Okay, now as you all know, this is mostly a blog for comedic posts about my bowels. However, you may also know that I am a staunch feminist. I noticed my last post regarding Chris Brown got a pretty good number of hits, which means people care about this hot-button issue. But I'll admit that I am one of about ten bazillion feminist bloggers hautily throwing around my Chris Brown anger, though I've never truly experienced serious domestic abuse. What made me realize I didn't fully understand what I was going on about was something I read this week. One of my dearest friends, whom I respect and consider a smart, independent, hilarious, glowing example of ferocity and beauty in a woman, wrote something that she wasn't able to write before. The Chris Brown Grammy backlash seemed to jar it out of her, and she is a tough egg to crack.
My friend, appropriately referred to as Mega, cupped her metaphorical balls and BRAVELY wrote about her own experience with domestic violence, one that she had mentioned to me before, but boy. I had no fucking idea. This piece is courageous, well-written, and sheds light on what many people assume they understand, but like me, they might not. Not really. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, even bright, whip-smart feminists, and it goes far beyond cuts and bruises. It does damage to the human spirit. I encouraged my friend to share her story on my blog because I think it is something that needs to be read to your daughters, to your students (I'm talkin' to you Barney), and to any young women in your life whom you care about. Without further adieu:
Anton by Meaghan Forrestal
I remember vividly the morning after the Grammy Awards in 2009. At probably around 9am I was getting driven home by my then-boyfriend on his way to work. He worked in the neighborhood adjacent to mine, so it usually just made sense to get up early and hitch a ride rather than deal with the complexities and annoyances of intra-borough transportation. I had worked the night before, taken a cab to his apartment, curled up next to him and fell pretty swiftly asleep. Though, I was always pretty exhausted in the morning on the rides home, as you would expect from a bartender dating a 9-5er. A little bleary eyed we’d listen to the radio, chat, plan out the rest of our day, and get some bagels before he’d drop me at mine where I’d fall right back to sleep. I remember on this particular day we were driving down McGuinness Boulevard and the radio DJs were discussing what had happened the night previous between Rhianna and Chris Brown. As a life long feminist (my mother literally had me saying, “I am a strong, independent woman” on demand the second I learned to talk. She would say, “what are you?” and I would come back with passion, “I am a strong, independent women!”) I was immediately disgusted. I did not know, nor care, who the fuck Chris Brown was, but any man who puts his hands on a women in anger in ANY capacity makes me absolutely revolted. My boyfriend and I talked about what happened and how awful it was, and he grabbed my hand over the center console, looked me in the eyes and said, “I promise I would never hurt you like that. I love you too much.” Which I thought was sweet, but an entirely unnecessary statement… kind of like hearing about a bank getting robbed, and then going to your local branch and telling the teller, “I promise I’ll never rob you at gunpoint. I appreciate your customer service too much.” Its like okay… thanks? I’m glad you’re willing to not do something awful, but I’m now weirded out you seem to think it’s within the realm of possibility.
About a month and a half later I found out that it was well within the realm of possibility for my boyfriend to do what Chris Brown did to Rhianna, which is, to sum up: beat the shit out of your “significant” other, violating every inch of trust implicit within a loving relationship, and at least in my case, tearing that person down to their smallest, lowest denominator, filling them with shame and self-loathing.
I think it’s important to put things into perspective when thinking about domestic violence. This is not a bar room brawl. This is not stranger danger. This is not a random act of pure violence. Imagine being in what we think of to be a normal, healthy loving relationship. I was madly in love with my boyfriend. He was 6’2, cut from stone, and gorgeous. I thought he was funny, caring, shameless, and made me feel loved. Sure we fought, and we fought HARD. He was an American raised-Russian so his ideals were a little misogynistic and mine were the opposite, so we often butted heads. We spent almost all of our time together and he was the first person I had been with that I felt like I could truly be myself with. I let my guards down, and didn’t feel like I was fighting anymore. I felt loved, in love and at peace 90% of the time. My parents and my friends loved him. We talked about both going back to school to get our masters, and then when we graduated getting married. Which, for anyone who knows me is a CRAZY notion (the marriage talk not the masters part). And the sex. The sex was still to this day the best I’ve ever had. So what I mean, and need for you imagine, is a perfectly happy, normal, loving relationship. Because it’s not always like on TV, with a drunken loser mechanic upset with his position in his life who takes it out on his pregnant high school drop out girlfriend. Or the bad boy sadist who we KNEW the protagonist should have stayed away from… because he wears ripped jeans and drives a motorcycle. It’s not like that at all.
I had been working the night shift. It was a slow night and Anton was at the bar drinking Jim Beams and sodas, keeping me company. I closed the bar early since it was dead, and ran into an old coworker on the sidewalk. We all went into the bar a couple doors down, and had a couple of shots of café Patron. I was a little tipsy, and I guess so was Anton, but we still got in his car anyway and drove back to his house (stupid, I know). I got into the shower… and that’s when it all fell apart.
There are a lot of hazy parts, and my memory of this night sometimes doesn’t feel like my own. I can only really remember what happened from a 3rd person perspective… like my consciousness was a camera floating above my head. Which is weird, because I can SEE myself… but I know that’s not possible. And it’s non-sequential. It’s like a fucked up really long experimental film.. I came out of the shower and we fought about something. I don’t remember what, but I remember days later thinking about how stupid it was. We were on the bed, and he was just holding me really, really tight and wouldn’t let go. And all I wanted was to be let go, to be angry about whatever I was angry about. So I squirmed and pushed against him, and then all the sudden my shoulders were pinned to the bed, he was above me, and then SLAP.
