health care doesn’t mean that everyone will have it or be able to afford it.

For example, four of the pre-existing conditions mentioned specifically are: domestic violence, sexual assault, c-section, and post-partum depression. What do these four things have in common? In addition to being completely and arbitrarily unpredictable and randomly occuring, they also only happen to women. The first two – domestic violence and sexual assault – are perpetuated by men onto women, but as is the case in many instances, women pay the brunt of the violence against them.

This is one of the most blatant and disgusting and obvious moments of victim-blaming.

They’re looking at getting rid of well visits and preventative care, maternity leave, and pre-natal care as well.

I’m appalled.

In today’s Congress, had my friend survived her gunshot to the head she would be blamed for it as a victim of domestic violence. It would be considered a pre-existing condition and not covered under the Republican’s repeal and regress health care plan.

They’ve had eight years to come up with something, and they’ve failed. However, they continue to punish women for their failure.

Do not let this Republican controlled Congress and White House continue to abuse women and their families.

If you or someone you know are in danger or in a domestic abuse relationship or situation, contact the The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. They can help you and find resources for you wherever you are.

If you or someone you know are an LGBT+ youth and in an abusive situation, contact The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386. They can put you in touch with someone who can help you.

You are not alone.

Forgiveness

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In death, sometimes people become more than they were in life. It’s not anything intentional or deceptive, but it’s the lost potential, the lost could have been. They also become bigger in life in that way a blue skyed spring morning can be look at that sky or that blue color is godly and vast and beyond that is the universe.

Brittany was my friend. She wasn’t a friend with a capital F or a best friend, but like a lot of friends we tolerated each other, liked each other enough, were kind and polite, cheerful and helpful to one another. All the things we should be to people we know and people we don’t.

Brittany taught me that mistakes are for everyone, they can be held close, thrown at people over and over again or they can be dropped on the roadside as we move forward. She taught me forgiveness and led me to deep breaths.

She gave me something that if I hadn’t accepted before she died would have been lost and that loss would have haunted me. Instead it is her loss that remains with me. Daily when I speak her name at Mass and yearly when I throw on my purple shirt and flowered scarf and celebrate her life with Mass and a cup of tea.

Today is that day.

Happy Birthday, Brittany.

May 7th, 2011

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In memoir class, our most recent prompt was Anticipation. Besides Carly Simon and Tim Curry, anticipation is one of those ill-defined things or maybe it’s too much of a word to be definable in a real linear way. I do know that anticipation is a good thing. It is a thing, or event, or something that is expected with bated breath, fun or happiness are just around the corner, and it’s I can’t quite touch it, but it’s almost here, and the closer it gets, the more the heart races and the breath quickens, and it could be as simple as the bloom of a lilac tree or something as monumental as a wedding day or the birth of a child. Or a great vacation.

This week was full of those expectations, anticipations of special days and family fun. Memoir class, Ascension Mass, Cinco de Mayo, May the Fourth, Captain America: Civil War movie, Free Comic Book Day, Mother’s Day, even a sleepover and meeting my son’s girlfriend.

The other side of the coin of anticipation is that waiting, that expectation of, the bad, the b-side of anticipation that we assign a different moniker to: Dread.

Dread. The anticipation of something not so good. Still heart racing, breath quickening, but in all the bad ways. Waiting for test results, the waiting room of the dentist’s office, this year’s election (although I’m happy with my choice), and Saturday, May 7th for myself and a few people close to me and a few I will never meet.

Five years ago, May the 7th was also the first Saturday in May. It was also Free Comic Book Day. It was also the day before Mother’s Day. We were out going from comic book store to comic book store. That year, we went all the way to Greenfield Center to a comic store that is now on Broadway in Saratoga Springs just to see the Batmobile. My kids sat in it, and pretended to drive. This was especially thrilling to my middle son who is a real Batman aficionado.

We pulled into our driveway (sans Batmobile) for a moment to regroup and set our dinner plans when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but instead of ignoring the call and letting it go to voicemail, I got the feeling that I needed to answer this one. We all have those moments, that little moment of knowing but not knowing, that moment of dread. An unfamiliar tone of a familiar voice. A full name instead of a nickname. The serious voice that told me instinctively not to lead with where the hell have you been, I’ve been trying to reach you all day, and the sound of a hitched breath, of dread.


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Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Resources

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This is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Here are some important numbers that you may need or find helpful if you have suicidal thoughts. While I am available to be an ear to listen through email or message, I am not a professional. It is always best to contact on of the professional helplines. That is what they are there for.

Suicide Prevention Help Line: 1-800-273-8255

The Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

IMAlive: (an online crisis network): https://www.imalive.org/

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, Press 1. Text to 838255. There is also a confidential online chat.

May 7th

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As today dawned on the fourth anniversary of my friend’s death, I remember how she died. Why she died is never far from my memory of her, inexorably entwined with the sound of her name which is sad because she was much more than her murder.

Why then do I continue to talk about her death on this day in addition to her life? I read something recently that answered just that question.

“Finally, the scariest thing about abuse of any shape or form, is, in my opinion, not the abuse itself, but that if it continues it can begin to feel commonplace and eventually acceptable. Writing this book and knowing it will be discussed around the world is in some way insurance for me that my story will never be thought of as commonplace, never acceptable, and for that I thank my publishers and everyone involved with making it happen from the bottom of my heart.” – Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir

Continuing to talk about, continuing to bring her experiences to light lets people suffering now, tolerating now, afraid to get out now that there is help for them now. Regardless of what their family tells them is or isn’t abuse, regardless of what society tells them to put up with, to ignore, regardless and despite that, there are people who will listen; people there to help.

If Brittany’s death means anything, it is a reminder that domestic violence is often hidden from the neighbors. It is often ignored by the people closest to the victim. Victims should not be ashamed or silenced. We need to more reliably hold the abusers accountable and refuse the double standard that puts women in jail for defending themselves and blames them for their own abuse.

In 2013, Patrick Stewart said about his childhood, “I heard police or ambulancemen, standing in our house, say, “She must have provoked him,” or, “Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight.” They had no idea. The truth is my mother did nothing to deserve the violence she endured. She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, violence is an unacceptable way of dealing with conflict. Violence is a choice a man makes and he alone is responsible for it” and that is true. It is never the victim’s fault. We need to stand up and defend and support victims, offer them an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and know the resources for assistance, and to offer whatever kind of help we’re willing to provide.

Donate money and time to a battered women’s shelter. Be aware of all the forms that abuse takes: emotional, economical, sexual, verbal, physical.

Four years ago, I received a phone call that made me rethink many things, one of which was my ability to forgive myself for some of my poor reactions and choices in hearing about some of Brittany’s abuse before she was murdered. I wasn’t a close friend of hers; I didn’t witness Brittany’s abuse personally, but I was close enough that I should have supported her more than I did. That is something that I could have done. It was nearly too late when I had.

Why is this about me? This yearly anniversary is my redemption. I can learn from my mistakes and make others aware of the mistakes they may be making by “minding their own business.” It is my reminder to do better and to offer solutions rather than add to the troubles.

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-273-8255

The Trevor Project  1-866-488-7386