Regan Moore has been a writer her whole life, but has recently focused her career towards it. She is an avid writer, reader, and cinephile, who loves a good story more than anything in the world, except for her family. She is currently living in Jacksonville, Florida with her mother, step-father, and grandmother, while working on getting her degree in creative writing for entertainment and writing her first novel.
A WITCH BY HER COVER
More often than not, we as humans profile and make assumptions without any foreknowledge. That’s a fancy way of saying we judge, sometimes horribly and unjustly, people without getting to know them. We’re all guilty of it, no matter how nice of people we think we are. I’ve always considered myself an open-minded, kind hearted person with good judgement. It took an encounter with a woman named Victoria Covell to make me realize that I didn’t know as much about people as I thought I did.
Victoria and I weren’t always friends. In fact, there was a time when I didn’t think that she liked me at all. And, to be fair, I didn’t like her much either. Victoria is one of those beautiful girls whose idea of dressing down is wearing a prom dress. Back then, it seemed like whenever she looked at me, she had this lingering look of disdain, what I know call, “resting witch face”. I first met her at the Spooktacular Halloween special event at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. We were both year round special event volunteers, meaning that we pretty much did whatever was asked of us, whether that task was setting up an event or playing a character. At the time, we were handing candy out to children dressed like giant pumpkins (we were, not the children). Immediately after introducing myself, my first impression was, “wow, she is a snobby jerk; she thinks she’s so much better than me!” For the rest of that night and every event for over the next year, it was the same—she barely spoke to me, rarely looked at me, and I just knew that Victoria hated my guts.
I didn’t care.
(I did care.)
I’m one of those people who desperately need the approval of everyone around them. Like, I am almost positive that anyone who gets the chance to know me would like me. I’m a super loveable person in a completely non-egotistical way, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why Victoria didn’t like me. So, I made it my mission to get her to like me or die trying.
That is, until I realized that was more effort than I really wanted to exert, so I did what I do best. I complained and sulked.
The weeks and months passed, and the sweltering hot of Florida summer transformed into the just as sweltering hot (but not as rainy) Florida fall. At the zoo, that meant one important thing—the dino exhibit was going away, and Butterfly Hollow was set to open (Lovejoy, 2012). The Hollow was a roaring success during its opening the previous year, so the zoo made sure to have seasoned volunteers inside to help set up for the grand opening.
Because I was homeschooled, I was always the first one called whenever something was happening during the week. I came in at the crack of dawn, dressed in a thick hoodie that would be torn off like a quick-change artist’s pants the second the sun peeked out. I remember the Hollow like it was yesterday—a magical, whimsical exhibit, with oversized mushrooms, mosaic rock pathways, and a glorious array of multicolored flowers. Then, there was the butterflies.
As a ballerina, I was well-versed in stories like the Nutcracker. I remember being ten-years-old and seeing the Waltz of the Flowers, thinking it was one of the most graceful things I’d ever seen. The butterflies put every dancer to shame. They twirled and pirouetted through the air, looping around each other as effortlessly as breathing. It took the sound of crunching footsteps up the path to remind me that I had a job to do. When I turned to greet my fellow volunteer, my stomach sank.
Victoria strode up the pathway, her hair beautifully curled, her clothes cute and stylish, not a smear in her makeup, as always. It both annoyed and amazed me. Immediately, I was self-conscious in my oversized sweatpants, t-shirt, and hoodie. She walked past me without a word, a faint floral smell following her. I breathed in deep, both to control my impulsive mouth and to take in the sweetness she left behind.
Our job was inside the exhibit, hanging banners, preparing the nectar for guests to feed the butterflies with, and draping vines around the edges of the cottage-like structure to give it a more fairy tale-like feel. Remaining silent, Victoria immediately moved to the nectar, so I started on the banners. We worked in silence for nearly two hours, the quiet hanging heavily over the exhibit. The butterflies avoided us, lingering on the other side of the cottage as though they could sense the tension between us. I couldn’t blame them—if I had wings, I would’ve flown away the second Victoria appeared.
Once I finished with the last banner, I moved on to the vines. They were limp, pathetic looking things that looked every bit the cheap plastic they were. I tried once, twice, to twist them into the chain link fence of the enclosure. Every time I tried, though, they fell to the ground, taunting me as they fell. After the fourth time, I was resigning myself to grab a stapler and show those stupid vines who was boss.
Then, a warm hand fell on mine. It was soft, gentle, like how you would expect an angel’s to feel. My mouth went dry as I turned, only to find Victoria smiling joyfully at me. I stared idiotically at her for a minute, the only thing able to fall out of my mouth being, “I thought you were still over there?”
Victoria smiled in a way I would later come to call her “shyile”. It was a more of a grin than a smile, one that made you feel like you were in on a secret with her that no one else knew. In reality, it’s the smile she uses when she’s trying not to blush. Even now, whenever she flashes it at me, I start giggling like an idiot, and the first time was no different.
“It’s cool. You looked like you were struggling.” She grabbed one end of the vine and handed me the other. Wordlessly, we lifted it together, winding it through the fence in sync like some strange waltz. When we finished, we both stepped back.
It was…beautiful. Entrancing. How could I have assumed that just because it was some ugly piece of fake, plastic plant, that it couldn’t be something more? What we’d created was something special—something out of a fairy tale. When I turned to Victoria, I realized that the vine wasn’t the only thing that I might have misjudged. I quickly turned away when she looked back and grabbed another vine, moving to the other side of the exhibit to work.
All of seventeen at the time, I never really put much thought into sexuality. I knew people were gay and straight, and some people were both or neither depending on how you looked at it, but I’d never really considered my own. I was always too busy with dance or school or pining over my ex-boyfriend from freshman year to sit down and think about it. I knew Victoria was a lesbian, but that never bothered me. In fact, until that very moment, it was something I hadn’t even considered.
Victoria followed me to the other wall. “Ray—”
“It’s Regan,” I corrected quickly, not daring to look away from my vine. “My mom and sister are the only ones who really call me ‘Ray’.”
Five years later, Victoria reminds me how often I corrected people about my name, and how much I hated people calling me ‘Ray’ without permission (V. Covell, personal communication, February 10, 2018). I’ve never told her, but I don’t mind so bad when she does it.
Anyway, Victoria nodded. “Oh, yeah. Sorry. I was just going to ask, didn’t you say you were in acting school?”
