Looking Over My Shoulder

by Shaker The Holy Fatman

[This post is about domestic violence, and may be triggering for survivors.—MM]

As a regular, lurking reader of Feministe, I was saddened by the News of Domestic Violence advocate Jana Mackey, who was tragically murdered by her abusive boyfriend. What was worse were the comments. It's clear that people still need to be educated on what happens inside an abusive relationship—because those asking why Jana Mackey got mixed up with the likes of this Adolfo Garcia-Nunez have little understanding on what actually happens, or they wouldn't be asking in the first place.

The first nationwide discussion on the issue of domestic violence (DV) went mainstream in 1994, when Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered. It was that year, while watching the news, that I realized my own relationship was abusive. It would be years until I actually left.

At age 18, I met a guy. After awkward teen years, it was exciting that a guy was interested in me! Woohoo! He called me every day, sometimes twice. I felt admired and soon, loved. I went off to college and he followed. We moved in together. We started playing house. We eventually got married.

When I invited friends over to hang out, I couldn't understand why he would be so angry with me. I didn't know that going to class and not coming home immediately after was wrong. I didn't know that my family was all against us being together and they wanted to destroy us!

I didn't know that when he grabbed me and pushed me that was assault.

He was always so very sorry and promised to never do it again. He would lavish me with attention, take me out to dinner and proclaim I was the light of his life. Other times I was worthless, ugly, stupid, and I was lucky to have him.

It wasn't long until he shaped my personality to his liking. If I veered away from it, I was reprimanded physically. The cops in one small southern town told me it was "not their policy to get involved in domestic disputes" when I called for help. Soon after, he completed his transformation by convincing me to move to a different state. It wasn't until I met other women who had similar experiences that I finally realized what was happening, and I left. I didn't look back; I ran. I returned home to my family with simply the clothes on my back, two cats, and a child. Three years of the nightmare was over and the healing could begin.

The friends I did have didn't know anything. My family, although suspicious, didn't understand. I was constantly asked "Why?" and told "He was a creep and we told you before!" Others would chastise me and say, "If a man hit me, I would knee him in the balls and leave!" None of them could fathom what I had gone through; they could only wonder why I stayed.

While I was bombarded by these attitudes, I was faced with another battle. I was still terrified of my ex and he knew it. He could say certain things, do certain things, and hold it over my head until I complied. After years of this constant abuse, I filed my first restraining order against him. The judge denied it. It wasn't enough that he was simply threatening me; I needed more proof that he was headed towards physical violence. My word just wasn't enough. They never even bothered to look up his past.

Discouraged, I still let him call the shots with visitation and child support. I wasn't going to fight anymore. I was too scared. He still had a hold over me, and, though I had been divorced for nearly six years, no one knew that I was still looking over my shoulder.

Slowly but surely, I gained a backbone. When I did, I confronted by ex with a 6' man with a football player's build standing behind me. I asked my ex about stories I had heard from my daughter, and, when he replied in a nasty manner, my companion ordered him, "This is where you need to sit down and SHUT UP!"

That was the only exchange the two ever had. It turned out that my ex was terrified of my new guy.

I decided the stories my daughter was telling and her physical ailments that happened when she had to visit him were too dangerous. I filed a restraining order on her behalf. It stuck this time and I lawyered up. I fought back, proved abuse against my daughter, and won. He was told to seek counseling for a period of six months and visitation would resume under supervision. Instead of doing that, he simply decided to "go away." That didn't matter, I was still looking over my shoulder.

Being free of him and marrying a loving, wonderful man is awesome. However, he had to deal with the effects of domestic violence at the beginning of our relationship. I would have panic attacks in stores I used to shop with my ex, panicked that I might run into him. I would refuse to go to certain stores, towns, or even listen to certain music because it invoked images of my past with him. I feared that he would come after me sometimes.

As time went on, the fear began to subside—but sometimes I would be contacted by his sister through MySpace, and the fear bubbled to the surface. I knew his rage well. What would happen if he came around the corner with a gun? Could that happen? It could… I was still looking over my shoulder, although less frequently.

It wasn't until I found out beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had moved across the country that I stopped completely.

When I read about what Happened to Jana, I didn't wonder "what was she doing with such a creep." I knew exactly what happened. She ended it and he simply didn't see it that way. He waited until she wasn't looking over her shoulder.

We lose many women who struggle to get away from their abusers this way. The whole "How does a smart women get mixed up with such creeps?" is indicative of ignorance on what DV actually is. The discussion about DV and what it does to victims needs to continue and, in some cases, get louder. We need more laws that extend past marriage and sexual orientation like the new law in New York.

Few survivors speak out and I can understand why. The fear that speaking out will lead to your former abuser to you is very, very real. However, we have wonderful advocates and passionate lawmakers who are keeping the fight alive. The tragedy against Jana will inspire more hard work and hopefully, better protection laws.

We don't want to look over our shoulders any more.

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