'Tis The Season -- For Domestic Violence
Abusive relationships are exacerbated during the holiday season. It's something that isn't talked about very much. Perhaps it should be.
I was walking through the mall this morning on the way to my hair salon, and heard the distinct strains of "Jingle Bell Rock." I used to LIKE Christmas music . . . now I can barely force myself to listen to it.
I've had no training as a domestic violence counselor, save what one gets from surviving the experience. I've had a whole lot of experience there. I've told that story on allnurses.com more than once, and this isn't an article about my domestic violence story, anyway. I tell that story often and at the drop of a hat. Now. I didn't used to. My abusive ex-husband was my second husband, and when I divorced him, it was my second divorce. I wasn't proud of being divorced twice, and my parents were absolutely humiliated. After all, they stayed married for sixty years, despite the fact that there were times when I'm convinced that they hated each other . . . but this isn't an article about that, either.
After my second divorce, I changed my hair color, my style of dress, and my name -- even my first name. And then I moved across the country and took a new job in a new nursing specialty and tried to lie low. I was afraid, and with good reason. Leaving an abusive husband is the most dangerous time in the relationship. At my new job, I didn't say much to anyone about my history . . . after all, I wasn't proud of it. And I was afraid to let anyone get too close. As time went on, though, I made a few friends at we all know that on a slow overnight shift, nurses will talk about just about anything. A few people heard bits and pieces of my story and then, of course, it was a nice, juicy topic for the gossips.
One night about 2 AM after our two most unstable patients were tucked away -- one to surgery and the other to the ECU, a colleague and I were sitting at the nurse's station together idly chatting about the best outlet mall in the area. Jan was one of those gorgeous blue-eyed blondes who seems to have absolutely no idea how beautiful she is. When a knee injury destroyed her Olympic hopes, she went to nursing school instead. She'd survived breast cancer in her 20s, although the chemo had left her infertile, and was in the process of adopting two beautiful little girls, twin sisters who were just learning to talk. I hadn't met her husband, but I'd seen pictures and he was every bit as tall, dark and handsome as she was blonde and beautiful. I was surprised when Jan invited me to her house -- she lived about a mile away from what she claimed was the best outlet mall in the state. But I was starting to come out of my shell a bit, and she was so NICE she was hard to resist.
Shopping and lunch were fun, and we got back to Jan's house where I'd left my car about the same time as her husband was coming home from work. When she introduced me to Randy, the alarm bells started going off in my head. There was nothing specific I could point to . . . nothing concrete. I disliked him on sight . . . perhaps he even frightened me. I got "that vibe" off of him. The same vibe that I used to get off my abusive ex-husband when he was nearing the rage portion of his mood cycle . . . .
When Jan came to work the next day, she had bruises down her left cheek and left arm and from the way she moved, pretty much all the way down her left side. "You know that Welcome mat by the garage door?" she asked. "I tripped over it and landed on the freezer." I knew then without knowing for sure how I knew. It wasn't that I suspected or guessed or even wondered. I just KNEW. I tried to broach the subject, but she wasn't ready for it and I, reticent about sharing my own story, didn't push.
That was in the late spring. The adoption of Jan's two little girls was final in the summer, and she had family coming to stay for weeks at a time to meet her daughters. We spent some time together that summer and fall, always when her husband was away on a business trip. And there was the occasional night shift. Over the months, my story came out bit by bit, and I wasn't surprised when she shared a few revealing details of her own life. She had no friends other than me -- something that should have shocked me since she was so funny and smart and NICE. She asked me once how you knew for sure your husband was abusive. "Do the rules change?" she asked me another time. "He has all these RULES, and sometimes they change without warning." And another time she asked me how I'd gotten free. I listened, and shared my story, and encouraged her to get help, to have a plan, to be safe. But abuse doesn't start overnight and abusers don't reveal themselves until you're ensnared, and with her beautiful home and her two beautiful little daughters, Jan was well and truly ensnared.
That fall, Randy decided that he and Jan should give a "pre-holiday party." So the weekend after Thanksgiving, they gave a lavish party with a catered dinner and a DJ for dancing. Their beautiful home was decorated for Christmas, and the DJ played mostly holiday music. Everyone who wasn't working that weekend -- and some who were -- showed up. I brought my new boyfriend -- the man who is now my DH -- and we all dressed in our best holiday attire. It was a magical night. Or should have been. As DH and I danced together, he whispered "I love you" into my ear. It was the first time . . . I hadn't dared to hope that he felt the same way about me as I felt about him. But something about Randy gave me the chills. The way he looked at me, the knowing way he nudged and winked at DH -- something.
Jan looked lovely in a winter white cashmere sweater with sparkly snowflakes and matching skirt. The house was beautiful. The girls were adorable as they were briefly introduced to the early arrivals and then whisked off to spend the night with Randy's mother. But there was something hollow about the whole scene, and I remember how uneasy I felt. I wanted to leave, but I didn't want to leave Jan alone. DH and I were the last to go home. And it was the last time I saw Jan.