I shrugged. “I was last year. I flunked out. Now, I’m trying to get my GED.”
“I understand.” She sighed. “I almost flunked out of 12th grade. If it hadn’t been for a friend of mine in thespian helping, I don’t know if I would’ve graduated.”
Inappropriately, as always, I laughed, finally turning her way. Victoria frowned. “What?”
“Just…you’re a thespian lesbian.” For some reason, it was the funniest thing I’d heard of in my life. Victoria broke out into laughter beside me, a high-pitched witch cackle she would forever be known for. I looked at her--really looked—and my heart skipped.
The butterflies had returned, fluttering around us and framing Victoria like a portrait from a fairy tale book. To this day, I will stand by that Victoria is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met.
“You’re okay with that?” Victoria asked suddenly, breaking me out of what was nearly a gay panic. “Me, being a lesbian? Because, at Bishop Kenny, a lot of kids didn’t like me for it. My own mother and grandma don’t even know.”
She was so vulnerable in that moment. Maybe that’s why, to this day, five years later, I’m still so protective over her. It was the first time I ever really saw her for what she was—scared, lonely, but so goodhearted and sweet. I did classic Regan—I punched her in the arm.
“What? Why would I have a problem with that? You know…I was reading online, and I thought I might be pansexual. I don’t really know, though. Haven’t put much thought into it.”
Victoria’s eyes widened, and it hit me what I’d just confirmed. I like guys and girls. Victoria was a girl who liked girls. One that blushed when I spoke to her, who laughed at my lame joke, who opened up about her family…
She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, dislodging one of the butterflies, which fluttered over to my shirt sleeve. “So…if I asked, would you consider…y’know…going to the movies or something?”
“Like in a gay way?”
Later, I would curse my impulsive mouth, but Victoria laughed again, and suddenly, it was worth the foot in my mouth. After that, the day passed quickly. We continued talking about nothing: favorite movies, shows, Broadway musicals, our mutual obsession with the Wicked Witch of the West. I fell in like inside that magical cottage. I met my best friend and first girlfriend in a shy young woman who just wanted some love. The Wicked Witch--my Wicked Witch.
Lovejoy, H. (2012, 11 March). Zoo has Butterfly Hollow for summer.
The Florida Times Union, p. E-8.
Connie Woodring is a 73-year-old retired psychotherapist/educator/program developer/feminist social activist who is getting back to her true love of writing after 45 years in her real job. She has written a non-fiction book, What Power? Which People? Reflections on Power Abuse and Empowerment” which she is trying to get published. The submitted article is an excerpt from that book. She has over 20 years worth of experience working in the domestic violence movement as a therapist, women’s shelter director, developer of a court-mandated batterer program as well as teaching seminars for community workers such as the police and shelter volunteers. She has had seven of her poems published in America and England. One was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. She continues to try to get her novel, “Visiting Hours,” published and hopes to continue writing poetry and articles of substance for years to come.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: A GENDER WAR WE MUST ALL END
Meet Imoso and Outamba. They are chimpanzees who live in Uganda. Carole Hooven, a biological anthropologist, witnessed Isomo, a male, beat Outamba, a female, with a stick. Chimps have been known to wield sticks against prey or to threaten rivals or predators, but using a tool against a member of its own kind had never been seen before.
Human beings, of course, take domestic violence to inhumane heights. Take the case of Christopher Dowling, a police officer in Allentown, Pennsylvania, arrested for abuse and sexual assault of his partner. He put an unlit M-80 firecracker in her vagina, placed a 30-pound safe on her chest and struck her with a tire iron, allegedly because he caught her smoking a cigarette. The victim testified she would have been willing to act out fantasies in order to atone for her mistake: if a shot glass held on her head would fall off, she would be shot.
If the reader thinks this is an aberration, I can attest to many horror stories told to me by domestic violence clients over the years in my role as a therapist and women’s shelter director. A few cases stand out. (Identities disguised.) Bette was ordered by her husband to stand on the road naked. If a driver came along and saw her before she could run back into the house, she would be beaten. Meandra, whose husband owned a meat packing company, told her he would hang her by a meat hook if “she didn’t shut her mouth.” Fonita was beaten almost to death because she didn’t make mashed potatoes for dinner as she had promised. In defending his actions, she explained it wasn’t the mashed potatoes that mattered; by breaking her promise, he could no longer trust her. Marilou stated she didn’t leave her ex-husband until she was found in her room bleeding in the corner by her four-year-old son who asked her, “Are you dead, Mommy?” Unfortunately, she quickly chose another batterer to take his place, an issue which will soon be discussed.
Although Freud wanted us to believe that women are masochists who get off on being abused, the more informed reasons are as follows: having been a victim of sexual abuse at an early age, witnessing/experiencing domestic violence in her childhood, low self-esteem, a belief in traditional gender relationships (male dominant, woman subservient), non-assertiveness and being isolated from support/educational systems. There are other factors, as we shall see.
James Prescott of the National Institute of Health claims, “Violence is closely associated with deprivation of close human physical contact either in infancy or adolescence.” Out of a sample of 49 cultures, the 27 cultures that had low levels of adult violence all displayed either high levels of infant physical affection or permissive premarital sexual behavior or both. (e.g. Fore of New Guinea and the Mbuti of Zaire). 1
Contrast this with South Africa. A woman is killed every six hours by a domestic partner, the highest rate in the world, according to a 2004 study completed by the Medical Research Council, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and the University of Cape Town. This is also a country who battled apartheid for years, believing that oppression and inequality were unacceptable.
Being abused or killed by a domestic partner is not just a South African problem. It occurs in most cultures. “…the Goddess of the Underworld does not merely take a consort but has Her hair pulled, is dragged from the throne and is threatened with death until She agrees to marry Her assailant, the god Nergal, who then kisses away Her tears, becomes Her husband and rules beside Her.” 2. This relates to a legend of the Goddess in Sumer in Southern Iraq (3000BC-1800BC.) It would appear that even when a woman is a Goddess, she can’t escape domestic violence!. Wife beating is rare in foraging societies such as the Mbuti pygmies. It is acceptable in such horticultural societies as the Truk of the Caroline Islands and the Yanamamo Indians of Brazil. Yanamamo women see beatings as proof of their husband’s love for them. (Unfortunately, some American women share this belief.) It is common in pastoral societies such as the Marra Baluch Arabs. Most modern capitalist countries and Sweden, a liberal welfare state, also are not immune.
