The old couple try to bury themselves deeper in their beds and put pillows over their heads to block out the sound as best they can. It’s not easy because she’s screaming and cursing so loudly. They hear their son respond quietly and try to reason with her, shushing her so that she doesn’t wake up the sleeping baby or his parents. It’s too late of course because they’re awake and grieving. She screams some more and the old couple fall asleep to the sounds of it, tears wetting their pillows.
The next morning they are bleary eyed and reluctant to enter the common areas. Not sure what they will be forced to see. But there’s only so long you can avoid the inevitable and they finally raise their eyes to see their son at the breakfast table, his scratched face and hands a reminder of the long, uneasy night.
A heavy silence surrounds them as the mother puts together breakfast for the lot of them, a breakfast that for all the love she puts into it, might as well be sawdust in their mouths. She is sleeping late, and they are all quiet as mice. The longer she sleeps, the more peace there is in it for all of them. Old and retired, they do their best to keep their minds occupied and contribute to the housework. Why do they stay quiet? Because their son has told them to leave his marriage to him. They suffer as only parents will, seeing him mentally and physically hurt.
Why does he allow it? For one, for the sake of the 20 month old daughter she threatens to walk away with – yes, every court in this country will award a mother custody. Also, the slightest bruise on her wrists as he holds her away will turn the tables and put him under the scanner instead. Will give her the chance to walk away with their child. But most of all, like countless others, he still loves her and also, is trying to do that commonplace but difficult thing – honour his marriage vows…Because he still remembers the vivacious young girl he fell in love with and sometimes wonders who this vicious, foul-mouthed, selfish woman is. Because he doesn’t have the heart to abandon her and know that somewhere deep inside is the woman he once cared so much for.
She is not working, doesn’t cook or keep house, and barely bothers with the child, knowing that her in-laws will take care of it all. She spends most of her day asleep or on the phone. The old parents have given up trying to figure out what he sees in her. How long will he put up with this? One wonders. It is his life and his choice and his child and wife.
When I suggested posting this story of violence against a man in the midst of Violence Against Women month, not all of the team was supportive of the idea. It might take away from the focus on women, they said. But I don’t see it that way. I see it as a greater understanding of domestic violence, as the breaking of many myths. My first post on this topic had a number of people commenting in shock and telling the lady concerned to ‘go back to work’. Implying that by not working, you are more likely to be a victim, almost putting yourself in a vulnerable position. Taking away from a family, the choice to delegate and divide responsibilities. Implying that the only reason a woman would stay on in a situation of violence is the inability to support herself. Truth be told almost any woman can walk out and find some sort of position somewhere. The reasons they stay on are varied and many. Love lies at the core of most of those reasons.
In this case it’s a man. He is the breadwinner and his violent wife a SAHM. He stays on because he has loved her for many years. Because now they have a little pint sized version of them, who has daddy wrapped around her chubby little fingers. Because he knows his wife well enough to know that if he lets her go and she takes their daughter, their daughter will lack for a lot. Most of all she will lack attention from the mother who doesn’t even notice that the temperatures have dropped and the child is running around the house cold and runny nosed.
And so it is that he goes to work each day, slogging to earn a living, coming back and keeping a strict eye on their daughter who until now seems to have escaped her mother’s violent wrath. How long will he continue? We cannot say. Is this weakness – its a little hard to call it weak when you realise how successful he is professionally, how firm he is on most other matters, how he is definitely physically bigger and stronger and capable of causing her physical harm. And yet, love is a weakness, is it not?
But as kennybunkportmaine said in one of her comments, as time goes by I realise more and more that life is far more complex than I will ever realise. That as someone wise said to me at the age of 16, there are shades of grey. That relationships are made up of 1000s of little threads and while its easy for us to stand on the sidelines and comment, stepping into the hot cauldron of boiling oil or even dipping a toe in, would give us much needed perspective. See a counsellor, walk out, hit back, don’t worry about your children having a home, these are words we’ve said so long that they slip out with a practised ease. Living them or having our stereotypes overturned on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.