Monday, July 20, 2009


A front page article in the NYT the other day describing the new Obama administration’s policy of granting political asylum to abused foreign women, brought me back to a column I wrote way back in October of 1994. Unfortunately, it’s still relevant, so I thought I’d post it.

Survival is a victory for this woman

I switched on the TV while getting dressed and heard the familiar voice of Gloria Steinem.

My admiration for this woman has only grown as years go by. Not only does she display an incisive mind, but she continues to appear on the tube – having reached a certain age – without benefit of a smear of lipstick. I’ve always been a sucker for those with the courage of their convictions.

Anyway, she was taking about the new issue of Ms. Magazine and its extraordinary cover. Front and back, it portrays a Vietnam Memorial-type wall. On it are inscribed the names of women killed by domestic violence in the past four years.

As Steinem answered questions on the now ubiquitous subject, she concluded by saying that as grim as the statistics are, at least now the problem has a name. Twenty years ago, she added, it was just life.

Twenty years ago…….

Actually, it was about 27 years ago. I was pregnant with my daughter when we moved into the little five-room yellow ranch house in a small Ocean County town.

I was a few months past my 20th birthday. She was four years older and already had children. We became inseparable fairly quickly, which was rather odd. She was tall and preppie; I, short and ethnic. She was Junior League. I was La Leche League.

But something grew between us that has spanned almost 30 years, five children and two marriages, despite the fact we often went for years without much contact. In those days, we lived in each other’s houses. She taught me to bake cookies. I convinced her that sheets didn’t need ironing.

Neither her mother nor her husband had any use for me or my “bad influence.” Why she even breast-fed her last child. By age 30, she was restless, searching for something not to be found at home. I didn’t understand.

My own marriage was over. Regardless of what her family thought of my “loose” life-style, in reality, I was scared, lonely and bowing under the financial and emotional weight of supporting two children under 5 years old. So, I wasn’t about to encourage anyone to frivolously follow in my shaky footsteps.

Under my insistent questioning, she finally broke down and told me the truth.

The beatings had begun when she was pregnant with her first child. His need to control every aspect of their environment – from the finances to the temperature and lighting -- was obsessive. She never knew what would set him off. And when she tried to leave, he would physically bar the door and take her car keys.

She hid the evidence with grit and cosmetics, riddled with shame and guilt. After all, her handsome, athletic husband was a brilliant professional with an advanced degree. He made a fine living. It must be her fault. After all, that’ what he said. She was unstable and an incurable spendthrift, he insisted.

Our modest homes were no more than 10 feet apart yet, I never had a clue. My shock quickly turned to fury.

At 30, something snapped. She was unwilling to continue in a dark, cold world forever. So, she began carving out a life of her own. It was slow and not without cost.

She stayed for the kids, she said, and for the financial security. But she went back to school, got her own advanced degree and established a career, an independent life.

The physical beatings ended, but the verbal and fiscal abuse continued. The more independent she became, the more affairs he had. After each one ended, he bought her a wedding ring. She has an extensive collection.

The shell of a union officially died earlier this year. He found himself someone younger and more acquiescent. He has already remarried. After 30 years of marriage, she cherishes her solitude and independence. She no longer eats dinner in a dark house with a cold husband or stews about his gun collection. She has a regular companion butt marriage is no lure.

She is among the lucky ones. Her name does not appear on that Ms. Wall. For that, I am eternally grateful.

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