I met her en route to Miami, in the restroom of the airport. We exchanged knowing looks as we washed our hands ceremoniously. With the timing of Olympic synchronized divers, we completed our tasks and both reached for the towel dispenser. That’s when she noticed my shoes.
“Nice shoes,” she complimented, regarding it with the admiration only a shoe lover would.
I said thank you and stole a glance at her feet hoping to return the compliment. I was certain she’d be donning a shoe equally as appealing as mine, plus, her response to the sighting of my shoe told me she had good taste. Wrong. She was wearing something that looked like a hybrid between a croc and a mule. It was all too disappointing. I deliberately avoided eye contact so she wouldn’t register my subtle disapproval. Her shoes did not match her personality. I was quite surprised at the incongruence.
She was a smart one that Rachel, because she caught my reaction and then cackled.
“There’s a story behind this. I promise.”
I laughed, “Please do tell before I report you to the shoe police.”
She began to tell me how she’d been stuck in an abusive relationship for many years. Yes, she was a survivor of domestic violence. To her, early signs were that he was always throwing his weight around and interacted with her as though she were a simpleton despite a highly successful career and two degrees. She had a great job and could afford to buy whatever she wanted—shoes particularly, and she had a boat-load of them. She ignored his behavior and overlooked many red signs.
“I’ll focus on the good. Surely, there’s some good in him,” she thought. Besides, she was madly, deeply in love with him and you know what they say about love. It’s blind as a bat. In hindsight, she believes she was afflicted with a major case of low self-esteem, which took a downward spiral during the course of the relationship. Her reluctance to end it or even stand up to him perplexed her even now as she recounted the painful memory of the domestic violence. Yes, she was a successful woman, but also bore another role outside of her career: a punching bag. And she was successful at that too.
“Did you tell your family or friends at least? Perhaps they could have helped you muster the courage you needed to get out.” I interjected.
“I didn’t…I couldn’t tell anyone. They wouldn’t understand.”
I nodded. She seemed strong and assertive and just like her ugly shoes mismatched her personality, it didn’t add up. I listened on.
She made junior partner at her firm, an achievement that she had worked very hard for despite the domestic circumstances. Two years later, she got another promotion and as her career soared, so did her boyfriend’s anger and resentment. The violence and abuse got worse. For work, she donned layers of make-up to keep gossips at bay and turtle-necks became an apparel of choice to hide her bruised neck, the product of the many choke-holds.
SHE SUMMONS COURAGE
One day, she summoned the courage to tell him she wanted out—at a restaurant. He said nothing but his smile was ominous. She paid for that statement. Oh yes, she did. When they got in the car, he punched her black and blue that she had to call in sick the next day. Pain engulfed her body despite the several milligrams of Ibuprofen she’d swallowed. She would need a stronger, prescription painkiller to stave off the pain. No problem with that, he was addicted to those and he left many bottles at her place. He stopped by that evening, apologetic and contrite. He acknowledged he’d done wrong and promised to sign up for some anger management class. The news filled Rachel with hope. Things would soon change. Or so she thought.
“You want to hear something funny?” she asked me, chuckling and shaking her head.
“Sure. Humor me, ” I said, wondering what could possibly be funny.
“The beatings became more savage after he enrolled in the anger management class. In fact, the classes seemed to awaken the beast in him.”
Now that deserved a big LOL and I burst into laughter. She joined me and we had a hearty laugh. (This reminded me of the time a couple of girlfriends and I went to the spa. The ambience was so peaceful and serene. We were at peace with the world, except for one of us who in the midst of the tranquility, couldn’t get her anger thermostat on the low. Her emotions were on the high swing and we wouldn’t dare ask her to tone it down.)
THE LAST STRAW
Back to Rachel. The last straw for her was when she turned down his invitation to the movies. She had put in a twelve-hour day and her body was beat. Sleep was of the essence. She crashed on her bed as soon as she got home, stilettos and all. She was rudely awakened by a slap across the face. Still processing the shock, she felt her body being dragged out of bed and delivered punch after punch.
“I felt like a human piñata. I thought this is it. Today is my last day on earth.”
With each impact, warm liquid filled her mouth. It was her blood and it had spewed all over her white rug.
