Sometimes you can have a close friend, and still not know everything about them.
In today’s rapidly changing society, we are starting to dialogue about gender equality. No matter what side of the fence you stand on, both sides can mostly agree we’ve made some positive strides as a human race.
This is why the story I’m about to tell you troubles me. It all seems like something that would happen back in 1950, or at least twenty years ago, but it hasn’t.
Just a week ago today I found out my neighbor and close friend was a victim of spousal abuse. I had noticed subtle signs of marital problems with them before. However, there was nothing much to indicate her husband had been abusing her.
So why is it that I feel so guilty?
Perhaps the few hints that were shown, I should have added up.
Not Exactly Coffee Chat
I remember one early evening when our kids had just gotten home from school. My son and her daughter often played together. The little ones have been friends since we first moved in, when they were both just toddlers.
The night had begun to set in, and it was nearing dinner time. Her husband, for the first time ever, was visibly uncomfortable by my presence. I could tell he wanted me to leave. I started to corral my happily-hyper son, but anyone that knows me, knows that can take a while sometimes.
As I gathered my son’s things, I heard my friend’s husband yapping off something in the back of the apartment. He was on the phone. His voice read as obviously angry about something, but I’m still not sure what it was. He blurted out:
“Yeah, it’s like a friggin’ daycare here some days. Everybody just drops their kids off.”
I was insulted by this comment, but I said nothing. My neighbor “made eyes” at me as he said it. She knew I heard and gave me a look of “Ignore him”. Still, I couldn’t ignore him. I never “dropped my kid off” there like he said. Maybe he was confusing me with some of the other children’s parents she babysits. Whatever the case was, his comment pissed me off. So I said goodbye to my friend, hugged her and told her we’d see her in the morning when the children go out to school together.
My hands turned the doorknob to leave and behind me I heard:
“Make me coffee! C’man!”
It shocked me at first because I thought it was directed at me. When I turned back to my neighbor to realize it was her being bossed around, my shock didn’t fade.
I could tell she was embarrassed that this happened in front of me. Somehow, she winged it anyway and continued to “serve” him, but not without throwing a little sass his way. I think she had more-so added the sass because I was there.
When I left, that was my first time realizing something wasn’t quite right in their marriage. He appeared to be very controlling of her, and this was the first I had seen of it. This wasn’t just your average “Make me dinner, honey” request. This was flat out “Do this or there will be consequences” and I should have noticed it then.
The thing is, this man never quite sat right with me in the first place. There were times he made the women in my building feel uncomfortable. None of the men here liked him either. One night, when he got a little inappropriate with me, another neighbor/friend got involved and told him to back off. He never bothered me after that, but I’ve kept an eye on him ever since.
I never allowed my son to go there by himself. I always tagged along, because that’s just how I am. I can tend to be the trust no one, over-protective type.
Lately, I haven’t allowed my son over there at all. Ever since I first noticed her husband was “off” which has been about two years now, that’s been reason enough to keep him away. It sucks that the kids have to suffer, but I always still welcome them to play at my apartment.
What’s Going On Here?
Then, last week I found out.
I kind of stumbled on the truth, actually.
There’s been a lot of police activity in our development lately so I asked my neighbor if she knew anything. This normally would be common conversation between us, but when I asked, she started to cry.
“You asked why the cops have been here. It’s me.” She said.
I already knew the rest of what she was going to say before she said it. What hurt was I had no idea just how bad it was. She had caught him cheating. They proceeded to get into an argument over his phone. When she went to take the phone from him, he beat her—severely.
She showed me the bruises that were hidden by her shirt. There were watermelon-sized welts in three or more places on her torso and upper thighs. She had bruises up and down her legs. The entire time she described the horrific scenario to me I couldn’t help but notice the cut across the bridge of her nose. I had noticed it when we first started talking too, but now it was like it was staring at me.
I’ve been here before. This road looks familiar.
My sister’s father used to enjoy beating on my 5’3”, 110lb. mother. There’s a reason I’ll never refer to him as my step-father.
Let’s just say their time together didn’t end well. If my family had not intervened in their situation, my younger sister may not be here today.
I know how this story ends, and it’s not pretty. That asshole almost killed my mother and sister. I was only seven years old at the time. I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do.
I vowed to myself then, I would never let that happen again.
I failed to see the writing on the wall, at first. Perhaps it’s because the wall was covered in stained blood and masked with perfectly groomed, cookie-cutter wallpaper. But oh, I see so clearly now.
The proper authorities have been notified. My friend is taking the steps toward a divorce, while filing for sole custody of their daughter. Up until now, she’s been a stay-at-home mom. She doesn’t drive. She’s an immigrant, from humble beginnings, with not much knowledge on how our legal system works. He left her with nothing. He hasn’t contacted their daughter. He’s not allowed to set foot in our building.
That hasn’t stopped him from threatening her, though. He said he was going to “get even” with her for contacting police. He’s angry that he may lose his job. After all, that would make him look bad with his shiny, new blonde.
I’m keeping an eye out. I’m staying alert. I’m aware that helping my friend also puts me in danger. I know that I’m also a mother and need to be careful.
This is mostly what my family has told me.
“Stay out of it. Don’t get involved.”
I can’t stay out of it.
I made a promise to that seven year old girl.
I’ll never stay out of it again.