When women lived in ancient matrilineal societies, they had protection from their own family (it takes a village to save a woman), but in patrilineal societies they left their families to live with their husband’s relatives, subsequently becoming more isolated and potentially vulnerable. Today many batterers try to isolate their partners from family and other community support as well, one of the reasons abused women often remain in danger.
Modern society has not been as successful in protecting women as ancient matrilineal societies. Divorce law reform was a step in the right direction, if not totally effective. In the 1850s several American states liberalized divorce laws, allowing women to file for divorce based on marital cruelty. The courts, not the victim, decided what was “cruel.” In America, wife beating has been illegal in all states since 1870. In an 1882 Maryland law, a batterer could expect to receive forty lashes at the whipping post. Today, batterers can face civil action (Protection From Abuse Orders), jail, court-mandated batterer program attendance, probation or the proverbial slap on the wrist, depending on the state.
Many myths surround this topic. Growing up in my small hometown, I assumed that only poor women were beaten up by their drunken husbands on Saturday nights. As a result of being involved in the women’s movement in the 1970s, I got a college education about one of the most heinous of gender battles. I was a board member and program director of abused women shelters, developed police training manuals, set up a court-mandated male batterer program and counseled hundreds of abused women. Everyone else has been getting an education as well. Hundreds of books and articles have been written on the issue in the last 30 years. Television shows, mental health conferences and public service announcements have brought this battle to the forefront of our consciousness. We now know that it affects all economic classes and the “causes” are many, including economics, work pressures, repeating parental patterns of abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, low self-esteem, misogyny, borderline personality disorder, patriarchy, protecting male honor, jealousy, mental illness, violence in the media, lax legal/police policies and other family problems. No longer a taboo subject, it has become big business, dramatized on many television shows and movies.
As a result of this knowledge, we all have our theories as to what will end this gender war. Although the pharmacy industry would like us to believe otherwise, drugs are not the answer to domestic violence. Working as a domestic violence grass roots advocate taught me that the “medical model” is anathema to feminists. Chemical imbalances or childhood trauma can never totally explain domestic violence. Feminists believe that historical patriarchal institutions of family, religion, education, media, government and others are the real culprits: they teach men to have power over women they hold in contempt or hate (misogyny). To solve the problem requires society to become egalitarian and anti-misogynist. However, in our quick-fix culture that concept seems far too complex and time-consuming. Instead, the drug companies are now “helping.” There are drugs for aggression, mood swings, compulsions, anxiety and impotence. Supposedly, a calm and happy man will not beat up women.
How does domestic violence affect society? Domestic violence results in lost work productivity as in the case of Carie Charlesworth who was fired from her teaching job because her abusive husband came after her at work. Such firings are legal in 44 states. (Activists call this economic abuse since astute batterers know that such tactics can cause their partners to become more dependent on them.) Increased mental and medical health care, incarceration, need for more abused women’s shelters, increased welfare spending for women who leave their spouses and subsidized legal costs all put more burden on tax payers.
Domestic violence can lead to homicide. According to FBI statistics, nearly four murders a day are committed in the United States by an intimate partner or spouse. Having a gun in the house makes a woman 7.2 times more likely to be a homicide victim, and the Justice Department indicates that domestic violence victims between the ages of 35-49 are more likely to be killed. (There are many websites to check out more recent domestic violence statistics, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence being one of the most reputable.)
Domestic violence can lead to much worse. The horrors we hear about on a much-too-regular basis of mass shootings in churches, concerts, schools and elsewhere may be the result of convicted male batterers who have bought assault weapons due to lax gun laws or incompetent government officials, as in the case of dishonorable military discharges not being forwarded to the FBI. It is becoming increasingly clear that what goes on in someone else’s house is now everybody’s business.
Listening to men can help us understand the causes of domestic violence. Consider the following quotes by batterers: “Like most black men I know, I have spent much of my life in fear. Fear of white racism, fear of the circumstances that gave birth to me...fear of black women---of their mouths, of their bodies, of their attitudes, of their hurts, of their fear of us black men.” 3 “The only way to get my point across is to be violent. One day something from my job stuck inside me, and I was arguing with my wife. She said something about my manhood, and I could feel the boiling inside. Then I put my hands on her.” 4
Although many batterers can relate to the above quotes, they don’t typically identify their feelings (if at all) of vulnerability or powerlessness. Instead, “stress” is the reason for pushing, shoving, strangling and murder. Throughout history it seems that women have been the scapegoats when environmental stress, whether it be from tribal fighting, famine or getting laid off, has affected men. One might question the efficacy of putting men in charge if they cannot handle the burdens of power. Society has historically been cautious about placing a woman in a powerful position lest her menstrual cycle make her irrational and affect her decision-making, for instance. Other rationalizations for male aggression are as follows. A male psychologist remarked to me (after overhearing a rather bellicose female client vent her rage at being physically attacked by her husband after a Halloween party): “Domestic violence is better than violence in the street.” After I completed teaching a domestic violence seminar for police officers, a trooper came up to me and snarled, “You feminists are trying to take everything away from us men. Now you don’t even want us to be aggressive. There won’t be anything left of us!”
Post traumatic stress plays its part in this picture. In the summer of 2002, two Fort Bragg soldiers killed their wives in murder-suicide, and two others were charged with murdering their wives in a period of six weeks. Three of the soldiers were in Special Operations units and had just returned from Afghanistan. The government’s answer to this problem was to re-evaluate its family counseling program. Our tax dollars might be spent more wisely if the government looked at men’s (and the government’s) propensity for violence and its effect on society rather than on “family issues.” Feminist male-batterer programs insist that men receive six months’ treatment and be violence-free during that period prior to any marital/family counseling attempts. This puts accountability squarely on the man’s shoulders.
One of the most interesting debates in male-batterer programs is the question of provocation and self-defense. For instance, a woman who verbally abuses her partner (“You are not a man, you’re a loser! I’m going out and finding me a real man!”) is just looking for a pop in the mouth according to many abusers (and others). The group exercise begins: “If you are in a bar and a patron spits on you, should you walk out, punch him in the face, ask the owner to kick him out or stab him to death?” The answers vary, depending on the person’s background, personality, religion, etc., indicating that provocation, unless one’s life is in danger, is in the eyes of the beholder. When I direct batterers to the issue of control, they wince at the suggestion that anyone who can trigger a response in them is in control, just like rats controlled by the sound of lab buzzers.
