He's Abusive And Doesn't Love You!

Sometimes I have those days where I'm unwilling to get off the couch. Saturday was one of them. I was still in a bit of pain from Friday morning's trip to the dentist, where I got my first four cavities ever drilled and filled. But, I can't say that my lack of enthusiasm was solely caused by that. I also can't say that I was especially tired since I didn't go anywhere on Friday night. My Friday night merely consisted of beginning to write a letter to a friend and then falling asleep, fully dressed on the aforementioned couch. Major action, right?

I knew I had to get up eventually because we needed to be at my friend Maisha's Easter egg hunt at three and I still needed to go to Walgreens to get eggs. Not real eggs. No, I needed the fake plastic Easter eggs that you can put jelly beans and chocolate in and then hide around a yard for the kids to find.

I finally set out, eager to escape my kids who were harassing me with their non-stop inquiries of, "Is it time to go to Maisha's yet? Did you get the eggs yet?" By the time I left, I was in such a bad mood that I walked out of the house in the same clothes I'd slept in, without brushing my hair, without washing my face. I threw a newsboy hat on to hide my disarray and screeched out of the driveway, Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" on full blast in the car.

The traffic heading down Vermont to 6th Street was typical LA nightmare and it took me fifteen minutes to go the two miles to the Walgreens. Once inside, I found the plastic eggs, no problem. Choosing the candies proved to be more difficult. There were half a dozen varieties of jellybeans and just as many kinds of chocolates. I'm sort of a cheapskate when it comes to stuff like this and I'd spent ten minutes comparing prices on generic chocolate vs. name-brand chocolate when I heard a woman's heavily accented voice.

"WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?" she yelled. And then her voice broke into incoherent sobs. I looked around me and noticed that almost every other shopper in my aisle was staring intently at shelves of speckled jelly beans, chocolates wrapped in pastel foils and stuffed-animal Easter bunnies. I didn't hear a reply to her question, which meant that this was either a phone conversation or mental illness. She continued talking, her central-African accent drawing my feet toward her.

"I was only two minutes late! Please, those are my children," she continued to cry. "You can't take them away from me." I turned the corner and there she was, a black woman on a cell phone, standing in front of a display of patron saint candles, tears streaming down her face. A boy, maybe nine or ten years old, was sitting on the floor behind her. A second black woman stood a couple of feet away, shaking her head and holding the hand of her toddler daughter.

I wasn't sure if I should say anything to the African woman so I hovered across the aisle, my eyes scanning magazine covers that proclaimed that Angelina Jolie is leaving Brad Pitt. I heard her offer the man on the other end of the phone money. "I will give you twenty dollars for gas if you will just bring my children back to me." He must have refused because she continued to talk and cry. "I will give you thirty dollars. Gabriel, please don't make me suffer like this."

I found it interesting that all the Latina, Asian and white people in the Walgreens seemed to have disappeared from sight. And yet me and now two other black woman were hovering, watching this woman sob on the phone. The second woman was older, her graying hair braided in cornrows, her eyes narrowed with disgust. She approached me, shaking her head with disdain as she gestured toward the crying lady. She asked me, "Can you believe this sh*t?"

On the one hand, I couldn't believe I was overhearing a woman in a Walgreens on the phone begging for her children and apologizing to her man for being angry that he brought "the other woman" home. On the other hand, I sometimes feel like I see it all in Los Angeles so there was a part of me that felt a little jaded by the conversation.

I asked the lady with the cornrows, "Do you think we should do anything?"

"I don't know, but she needs to stop offering that ni**a money in exchange for her kids." She shook her head some more and continued, "We black women put up with too much stuff from those fools. Ni**a's wanna bring some other ho up in a woman's house and then not let her see her kids... And she's gonna pay him gas money? Oh hell no!."

I didn't know what to say so I mumbled something about it being a shame and I wandered back to the candy aisle. There were lots of other folks minding their own business, trying to decide which pre-fab Easter baskets to buy. Plus it was almost 2:00. We were going to be late for the Easter egg hunt if I didn't hurry up.

I found myself thinking, "I should have stayed home on the couch," and "Why can't I be one of those people who just go about their business and don't ever walk over to see what's going on?" I started to put the name-brand chocolates into my bag and said out loud, "I can be one of those people!"

A minute later, the crying from the African woman had gotten even louder. Along with it, I could hear another voice saying, "Ma'am, I need my phone back."

Crap. I'm just not one of those people.

