I have said many times that I would never be with a man who abuses me. As a nurse, my training taught me to recognize the signs of abuse; as an ER nurse, I had occasionally cared for abused women (not that domestic violence is a respecter of either sex).
I employed educational materials and I prepared a “one size fits all” speech completely bereft of first-hand knowledge, and gladly so. I was innocent to the trappings of Domestic Violence.
I understood the physiological outcome of domestic violence easily enough and I believed that I understood the psychology behind the abused and the abuser. I followed protocol in expediting cases of domestic violence with empathy and compassion. It had been my experience, unfortunately, that the abused returned to the abuser. My intellect could effectively deduce those reasons; however, I could never get a tight rein on the workings of the deadly cycle.
Any self-respecting emergency care worker knows that a full moon invites all sorts of characters to the ER. The graveyard shift had run amuck with code blue calls, gunshot wounds, and shackled prisoners from the local jailhouse. The ambulance bay had more traffic than the bypass at rush hour. Rounding my twelfth consecutive hour, I was looking forward to using the bathroom (bathroom privileges are not always guaranteed) and going home to the man of my dreams for some much needed down time.
We will call him “Jon.” Jon and I met at church; I had known his family for years before we met. Jon’s sister-in-law informed me, one Sunday morning, that he wanted to meet me and before my inner gatekeeper could assemble a proprietary lock-down, the word “sure” escaped my lips like a desperate criminal. A demanding nursing career, coupled with two small children, left the proverbial totem pole without a ‘dating’ sign; in fact, I vaguely remember deciding not to put it on the totem pole at all. Yet, there I was, giving my consent.
At the time, I was very strong in my faith and all the outward appearances proved Jon to be a decent man in his thirties with a heart for the Lord. Humble, seemingly shy, extremely polite, and handsomely chivalrous all described him to a tee.
I walked through the automatic doors into the humid night air; the wind whooshed around my body as tresses of hair overcome by the blast whipped my face. My scrub top tugged to the left from my pocket being loaded down with surgical tape, hemostats, various pens and notes. I leaned against the concrete support, lit a much-needed cigarette, and deliberately took a long drag while massaging my neck. A lab tech, getting off work at the same time, stopped to exchange small talk about the night when Jon arrived. We had only been married a few weeks and I was looking forward to seeing him.
Worn from the trials of the night, I flopped into the seat of the car, leaning in for a kiss at the same time. Jon glared straight ahead, his facial expression intense, and before I could get the door closed, he stomped the gas pedal and chucked me back into my seat. The force of my body colliding with the back of my seat forced a deep exhale from my lungs. Shocked into silence, I tried to make sense of what was happening. Lunging forward I grabbed the door and secured it with a slam. I gasped, “What is wrong with you, Jon?” Tears welled up in my eyes, a lump formed in my throat and fear began its ugly inception.
“Who the hell was that? You fuckin’ him? I knew it…I knew I’s gonna’ have trouble with you working with them damn hard-sides….” By this time, we were on the interstate and my heart was in a power sprint inside my chest; my son and daughter were in the back, in their car seats, screaming bloody murder. Deciding it was dangerous and futile to engage Jon in this twisted game, I begged him to calm down.
Jon continued his verbal assault driving faster than the law allowed. The man who wooed and doted over me was rapidly devolving from my white knight into a monster. His anger escalated, he slammed on the breaks, the tires screamed and smoke bellowed from beneath us as the car made a 180. Facing North on a southbound interstate, at a dead stop, with headlights approaching, terror overcame me. My body was shaking violently; my breath hitched as I tried to stifle my cries and reassure my children that everything was going to be OK. Grinding the gears, Jon righted the car quickly. During the rest of the ride home, the kids were silent, I was silent, and Jon was silent. My whole world changed in a matter of seconds on that night.
“I will never be with a man who abuses me” played in my mind like a broken record. The faces of the women I had counseled flashed before my mind’s eye. In rapid succession, memories of the well-rehearsed speeches I had given, pamphlets, social workers and shelters haunted me.
No longer was I bereft of first-hand knowledge. In some cruel twist of fate, I found myself no longer innocent to the trappings of domestic violence. I was now a victim. Survivor would not become part of my vocabulary until 19 years later.