I’ve Got a Face That’s Made for Violence
There has been much talk about domestic violence lately thanks to the Ray Rice Incident. I’ve seen quite a lot of vitriol on both sides of the argument and it’s been rather distressing. On the one hand, I see people upset that not only did Janay Palmer stay with him, she married him anyway, On the other hand, people are upset that the NFL did not suspend Rice’s contract sooner. You can’t please everyone all the time.
My real opinion on this is unpopular – not only because I’m a woman – but because I’m a survivor of domestic abuse. So here goes: None of us get to judge Palmer. We don’t know why she stayed. And we don’t get to judge Rice either. Why? Because the charges were dropped and we’re not on a jury of his peers. Can we have opinions about it all? Sure. But who are we to judge their decisions?
I was nineteen the first time I found myself in a situation like this. I was living with my boyfriend at the time and he was extremely jealous of a male friend of mine. We used to fight mercilessly about how close I was with this friend and how much time I spent with him. In addition to working together, we spent a lot of time together outside of the office.
At the time, I didn’t have a lot of close friends that lived near enough for me to hang out with. I didn’t have my own car and living in South Florida meant there weren’t good public transportation options. I had very limited access to the friends I’d grown up with. I was cut off from the people that cared about me because I made the decision to leave home at sixteen. I had no nearby friends and no family. All I had were a handful of friends I’d made at work and my boyfriend.
I can look back now and understand why he’d be upset about the friendship. Ultimately it turned out that this friend had an interest in me that was “more than friends” but I knew that I didn’t feel the same so I didn’t see any reason to end the friendship at the time. In one particularly bad argument, my boyfriend hit me. The slap was so intense I ended up with a concussion.
By the time the cops showed up, he had left our apartment. I had no idea where he was or how to find him. Because there was not much physical damage and because he couldn’t be found, the cops took a very basic report and really didn’t do any following up. I remember them handing me a pamphlet for a shelter for domestic violence victims. I remember not taking them up on it.
In what I later learned what his passive-aggressive and manipulative manner, he checked himself into a mental institution to “get help”. Believing that he’d changed, I married him anyway. And he never hit me again. Did he manipulate me in other ways? Yes. Did the relationship ultimately fail? Yes. Was it because he gave me a concussion once? No.
I stayed with him for a number of reasons and those reasons are my own. I don’t need to justify my decision to anyone. Years later, I realize that I probably would have made a different decision if I felt that I had the support network I needed to do so. But again, these are my choices. People begging me to leave didn’t help. People handing me pamphlets didn’t help. Neither did the statistics on domestic violence.
A few weeks ago, I underwent a minor plastic surgery procedure that left me with a black eye. This was at the height of the Rice drama. At the time, I didn’t really want to talk publicly about what I’d had done. I didn’t feel it was anyone business because again, this was my choice.
What I found upsetting, however, was the sheer number of complete strangers that made the assumption that I was in a domestic violence situation. “You should leave him,” said a woman as I stood in line at Mobil to buy cigarettes one afternoon. I glared at her and simply said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Because she didn’t. And I didn’t feel that I should be put in a situation to defend The Boy when he’d done nothing wrong in the first place.
After the second time it happened, I realized that there is an assumption that if a woman is walking around with a shiner, the default is simply that she’s a victim of domestic violence. I also realized that some people think that telling me to “leave the bastard” is somehow humorous or a show of solidarity. And I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t just be coy about it anymore. I didn’t like the assumption that The Boy had caused this.
Now, I’m facing an entirely different kind of judgment: where people think it’s okay to lecture me about the dangers of plastic surgery or go back to telling me what a “pretty face” I have.
Here’s the thing: Just like domestic violence, you don’t know my reasons.
If you’re my friend, listen and be supportive. If you’re a stranger, keep your mouth shut. I shouldn’t have to wear my rationality like a badge to get people to simply not comment on it. I’ve learned enough in my years and I want to believe that I’m not the girl that would stay. But I can’t predict the future.
More importantly, neither can you.