Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rihanna, Janay Palmer, and Other Heroes

Remember when Rhianna was slugged in the face by her then-boyfriend, Chris Brown? The event caused a media storm. It only escalated when she stood by him and didn't break up with the man who gave her a black eye and a cut lip.
photo courtesy of wikipedia

And what was the response?

"I can't believe she took him back."
"She doesn't deserve our sympathy."
"Rihanna's just asking for it now."


This is very difficult to confess: Once, when I was young and in love, a guy slapped me across the face.

And it changed my life.

It was the end of the 70's, the 'Me Era.' My friends and I had snuck to a pool where we hung out, laughed and chatted. We skinny-dipped, talked some more, and because it was a hot night, skinny-dipped again.

I completely lost track of time. My boyfriend and I had arranged to meet up later, but because the conversation was so interesting and the warm water felt so good, I was late. In fact, I was so late he tracked me down and confronted me as my friends and I were heading back to our shabby VW to go and get Denny's coffee.

My first thought was Hey! It's my guy! Hi, guy! That surge of delighted surprise exploded when he marched up to me, pulled back, and smacked me across my face so hard I nearly fell into the long, summer grass.
photo courtesy of deviantart: Flickan

It's a weird thing when that happens. My reaction was one of horror, of shame, of What the hell did I do to deserve this? Or maybe it was just shock. It happened so quickly I still can't catalogue my thoughts.

The boyfriend (let's call him 'E') was striding back to his own car, and the pool had no lights. As a result, my friends weren't able to see what had just happened. One of them gasped, "Did he just hit you?"

The smart answer would have been this: "Yes, he did. Please help me find a phone so we can call my parents and the police."


It just felt so shameful, so horrifying that this had happened to me. "No, he didn't," was my response. 

And when 'E' returned from the car and put his arms around me, the shame changed to some fearful kind of joy. "I'm so sorry," he murmured. "I just got so mad that you were late."

Wow, I thought. He really loves me.


Perhaps there's some chemical reaction that occurs when someone's hand or fist connects with soft skin and bruises deep tissue. I didn't lose consciousness or get light-headed. The smack didn't even bruise me much. However, was there a release of endorphins, of hormones, of some kind of mind-altering adrenaline when it happened?

I don't recall the rest of the night - if I went and sat in Denny's or took off with E. I just don't know. I do know that I was young, I'd been assaulted, and it changed me.

Changed me. Forever.
photo courtesy of wikipedia

When I did finally leave E, thank God, I made myself a promise: No one was ever going to hit me again. Ever. I've kept that vow.

But let's look at my background - I grew up in a mainly supportive household. I wasn't raised by the belt or made to believe I was less because of my gender. I went to college. I read a lot. My mother consumed poetry and taught Lit at the local university. We loved art and music and watching Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

If I had been raised in a house where hits and slaps were the norm, where I was expected to act a certain way because I'm female, who knows where I would have ended up? Perhaps I would have finally accepted E's constant proposals and had his kids. (The mere thought makes my stomach churn.)

I was a victim, and it changed my life. That's my point here. The slap propelled me into a certain way of thinking and very odd behaviors for a long time. 


Those behaviors aren't Rihanna's fault either, or anyone's who puts up with abuse. I experienced one slap in my lifetime. Right now, somewhere out there, women and men live with daily physical or emotional abuse. The constant threats change them, warp them into saying and doing things they probably never imagined. The victims scrape by from hour to hour, from second to second with nothing more than survival as a reward.

Those people, the ones who do gather up the energy to walk away, are my heroes. The ones who can't quite find the money/strength/ability to walk away are my heroes as well.

Being a victim is a terrible thing, something one can never forget.

Please don't blame those who are victims.