on waking and being alive

I overslept this morning, sort of on purpose, and on waking had a single pressing thought (which is unusual, because I normally have at least five): I am so lucky—fortunate, blessed, even—to be alive. Just that, which feels like almost everything today. I’ve been having to winnow through more of the things that happened to me as a young and middling woman and mother (battered, left for dead, so tormented that for years I couldn’t speak to anyone, friends or strangers, without shaking like a leaf in a straight-line wind, then leaving and being stalked by men with weapons and ready cash and the will to force me back to the marriage). I have to clean this up for my memoirs and do, sharing only snippets of the not-worst parts to provide readers brief glimpses that can be passed through without visiting my whole story of terror and grief upon their unwary heads and hearts. The goal, after all, is to wrest from the hell something of value that can help other people—women and children especially—not have to go through it or, if they already are, to know it’s survivable and that they have a real chance to get through and to help more people understand this so that they, too, can help increase those odds.

I also write so that people who work the frontlines of this war (and, make no mistake about it, these are wars, but there’s usually a single adult soul and possibly children in the trench on the worst days)—people like Kathleen Higgins of Rainbow House in Chicago or the professionals on the Teton County Task Force on Domestic Violence and so many other organizations who do their deadlevel best to get into the trenches—I write for them, too, in hopes of getting other people who know nothing of this to stick with the story to the end, so that they can be more effective neighbors to anyone caught in the maw of family violence.

So many woman are still being battered daily, shot, stabbed, left not just for dead, but actually dead. This is so exceedingly normal among us, that at times I scarcely can breathe. I am humbled to see that I am not dead, though left for it multiple times; not dead, though for almost 20 years I missed being so by a hair’s breadth of timing or sheer flukes (which happened often enough that I no longer consider them coincidences) or being able to have the assistance of courageous people (strangers, mostly, like the cops who organized themselves during off-duty hours to protect us in some of the first, worst months). I write to ask of you one thing:

Please, please, if you can bear to do so, pay attention to those around you. Without question, if you know more than two or three people, you know someone who is being abused now, you know someone who is doing the abusing, you know their children. It is easy to miss when people are motivated to keep the shame secret. (And there are good reasons for this, because sometimes folks just simply cannot take the reality, so they tell themselves it cannot be true, cannot be that bad, and they disconnect, which makes people in the throes of this more likely to die.) They are people like me, with jobs or without, with fine homes or without, with food or without, adults and children alike. The abuse takes many forms, all of it equally harmful (for verbal and psychological battering may even do more damage than physical attacks; for at least with the latter you have evidence that it happened).

Please, if nothing else, find a way to hold love in your heart for them all–even the abuser, who, as in my case, came from a home where he was battered by his father, and thus is doing what he knows: if you will demonstrate a strong resistance to violence, but not demean him in the process, that can help, for isolated men are more dangerous to the ones who have loved them. Hold him in the community instead, accountable, yes, but a whole person and therefore deserving of our compassion. If you do not get stopped by seeing what he has done and you persist in knowing for sure there is more to him than that and you stay focused until it can be seen? Then there is a chance he can learn how to see it himself enough to change the fear and rage that underlies his actions. Be careful, yes, get help from the police, yes, for abusers can be violent in a heartbeat, and so you may have to deal with them only from a distance yourself. That’s fine, even good. Just do it all with love, let it be strong and even fierce–as true love ever is–but hold that person in the light even as you work to hold him accountable. As a society, we need these men to remember who they really are; we need them to help us stop this terrible plague of harming those closest to us; we need them, if we ever hope to heal, for if any one of us remains in pain? All of us pay some price for that.

And please help the women and children, too, in any way you can. Give to shelters like Rainbow House, if nothing else, but it’s also helpful to live aware that there are women in the spaces you cross every day who are being battered by the ones they have loved. They come in all shapes, all sizes, all ethnicities, all careers, from all socioeconomic brackets bar none. If you are human, they are among you. When they try to leave, they’re in the most dangerous time of it (which is saying something, believe you me), and it is not at all uncommon for them to be made homeless, jobless, and running for their lives and their children’s with no resources to hand whatsoever. Please consider this as you go on your way every day and, if you can give nothing else at all, please feel love for them and not disdain. People like me never get completely out of such hells: they mark our lives going forward in ways unconceivable to any who have not been there. Debts, burdens, illnesses, exhaustion inconceivable. What that does to a regular day? Equally inconceivable, until you have walked the path through it to the next one, equally so marked.

I am so lucky—fortunate, blessed beyond measure—to be alive this morning, my yes. But every breath, every effort is weighed heavily down by all I have to carry still from those years. This is no complaint and I hate to have to say it so bluntly. I do so *not* so you will feel sorry for me or even cheer me on per se (though I have been greatly buoyed by such things during all these years past, and so deeply grateful that there are no words for it). I am cheered of my own accord this morning, so am not writing for succor. I am writing because I have survived to this point, I am *still here*, and I know for a fact that there are women still here this morning who will be gone by this evening. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. Most often through no fault whatsoever of their own, for all the survivors I have ever known have loved without measure through the very worst of times, giving of themselves to serve a relationship so that it can still have a chance to be healing and good. (And all who go through this, in my book, are survivors: bar none. If they die? They still survived right to the very last breath, usually stronger of any given day than any of the rest of us who are not actively being beaten.)

This is a problem spanning all boundaries of every kind, it happens in every society on this planet (with specific cultural buttresses, yes, but deep similarities in how women’s and children’s and even men’s lives are shaped). So I have to write this today: my waking thought demands it. Family violence, intimate violence, domestic violence, violence against one’s nearest and dearest: call it what you will, but never forget that it is close to you every day, and you can make the difference between life and death for people. You really can. I’m writing for that. I’m also writing to say I am so eternally grateful to still be alive to ask you this thing, pressing through the terrible shame still in the hopes that all of this? Won’t have been in vain. Then one of these days I won’t die having just been lucky, but of some use, some service. And if it turns out that I go too soon due to this particular unending train of relations in my life? Then I will not have gone having left this unsaid. Let us love one another, please. Let us find it in ourselves to truly love one another. Thank you for your time.