April 15, 2009

Witness

It was dark outside, and cold. My kids and extras had stopped for subs and were at the table, eating them. My husband left on a trip with With-a-Why yesterday morning, and I was waiting for a phone call that said he had arrived safely.

Suddenly we heard a pounding on the front door.

When I opened the door, I saw Little Biker Boy, the eight-year-old from down the street. Despite the cold, he was barefoot and naked except for a pair of boxer shorts. He flung himself into our house, sobbing and screaming.

I knew before he told me. His mother’s boyfriend, in a drunken rage, was attacking her.

We’ve been worrying this would happen. I had suspected the man was abusive, but I didn’t have proof.

Boy in Black grabbed the phone, dialed 911, and handed it over to me. My daughter pried the screaming child away from me and took him into the kitchen. Shaggy Hair Boy locked the doors.

“Does he have a weapon?” the voice on the line kept asking. “Can you find out whether or not he has a weapon?”

Biker Boy’s fifteen-year-old half- brother showed up a few minutes later, panicked and hurt. Abusive Man had ripped out his earring and punched him in the face. Little Biker Boy kept wanting to go out the front door, so I told Quick and Shaggy Hair to take him upstairs. Quick found some clothes for him.

The kids’ mother came running up our lawn – so frantic that I couldn’t get her to calm down or stay inside. I asked her whether or not the boyfriend had a gun. “He’s had too many felonies – he’s not allowed to have a gun.” Her two youngest kids, five-year-old Ponytail and the toddler were still inside the trailer. With their drunken, raging father.

Finally, patrol cars arrived. Three of them, moving quickly and silently past us. Six cops surrounded Abusive Man, who was outside on the lawn at that point, still screaming obscenities. They had to use a taser to get him down and cuffed. An ambulance full of paramedics arrived. Once a patrol car had gone by, with the screaming, violent man inside, I walked with the kids and their mother back to their home.

The two youngest kids were not physically harmed. The other kids were bruised and scared. The mother kept telling the paramedics that she was okay, although today it’s clear that her foot is badly hurt. The cops took statements. Well past midnight, we calmed the kids down and got them to sleep. Today I told the story to a caseworker from Child Protective.

I don’t know what will happen next. Two misdemeanor charges won’t hold Abusive Man in jail for that long. I know that women very often take back the men who abuse them, but now the community is involved – we have been witness to the abuse. I hope that somehow we can protect those children.

I debated whether or not I should write about this on my blog. But I’ve written before about abuse, and the poetry workshops and readings I’ve done for the Women’s Shelter here. It’s important to tell these stories. The shame and secrecy that surrounds the victims of domestic violence can be toxic. Silence does not solve problems like abuse.

Domestic violence happens every day, in communities all over the country, all over the world. Sometimes there’s not much a neighbor can do -- provide a safe haven, maybe, or be ready to make a phone call. The cycle of abuse is pretty difficult to end. And I don’t know what the answer is. It feels pretty hopeless sometimes. Somehow, I think we need as communities to figure out new ways to break those cycles. We need to work on this together, all of us. In the meantime, all I can do is listen and observe and bear witness.

49 comments:

susan said...

I'm holding all of you in my heart. That's a lot to see, a lot to witness, a lot to have to live with, for all of you.

julieunplugged said...

I'm really glad you posted this as I agree with you. Enough secrecy around the most dangerous of all crimes - domestic violence between people who should only love each other. Hugs to you. And thanks.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Thank you for sharing this. My heart goes out to your neighbor.

kathy a. said...

jo(e), i'm so glad you posted this.

i'm so glad your house was where the kids could come. xoxoxoxox

please do your best to encourage the mama to get a restraining order, and also to help her tear her house apart to be sure there aren't guns. either or both of these might be hard for her, but i am hope hope hoping that she can do that much for her and her kids.

Anonymous said...

Ever since they started appearing in your writing, I had suspected that Little Biker Boy's and Ponytail's story might be one I didn't want to hear. But it's so important that we hear it. And it's so wonderful that these kids have you and your family to help them. I have worked with traumatized children for almost 10 years, and it's amazing how much they witness from such a young age. Luckily, it is also amazing to realize the resilience they can display. They (and you) are in my thoughts. I hope you are all taking care of yourselves.

kathy a. said...

also -- your kids and extras are heros. and you, of course.

Rev Dr Mom said...