Rachel fought back tenaciously for her life. There was a fierceness about him she had never seen before. As her arms and legs flayed every which way, she reminded herself to protect her head but she was a little too late.
Bam! A savage blow fell to her temple. The mere force sent her flying backwards. She lay on her custom-made Persian rug, bleeding and writhing in pain. He kneeled next to her and watched her moan. She opened her mouth to let out a ‘help me’ but her vocal chords refused to cooperate.
“I thought I was going to die.” She said, her voice shaking and her eyes welling up with tears as she recounted her ordeal.
I rubbed her back. “What did you think about as you lay there?”
“First, I thought how in the world a bad seed sprung from the loins of such good parents. His parents were good folk, you know.” And then I thought about me. I thought about how pathetic I was lying there. Suddenly, anger welled up in me until my chest felt so heavy. I was angry at the woman I had become– helpless and weak–having tethered my life to the heart of a cruel person. Next, I felt a jolt. A light bulb came on in my throbbing head and I realized for the first time, ‘I don’t have to take this.’”
HE TOOK A POUNDING
Rachel raised her head and looked him intently in the eye where he was still kneeling, watching her, like he was waiting on her to take her last breath. Without warning, with all the strength she could muster, she launched at him and kicked him in the groin several times till she felt as though she had ruptured his manhood. She indeed caught him by surprise. As he crouched in pain, she climbed over his limp body and retrieved her phone and dialed 911. Her work wasn’t done. She continued to stomp on his head, targeting his pretty face.
“I’d like to report a domestic abuse incident.” Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
Every time he came up for air, she dealt him another stomp.
“Yes, that’s the address.” Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
“He is still here. Please hurry.” She hung up the phone. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
His face was bloodied. She didn’t budge. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
“Don’t you ever treat me, or any other woman like your punching bag, you heard?” Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
“You sick, sick, psychopath!” Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
She stomped him until the cops showed up. He was arrested but she didn’t press charges.
“Wow!” I shook my head.
“You know, he disappeared for a week and showed up at my place.”
“Yes, way!” Rachel said.
“You let him in?” I asked, alarmed she’d do such a thing, “What if he had a gun? Or a baseball bat to beat the crap out of you?”
“C’mon now, I’m a smart cookie. I rang the bell and I saw him through the peep hole. I didn’t open the door.”
He left me a note apologizing for the pain he had caused me. He said he missed me and that he’d never touch me again. But after her life flashed before her eyes and she survived to see a new day, it would have been rather silly to let him back in.
It was time to start over. She contemplated moving to a new state, getting a new home, a new job, and a new everything. So she started applying for positions in a state she’d always loved, hoping that a relocation would wedge a final chasm between her abusive past and her future.
One night as she waited patiently for sleep to take over, she began fantasizing about what a new life what look like. Would she succeed? Would she find love again? Many questions clouded her mind and she had no answer for any of the. Frustrated, she recalled what her mother had taught her when she was but a little girl.
‘Prayer is the master key.’ Her Mama would say. So she said a prayer. Looking heavenward, her palms together against her chest, she prayed for peace and a fabulous new job in that new state of choice. Two weeks after that prayer, she accepted a mouthwatering job offer with relocation benefits. So she decided to leave everything behind and start over. And yes, her fabulous shoes too.
I beamed with pride as though she were my daughter and she just won the spelling competition.
“Rachel, I am so proud of you,” I said choking back a fountain of tears, “It’s your time, I pray that you never fall into the hands of a man who will turn you into a punching bag again.”
“Never! They’d have to go to the gym for that.” She laughed.
“It’s a new beginning for you,” peering at her shoes, “and the end of those shoes.”
“Let me assure you that my relationship with this shoe is noncommittal,” Rachel said.
We had a major case of the giggles—for a second there, I thought an angel had hosed us with giggle spray.
If you are currently in an abusive relationship and you need help or, you just want to talk with a live person, contact your local domestic violence helpline or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Visit their website http://www.thehotline.org for resources on getting help for you and your abusive partner. Other resources:
- Domestic Violence Awareness Projects – http://www.nrcdv.org/dvam/home
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – http://www.ncadv.org/
- National Network to End Domestic Violence – http://nnedv.org/