On the other hand, batterers are quite ambivalent about owning power. At home in the privacy of their kingdom, they are prone to shove their weight around in front of family members, but in the courtroom, with probation officers or therapists they typically portray themselves as victims--- berated, nagged and beaten by their female partners. Psychologically, they are often dependent on, yet contemptuous of, women. They have low self-esteem and rigid ideas of gender roles. Yet, they, on occasion, can show their vulnerable and weak side. Many a victim has stayed too long, waiting for the “good guy underneath” to emerge and died in the process.
For those who still put the blame on women who stay and wait for that unlikely day, it should be noted that if a woman listens to the well-intentioned advice, “Just leave the bastard!” she is more likely to be harmed or killed. Every day we see stories in the newspaper about an estranged spouse who kills his family and then himself. A jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, found the husband of Judge Carol S. Irons guilty of a lower manslaughter charge for killing his estranged wife in her courtroom. His wife apparently provoked his actions by breaking up with him. What provoked such a light sentence for the murderer is anybody’s guess.
Women who choose to stay may go to jail. Tondalo Hall, a 30-year-old Oklahoma woman, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “failing to protect” her children from her abusive partner. She is not alone. Marissa Alexander of Florida was sentenced to 60 years in jail for firing a warning shot at her abuser. (There are very few batterers who get that much time for killing their wives.) I have had women clients end up in jail or on probation for fighting back. In these cases, the abuser typically will call police and plead innocence. Our country still has too many police officers, untrained or insensitive to domestic violence dynamics, who get fooled by batterers’ manipulative behaviors.
Landlords may be insensitive to domestic victims as well. Thirty or more Pennsylvania municipalities had nuisance laws on the books that allowed landlords to evict tenants who called 911 too often, such as abused women. In 2014, Act 200 was enacted to prevent such actions and was implemented in January,2015.
Obviously, the warning signs and protective measures such as counseling, divorce or protection from abuse orders are not enough to save lives. U. S. Department of Justice figures indicate that incidents of violence occurring after separation or divorce account for 75.9 percent of assaults and 93.3 percent of the time the perpetrator is a male. Very few women kill their families, community members and themselves when their husbands leave them for that “other woman.” Why is that?
Another reason for killing is honor. Men’s “honor” has been used in many Asian and Muslim cultures as an excuse and license to kill an unfaithful or unruly wife. Do women have honor? If so, how do they fight for it? Can only men fight for women’s honor?
Women’s reasons for killing their spouses include mental illness, to collect insurance or because they are tired of being battered (or what might be called post traumatic stress disorder.) Women have been known to kill their spouses by hiring contract killers or poisoning them.
In 1987, the Committee on Domestic Violence and Incarcerated Women determined that it was “reasonable and necessary” for battered women to kill their abusive spouses in some cases. The “battered woman syndrome” explained that psychologically women become helpless, dependent and unable to leave their abusers, leaving them few options but to strike back. Many battered women I have counseled became numb to the arguing, threats and assaults and, more significantly, to the effects of such violence on their children. In addition, they usually believed no one could help them, blamed themselves, were fearful of breaking up the family or losing economic support. To kill a husband under such circumstances is an extreme act of desperation and bravery---an act for which there are too few women warrior recruits.
For those many women who choose not to stay or kill their abusers, relocating to another state, losing support of family and friends, disrupting their children’s education, gaining new identities and worrying that their family members would be threatened or killed are just a few of the common problems faced in escaping a dangerous home. In addition, seeing a feminist therapist to prevent future victimization (in all areas of her life) is recommended.
Social scientists and therapists know that men also get battered by their partners, but battered men are a sore subject for many domestic violence activists. They were in post-renaissance Europe also. A French battered husband had to ride around town riding backwards on a donkey and holding its tail, and in England such a victim was strapped to a cart and subjected to the townspeople’s mockery. (It is important to note that domestic violence is common in homosexual relationships, as well, but this is a topic for another article.)
Who is most abusive in relationships, men or women? It depends on who you ask. Some studies indicate that men and women slap, shove and kick each other at equal rates. Studies also indicate that women are more likely to use weapons or throw objects rather than using fists or sexual assault, perhaps to level the playing field. The rate of male-perpetrated homicide against a partner is nearly double the rate for female-perpetrated homicides of male partners, and it is highly unlikely that a woman will repeat a homicide, even though there are women who repeatedly get involved with abusive men. U.S. National Crime Surveys data indicates that for every man hospitalized for spousal assaults, 46 women are hospitalized.
As noted, it depends on who is looking to determine the real victims of domestic violence. Critics of the feminist movement blame it for fudging domestic violence statistics in order to get more funding for women’s shelters, but feminists point out that studies don’t always distinguish between the initiator and self-defense behaviors. In any case, men feel that they are generally not believed, are scorned if they report being abused or have no community services such as shelters. In working in women’s shelters, I can attest to the fact that the subject of women battering men was usually discussed this way: “They deserve it!” “Poor babies!” To have true gender equality, we may have to face the “battered male syndrome” in courts soon.
In the context of domestic violence, I have found in my own professional experience that sex often follows violence. Bonobo chimpanzees are very similar to us but perhaps smarter. They use sex, not aggression, to resolve conflicts and to bond with group members, regardless of gender. Batterers, albeit belatedly, often use sex to resolve conflicts/gain favor with their partners also. It seems to be useful. I had women clients (usually victims of early sexual abuse) report they picked fights just so they could get “great” sex, which in far too many cases can too easily compensate for a loving relationship.
Technology is playing its part in domestic violence. A 2009 U.S. Department of Justice report indicates that more than 31,000 American adults are stalked by GPS navigational systems, and women are almost three more times likely to be stalked by men. Women’s advocacy groups recommend women disable their cell phones, throw them out or get new passwords. The best advice? Never accept a cell phone as a gift from an abuser. Another piece of advice: Don’t use social media.
