Friday, November 6, 2009

Abuser = Bully = Coward

Yesterday I was listening to NPR's Fresh Air. Terry Gross was interviewing the director of the upcoming movie, Precious. (I think his name was Lee Daniels.) He talked about his own abusive parents.

I grew up in my own little Norman Rockwell painting. Once in a blue moon, my parents would deliver a well-deserved open-handed swat to the tush. It was called a potch (rhymes with notch) and usually just the threat -- especially in public -- was enough to bring us back in line. And I thought that's how everyone else grew up. I had no idea.

In our first house, a little post-war crackerbox, I vaguely remember a not-so-gay divorcée. She had a kid who was dirty, sticky and mean. No one wanted to play with him, of course, but I don't know that there was any abuse going on.

When we moved to a larger house, there was a girl, Buffy, at the end of the block who lived in the Dark House. It was almost completely hidden by shrubbery, and all the windows had curtains drawn, all the time. We were kids, she was my age. I think we were in 6th grade together...but she didn't dress like the rest of us. She wore mini-skirts and high heels and make-up. Buffy had a lot of bruises on her arms - and probably everywhere else, too. She joked about being a klutz, but she wasn't clumsy. She never came to school dances or football games. She was never in our carpool; I don't remember her parents ever interacting with any of the neighbors. I read this over now, and I wonder why no one said anything: all the signs were there, clearly. As for me, I didn't have a clue. I could not imagine a parent hurting their child. But I look back now, and I can't think of anything else to explain it all.

My very first apartment was in a pretty dicey part of town. It was an old house converted into three apartments. My friend lived upstairs, I had one of the downstairs apartments and in the other apartment was a wife beater and his victim. He used to turn up the stereo to camouflage the sound of his beating, and my friend and I occasionally complained... about the loud music. But I don't think it ever occurred to us to call the police. That's just how we lived then. (You know the old masochist's joke: Why do you stay with that man? Beats me...)

I'm sure there were other instances, other near-invisible victims. Abusers are nothing more than pathetic, insecure bullies and when confronted, they flee like cockroaches. We've learned to shine a bright light into those dark corners, to recognize victims, and to intercede on their behalf. That can only be good, right? If you know someone who is not growing up in happy, pristine all-American vignettes and needs someone to step up and help them, think of Ghandi's words: Be the change you want to see in the world.


tim's wife said...

I met a guy years ago who worked for a family friend. He was a thin
guy and very mild-mannered. His wife-to-be lived in an apartment and they suspected an abusive relationship in an adjoining apt.
So one night the guy starts beating on his woman and this guy I knew was a kick-boxer. Not like this ultimate fighting stuff. He did sparring matches in competitions. He looked like he couldn't hurt a fly but he decided this dude needed to fight someone his own size. He put a serious hurtin' on the guy. Domestic violence is one of the most dangerous situations to get involved in. Ask any cop. It was incredibly brave that he came to that poor gal's rescue. I, too, can't believe what people can do to kids. Beyond sad. There's just nothing more cowardly than picking on someone so defenseless.

La Cootina said...

Yep, and I seem to have become the kind of person who cannot walk away. I've learned to try to "disarm with charm." Like "Oh, they can be so trying at that age. Let me watch him/her while you count to ten..." They're usually humiliated and shocked at being busted in public, and some day it may backfire on me, but so far it has worked.

(I admit, for size reasons alone, I'd stay out of spousal situations and just call the authorities.)