I walked back around the corner and approached the African woman now talking and crying even more hysterically into the cell phone. Her son was still sitting on the floor, his chin in his hands, his eyes staring vacantly ahead. The other two black women were also there. They were talking to each other and it turns out that the one with the little girl was letting the African lady use her phone. She told me that the African lady was supposed to meet her estranged husband at the Jack in the Box and get the other kids from him.

Mrs. Africa had been a couple minutes late because she was on foot. Her man had pulled out of the parking lot and left, even though he'd seen her walking up the street toward the restaurant. But, no, he'd kept driving and she'd hunted for someone who'd let her borrow a phone to call him. Now he was saying he wasn't going to ever let her see her kids again.

I heard a bit more of this background story and then looked down at the little boy sitting on the floor, listening to his mother offer more money, "Gabriel, I'll give you forty dollars for gas if you'll just bring my babies to me. Please! I'M BEGGING YOU!"

I couldn't take it anymore. I found myself grabbing this hysterical woman by the shoulders and saying, "You need to hang up the phone. He's just humiliating you and playing a game and your son is sitting here listening to you beg." She started to cry more and I repeated myself, "Hang up the phone!"

The woman with the little girl chimed in, "And I don't have free weekend minutes so I really need my phone back."

The African woman said to Gabriel, "Please, just bring them back to the Jack in the Box. I'll give you fifty dollars. That's all I have."

The older woman with the cornrows suggested, "Call the cops and have his ass arrested. No good ni**a!"

The African woman overheard her, paused the hysterics and begging, looked Mrs. Cornrows in the face and dropped a bomb. "Oh, my husband isn't black. He's not a ni**a. He's white!"

(Oh, Los Angeles and her surrealness...)

To which Mrs. Cornrows said, "Oh, you're letting a white man treat you like that? You really need to hang up the phone then and let his ass know who's in charge." She then turned to me and said, "She's married to a white guy? Hmph. I don't know what they teach them in Africa but she should be runnin' sh*t, not him!"

The woman with the little girl crossed her arms across her chest and repeated more forcefully that she needed her phone because she needed to go.

Mrs. Africa finally handed her the phone and collapsed to the floor in a heap of tears. I found myself wanting to comfort her but also wanting to tell her to get up for the sake of her son. I asked her if she was legally married and she said yes. She tearfully explained how a month ago, her husband had brought home another woman and said all three of them were going to live together, but when she'd protested, he'd kicked her and her son( from a prior marriage) out. She's been living in shelters with her son since then. She has two daughters with this man, ages four and six, and he'd kept them and moved the new girlfriend in. He'd told her that she could visit her daughters for a few hours but now that was ruined because she'd been late.

I asked her if she'd been to Legal Aid yet. She hadn't and she asked me, "Do you think they can help me get my babies back?" I told her that I didn't know, but she probably had some grounds for custody since he was the one trying to move another woman in. I didn't know if they'd give her full custody though if she was homeless.

Mrs. Cornrows was still in shock and asked again, "You really letting a white man treat you like that?"

Then Mrs. Africa said the phrase every abused woman has said at some point or another, "But I know he really loves me. I don't know why he does these things."

I could feel the pinpricks of tears starting to form in my own eyes. And that's when I knew I needed to go. I couldn't fix this. I couldn't give this woman a place to live or the legal advice she needed. I couldn't provide relatives to go kick this man's ass. Nope, I could only suggest overworked and underfunded Legal Aid and that she document all the threats he's making and actually take him to court. But I don't even know if she'll do all these things because she believes this man loves her.

I could only tell her that she needed to leave this man for the sake of her son sitting there watching and overhearing all this, and for the sake of her little girls who were obviously listening in to the other side of the conversation. I told her I'd pray for her. Then with my basket of pastel plastic eggs and candies, I headed for the checkout lane, the incredulous voice of Mrs. Cornrows trailing behind me, "Girl, that white man don't love you. He just wants your $50!"

As the cashier rang up my last item, Mrs. Africa's voice carried clearly across the Walgreens hub-bub. "I guess white men can be ni**gas too."


Anonymous said…
Wow..that hurt...and I wasn't even there...and it hurt.
none said…
People suck, I've known people like the husband. You gave good advice.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks for stopping by my blog...and yes, it hurt terribly. I went out to my car and wrote down everything I'd seen and heard. And then, I cried.

I've also known too many people like the husband. I just felt so horrible for those children and what they are experiencing and seeing. It's not right.
Anonymous said…
i'm glad you weren't able to mind your own business and that you were able to decipher what you could and could not do in that moment. to not be totally alone was probably a comfort to that woman at that moment.