Grass roots organizations designed to prevent domestic violence have been around for many years. One could say that progress is slow. This may, in part, be due to the fact that too much emphasis has been placed on women solving the problem. However, only men can ultimately change their individual and systemic abusive behaviors. Some men’s organizations that are trying to do that doing are Emerge (a pioneering Boston-based male-batterer prevention program), Ring the Bell, Menergy, Man Up Campaign and Good Men Project. Every state has shelters for battered women and many have male-batterer programs.
As we can see, domestic violence will not be solved by women, social services, medication or government funding. It will only be eradicated when all of humanity believes in egalitarian, life-affirming and non-misogynistic values. More studies on men who do not become misogynists and women who do not become victims are necessary.
1 DAI MA
Sona! O, Sona…!
Chaudhary Balbir called out standing at corner of the narrow street. He was surprised not to get any response. Otherwise these people ran out of theirs hovels cowed and crouched at a single call. They knew him by his loud and domineering voice. He looked around, a bit miffed. Just then a girl came out panting in off-white frock. Her shaggy hair looked like old nest of a bird on a dead branch.
‘Chidi!’ Chaudhary stared at her.
She looked flustered and stood looking to the ground. When children of her neighbor called her chidi, she felt offended and hurled a torrent of abuse. But now she kept silent digging the ground fiercely with her left toe.
‘Where Sona gone dead?’ He thundered.
‘Dai ma not here. She went morning and…’ She stammered.
Here in the sweepers-basti on the outskirts of the village had lived Sona dai ma for the past thirty years. People had almost forgotten her real name. She was known as dai all over, even in the neighboring villages. When she came in this village- Phoolpur, she was least interested in this job though she had learnt it from her mother who was an expert in midwifery. Jagga-her husband had six zamidars’ houses where he would sweep and pick up dung and dump into compost pit outside the houses. About his half day was spent to finish the whole job. Sona would go to these houses for chapattis and return home late at noon. Besides, Jagga labored in the fields of the farmers. It was a seasonal work. Sona made fine baskets of cane which were sold in the fair held on Saturdays at Shahapur. Both were happy in their small world. It seemed they were made for each other.
When Jagga was suddenly taken ill and remained confined to bed, she was forced to take up Jagga’s job of sweeping the houses. None but Jagga understood her reluctance. She had instinctive dislike for the job. She was often scolded by her mother in her childhood.
‘Yes, you’re a princess, why’d you do this…?’
‘I like it not.’
‘You should be born in the family of zamidar.’
‘She is a child…’ Her father interrupted and took her away lovingly by hand.
Jagga lying in bed under the thatch saw her pick basket and go. He felt sad. Sona never let her feelings come out. She had her usual smile on her face. She knew that Jagga was so loving and caring. She remembered his words.
‘You need not go to the houses of zamidars, so long as I am alive.’
And he kept his word. He never let her go whatsoever.
‘Why are you looking so…?’ asked Sona putting her hand on his forehead
Jagga felt choked and only nodded with tearful eyes.
‘Worry not. You’ll be well soon,’ said she holding his hand
Hakim ji told her that Jagga had TB. She shuddered within.
‘Is it very…?’
Hakim ji kept silent for a while. She did not know whether he had heard her or not. It might be he did not want to answer such questions.
Hakimji put the doses on the ground. She picked them looking at his wrinkled face. As she got up and moved homewards, his silence created doubt in her mind.
‘Why he remained silent? Why…? Is it really serious? No, he is so wise, experienced. He’s cured many…He’ll do…he’ll…’ She fought her tears back and hurried home.
After Jagga’s death Sona felt lonely. If Bharto-old dai had not helped her, she would have lost charm in life. She encouraged her and helped revive her interest in this job. Sona regained confidence and went about the job. She looked satisfied except a few occasions of nagging thought which pushed her into chaos. But she gathered herself and came out of it.
As Sona returned in the afternoon, chidi informed her about Chaudhary’s visit at noon.
‘Chaudhary was angry.’
‘…angry! His wife has still time. I checked her two days before. No symptoms…Was I wrong? No, my guess hardly fails, but if so, then…’ muttered she
She had gone to Karanur-neighboring village quite early to attend a heavily pregnant woman. The poor lady remained in labor for hours. It was her first delivery. She had to take extra care. She had to remain with the lady all the time. Only after safe delivery and completing all necessary odd jobs she had returned. She was tired and hungry. She wanted to stretch herself for a while. But she knew Chaudhary’s nature. If he came here, he would create scene and mouth obscenities. The whole neighbor would see tamasha. So, she dragged her feet towards his house which was at the other end of the village. After the death of her husband he had seemingly a soft corner for her. He looked kind and caring. When she would go to sweep the courtyard, he spoke gently.
‘How are you, Sona?’
‘Achhi hun malik…’
‘Don’t worry. Tell me if you need anything.’
She nodded with bowed head while collecting dung into her basket. He stood staring at her for a while. His generosity on several occasions was a surprise to her. Otherwise he had never been kind to these low caste people. In the beginning she could not understand the reason of his unusual kindness. But later everything was clear in her mind.
When Sona reached there, she saw Chaudhary sitting in the cane chair in the verandah smoking hookah. Two children were playing there.
‘Come on dai sahiba!’ He greeted her with a sneering smile.
She hesitated a bit and then moved in without any response. He looked at the rhythmic movements of her round hips. She looked gorgeous in her tall and slender figure.
She checked the lady carefully. She had mild pains and little discharge in the morning.
‘You may take one or two days,’ said Sona patting gently her stomach
‘Take light food,’ added she
The lady stood up with a smile.
‘Do light daily chores.’ With the instruction she came out.
‘Sab theek…?’Chaudhary asked her coming close to her.
‘Sab theek hain…’ Sona said without even glancing at him and walked fast homewards.
Chaudhary nodded, saw her walk fast. She looked behind once and saw him smile under his half-grey moustache.
Sona was a sensitive woman. She knew that after delivery a woman had her second birth. She took all care and delivered a baby safely. She could imagine mental state to see the woman in labor pains. These were very delicate moments. They could bring joy to the family. A slight error could be disastrous and the family could wash hands of both jachha and bachha. So, she remained serious and tense all the time. It looked that she had not smiled for years. Or she did not know how to smile. She spoke in whispers. The woman in labor felt her soothing presence. Her complete devotion was so assuring. In her mind she prayed constantly. She held her breath till the child gave a cry. Then one could see joy dancing in her big eyes. A warm smile lit her face. She felt relaxed and easy. She looked skywards with closed eyes for a while. As if her silent prayer were rewarded.
