Life Imitating Art: When Domestic Violence Isn’t Entertainment

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Domestic violence is back in the headlines again, thanks to a media frenzy surrounding the allegations of popular entertainers Chris Brown and Rihanna. Every daytime talk show, from Tyra Banks to Oprah to Dr. Phil, has filmed a very serious episode on the subject, often subjecting young women to share their personal struggle while America tunes in.

Despite the surge of chatter on the airwaves, domestic violence has always been a present, if ugly, factor of American culture. It’s a frequent topic of classic books, movies, and plays. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams’ tragic heroine Blanche spirals into insanity after being attacked by the brutish Stanley. The Color Purple and Fried Green Tomatoes have overarching themes about strong-willed women and their deep friendships that help pull them out of their abusive situations. These themes are an undercurrent of our society, and that’s where we like them. Hidden, closeted, only exposed for the sake of great art.

But when the issue is in the spotlight, it’s hard to ignore forever, especially when you’ve been there before, and this sensory overload makes it all come rushing back. I was the tragic heroine but I wasn’t in a play; it was my life. Recalling the details is a surprisingly unemotional experience. We were in London together, and like so many times before, his switch turned on. I know what the factors were that made him verbally and emotionally abusive: anxiety, insecurity, the stress of being in another country with currency rates twice as high as our own. I also know that none of these are an excuse, even though I accepted them so many times before. I could handle threats, manipulation, and frightening anger towards others, even though I shouldn’t have had to subject myself to it at all. Heck, I’m an actress. I find a secret thrill in life’s dramatic and shocking ups and downs. Love isn’t supposed to hurt, but when it does, it’s enthralling. But that should be reserved for the page and the stage, not for real life. So I took a stand and like Peter Finch in Network, I was as mad as hell and I wasn’t going to take it anymore. And like all abusers, he got more and more desperate, fighting control his surroundings, finally crossing that wicked line into physical abuse.
In times of crisis, there are images that are blurry and others that are crystal clear. I was wearing a long sleeved shirt that day, and yet I had substantial bruises on my left arm that lasted for three weeks. They were not only black and blue, but yellow. I’ll never forget that color yellow; it’s a color reserved for ailing patients on medical dramas. It’s the color my grandma turned after she died. I remember standing in the shower washing myself with a loofah wondering if I would ever be cleansed of this disgusting mark on my arm.

He went into intensive therapy for three months, turned his life around (though I remain skeptical), and I honestly forgave him. My parents forgave him. That’s where the process stopped. I didn’t break down and go into hiding; I finished college with high marks, I found a respectable job and I continued to pursue my passions and hobbies. Six months later, Rihanna is all over the news for returning to Chris Brown and I find myself having to face questions that I don’t want to answer.

Oprah and others proclaim, “If he hit you once, he will hit you again.” Is it possible that there won’t be a second time, and how can anyone be certain that there won’t be a second time? Can a man find redemption from his mistake? How do I go forward as a victim of abuse? Though my bruises are gone, am I truly healed?

I don’t want my story to have a cliffhanger, nor a tragic ending. I am still the heroine, and by facing what has happened, I’m already taking steps toward my own personal triumph.

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