By Carin Makuz
When the feel of his fist is fresh on her face…
Why does she stay??
It’s always the first question and it’s worse when there’s money involved, the implication being she stays for that, for the lifestyle. Right. The lifestyle…
And the answers, they’ve been all over social media recently but they’re not new. The sad truth is they’ll still be valid long after we stop listening, stop talking about it.
And so… we should not stop.
She stays because she’s afraid, isolated, shamed. Because it’s her home. Because she’s given away her power, been told she’s stupid and worthless one too many times. Because she’s been told her whole life she’s stupid and worthless. Because she believes she’s stupid and worthless. Because there are kids and pets and threats… to harm them or take them away.
Because there are threats. Always threats.
Because she is deflated, broken, and because he threatens suicide if she leaves. Always threats. Because to leave is failure; because she came from a broken home and doesn’t want her kids to come from the same place. Because she will be seen as pathetic for having stayed so long so it’s better to stay even longer and not let anyone know. Because people blame the victim. Because people blame the victim… Because people blame.
She stays because she’s fought this fight ten thousand times and hasn’t got the strength it takes to fight back anymore much less start a new life, no matter how right and good and sensible she knows that would be.
She stays because she doesn’t even know she’s being abused. It started small. It was only emotional. He has a temper but he loves me, the kids, he always says he’s sorry. Because this time is the last time. Because this black eye is the last black eye, he said so. He promised. He cried, he begged. He’s really just a teddy bear underneath… he needs her, he said. And she needs to be needed. What else does she have?
She stays because he is her family. Because of For Better or Worse. Because even though she looks fine and manages to function, she is so messed up emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically, she can’t even see straight. She stays because it’s easier at this stage to hope… so she hopes he will be in a good mood today and when he isn’t… it’s too late again.
She stays because she doesn’t want to be seen as weak, or overly dramatic. No bones broken, just a little scuffle. He’s got a temper. I mentioned that, right, the temper?
She stays because the most dangerous thing she can do is leave. It’s bad enough under normal circumstances but if the guy has money, that danger is multiplied. He can have her watched, followed, hurt or worse. And he almost always does.
And where is she supposed to go? Family? Friends? He’ll find her. A hotel isn’t safe. So you tell me… where does she go?? In this weakened state. Where?
That she leaves at all is extraordinary. It takes such monumental courage.
And the women that manage it should be applauded and protected. They aren’t just ‘leaving’, they’re fighting for their lives. I see them at the women’s shelter where I volunteer. They land on the doorstep not because it’s an easy fix but because, for a short time at least, they’ll be safe. The windows are bullet proof; there are cameras at the door, you have to be buzzed in. The police are on speed dial.
Sadly there are never enough beds, never enough shelters. The problem of abuse is only getting worse. Sometimes women are sent out of town, wherever a place can be found. Imagine leaving your home with nothing, your abuser’s voice still ringing in your head, screaming that if you leave he’ll kill you or someone or something you love, and it will be your fault he says. If you leave, he won’t be accountable for what he does. It will be your fault.
The shelters are a place to breathe and think and get some help with what to do next. They’re a place that reminds women they aren’t alone, that their problem isn’t unique to them.
Why does she stay?
Because until she finds the strength to do anything else, it’s all she can do.
And even if she finally musters the will to leave, she may very well go back at some point. For all the same reasons.
She wants things to be better. She really does. That’s part of the problem.
Factor in a situation where names and faces, celebrity and corporations and big, big money are involved, and you can be sure there are those that will do their best to convince her staying is to her advantage, in order that those others save face. And money.
Her face for theirs.
Why does she stay?
Here’s a better question: why does HE stay?
Carin Makuz publishes in journals and magazines across Canada and the U.K. She has won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, been nominated for the Journey Prize; essays and short stories have been broadcast on CBC and BBC radio. She combines text with photography, reviews books and chats with writers on her blog www.matildamagtree.com. She is currently working on a book about what is remembered, and why. Featured image photo credit: Carin Makuz.