Sona went through the whole process in her mind before attending to the woman. At this she felt thrilled. But in her lone moments her motherhood cried. She would become restless. None was there to understand her restiveness. She had none to bare her soul to. Tears welled up in her eyes. Her desire for becoming a mother was so intense. As if her existence had lain in it. Though she knew her wish was useless. But even then she wanted to see a child in her lap. She wanted to feed a child. She wanted to feel the child totter from her stomach up to breast. She wanted to experience a thrill when the child walked unsteadily holding her finger. She longed to hear a joyful cry in her small yard. She would kiss and cuddle it.
Her whole being was possessed with the thought of child. As though it were first and last dream of her life. She lived with this dream the whole day. No matter if it was wishful dream.
The knock on the door startled her. She got up to see through the small crack but there was none. She felt someone was there. She opened the door and saw Chaudhary’s servant standing under the neem.
‘Chaudhary has sent for me?’ She wondered.
He nodded and walked away with putting the corner of chador on his nose. Sona smiled and came in her small room. She picked up the few things she needed there. She hurried to Chaudhary’s house without wasting a moment. She sent other women out of the room and checked the lady patiently.
‘What’s the situation?’ asked the old woman of the house
‘Today by evening.’
The old lady looked satisfied with the observation of Sona.
‘I’ll come in the evening.’
‘You need not be sent for,’ said the elderly woman
‘No…no. I- I’ll come.’
Sona came out and saw Chaudhary walking up and down the veranda with short steps, perhaps waiting for the news. He stared at her a bit longer silently like a judge in beauty pageant. She understood the intention behind this sort of stare. Often she overlooked and spurned his every overture. His lecherous look disgusted her. She had an instinctive dislike for him. So she ever avoided his look or conversation whenever he tried. Today she felt surprised to find that the feeling of dislike disappeared almost. His stare soothed her bruised and lonesome soul. She chuckled. Many thoughts flooded her mind. She dismissed them immediately and kept walking. Again she was overpowered like an electric charge. She resisted the temptation. She remained torn within whole noon. Her state of like and dislike kept her smarting.
Chaudhary like a sniffer dog smelled the change in her being.
Even before dusk Sona reached there. There was a period of waiting... She chatted with the woman. After some time she had begun going into labor. She asked the ladies present there to go out. Only four elderly women remained there to help her.
‘Lie down here,’ said Sona
The woman lay down. She was feeling uneasy. Sona stood by her bedside waiting for labor to increase. She was watching her face showing painful expressions. There were lines on her forehead. She kept her lower lip between her teeth with closed eyes. Then she began to take long deep breath with a hiss.
‘Open not mouth,’ said Sona sternly
‘No, lie down,’ said she holding her hands firmly
One hour passed. Labor pains deepened. Sona looked cautious.
‘Take deep breath.’ She shifted close bending over her.
‘Close your fist.’
Now the woman began to cry. Sona jumped into action.
‘Hold her hands,’ said she to other women standing there
‘You, hold her head.’
‘You come to this side and hold her legs.’
Sona folded her legs covering lower part with a cloth and held them tightly. The woman was writhing in pain. She was crying aloud trying to move her hands and feet.
‘Save me, save…’
‘Chup! Cry not…’ Sona barked without looking at her.
The other women were helping her by caressing her head. Her cries continued. Sona looked relentless.
‘…enjoyed then…now cry.’
Sona held her knees tightly looking grave. She focused herself on the legs which the woman was moving.
‘Shut mouth…deep long breath…more deep.’
‘Be careful, let her not move hands and legs,’ said Sona to other women
‘Birthing began…child coming…head almost out,’ whispered Sona joyfully
The woman was crying loudly swaying her head. Seemingly no one was heeding to her pitiful groans. Sona took baby’s head in her cupped hands lovingly. The woman lay still with eyes closed as if she were unconscious, flaccid.
Sona tied the umbilical cord of the baby tightly with thread and slashed it carefully with new blade. Then she put her two fingers into its mouth. Afterwards she hung it by holding feet and patted back twice or thrice.
‘Cry!’ The elderly woman smiled.
‘Boy!’ Sona cried in delight turning to the elderly woman waiting eagerly for the news.
Sona began to clean the baby with cotton pad which she had kept ready. Here and there she cleaned patches on the pink body with the help of mustard oil. The child was crying in short breaths. After going through the whole process she wrapped the child in a soft silken cloth and put it in the arms of the old lady-mother-in-law of the woman. Her old eyes lit up. Puckered face flattened. After all the moment had come she had been waiting for so long.
Sona felt relaxed. No tension on her face. After performing all necessary tasks she returned home and lay thinking about the job she would do for the whole week in Cahudhary’s house. She would bathe both jachha and bachha and wash their clothes. She would plaster the floor with cow dung and then hang branches of neem at the door and light fire in earthen pot. All ladies of the house would obey her. And jachha would follow her instructions. She would be an essential part of her bedroom. She could have free access to the room. After a week panditji would christen the child.
Then…? I’d be untouchable, dirty, mean, only sweeper. I won’t touch the child. Nor its mother. They’ll keep their distance from me. No free access to the room. Even my shadow will pollute them! Their room, everything there and…Why? During the whole week I was good, ominous for jachha-bachha and everything. And now bhangi- petty person.
Tears stood in her eyes. She felt helplessly miserable. Actually, during the week she developed a strong attachment to the child. She touched the child with motherly feeling. She caressed it and sometimes avoiding others’ eyes she kissed it. She pressed it against her breasts and closed her eyes in sheer pleasure. She tried to spend more and more time with it. So, she was unable to snap her emotional relationship. It was distressing for her that no one understood her feelings- motherly heart brimming with affection. She was paid grain and gur for her week-long services. And all ended for them. But not for Sona. She took time to come out of her emotional mess. Every time she suffered silently and accepted the situation with resignation. And life dragged on the old rut again.
Today was her last day at Chaudhary’s house. The whole place was teeming with life. The guests and neighbors had thronged there. They were enjoying good time. Children were playing yelling at one another. The women sang and danced at night. A big feast was thrown. Sona saw the child longingly in the lap of mother. Everyone looked happy. Their movements and activities displayed joy of their heart. Chaudhary in white kurta and dhoti with an air of triumphant came to Sona sitting at the door lost somewhere.
