One of our writers recently reached out to me and asked that I post this article on their behalf. While powerfully written and relevant, the piece is also incredibly personal and potentially painful to those the author loves. This is what makes sharing the article all the more important; all voices need to be heard. Just as this author has bravely given a voice to the silent, I am proud to share this piece for them.
It is articles like this that remind me of why I decided to write for Odyssey, and why I continue my work for the Emory Community. I hope this article resonates with you all just as it has with me.
I grew up watching my dad beat my mom. There is no question that angers me more and digs more deep than “why didn’t she just leave?” when discussing survivors of domestic violence. It’s understandable that people ask. I used to and felt some resentment about it. But the question “why didn’t she just leave” is something that has given me a lot to think about.
Women in situations of domestic violence can never “just leave.” It’s not that simple. A woman is more at risk of being murdered by when she leaves an abusive relationship than at any other time, and it’s not like some women don’t try.
In my case, I used to wish my mom just left and that my parents would have just separated. I wished that the one time we called the police, he would just go to jail and that would be that. I live my life now trying to be everything he wasn’t, trying to avoid the same modes of aggression and violence that he once was responsible for. I make mistakes. I know that. I just never, ever want to make his mistakes.
But then I realized life doesn’t work that way, and that my mom could have been killed if she left. A survivor of domestic violence is 70 times more likely to be murdered after leaving a relationship. If she took me and my siblings and left, I know my dad would have been angry beyond bounds, and just imagining what he would have done hurts. And I think she knew that. I never was thankful for the fact that although my mom was beaten, bruised, and abused verbally and emotionally, I at least had her around and she was alive. An imperfect and brutal situation was better than none at all.
We moved houses 10 times when I was a kid. The last thing she wanted was for us to move again, because she saw how hurt we were every time we had to clean the slate, move to a new school and make new friends. I see that now, and eventually I see how she handled the tough situation she was in with an incredible amount of grace. She worked the night shift at work so they wouldn’t be together. She slept in a different room, sometimes ours, when things were especially bad.
It hurts when I see happy families eat dinner together, every night of the week. On one level, I wish I had that. On another, I’m glad we didn’t, because I don’t know what would have happened.
She didn’t leave after all those years because she was tough, strong, and fierce. She didn’t leave because despite his cruelty, she still loved him and always gave him the benefit of the doubt, no matter what he did. Despite the monster he was, he was still our father, and a decent one at that, who, despite his flaws, kept food on the table and a roof above our heads. And because she was so fierce, she would never say she was abused, and never use that word to describe the situation, and above all, never admit that sometimes, she was powerless. It’s on me to respect that wish, because that was the way she coped with and handled things.
I just wish she knew that my siblings and I weren’t as fierce, that what happened in that house would mess us up for life. I wish she knew that everything happened had an effect. But I make sure, every time I see her, that she knows that because of her guiding force, now I’m fierce. She doesn’t want me to talk about it to other people, but I can’t just keep a band-aid over it. The healing path of Jesus Christ demands that I make my peace over it.
I wish she knew that the one time we called the police, we thought he was going to kill her, or else we wouldn’t have called 911. But she didn’t leave for us. At the end of the day, it was always for us. We are thoughtful beyond bounds because of her example. We learned what it truly was to persevere through adversity, and as a part of that, I want to put her story, and our story out there.
‘I was able to end my own crazy love story by breaking the silence. I'm still breaking the silence today,” Leslie Morgan Steiner, a survivor of domestic violence said. “It's my way of helping other victims, and it's my final request of you. Talk about what you heard here. Abuse thrives only in silence.’