I'm so glad they had you to come to. And I hope the mother has the strength to do what she has to do to keep Abusive Man away.

kathy a. said...

also, what anonymous said. it is hugely important that biker boy and ponytail have had you in their lives.

Rana said...

(((jo(e))))

(((abused family)))

That is so terrifying - having had myself to call the police for a domestic issue, I know a bit of how frightening that can be. That it was so violent, and concerned people you know... I just want to hold all of you and keep everyone safe.

You are an anchor in your community - but don't forget that you need anchoring too, so if such an opportunity comes to let someone hold you up, I hope that you will be blessed with the grace to let them.

And thank you for sharing the story, in its terrifying ordinariness. (One thing that opened my eyes wide to the hidden prevalence of domestic abuse was when I was up for jury duty, and when the judge asked us if we had any family or personal connection to domestic violence, almost every one of the twenty people in the juror pool - myself included - raised a hand to say yes.)

Peace - it sounds like everyone there needs some.

Hugs again.

bitchphd said...

Wow. I feel for you neighbor, her kids, you, and yours. You did the right thing.

Lorianne said...

I'm sorry (but not surprised) to hear this. I'm holding all of you in my heart & hope you continue to have the strength to do what you can for this troubled family.

Rick said...

I can imagine how difficult that situation must've been for you. I was quite worried for all of your safety. I hope things work out for the better and the community intervention pulls through. You did a very good thing, allowing your neighbors to seek shelter and protection in your home, even if there was the possibility of danger for you. You're a great person!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

It's lucky Little Biker Boy had the courage to come running to your house. And of course that he had your house to run to.

What a shitty, shitty thing for them to have to live through.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Oh wow. (Hugs) (((And more hugs, for those kids and their mother)))

Thank you for sharing this with us, jo(e). And I'm so glad that you're there, and that your home is a safe place that those kids knew they could go to.

Kathryn said...

As others have said, you are such a blessing to that family. Praying for all concerned in such a wretched situation. Hugs & love xxx

liz said...

Everyone already said what I was going to.

Sending hugs.

sko3 said...

I'm glad you have a home to which the terrified and terrorized can run.

Mrs. M said...

I'm so glad you were there.

StFarmer said...

Thank you jo(e) for posting this. It's heratbreaking to know that families go through this type of abuse.

Phantom Scribbler said...

(((((jo)e)))))

Kyla said...

Wow. I'm just glad you guys were there.

Addy N. said...

Thanks for sharing- I"m so glad you were there to help your neighbor. My sister-in-law has been a victim of domestic violence and has MANY times taken the guy back, which is so frustrating to us. I'm thankful that no kids are involved, but constantly worry about my SIL. I hope that everything works out OK for your neighbor.

Kate said...

Thank you for sharing, for being a good neighbor and ally, and for your call for communities to act together to end domestic violence.

Bad Alice said...

This makes me so sad. I'm glad you were there.

Bardiac said...

Thanks for being their with your kids and extras, and for calling the police.

I wish there were better solutions available.

Anonymous said...

Having had some experience with child abuse, I can tell you personally that when these kids grow up, the fact that you were there and loved them unconditionally will likely be one of the things that enables them to start to heal.

The fact that the eight-year-old felt safe enough with you to come running to you at that moment speaks volumes about what you have already given to him and his sister.

You and your family are heroes in my book.

As we all ponder what breaks the cycle of abuse, I would offer the thought that *exactly what you did* is what helps to break it, because in doing that, you said to those kids and that family "You are worth loving. You are worth saving. You do not deserve this."

I think that when kids grow up with the dissonance of wondering whether maybe they did deserve what happened to them, but also wanting to believe they didn't, that dissonance contributes to rage that stays inside, and perpetuates the cycle.
It is easier--though nothing about this is easy, at all, of course--when it becomes clear that the problem and treatment you received really had NOTHING to do with you, and that you are a person who deserves love.
Just my two cents.

Thank you for what you and your family have done for those children.

--Neighbor Lady

Arvind said...

I apologize in advance if I'm striking the sole uncompassionate note here. What I'm doing could be termed blaming the victim. But I find it very hard to muster sympathy for people who continue to be in abusive relationships.

I've been trying though. I've read a bit about neuroscience and addictive patterns and do realize that most expectations of free will and agency expressed by people watching from the outside stem from not understanding what it means to be walking in the shoes of the person they are judging.

