My family recently participated in the Women's Center of Montgomery County's Walk/Run to End Domestic Violence. The purpose of the event was to raise and awareness of domestic violence and to generate donations to the Women's Center which is a volunteer community organization with a primary focus on freedom from domestic and other forms of abuse.
A worthy cause for sure, and my participation in the event gave me cause me to reflect on my own experiences with domestic violence and how it has impacted my life.
Although I never had to deal with domestic violence first hand in my own home, it was commonplace in the streets of the neighborhood I grew up in; a small, low-income community of row homes in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
I vividly remember looking out my bedroom once at a very young age and watching this man drag his wife by her hair through the gravel of the alleyway behind my house. Sometimes the cops would should up, sometimes they wouldn't. The cycle of violence continued either way. This behavior went on for years. As a child I could never understand why this woman would continue cohabitate with a man who routinely laid his hands on her. To be honest, as an adult I still have trouble wrapping my brain around it. Even though I know now that there are many reasons why...
I remember it was a sunny, Saturday morning when a couple of police cruisers and an ambulance descended on their house down the street from my own. Curious, my friends and I approached the scene and witnessed paramedics loading a woman on a stretcher into the ambulance while her husband was loaded by police into a car in handcuffs. Apparently the man had, in a fit of rage, repeatedly taken a meat cleaver to his wife's neck and face. If I close my eyes, I can still picture clearly, drops of the woman’s blood glistening in sun on the concrete path behind their house where she had run to escape him.
It was on that day that I learned that horrible things don't only happen on dark and stormy night nights. Sometimes they happen on picture perfect days, when the sky is blue and the sun is shining. This lesson would be reinforced for me years later on September 11, 2001; another time I felt a similar creeping sense of dread on an otherwise idyllic day.
Thankfully, the woman survived the attack. But amazingly, not only did she not press charges against him, he was back living in the house with her within just a few days.
At the time, I was working at a mom-and-pop meat market behind the deli counter. The incident involved the woman who worked in the deli with me and her live-in boyfriend who also worked at the market behind the butcher counter. Like many of the people in my neighborhood, they were what some would probably describe as “white trash” that lived two doors down from my family with her son who was a few years younger than me.
She was a timid and nervous woman.
The boyfriend no so much...
He was loud and outspoken, and though he tried to project an of air gregariousness, it was clear that something darker was bubbling below the surface. He was often visibly intoxicated around the neighborhood, if not in a state which can only be described as “tweaked out”. As a result, his mood and behavior were extremely unpredictable, and although he never showed any malice towards me directly, just being in his presence always made me uneasy.
When this particular incident occurred it was a Sunday morning at the meat market and the after church rush was in full effect. The line at the deli counter was probably ten deep. This woman and I were working, but the boyfriend was scheduled off. Nevertheless he appeared behind the deli counter, seemingly out of nowhere, red-eyed, and smelling of alcohol. He was carrying on about not being able to find what was apparently his prized possession, a baseball cap featuring the Boar’s Head lunchmeat logo, which his girlfriend had decided to wear to work that day.
As with most acts of random violence, everything happened almost too fast to register. I was in the middle of slicing lunch meat at the time, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw him stumble towards her say something to the effect of “Give me my hat.” As he grabbed it off of her, he pushed her head downward into the stainless steel meat slicer she was working on. It did not come into contact with the blade, but it was enough force to cause her head to “bounce” back off the machine.
I could only stand there dumbfounded. It all seemed to happen within a split second and the next thing I knew he was stumbling past me to leave and as he did, he looked me straight in the eye and smirked, “You didn’t see anything, right Pat?” before leaving the building.
Remember, this was in front of a huge line of customers waiting at the deli counter. If was willing to do this in a crowded store, what was he capable of in the privacy of their home?
I was later subpoenaed to testify at his hearing regarding this incident. I was terrified at the idea of having to do it, knowing that not only was he an unstable and violent drug addict who knew where I worked, but because we were neighbors he knew exactly where I lived. At the preliminary hearing I remember him sitting there stonefaced in that orange jumpsuit watching me as I told my version of the events that transpired that day.
At the subsequent trial he showed up in a suit, with his parents and family minister in tow for moral support. I can’t recall exactly what the judge’s verdict was, but I know it wasn’t long before he was back out on the street and living with his girlfriend and her son again. Despite my fears, he never came after me, or even threatened me, but sadly the same could not be said for his girlfriend. Eventually, they moved out of the neighborhood, so I can’t say how their story ended, but my gut tells me that it was badly.
Domestic violence is a real life horror that is affects millions of women all over the world, perhaps even some that you know and love. Occasionally it spills out into the light of day as it did in the incidents described above, but more often than not it happens in the shadows or behind closed doors. Because it so often happens in secret, it can sometimes be easy to ignore.
Think about how comfortable and secure you feel when you’re home relaxing on the couch watching T.V. after a long day of work. Now imagine that comfort and security replaced with anxiety and the constant threat of violence.
We as a society must acknowledge that this problem exists, and take whatever steps we can to stop it. These women and their children deserve better, and they have the same right as you and I to feel safe and secure in the comfort of their own homes.
If you would like to make a donation to the Women's Center of Montgomery County you can do so here: http://www.wcmontco.org/donate.html
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