‘Take it.’ Chaudhary’s words brought her out of reverie.
She looked at him with a faint smile and spread the corner of her cotton sheet which perhaps, her husband used to tie around his head while going for work. Today she wanted Chaudhary to look straight into her eyes and read unsaid.
Chaudhary poured grain and gur into the sheet.
Sona tied the contents in the corner of the sheet and kept silent as if it were more than enough. She stood up glancing at the women of the house. She walked homeward like the man who had lost all in gamble. She was lethargic and listless.
As Sona lay in bed at night, she was overwhelmed once again by the idea of child-her own child.
I’ve all that can make me mother. I’m young…fertile…eager, full bloomed breasts. I can conceive…I can care my child…I can bear pains…I can bring up my child. I can love, feed, kiss- my child! My child… But how?
Chaudhary! He is drawn to me…tries to touch me, his eyes speak his lust. Now I can use him. He’ll be happy. Only once…enough to conceive. He is so sturdy, so eager. A small hint is enough. I’ll go to his garden…right place, evening… perfect time. No one will be there. Only we both…full of desire…thirst.
Sin! No sin…nothing like... If sin makes me mother, it’s good. I’ll do it- do it. I’ll be satisfied. He’ll be…Yes, tomorrow evening. He’ll be there. I’ll be there.
Sona shut her eyes and lay murmuring softly.
He holds me by my hand. We’re lying busy in foreplay…kisses…fondling…cuddling. He peels my clothes. Then naked. Completely. I begin…feel manly touch on my breasts, lips, then moves caressing hand between thighs. A surge of…thrilled whole being. I shiver with… He holds breasts tightly and again showers of kisses. After so many years I feel like groaning…just then man enters and groans let out. He is furious…I like it. He too. Eyes close as he moves up and down. I feel as if in a vast pool of joy. He pumps…We lay clung to each other.
Yes I am… I’m sure…now wait for full nine months. Not long time. I feel something move in…I’m a mother-loving, caring feeding. I can hear shouts of joy. I sing lullaby as my mother used to. I remember bed time tales, I’ll…I’ll…
Sona forgot count of time and she lay caressing her stomach lovingly.
Myke Fynke was born in 1948 in a midwestern farmhouse. His father worked day shift in a refrigeration plant. In the evenings and on weekends, his father cultivated 100 acres of cropland and managed a herd of 38 beef cattle. When he was killed by a drunk driver in 1961, Myke was 12 years old and barely knew his father. Myke's mother raised him and two siblings. In doing so, she taught Myke to read when he was 4 years old and he's been reading ever since. At school, he was labeled "Bookworm". In a town where everyone else was baseball crazy, Myke had no interest in sports. Predictably, he had few friends. He quit school during his senior year, principally because he was bored with it. He joined the Marine Corps at the age of 20, served 4 years, attained the rank of sergeant before being honorably discharged. After his service, Myke became an electronics technician. After a couple years of that, Myke took up auto mechanics. He also drove a truck for 10 years and put more than a million miles under his butt. Through it all, he kept reading. Finally, he read too many books and had to go to college. As an undergraduate (double major, history and English) Myke finished second in his class (Summa Cum Laude). Then he went to graduate school and in 1997 took his MA in journalism. After grad school, Myke took a job writing service and repair manuals for heavy mining machinery. He wrote newsletters for a local museum. He taught writing at a junior college. He wrote essays and test questions for college entrance exams. He kept on reading. Today Myke still reads voraciously. He also writes short stories, reviews and essays because he goes crazy if he doesn't write at all. Myke has a big, black, golden-eyed, whip-smart cat, whose name is Sam. They go camping and fishing when they can. Sam chases frogs and birds and lizards and helps Myke read.
THE END OF CLIO’S FIRST YEAR
When I was at graduate school, I lived in a basement apartment. One large window at ground level presented a fine view of the back yard. From the house, the lawn rolled downhill through a grove of ash and walnut and ended 50 yards away at the lip of a rocky, brush-choked ravine.
At 5 o’clock on a dank December evening in 1995, the sun was just down. A warm front had pushed through in mid-afternoon. Now there was no wind. Warm, moist air clotted into fog where it touched the inch of new snow that carpeted the frozen earth. Black, leafless trees stood stark against the white landscape. The black-and-white world lacked enough light to make shadows.
I was making pancakes for supper. Stirring a bowl of batter, I looked out the rear window and appreciated the herd of deer that had come out of the ravine to nibble at our lawn. There were eight of them, the nearest only a couple of yards from the house. Hock-deep in the rising fog, the graceful animals were as black as the trees in the background. To me, the scene resembled something out of Poe or Hawthorne.
Then, for no apparent reason, one of the animals leapt into the air and kicked behind herself like a rodeo bronc. Back on the ground again, the doe stamped a bit while she looked about nervously. When she stood quiet again, she was still poised for flight. Seconds later another deer jumped, kicking and bucking like the first. Then a third animal leaped and, moments later, a fourth.
“Cheez!” said I: I never saw deer act like that b’fore. I wonder what’s got into ‘em?”
That’s when I saw Clio. My half-grown, tortoiseshell cat shot up out of the fog like a little black projectile and sank all of her claws into one of the deer, high-up inside its left rear thigh. That deer jumped and bucked and kicked just as the others had done.
In the instant that deer jumped, Clio sprang clear of the animal and hit the ground, eyes blazing in the dim light from my window. A writhing bundle of springs and hooks and viciousness, she sidled away from her still-stamping victim toward another deer, which she assaulted in the same manner.
With my attention now riveted upon her, it was easy to watch Clio work. I looked on in fascination while she methodically drove those deer down the hill, across the lawn, and back into the ravine, where I suppose it seemed to her they belonged. That done, she stalked the perimeter of the yard, apparently looking for more prowlers. Finding none, she came to the window and plucked at the screen – my cue to open the door.
She came in and strolled serenely to her dishes, where she had a snack and a tiny drink. Then she flopped in my reading chair and took up bathing her feet.
I looked at the clock. It read 5:12. Back in the kitchen, I noticed the calendar on the wall. Clio would be 7 months old in a week.