And yet. I may have been too young to read it when I read "Bastard out of Carolina." It might have implanted in my brain a shortcut to anger that circumvents the more compassionate pathways when I encounter such stories for the first time. I get very angry at how someone could prioritize their desire to avoid loneliness over the safety of their own children. I wonder sometimes if there is such a thing as the wrong time for sympathy and understanding: the proverbial slapping someone back to their senses.

I know that I'm wrong. I know that I'm stereotyping this woman with little actual data as to how much (if at all) she matches the stereotype of a woman in an abusive relationship. I know that, historically, quick judgment instead of compassion has been the source of almost every horror inflicted by society on those who don't conform.

I also know that I have it in me somewhere to be able to be sympathetic to this woman. Eventually. The very act of typing this out has defused me quite a bit. I'm glad you and your family were there for this woman and her children as a safe haven to go to. It speaks volumes about your family that you were the ones the little kid approached when in danger.

Silver Fox said...

Sorry you (and everyone else) had to go through this, and also very glad you were there.

@arvind So much can depend on the environment one was brought up in. When children, like the ones above, see mama being slapped around, they think it's normal and are much more likely to become abusers (the boys) or the abused (the girls), unless mama has enough family or other support to be able to leave, to have a real place to go. Many don't have that place. I have some fears for one of my nieces for that reason. Sister has left, but nieces dad retains custody of the girl. She has seen more than she ever needed to...

kathy a. said...

arvind, you are right that it is very hard for victims of abuse to get out of the abusive relationship.

the abuser in my family was my mother; as the eldest child, my job was to protect my younger sibs. i could not even call it abuse until the night she tried to choke me to death in a drunken rage. i got my sibs barricaded in a room, climbed out the window and over a fence, and took my mother's car.

i did not go to the police station down the street. i did not think they would believe me. i thought i would be charged with stealing the car. i thought my sibs would end up in foster care, yanked away from their school and each other -- in part because my mother had often yelled that foster care would be the consequence if anyone reported her behavior.

i never spent another night under her roof. i helped each of my sibs finally escape to college, moved out of the area, worked hard on boundaries -- but the entanglements of family are difficult to eliminate altogether.

my mother had a devastating stroke last summer, and died 2 months later. a sister and i were in charge of her medical care. it was really a nightmare -- would have been simply because of the medical issues, but in particular because so much horror came flooding back. i cannot describe the relief when she finally died.

my best friend from high school was very disappointed that i had remained estranged from my mother all these years, that we never "made up." she knew mother as one of her teachers; although i told her later about the abuse, she really did not grasp what had happened to us. that reaction is true for many people -- that a severance of the mother/child bond must be due to a failing of the child.

anyway, i hope this family can find peace, but know that is a rocky path.

bsouth said...

I think you were right to publish the story. Abuse is a terrible thing to have to deal with, no matter how you become involved, whether as the abused or an innocent onlooker.

Arvind said...

Sandra, Kathy,
You guys are right. The lack of a good social support system is a curse/blessing of the individualistic lifestyle enabled by our industrialized economy. It can protect as easily as harm.

Kathy,
It was horrifying to read what you had to go through! I'm glad it turned out that you were able to fend for yourself and your siblings.

Pronoia said...

Whatever else happens from this point forward, those kids know that someone else, someone who likes them and hangs out with them, doesn't think that abuse is okay.

That's something.

kathy a. said...

arvind -- my sibs and i were incredibly lucky. we could tell nobody about the abuse, but we still had so many protective resources.

one of the biggest protective factors was that we had friends, and their families cared about us. we all adopted other stable families, and they put up with us and gave us love and opportunities. our adopted families didn't ask a lot of questions, just loved us.

i still remember being "blacklisted" by one friend's family, because i did not "reciprocate" and invite my friend to my house. my mother's cover story was that we couldn't have friends over because she had to remain impartial with her students. that worked better for me than explaining, "she looks OK at school, but she's a hideous nasty drunk who hates her students almost as much as she hates us, and also there is cat poop behind the couch."

my sibs and i were also very lucky to have each other, and some internal resources, and to attend a pretty good small college prep school K-12, mostly on scholarship. [the scholarships were due to mom's teaching position.] everyone expected us to succeed; all of us ended up getting college degrees and advanced degrees.

a great many people who are abused do not have those kinds of advantages. and still, i could not go to the police station, that awful night.

Nitish said...

Arvind, you might want to read a recent post by Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings.