Ms Melancholy said…
Yes, that hurt. The thought of that poor boy watching the whole thing is just so, so sad. Sometimes life is just too hard.
Liz Dwyer said…
I keep thinking about how everything happens for a reason and how I wouldn't have seen any of this happening if I'd gotten up and gone to Rite Aid instead of Walgreens. I don't know how much I helped though. After all, I walked away and left her with someone who's reinforcing stereotypes of black men being ni**as...and white men too. Not good.

Ms. M,
Yes, that little boy had the most vacant, haunted look in his eyes. It was like he'd emotionally shut down. It was heartbreaking.
Jon said…
WTF... that is a crazy story! You always seem to be in the right place at the right time to help people (or to have them beg for something from you). LA, what an interesting place.
Liz Dwyer said…
I think it's only that it's so crowded here and there's so many people to interact with and observe. And, I think LA is such a place of extremes that it sort of breeds this kind of stuff. Then again, some days here seem and feel downright uneventful in comparison. All last week I felt like life was a little boring. I guess this episode is what I get for thinking that.
Oh, Liz, what a horrible incident to witness. I used to manage a domestic violence shelter and abused women invariably believe that their abusers really love them. It's their rationale, their crutch, and also, focusing on the "problems" of these men allows them to ignore their own.

Such men are only too happy to turn a woman's natural love and compassion against herself.

The children suffer horribly, as you noted.

It is deeply disturbing how much abuse some women will tolerate.

There is no racial dividing line. The women in my shelter and their abusers were both black and white. This disease cuts across all racial and socio-economic levels. Cruelty and mental illness are not confined to any one group, but it is particularly disturbing to witness a white man mistreating a black woman because it adds yet another dimension to a very serious problem.

I very much hope that poor woman heard your good advice and will eventually act on it because the man is a monster, and becaue her daughters are in grave danger, too.

Thanks for sharing. There is something to be said for boredom after all.
Liz Dwyer said…
You know, I'm having one of those moments where I am just so glad you are who you are. Thank you so much for your comment

Yes, I really hope that she will get out of that relationship for her children's sake, if not for her own. I can only imagine what she's been through before he brought this other woman home with him. I doubt he went from 0 to 60 like that and that must have just been her tipping point.
We all have one, the point at which we cannot or will not tolerate any more.

Sadly, far too many women are in relationships with men who constantly push that boundary until there is often nothing left of her.

You are so right that it doesn't happen in a second, a single act of cruelty. Over time, things escalate and by the time the woman finally realizes how abused she is, she has no power left in the relationship or in her own soul.

It is also true that children who grow up in such homes often become abusers or abused, depending on which parent they identify with. It's called the Cycle of Violence.

Without intervention of some kind, the children of the woman you tried to help have a very sad future ahead of them.
Anonymous said…
Do you mind if I share a poem?:

In Order To Walk Away

She's got to have
enough of herself still left
unfolded on the table
to walk away

To stand and face the truth:

He betrayed and split the pull
the pull of the moon to her womb
The rise of her breasts
breathless crests upon the water
With bits of her body
folded in his vest
Songs of her spirit
origami-trash-bagged in his front pocket

She's got to first
be able to behold
the accumulation of
her Self
raised exponentially
to the rage of a
steep fire
in a cold hell

Before she can let go, turn around
and walk away

-Kim Horne
Liz, I just tuned in to your blog recently. This is a captivating story, and unfortunately not as rare as we would like. Scarier than this story is the fact that most of us don't know what early stages of abuse looks like. If we don't know any better, it looks like a person who cares about us.
I invite you and your readers to read a post in my blog "When you see a Red Flag, Say Something," which comes from a state-wide campaign in Virginia. I share my experience in a d.v.workshop and used several good links for readers to follow up,including one to this story. I'm not sure of the blog etiquette but include the link to my blog Luminous Realities here http://luminousrealities.blogspot.com.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks so much for sharing your poem. You are very talented. "Songs of her spirit origami-trash-bagged in his front pocket" I loved that line but how sad that it's a reality that too many women live.

Welcome to you and I'm so glad to connect with you. I came over to your blog and read what you wrote. Your perspective and thoughts on this are so needed and your links are great resources.

By the way, that conference at Green Acre sounds amazing. I need to go to something like that.
Junk Monkey said…
That made me cry.
Anonymous said…
Great Article! Thank You!
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
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