My step-son hits. When he’s angry, he lashes out. Sweet and funny when feeling safe and unaccosted, this boy turns ugly and violent when he’s provoked. He has a kind face, is handsome as he can be, and his silly jokes make his dad laugh. He is 24 years old.
Since I’ve known him these past four years, he has been arrested twice, involved in no fewer than eight bar fights, and has moved nine times, switching roommates and groups of friends each time—twice, his moves were precipitated by violence between himself and his roommates.
One evening last week, my husband hung up the phone and announced that “Drew is going to stay with us for a few days” because he and his girlfriend (with whom he now lives) got into a fight. In explanation, my husband had to tell me something, so he said, “He scared her.” Drew was staying with us to protect her, he explained, coming to our place to give her some space and get himself straightened out. He knows he’s got an anger problem, he assured me, and is giving himself time to calm down. What a nice guy, my husband seemed to say, Drew taking care of his girlfriend this way.
What happened? How exactly did Drew scare Trish? “He lifted her up by the shoulders and dropped her into a chair.”
We all know this thread-bare bullshit story of the abuser rescuing the abused—and those who enable them. And many of us recognize what happened next, when I made to object. Noting the look on my face, my husband offered up the condensed version of the “He’s-my-son-and- it’s-my-house” lecture. Many of us also recognize that whatever story we get from Drew about what happened is a lie. If Drew tells us he dropped Trish into a chair, he more likely slammed her into a chair, and also did other things. He broke her stuff or hit her or screamed in her face or pulled her hair.
This situation presents the perfect storm for my marriage. If I do nothing, if I resist my conscience and my impulse to reach out to Trish, I am complicit in the next act of violence. Reaching out to her, however, would probably end my marriage. I cannot imagine my husband tolerating my treating his son’s girlfriend like a victim of his son’s violence. Not only would he not react well, but such an act on my part would force into the open the compromises, the equivocations, the lies we tell ourselves about Drew’s violent tendencies. For without these, we could not go on.
So I wait. For the next phone call, the act of abuse that will be definitive and convince my husband, his ex-wife (Drew’s mother), and the rest of that family, that something must be done. Many of us know precisely what this means: until Drew inflicts enough damage to leave marks on this woman, scars that cannot be equivocated away, I am powerless to move this family to stop their son.
As an activist, committed feminist, a loving human being a mother with a grown daughter, I feel my obligation to this young woman. And I hesitate, delayed by anxieties about my husband’s anger, his son’s potential for violence. I hesitate, I wait. It’s a misery.