She (as someone who left an abusive relationship herself, and who worked in a women's shelter for years) says it far better than I could. But people don't leave for a variety of reasons: Sometimes, their partners threaten to harm or kill them or their children if they walk out. Often, the abusers themselves suffer from depression or other psychological problems, and it can be hard to walk out on someone who's begging you to stay; it feels like abandoning someone you love (or used to love) at a time when they need you most. Do read Hilzoy's whole post, and its sequel.

jo(e), thank you so much for bearing witness, and for being there for Ponytail, Little Biker Boy, and the others. Their family and yours are in our prayers.

Magpie said...

You are a good one, with a good family. You did right by them.

Do you know this blog: http://violenceunsilenced.com/ ?

Domestic violence needs to be spoken of, not hidden behind closed doors - your action goes hand in hand with your writing, your voice.

I hope those kids and their mama are okay.

(And my word verification is "prick" which seems somehow apropos...)

Jackie said...

I'm like some of the other commenters-- when Ponytail and her brother started showing up, I feared there might be a darker reason why. I'm so glad they had your family as neighbors. Let us know if there is anything we can do-- I have daughters close to Ponytail's age and would love to send her a little present, if you thought that would be appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it might be worthwhile to set up a link with a paypal donate,you could direct people that want to help the family to? i think in a situation like this a little extra money always help, so the mother could order pizza, or whatever.

jo(e) said...

Thanks to all who shared stories and links. I've been too wiped out to respond, but I appreciate the comments.

Arvind: The book that helped me understand this all is a mystery book by Barbara Neely called _Blanche Passes Go_. I'd recommend it.

Anon: I'd encourage readers to help families in their own communities. Abuse happens everywhere. If you don't know anyone personally, you can look up the local Women's Shelter and donate money there. These shelters give women and kids a safe place to go.

jo(e) said...

Here, for example, is the link to the shelter in Snowstorm City. I know there are shelters like this all over the country that can use support.

Kris said...

Jo(e) -- When I read your blog I'm always so impressed with your children. It's wonderful that these two little kids have your big kids to look up to as role models.

BlackenedBoy said...

This made me cry.

Thank God you were there to help them and call the police. Maybe all of you together can make your neighbor see the danger she's putting herself and her children in by staying with this man.

From the bottom of my heart Jo(e), God bless you.

You're a wonderful person.

And please, please be careful.

Lomagirl said...

Bless you and yours, Jo(e). I think your bearing witness and making it clear that this man's behavior is wrong, will go a long way to healing that family. It's the hiding and the covering over that make wounds fester.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I cried and cried and cried reading this. I hope the kids AND Mom stay safe.

When I was at Vera house, some of the women who were in my group were KILLED by their boyfriends or husbands. Women I knew, women who were frightened and hurt.

Also, my busdriver, a beautiful, loving, warm kindly African American woman was killed by her husband. I had known her for years. I did NOT know her husband was abusive.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Arvind might go to Vera house and speak in person to some of these women.

NO ONE should be beaten abused and killed, no matter what.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I just wrote a poem today that relates (and one two days ago, too):

http://marysreading.blogspot.com/2009/04/making-it-on-my-own-word-trails_9246.html

Twice said...

This is a horrible situation. I'm so glad the kids saw your house as a safe haven. I'm not surprised, though, given the love and warmth that exudes from your writings.

I hope she finds the strength and support to put him out of her life.

Take care and stay safe.

Arvind said...

Nitish,
Thanks for the link. The comments were a mixed bag, but the post was great. In fact, every post from Hilzoy I've chanced across has been fantastic. I should read her more regularly.

Joe,
Will check out the book.

Mary,
I guess I deserved that. I'm calmer now, and regret what I said. Reason I didn't respond after my last comment was that I didn't want to be the guy who makes the thread all about educating the guy. I can see how it can be misconstrued.

Josh said...

Jo(e), thank you for being there for the kids... and for sticking with their family through the long process of responding to this latest of their crises. I've encountered domestic violence from the law-enforcement side of things here in Southern Triangle State; though I'd like to think things are better where you are, our resources here are infuriatingly limited. You and others from your community will do far more for these kids and their mother than "the law" ever can. Again, thank you for taking in Little Biker Boy and Ponytail; from their first appearance on your blog, I knew you'd do them a world of good.

ktbug Ladydid said...

Thank you for being brave enough to help this family, and report this story of abuse. Sometimes people need help to get their story out there, and to be reminded that abuse is not their fault.