In catching up on past and missed news about our former friends I asked my sister, Dee, about Debbie. She looked down at the table top as though expecting to find the right words to tell me that Debbie is dead. I was, to say the least, shocked. Debbie was in her young twenties when I knew her. She was my sister's friend. They started their nursing careers together. She was a frequent visitor when Dee and I shared an apartment. Debbie was kind, caring, dedicated to helping others. An intelligent young lady with a promising life ahead of her. My mind raced through several possible situations but it all came back to Carl. Dee simply nodded her head when I spoke his name. Debbie had been found strangled to death, Carl sitting on the edge of the bed next to her body stunned and incoherent from drugs and alcohol. He was sobbing that he hadn't ment to kill her. No one kept up with Carl after he was sent to prison. He may be there still, I don't know.
When I met Debbie she had left Carl for the tenth? twelth? time. She was with Dee and I more than she was at her apartment because she feared that he would catch her there alone. Her broken nose had been repaired by skilled surgeons so there was only a slight cant to the left and a small scar over the bridge. Her crushed eye socket had happened a long time before and was barely noticable. Black eyes clear up fairly quickly as do sprains and bruises. The fear in those eyes does not ever clear up.
Carl was the only man she had ever known. He had his good points. I never saw them but she assured me that he had them. Carl was an alcoholic and random drug user. I don't know if you could term him a drug addict for he had no drug of preference; he just took anything and everything. Carl could be charming but underneath the charm was an undercurrent of violence. The first time I saw him he appealed to me to try to talk Debbie into going back with him. He was crying and I think the tears were genuine. I did not let him see her for I knew the effect that the tears would have on her. As he left, still crying, I knew that I had made a very bad enemy.
Over the next few months Carl tried to see Debbie a few times and each time Dee or I would stop him. Each time he would cry and tell us how much he loved and needed her. Debbie was in a constant state of agitation over Carl. She felt that he needed her, that he would not hurt her again, that this time it would be different. She was reaching out to his need.
The months passed and I moved on. Living with one's sister is never a good idea, I think, and when the financial crunch was relieved I got into a place of my own. And there were new friends and new interests and a new job and well, you know...sometimes we don't keep up so well with old friends. Eventually my sister told me that Debbie had gone back to Carl. I hated hearing that but people have to live their own lives. If that was her decision we had to honor that.
That was twenty years ago. The next time I asked about Debbie, Dee told me that she had been murdered by Carl. He had wrapped his hands around her throat and forced the young and beautiful life out of her.
So, why does this bother me so much now? We were not that close and knew each other only a short while. I had not thought about her for twenty years. So, why? Because Debbie was ANOTHER; not the first woman brutalized and eventually killed by a husband or boyfriend and I'm sure she will not be the last. There is nothing exceptional about this story except that Debbie was ANOTHER. Just another terrorized woman with pity for her abuser and a strong desire to believe that it would not happen again. Just another woman trapped in a cycle of self-doubt and guilt and pity and fear and hopelessness. Her death is not remarkable when counted among the thousands of deaths inflicted by abusive spouses.
And while we are counting...does anyone have a figure for the number of spouses who are psychologically and emotionally abused? How many thousands more are they than the ones who end up like Debbie? For every one who is battered in body, how many more are battered in spirit? How many souls have the abusers put on ice? How many bright dreams have they crushed? Is one killing really worse than the other? If so, which is worse?
So many questions. So few answers. So tired of questions begging answers.
There is only one answer I'm sure of. Sister, the first time that fist comes down in anger had better be the last time. Victim becomes a habit...then it becomes the only way to survive...then it becomes life itself. There are shelters, there are police, there are friends and family, there are doctors...someone is there to help the ones who seek help. It is in the seeking where it all goes wrong.
Among those who did not seek help...for whatever reason...there was Debbie and Debbie's dead.
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