White Ribbon Day, or International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women. (We should remember that domestic violence does not have to have a man as the perpetrator and a woman as the victim. It can be a wife or girlfriend against a husband or boyfriend. It can be a woman against another woman in a same-sex relationship, or a man against a man. It can even be a teenage or adult child against a parent or sibling. This day seems to focus on violence against women, I guess because it is the most common type of domestic violence. But any violence among people in a relationship or in a family is domestic violence.)
I was never the victim in a domestic violence situation, but I was a witness several times. A (former) very close friend of mine dated a violent man, and later married a different violent man. "Lauren" and I became friends when we were both 19. We were both living on our own, more or less... I in a group home for homeless teens, and she in her own apartment with her 2-year-old son. Over the years, we became very close. I was actually friends with both of the men she dated, before she knew them... but I had never known them while they had girlfriends, so I had never had the opportunity to see how mean they could become.
Lauren's relationship with the first man was intense but short-lived. The next man, whom I'll call "Jason," was already struggling with drug addiction and had already shown his violent side by the time they got married. Lauren arranged for Jason to adopt her son, then three years old. The judge was wary of it because Jason already had a criminal record, but Lauren and Jason managed to convince him that Jason was rehabilitated.
I stayed closely involved with their son "Stevie," and babysat him frequently. I would often spend weekends with them at their apartment. Lauren would tell me about the things Jason did. He spent all of the family's money on drugs, leaving nothing for food. When Lauren would start to argue with him about it, he would hit her. But when I was around, Jason was on his best behavior. It used to irritate me, how they acted like such a cozy family. Stevie called Jason "Daddy," and there were many family pictures of the three of them together, Stevie in the middle with his arms around his parents' necks, all smiling. They attended church together. Jason joined church groups and went on retreats and toted the Bible around. But during the week when I wasn't around, Jason would be off doing drugs, or he'd get violent with Lauren. In their small apartment where privacy was nonexistant, a lot of this was happening right in front of Stevie.
When Stevie was 6, Lauren got pregnant. It would be Jason's first biological child, and Lauren was sure that this would help Jason to settle down. They bought a house together. Jason would pamper Lauren and rub her feet. Yet, he was still doing drugs and getting violent. He even stole all of the money from Stevie's piggy bank. Lauren taught Stevie to hide his money, but again and again Jason found it.
The baby, "Tammy," was born, and life went on as it was. I was still over at their house frequently. Sometimes I'd pick Stevie up and take him out somewhere. I wanted to give him some happy times. Lauren still told me about the violence that went on. She said she just explained to Stevie that it was normal for parents to fight, and that this happened in all households... but it was private, so he wasn't to talk about it at school.
Then came the night that I witnessed, for myself, what Jason was capable of.
I don't even know what started the fight. It was just a regular argument that escalated. This was the night before Christmas Eve. Suddenly Jason was shoving Lauren against the wall, and it looked like they were wrestling, except Jason was much stronger. Stevie begged for them to stop. "Daddy! Daddy! Stop hurting Mommy!" he screamed through his tears. Jason had a kitchen knife and was holding it to Lauren's neck. Stevie turned to me. "Angel, call the cops! Please!"
I grabbed Stevie and pulled him into the bedroom, where Tammy was howling in her crib. I dialed 911 from my cellphone. It seemed to take forever for them to answer the phone! Finally they picked up. I blurted the house address into the phone. "Please come, you have to come," I said. "My friend's husband is beating her up and he has a knife." I was trying to hold onto Stevie, but he wriggled free and ran out to try to help his mama. The 911 operator was asking me questions that seemed completely irrelevant, things like, "What is your name?" I told her, "I have to go. I have to get Stevie."
"Ma'am, you need to stay on the line," the operator said firmly.
"I can't, I have to get Stevie!" I said. "Please just send the police!" All my life, starting in elementary school, I had been taught to stay calm and speak normally when calling 911. But I couldn't seem to stay calm when everything seemed to be going crazy!
I hung up the phone and raced into the kitchen. Jason was gone. Lauren was sitting on the floor sobbing. Stevie was kneeling in front of her, his arms around her, also crying. "I called the police," I said.
"You didn't," said Lauren. Stevie cried harder.
"He had a knife to you," I said. "I was afraid he'd kill you!"
"You need to go. You need to leave," Lauren snapped. She stood up. "You think you fixed everything, but you just made it worse. Do you want Stevie and Tammy's dad to go to jail on the night before Christmas Eve? You've ruined their Christmas!"
To be continued...