She didn’t tell me his name.
She didn’t tell me what he did for a living, or where he came from.
She tried not to talk about him much at all, which evoked mild curiosity but didn’t alarm me, even though I’d always known her prior boyfriends by no less than name, occupation, hobbies and demeanor.
It was only when my dear friend fell silent for weeks after dating the new guy that I started to feel a niggling sense of worry.
A gregarious, affable extrovert, she’d always been one to text dozens of times a day, and reply instantly to virtually any text message. I often felt guilty for replying so slowly to her texts; it can take me days or even weeks to reply to a single message.
When she failed to reply to several text messages over a few-week period, I started to worry. I texted her: I get nervous when you fall silent.
She wrote back that she’d moved several hours north of our hometown. When I read him her text message, my fiancee, Anthony, said, “She’s moving the wrong direction! She should be moving down here with us.” I said she’d probably moved with her boyfriend, versus moving just for fun, but relayed his message to her. She confirmed that she’d moved with her boyfriend, whose name I still didn’t know.
I thought, abusers try to isolate their partners. I promptly squashed the thought as the byproduct of an overactive imagination. She hadn’t said anything was wrong, apart from a mild case of moving blues.
A few weeks later, my friend called and told me her boyfriend had assaulted her. She was shocked and shaken, but had quickly arranged alternative lodging for herself.
“You should leave,” I told her. “I think it’s dangerous for you to stay. You can come stay with us for a little.” I coordinated parts of her departure with her, but worried she wouldn’t leave. It’s often much easier to continue enduring known hardship than embrace the idea of enduring unknown, unquantifiable hardships. Indeed, the human imagination for possible woes is endless, so that the unknown can end up seeming much more threatening than painful situations we’ve already shown ourselves we can survive.
When my friend called me a couple of days later and said she’d probably overreacted, I stressed that I didn’t feel she had. Still, she was determined to stay and prove she was strong enough to make a home in her new locale, with or without her boyfriend.
I sighed. I prayed. And I hoped to God she’d call me if anything else happened.
A week and a half ago, I felt a rare hankering to read non fiction. “What was that book El recommended me? And another guy called a life changer?” I loaded Goodreads to scan my to-be-read shelf for the book. “The Gift of Fear. Right,” I murmured to myself. “I’ll give that a shot.”
I downloaded it expecting to read it a chapter at a time as time permitted. I was instead instantly captivated by the author’s clear, articulate description of indicators violence may be imminent. Gavin de Becker‘s career is violence avoidance, which involves finding commonalities in violent incidents and, understanding their clear and almost universally repeated warning signals, helping clients avoid falling prey to violence.
He quickly identified and described predatorial behaviors that have unnerved me for some time, but which nervousness I’ve long suppressed as irrational, unreasonable or silly. (More on that in my Goodreads review.)
Most importantly, he dedicated a huge section of the book to identifying warnings of partner abuse. He stressed that partner abuse related homicide is the most easily averted, if people are willing to read and respond to its indicators.
I was chilled to read the signs, but glad to have the benefit of an expert’s insight.
It’s by understanding a possibility of a threat we can work to prevent it.
I read the book in a day and a half.
The day after I finished reading The Gift of Fear, my dear friend called me. She’d been attacked again. She’d fought back, but she was nervous.
“You should be,” I said. Unlike when we first spoke weeks earlier, my sense of warning signs wasn’t muddy or ambiguous. I didn’t feel like I was potentially making false accusations about her boyfriend by suggesting she was unsafe. “Listen, I just finished reading an amazing book that talks about warning signs of violence.” I told her about the author, and how he immediately puts the kibosh on the idea that most violence is unpredictable or without warning. I explained he’d devoted a huge portion of his book specifically to partner abuse to help reduce horrifying domestic abuse homicide rates. I asked if I could read her a list of risk signals the author had compiled just for situations like this. “If several of these apply to your situation, you’re likely at risk.”
She agreed, and I read through the whole list (paperback pp. 183-184), beginning:
- The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.
- At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.
- He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.
“Oh, my God,” she breathed after a several-second pause after I’d finished reading the list. “He’s done at least 25 of those things. At least.” She mentioned he’d even come at her with a gun. She said it almost as if an afterthought, but I was terrified on her behalf. I responded with an emotional entreaty.
“Leave. Please leave.” Since I don’t know much about the specifics of doing so safely, I looked up the local domestic violence hotline and urged her to contact them. She spoke briefly to a volunteer there, then arranged a meeting for the next morning.
As we said our good nights to each other via text message, I prayed she would be safe overnight . . . and then, that she would leave.
Uncertain what the future would hold, she cleaned out her apartment, quickly got her affairs in order, and left.
Four days later, she reached Southern California. She spent a night with a friend before showing up at my house. My son, Li’l D, was beyond excited to see his auntie. She read him some stories and assured him she’d be there when he awakened. In the morning, he wanted nothing to do with me. He wanted only his auntie.
After Li’l D was off to preschool, she updated her resume. She sent out more than a dozen resumes and had arranged her first interview within an hour.
Two days later, she rocked that interview; her job offer came only a couple of hours later.
Walking to the store a few minutes later, we shared our elation at how quickly tides can turn when we flow with them. “Just eight days ago,” we mused, “all seemed hopeless. And now, barely more than a week later, it’s sunshine, friends and a new job.”
There’s no telling for sure what might have happened if she’d stayed up north. Was bloodshed inevitable? There is no telling. Thanks to the clear, compelling guidance in The Gift of Fear, a whole set of terrifying could-have-beens became much-less-likely-to-bes.
Will everyone who considers leaving know they have a safe place to go, or find a job immediately? No. But the truth is, it’s only by leaving an abusive, violent situation that a person–usually a woman–will be better able to take her life to the natural end of its years, and to explore all the good that might yet be, if she can even haltingly accept that the certainty of abuse is not better than uncertainty that includes limitless hopeful possibilities.
If you or someone you know is experiencing partner abuse, or you even suspect it, please, please make use of these resources:
You could save a life, or even–if children are involved–many lives.
My dear friend E.L. Farris has recently published her first novel, Ripple:
Finding herself in trouble, Helen must relinquish control and put her faith in a process she knows to be flawed. As a team of lawyers, therapists and women from a safe house help Helen and Phoebe find hope and healing, a sociopath lurks, waiting for his moment to strike.
A lyrical, dark fairytale that will resonate with fans of women’s literature and psychological thrillers, Ripple delves into the nature of evil, without seeking to provide final answers to the issue of what makes a human commit evil acts. And while the author takes readers to scary places, she ultimately shines a light on the human condition and celebrates the triumph of the human spirit in the face of great tribulation.
I enjoyed Ripple tremendously, and for many reasons. Top among those reasons were the strong, compassionate, very dissimilar women who filled its pages. I have read many popular novels recently in which the protagonists were drafted “empty,” the better to enable readers to insert themselves into the story as the protagonist.
Those empty characters really wig me out. I want to read stories, like E.L.’s, whose characters would be excellent coffee shop companions. I don’t necessarily have to like each of them all the time, but I must always have something to learn or laugh about with them. E.L.’s characters weren’t just real people but real friends to me by the time I read Ripple‘s final pages with a smile on my face.
I am hopeful that these women will inspire some of Ripple‘s readers to find like women in their own lives, and to find the courage to leave abusive situations, knowing there really is help available. The journey to a safer life needn’t be made alone.
E.L. has taken a few minutes out to answer some questions I had for her about Ripple, writing and life. I hope you’ll read them and consider buying your own copy of her compelling first novel.
Have you always been a writer, or did your word-lust begin later? Read more…