Thursday, November 18, 2010


You could not miss the bruise to Melissa’s face. Her left eye was black and swollen, a harsh contrast to her porcelain complexion. And her porcelain complexion was mottled black, blue, pink and red. She casually milled about the room as if nothing was wrong and those around her pretended not to notice. I don’t pretend and so I asked, others raising an eyebrow at me as if my doing so was catastrophically wrong. But I asked her what happened to her face, already knowing the answer, and knowing that her answer would be a lie.

She laughed, fanning a hand in my direction. “Teeheehee! It was so silly. I can’t believe it happened. I was brushing my hair and dropped the hairbrush and it accidently hit me in the face. Teeheehee!

I nodded and commented. “Really? It looks like that brush was still attached to your husband’s fist.” The room was suddenly aghast 'cause heaven forbid anyone say outloud what everyone had been thinking to themselves.

None of us have seen Melissa since, knowing that she often disappears when her many bruises need to heal. Since I’ve known her, I’ve heard too many stories of how clumsy she is. She has randomly fallen out of chairs, and down steps, even tripping over the family cat at the most inopportune moments. But everyone knows her husband beats her and despite the best efforts of family and friends she continues to stay, believing that with four young boys she has no other options.

I had a dear friend once who I suspected was being beaten at home. Then one day, I witnessed the abuse with my own eyes, her husband slapping her so hard that he sent her flying across the room. I picked up the telephone and called 911. Her husband told me that I would never set foot in his home again. I assured him that he would be leaving that night well before I did. Hours later my friend was frantically calling family and friends to get him bailed out of jail. Our friendship is only a semblance of what it once was and I have no doubts that her husband is still beating her.

Growing up, my Granny use to say that a man only had to hit a woman one time. “One time,” she emphasized, her head bobbing eagerly against her shoulders. “He’ll have to fall asleep at some point,” she’d conclude. “I guarantee, once he falls asleep, he won’t hit any other woman ever again.” Then she’d tell me about her favorite crooner, Al Green.

Many years ago, Al got into a dispute with a lover. Then Al fell asleep. Al found religion shortly thereafter. Granny had a boyfriend who fell asleep once too. I heard years later that he never ate hot grits again. He also never hit my Granny again.

I knew a woman once whose young granddaughter spilled the beans about the situation in her home. Her daddy ceremoniously punished mommy and big brother as the wind blew. Grandmother was taken aback by the bruises that battered her grandchild’s back and legs. She was appalled to discover them on her only daughter as well. Days later grandmother welcomed her son-in-law into her home with open arms and the lure of some freshly fried chicken. As son-in-law sat down, excited to be dining on a home-cooked meal, he was ill-prepared for what came next.

Grandmother started swinging a cast iron frying pan with every ounce of energy she had in her. The first swing cracked two ribs. The second broke his arm. Sum total Grandmother swung that frying pan twenty times, praying the following prayer as she did. “Lord, please forgive me my sin. But I don’t want to have to kill him for hitting my babies again. Amen.” Then she put down her pan and called him an ambulance. When help arrived, Grandmother told them he tripped and fell down the stairs. Son-in-law didn’t have anything at all to say. He also never hit his wife or child again.

With so many resources and support available to battered women I certainly don’t advocate violence as an answer to violence, but I can’t help but think that both those old women were on to something. Perhaps if Melissa had slapped her husband back with a frying pan the first time he slapped her, or maybe if she’d waited until he'd fallen asleep and then had helped him find some religion, those of us who care for her wouldn’t have to continually point out that she deserves better than bruises and black eyes.

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