Friday, June 27, 2008

Dateline: Mrs. Linklater

I worked as a crisis line worker and advocate for battered women for six years and got burned out. Listening to their stories on the hotline was like being forced to watch re-runs of the same bad movie. The actors changed, but the story was still the same old shit. I could tell each caller exactly what she was going through before she told me. To them I seemed like I was a fountain of empathy and understanding. To me they were becoming a pain in the ass.

Usually the women called after an incident, when he was safely out of the house. I magically described to them exactly what it was like to live with their batterers. And I got the same incredulous response every time -- "How did you know?" Because in the end, batterers are all alike. And they never change. 

I talked to a guy who called the hotline once who claimed his wife beat him up all the time and I should have compassion for a husband, too. Sorry. All the battered women I talked to, except one, lived in terror. They also didn't have a job or an independent source of income. Leaving with their children was always an act of heroism. But this mope was the family breadwinner and he could have walked out the door anytime. He also said he wasn't afraid of his wife. So, gimme a break, Mr. S&M freak.

In the end, I got tired of mothers with small children refusing to accept the cycle of violence in their lives and constantly returning home to the jerks who beat them up. "Because he's really sorry."

The greatest irony in the work I did occurred when I organized an event called "Light Up the Lakefront."  The nonprofit I worked for got dozens of volunteers to help set up 3000 luminaria that eventually stretched for a mile along the main beach path by the lake in Chicago. Each one of the lights would represent the death of a woman from domestic violence that year. When night came, the impact of all those flickering candles would be truly remarkable.

Wechose the first Monday in October as the inaugural date for the event, since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We notified the print and broadcast media but didn't know how much coverage we were going to get. 

A lot, as it turned out. Because the night of that first event turned out to be the same day that O.J.'s not quilty verdict came in. Cosmic. The reporters couldn't wait to talk to a bunch of battered women's advocates and they knew where to find us.

That trip down memory lane was a long pre-mumble to the point of this entry.

After a wonderful afternoon at the racetrack yesterday -- something I've never done before and thoroughly enjoyed -- I heard a story at dinner that has bothered me since.

Someone at our table asked someone else a seemingly innocuous question: "You were an only child, weren't you?"

She wasn't. At one time she said she had a brother. But after his daughter and granddaughter died in a fire, he died, too, about a year later, from frustration over the investigation and a broken heart.

Her brother's son in law wanted a divorce, but his religious daughter didn't. At the hospital where the dead bodies were taken, the family was told that the mother had a broken nose and the daughter had a bump on her head. Also an accelerant had been used to start the fire. Separated from his wife, the husband suggested that his wife was depressed about the divorce and proposed that she had killed her daughter, then killed herself by setting the house on fire. Sounds like an Entwhistle to me.

At the funeral, according to the storyteller, she saw a woman come over to the husband's car. When he lowered the window she leaned in and kissed him. The final straw for her brother's family? The husband had also recently bought life insurance on his wife.

Needless to say, my domestic violence DNA was lit up by this story, and I wanted to know how many years this farkwad had spent in jail.

Not one day.

He married his girlfriend and, it turns out, for the last 35 years, he has been living in my town. His dead wife's dad was destroyed in the end because the cops in the suburb where his daughter and granddaughter died called the case a murder-suicide and filed it away. Nothing he could do would get them to reconsider.

The only good news is that in these more enlightened times, the cops aren't quite so willing to accept a husband's version of what might have happened.

In another twist of O.J. irony, his three-ring circus murder trial, as flawed as it was, may have made the greatest contribution to insuring future justice for DV victims and survivors.

Even though he got away with murdering his wife, too.

1 comment:

redsneakz said...

The cycle of violence is depressingly the same, isn't it, no matter whether the guy's wearing an A-shirt or a button-down.

They all deserve a special circle of Hell.