Maybe she had lost count. Maybe it was so much a part of her life she wouldn’t have thought of counting. How many times have you eaten breakfast? How many spoons have you washed? What’s the point in counting?
She said she had finally just had enough. She told him to go ahead and kill her, just get it over with. She didn’t want to live like this anymore, and like so many others, she could no longer imagine a life in which being beaten or threatened was not a simple reality, as inevitable as a change in the weather. It will rain or it won’t. What control do you have over it? Go somewhere else, it rains there, too. That’s what her experience had taught her. You’re not going to outrun the rain. You just endure it, protect yourself the best you can, try not to drown, and appreciate it when the sun comes back out for awhile.
That’s what she lived for, those occasions when he would be nice to her, take her out to eat, hold her close and make promises that she wanted so badly to believe, and he probably did himself. Never again. It’s different now. Love you too much. Times like that were what she held on to, clinged to, really, when he turned on her again, a storm approaching and then unleashed, and she had to run for cover again, retreating into the cellar of herself, waiting for it to pass over again.
In a way, the good times were worse, because they sparked the tiniest light of hope. It was like trying to find her way out of a cave with a single match. Not much, but something. Better than complete, enveloping darkness, wasn’t it? But when she couldn’t see her way out, when she couldn’t see past her own fingertips, eventually it was enough to drive her past hope and into madness, enough to drive her to say, “Just go ahead and shoot me,” and mean it.
In my composition classes at the college, my students write narratives about the things that are important to them. I’ve read papers on prom disasters, automobile accidents, and the unexpected deaths of friends. I’ve read papers on their wedding days, the births of their children, and the loss of a job because the plant shut down. And I’ve read so, so many papers like the one paraphrased above, which I read only two weeks ago. How many have there been? Fifty? A hundred? I don’t know for sure, but I know I can count on reading at least a handful every year.
Of course, the details are harrowing, horrifying, and ultimately heartbreaking, but I have long since passed the point of being shocked by them, as I was the first few times I read such essays. The only thing shocking to me now is the almost casual tone of the writers. They write papers about getting beaten the way you would expect someone to write about being bullied by a bigger kid in school back in the fifth grade. The pain is there, but the sense of surprise is not. For awhile, I kept looking for the outrage, but now I know better. It’s as if they expect it to happen to them. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I would bet that none of the authors of the essays I have personally read would have been surprised when John Woodring walked into the REACH shelter in Jackson County a couple of weeks ago and shot his wife. They know full well what some men are capable of doing. They’ve seen it. They’ve lived it.
Somehow, we the people have to do better by these victims. We have to fund the shelters sufficiently so that security is not an issue. A woman who comes to REACH for protection must know that she is going to be safe there until she can develop a plan to get away from her attacker.
And what about the men? Woodring, like so many of the rest of them, had a past that included violence against women. How many men who beat their wives or girlfriends also have a pattern of such violence, but are allowed second and third and fourth chances, with the rationale that it is best to “keep the family together,” or the victim decides not to prosecute. Remember — many of the victims EXPECT no better, so why prosecute, especially when in our judicial system drug offenders face harsher penalties than wife beaters?
How is it possible that men who have a history of violence against women are still out there, adding to that history? Why aren’t they in prison? Where did the system break down, and why aren’t we fixing it?
Until we honestly confront such questions, until we demand more from ourselves as a culture, we are all implicated in the death of Bonnie Woodring. Every broken nose, every black eye, every missing tooth, all of it falls on us. Let’s not make this overly complicated: Men who beat women are worthless pigs who belong in jail. When will we be outraged enough to put them there, and keep them there.