I write this at a time when the world recoils from the rape and beating death of a young woman in India and a schoolgirl’s shooting in Afghanistan. An Ohio town reacts to violence visited upon a young girl by a group of boys.
Women are under siege, worldwide. The difference today? The world sees and reacts.
I use a fictional name for the main character in my account; I don’t wish to violate her again by identifying her.
Life has done that to her…again and again.
In Memoriam: Joanne
I began to realize how very damaged she was when we took a trip, together, to Jamaica.
Each day of the 7 days we spent there, we’d return to the resort, from touring, to see bed sheets draped over the balcony rails outside our room, four floors up, on an outside corridor. Joanne had wet the bed again. She did that every night.
Housemaids left the balcony door open to air out the room and dry the mattress. New bed clothes stood in a neat stack nearby, but I felt the public airing of the wet sheets a mystery.
Perhaps their act was a punitive one to show their annoyance.
Everything about this place was perfect. A huge, stone patio, stood front and center, framed by long, gauzy, Greco-Roman-style curtains, hanging from tall pillars. They billowed out in the soft tropical breeze.
Against that backdrop, stood long tables on which staff displayed culinary marvels each night. Nearby, a calypso band played non-stop. We guests reveled in the glory.
Flanks of rooms faced an azure blue ocean, with a white powder beach rimming it.
The paradise setting almost made Joanne’s act of nightly peeing in the bed a violation of sorts.
No one suspected how much she’d been violated.
We were both young adults: I was a young mother, trying to forget a terrible marriage, one who had a boyfriend waiting for me when I returned.
Joanne had no one waiting. She never did, aside from questionable male friends that drifted in and out of her life…men who used her for their own needs.
We’d grown up together and gone to the same elementary and junior high schools. Then she went off to a different high school and I didn’t see her much during that time. We reconnected as young adults.
She was smart and attractive…a talented musician…had almost enough credits for a college degree, too, but as the years passed, she had less and less drive to finish…to make anything of herself.
You see, she’d been hollowed out, from the inside.
We eventually drifted, as friends, when I could no longer tolerate her put-downs about my profession: “Those who can’t, teach” was something she said often. She’d joined the chorus of people who believe teachers do little, suggesting, instead, that we grew fat at the public trough.
I didn’t realize at the time that abused people often become abusers, themselves.
She held odd jobs, throughout her life, as vendor at a relative’s vegetable stand in summer and fall…and part-time antiques dealer the rest of the year. As such, she made the circuit of shows, earning just enough to keep herself afloat.
She lived at home, too, a dangerous place for her since her father beat her. She told me of one occasion when her father forced her, as a young girl, to kneel on a pile of rocks in their yard, one whole day, in punishment for something she did.
On several occasions, when she was older, I noted deep purple and black bruises on her face and arms.
He wasn’t her lone abuser: Her drug-addicted brother , two years her junior, once throttled her with a metal lamp. Sometimes her Dad and brother joined together in beating her.
Her mother, no doubt a victim herself, stood silent witness.
On one occasion, she sought refuge and hid in a stranger’s abandoned barn, for one entire weekend, trying to recover. She doubtless believed that even an owner’s fury at her unwelcome intrusion was better than the one she faced at home.
But her abuse went unchecked. It was before anyone intervened in domestic assault… before any of us really knew of agencies to help.
So, Joanne devised her own way of coping: She drank…. a lot.
In the last ten years, I saw her on only twice. Her parents had both died and in a macabre, freakish accident, so had her brother….
Now, she was alone.
Alone in the house where she’d been brutalized, a place of so many bad memories.
Why do I write this? I just learned of her death, through a friend. At 65, Joanne got Alzheimer’s and died shortly after. Her early exit from this life was possibly the only break she ever got.
She’d had no great (or small) loves…no children…no productive career. Just a path of utter wretchedness that stretched on for years.
But Joanne’s a forerunner of today’s women who are victims of abuse: the schoolgirl in Afghanistan…the girl in Steubenville…the young woman in India. The difference today? The world is watching and it no longer silently acquiesces.
Hopefully, their suffering will bring about much needed change.
(**Photo above courtesy of Hotel Intercontinental.)