Our landlady lived upstairs. Her name was Mauree. She was then in her mid-seventies but still spry. She had reigned as head librarian of a large school district for many years, so she was accustomed to a world ordered just as she liked it and even more accustomed to telling others how that should be done. Mauree had a gruff manner and an acerbic tongue because she looked life straight in the eye, but she also had a lively curiosity and a scrumptiously dry wit.
I wanted to hear what Mauree would say about Clio and the deer, so I set my pancake batter aside. Then I walked out the door and around, to the front of the house, where I stepped onto the porch and rang the bell.
Mauree opened the door, said “Good evening” pleasantly, and asked me what was the matter. I told her. She drilled me with her hardest, “you-have-27-books-that-are-10-years-overdue look and said: “Myke, you’re a liar,” and shut the door in my face.
Telling myself I should have known better, I walked back to my basement and went to work on my supper once again. Crisp, lean bacon and buckwheat cakes with butter, real maple syrup, and a quart of ice-cold milk will do for any grudge that follows me home.
Emma lived next door, to our west. She was a retired schoolmarm with something like 45 years behind the chalk. She was older than Mauree, though how much older neither woman would tell and I wasn’t dumb enough to ask. Emma was a gentle soul who had been a champion gardener and a rare beauty in her day. Tall, slender, leggy, with sparkling blue eyes and curly, raven hair, Emma must have driven men wild in the bloom of her youth. Her gardens were still full of flowers, but she’d let the beds go bit by bit as old age and arthritis conspired to thwart her best efforts. Knowing Emma’s story as I did, the flowers and the weeds made a beautifully sad metaphor.
Emma belonged to some crank organization for old women. If I ever knew I’ve forgotten what it was called, but it was not D.A.R. Requirements for membership included having to prove one’s matrilineal ancestry back 500 years or some such nonsense. Emma was secretary of the local chapter. At a recent meeting, members decided that one of Emma’s duties would be to keep a genealogical database of the local chapter’s membership. That, mind you, and poor old Emma had scarcely ever seen a computer and had arthritis in her fingers so bad that she could no longer type more than a few words per annum.
Emma’s back yard was blooming raucously on the first of April, when she knocked on my door to plead for help. She explained about the database and asked me please would I type into the computer while she read to me from her hard-copy membership files. She promised me lunch, and I like lunch – especially when lunch is chicken fried by an old southern belle. So we went to Emma’s basement, where we sat with a computer. Sliding glass doors showed off the carnival of flowers that nodded gaily in the breeze outside, just beyond the flagstone patio.
I typed while Emma read aloud, somewhat as follows (names changed here to protect the guilty): “Mary Henderson Smith: born 1827; died 1928. Mary Bowser Henderson: born 1760; died 1907. Ellen Jones Bowser: born 1727; died 1769. Helen Morrison Jones: born 1627; died 1789. Violet MacIntosh Morrison – “
“Emma!” I interrupted: “Do you realize that Helen Morrison Jones supposedly lived to be 162 years old? And Mary Bowser Henderson, according to your information, was 147 years old when she died? Are you sure those dates are correct?”
Emma stared wide-eyed into the distance, somewhere behind my right shoulder. Her eyes got awfully big and started leaking tears. She sighed, “Ohh, Myke – “
“Fool!” I thought. “That’ll teach you to open your stupid yap. Now you’ve gone and hurt this sweet old lady. Why didn’t you just type and be done with . . . .”
“She’s so brave!” Emma finished.
“What? Who’s so brave?” I asked. “Mary Bowser Henderson? But she’s dead and buried for. . . .”
Emma cut me off. “Not her,” she said dreamily. It’s your little cat. Look out the doors there!”
So I turned and looked outside. Two big deer stood facing one of Emma’s flower beds about halfway down the garden walk. Between the deer and the object of their desires, directly in their way, stood Clio. She was up on her toes, ears flat, back arched, hair on end, lashing her biggest tail back-and-forth like a club, and screeching defiance. Plainly, she threatened those two deer with murder and worse. As we watched, she showed them she was serious.
Every time one of the deer put its head down to browse in Emma’s flowers, Clio sprang into the animal’s face. She hissed, spit, howled, scratched and bit furiously at their lips, noses and eyes. It looked as though she was doing her best to rip their faces off. If the deer moved to another flower bed, Clio was there before them: eyes blazing, killing mad, back arched, growling and howling and spitting curses, she would not let them eat.
The gentle animals had no recourse. In a very short while they gave up and walked away, back down toward the ravine.
Clio stomped down the garden path behind the deer to the lip of the ravine, at which point she abandoned pursuit. Then she came back to the house and flopped down emphatically, just outside the sliding doors, and bathed herself while she watched the flowers. She paid no attention to us staring at her through the glass. It was plain to me that Clio’s beef with the venison was territorial.
Emma saw it differently. She grinned hugely when she exclaimed: “Well! I’ll sleep better tonight knowin’ I won’t be attacked by ferocious, wild deer! Where EVER did you find that little cat?”
I smiled as I answered: “Right across the street at the daycare center. She was 8 weeks old when I brought her home last year, middle o’ May. Ain’t she a pistol?”
“Ain’t she just!” Emma chuckled.
The lunch she served grandly was her rendition of the Southern Classic: fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, blackeyed peas cooked with smoky bacon, and beautiful, hot biscuits with honey-butter. Emma brought Clio in the house and seated her at the head of our table in an old highchair. On the tray of the highchair was a saucer piled high with warm, succulent flesh torn from two southern-fried chicken wings that Emma carefully hosed down with a quarter-cup of her delicious, golden, chicken gravy.
Like most cats, Clio was a dainty diner but still: The way she went to work on that particular lunch showed me and Emma that some cats know good cooking when they smell it.
Back home, just before dark, somebody knocked. I opened the door and saw Mauree. She stood on my doorstep and stared at me woodenly while she said, “Myke: I’m sorry I called you a liar. I saw your cat with those deer today. She is quite insane.”
I had a mind to thank her and ask her in for tea, but before I could say a word she turned on her heel and left.
Next day I told Emma about Mauree’s brittle apology. Emma smiled and told me I should be proud. “You’re a privileged creature,” she said. “I’ve been close to Mauree for 40 years and never knew she apologized to anyone for anything.”
Emma left me choking on tears of joy. Next morning I used a cocktail fork to serve Clio, bite-by-bite, a can of chunk-white tuna in water, and I walked on air for days thereafter.