I met Marie one day sitting in the communal kitchen as I was unpacking the groceries. Her bottom lip was split right down the middle, blood starting to dry in between the two sides. She was missing her two front teeth. Her left eye was swollen shut and her arm was in a cast. I didn’t say hello to Marie, I don’t introduce myself, or stare. I didn’t try to fill the silence…I just unpacked the groceries.
Her little girl came into the kitchen and broke our silence. She was crying, she didn’t feel very well. She wanted to go home, to her bed, to her daddy. Marie began to cry as well as she softly told her daughter that they could not go and see her daddy. They needed to stay here, where they were safe.
I would like to share Marie’s story with you. It is a story about the vicious circle of conjugal violence, a story that can happen to anyone, or anyone capable of falling in love.
When Marie was 20 she met the man of her dreams. She was in university studying English and philosophy. Gregg was in her class. He was good looking, educated and from a good family. They spent every waking minute together until they finished university and then quickly got married. Those first 3 years together were the best of her life. She remembers all the romantic gestures, thoughtful gifts, tender kisses, meaningful gazes. Gregg made Marie feel like a princess, like she was someone special.
This stage of the ‘circle of violence’ is commonly known as the Honeymoon stage. It is the first curve in the circle of violence and it can last months or years. It is a wonderful, fantasy like time when both parties feel like they are on top of the world, where anything is possible. All New Love is wonderfully addicting, intoxicating…… and ultimately unsustainable.
Things began to change when Marie got pregnant. Somehow an invisible shift happened between her and Gregg. They had recently bought a house together, Marie stopped working and money was tight. Gregg was working in an insurance firm and seemed stressed all the time. He would come home from work extremely tense and irritable. Marie never really knew what to expect each day at 5:00pm. Would he walk in the house and kiss her or ignore her? Surely Gregg was just going through a rough patch, he would pull out of it and get back to himself again, the man she knew and loved.
But when the baby was born, Gregg became even more agitated. He was constantly insulting Marie, telling her that she looked over-weight…..she needed to stop eating so much. He told her she was a crap mother…… the baby was always crying because she didn’t know what she was doing. He told her that her cooking was tasteless…. why couldn’t she follow a simple recipe? At the same time, he became more demanding of her, wanting her to be home every night, dissuading her from seeing her friends and family.
The second stage of the circle of violence is called ‘Tension Building’. This stage can take many forms but it always has similar traits: The abuser becomes finicky and picky about everything; the victim feels like she is walking on egg shells.
Marie started thinking about going back to work, to get her mind off her problems at home. She called her old boss and asked if there were any positions open. As luck would have it, there was a maternity cover coming up and it could be a possibility for her. She was excited and would tell Gregg that night and they could start making plans for their daughters care.
When he came home that evening at 5pm, Marie could see that he was not happy. He ignored her, sneered when she tried to speak. When she finally got the courage to tell him that she planned to go back to work…. This got his attention. Gregg looked her in the eye for the first time that day….and he spit in her face. He grabbed her and threw her against the wall. He asked her what was so hard about staying home and living the life of luxury while he worked so hard to keep food on the table. Why was nothing good enough for her? She was stupid, she was selfish, she was pathetic and ungrateful. And then, for the first time ever, after 5 years together, Gregg hit Marie, and kept on hitting her until she passed out, unconscious.
The third stage of violence is called ‘Explosion’. Unfortunately the tension stage always leads here. The explosion might be physical, verbal, sexual or emotional abuse. Each hurts in different ways, all leaving scars.
When Gregg called the ambulance, he was overtaken by remorse for what he had just done. He went to the hospital with Marie, holding her hand the whole time. When she awoke, his eyes were filled with tears and he pleaded with her to forgive him. He had no idea what came over him. If only she would have spoken to him before calling her boss, this would never have happened. He begged her not to leave him, he could be who he used to be, if only she could be more sympathetic. Marie loves Gregg and believed that he would change… If she just tried a bit harder.
To gain the trust back into the relationship the abuser generally goes back into the honeymoon phase offering gifts, promising to change, blaming the other person and finding ways to coerce the other person to stay in the relationship.
When I met Marie in the kitchen that day, it was not the first time I had seen her in the safe house, but it was the first time we spoke. We spoke about how difficult life can be, about what makes us want to change, and how important change can be…….. Then after a few weeks, when her wounds were healing and her strength returned, Marie and her daughter finally left the safe house….. and went home to Gregg.
I volunteered at a crisis centre in Montreal, Quebec. This is where I met many women like Marie.
Please do anything that you can to stop the violence.
Thank you for reading,
JT (Janet Tarasofsky)
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