My manager called me at home well before dawn the next morning, crying. "I have to tell you," she sobbed. "I know you were her friend."
"Were." Such a world of information in such a small word.
Jan was killed that night. The official story is that it was a one-car accident. She was driving too fast, had too much to drink, went off the road near her mother-in-law's home. Killed instantly. The real story never came out officially. I think the police were hoping they could prove it someday.
After the party, Randy started in on Jan about flirting with the men at the party. He accused her of cheating on him, and he started to beat her. He told her she'd never see her children again, he was going to kill her. She got away from him somehow, got into her car and was on her way to his mother's house to get her girls when he started trying to run her off the road. All that was in Voicemail when I finally checked my for messages a day or so later. The call ended abruptly just about the time her car went off the road and hit the bridge abutment. The coroner's report showed some alcohol in her bloodstream, but well below the legal limit. And some of her injuries were inconsistent with the "accident."
I sat at her funeral with DH, and listened to Randy give a tear-jerking eulogy and I knew the whole time that that bastard had killed her. As he talked about what a great mother she was, and how much her daughters would miss her, I was horrified and sickened at the thought of him raising those two little girls. The police were sympathetic, but there was nothing they could do -- not enough evidence. They investigated, and I got a chilling phone call from Randy one night blaming me for "the hell the police are putting me through."
He moved away immediately afterward . . . I heard his job transferred him to Asia somewhere. The two little girls would be grown women now, and I've often wondered how they were. Did they grow up healthy? Did he abuse them?
I've always wondered if I could have saved Jan somehow if I'd been more up front with my own story, if I'd tried harder to convince her to leave him, if I'd stayed later that night or left earlier. If only. There are a million and one "if onlys". Some nights -- especially this time of year -- I lie awake all night going over and over everything in my brain and wondering what I could have done. I could have left my cell phone on instead of turning it off, I could have checked my messages earlier, I could have . . . . there must have been SOMETHING I could have done. I don't listen to holiday music anymore. My collection of Christmas CDs never made it onto my iPod. And I don't keep my own story secret anymore.
If telling my story helps one woman stop and think about her own situation, if it gives one woman the courage to leave her abusive husband or even to put a safety plan into place it's worth the embarrassment of admitting that I was once a victim -- am now a survivor of -- domestic violence. I tell my story often. I write about it on allnurses.com, and any time I have the slightest "vibe" from someone that she might be in an abusive relationship, I tell it. I've never told Jan's story before, but maybe I should have. If my telling the story helps even one person escape Jan's fate, it will have been worth every bit of the pain it's cost me to tell it.Last edit by Joe V on Jan 24, '17
About Ruby Vee, BSN, RN
Ruby Vee has '38' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'ICU/CCU'. From 'the Midwest'; Joined Jun '02; Posts: 12,095; Likes: 49,838.Nov 9, '11As you say, abuse is insidious and abusers wait until their victim's deeply entwined with the abuser, socially isolated and filled with self doubt. Maybe Jan was getting ready to recognise that Randy was at fault, that he didn't beat her because of her failings but bcause if his own, and that she could leave - but though you were able to show her survival is possible, I know you know that's a place she could only get to at her own pace. For Jan, as for some many victims of abuse, it wasn't in time.
Thank you so much for sharing this painful story. I hope you're right, and that it helps other victims recognise their abuse, and their options, in time.Nov 10, '11Your pain is palpable, Ruby, even after all these years. I hope you know in your heart that you did everything that was in your power to help your friend, and that you could not have prevented what happened. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that life doesn't work that way, but it sounds like you're still suffering from the "ifonlies" as I call them. You don't deserve that, any more than Jan deserved to lose her life the way she did. Bless you for being such a wonderful friend (and writer!).Mar 23, '12Woah, this is very sad. I agreed with Trekfan, he should have gone to jail. Hopefully the girls grew up healthy.Nov 1, '12Ruby, your original post has me in tears.
I had started to post a detailed response, but I started to get into details I would rather not post publicly.
Thank you sharing this story. I really hope it makes a difference to somebody.Nov 1, '12I sued my batterer in court. It's all about evidence. From the moment you, or your child, or your pet, is first abused, if you are stuck in the relationship because of marriage, children, finances, religion: Start collecting evidence right away: Anything you can use to protect yourself when it becomes your word against the abuser's will be critical.
Pictures of bruises, etc., threatening texts, nasty voice-mails, emails, anything and everything. Keep these in a safe place along with your keys and money. Then get out the best way you can. You have to fight with everything to get away from these people. Use every resource at your disposal.
Don't be silent and don't be passive. Don't give up. There are many resources available right now to help you.
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