After the shock wore off I was PISSED. This motherfucker just slapped me across the face! My mouth was exploding with anger. I am generally described as being full of piss and vinegar, and when I’m angry it’s more like gasoline and lighter fluid, so you can imagine what I might have been saying.
And then he slapped me again, harder this time.
Now is when I lose sequence. I get out of the bed and I am still naked from the shower. I’m not scared yet, I’m just really, really mad. Anton gets out of the bed too. He grabs me, slaps me AGAIN, and as I recoil, he launches me into the wall and I slide to the floor. The anger doesn’t fade, but his eyes are completely vacant, and my tears switch from the ones that well up from frustration, to the ones that stream when your not sure if you’re going to be okay. My words are a little less aggressive and a little more pleading as he grabs me by my hair, drags me across the room, pulls me to my feet, and then punches me so hard in the stomach that it knocks the wind out of me and I fall to my knees. Something in me thinks this feels like a test, like he is just seeing how far he can push me before I break and stop fighting back. But I’m not sure if backing down will make it worse or better.
We’re both calling each other vicious names, but his cut deeper… considering I’m naked, doubled over on my knees on the floor. His voice is so laden with disgust and his eyes are so empty and wild that I’m not sure who or what I’m dealing with. But this wasn’t MY Anton. I started looking for my stuff, my phone, my wallet, my keys, MY CLOTHES. I couldn’t find anything. To this day I don’t know how or when, but at some point he locked my jacket, my phone, and my purse in his car. So for what felt like hours, and in fact, turned out to be hours, he degraded and bullied me. He unleashed enough forced to be painful, but not enough to cause any severe damage. Besides the slapping, he avoided my face. And every time he grabbed me and threw me down, dragged me by my hair, choked me, or upper-cut me to the stomach, he made sure to remind me how disgusting and unlovable I was and how much he could really hurt me if he wanted to.
After a while, he gave me my clothes and told me to get out. And when I say told, I mean I put on my clothes and he grabbed me and literally tossed me out the front door of his apartment, almost knocking me down the stairs. He lived across the street from the Projects (and a tough one at that) and I still didn’t know where my phone or my keys or my jacket were. I don’t really remember but I think it was snowing or had snowed. It was the middle of the night, and I had no metro-card, no money, no jacket, no keys, and no way of getting anywhere. I checked his car, which was locked, but I didn’t see my stuff (it was all stuffed under the back seat) so I just walked to the bus stop,and sat there and cried.
I had only two options. Sit outside and freeze until a reasonable enough hour that I could talk a cab to a friends house, and hope they were awake to come lend me money or go back upstairs and try to get my shit, or at the very least subway fare… Sadly, the most reasonable option at the time seemed to be to go back upstairs.
The door to his building was always busted so, I got back in to the complex but he had locked the front door behind me. So I slammed and screamed at it for about 20 minutes (how his neighbors didn’t call the cops I’ll never understand, or forgive). He, who HAD FALLEN ASLEEP, finally answered the door and asked why I was still there and why I was acting crazy. I ran into the apartment, demanding my things back, rummaging through everything. He was a neat freak, so my jacket and purse were ALWAYS in the same place, and they weren’t there. I could have sworn that I had put them there, but they weren’t there. They were nowhere and he wouldn’t tell me anything. He started screaming at me again to calm down, that he didn’t know where my things were, that we could find them in the morning, and I resumed cowering and crying. And I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t want to be crying. He didn’t want me to be crying. Which, just all made me cry harder. It was probably close to 4am at this point, and he gave up bullying me and decided we needed to go to bed. I refused to go near him and went to his living room determined to stay on the futon. I was sobbing uncontrollably. Nothing felt real. I just wanted someone to hold me and make me feel better, but the only person who could do that was Anton, and he was the reason I felt that way. This little bubble encasing our perfect little love with our perfect little future hadn’t just popped… it had never really existed. He told me he never loved me, that he was just using me for sex, that he could never love anyone like me, and he hit me. He hit me over and over and over. Like he promised he wouldn’t, like I knew deep in my soul that he wouldn’t. And he lied, and my gut was wrong, terribly wrong.
I guess after a few minutes my crying became too much for Anton, too ANNOYING. Because he got out of his bed, grabbed a large knife off the kitchen counter, pulled me into sitting position and shoved the knife against my throat. He had one hand pinning me to the back of the futon, and the other holding the knife as he stood over me with his face inches from mine. He explained to me that if I didn’t stop crying he would kill me. He pressed the knife in and I begged him to stop, to think about who he was… who I was. To ask him why he was doing all this too me. He put one hand over my mouth, took the knife away from my throat, pulled it back, and made a swift stabbing motion at my shoulder, halting his swing centimeters away from my skin. He “fake-out stabbed” me a couple more times before returning the knife to my throat to remind me that for the rest of the evening there would be no more sobbing. I was to be quiet, or he would really use the knife.
He brought me back to his bed, took off my clothes, and held me. He slept, I didn’t. His alarm went off 2 hour later. He kissed me and told me he loved me and how sorry he was – and then he had sex with me while I silently cried.
I stayed with him for 2 days after that. And I’ve never hated myself more. On the 3rd day he was 2 hours late meeting me. In those 2 hours I drank 3 martinis. And when we got back to his apartment I finally gave him a piece of my mind.
And then I broke his nose.
You see at the end of the day it wasn’t the violence that was the worst of it. I’ve felt worse pain in my life doing mundane things. But it was this absolute betrayal of self that got me. Because for MONTHS after I was still in love with Anton. And HOW could I love someone that could make me feel so low, so weak, so small? I had always considered myself to be this super strong, iron willed woman. So how did I not see this coming? How could I let someone do that to me? I let myself trust him and every fiber of that trust was blown away the second he slapped me the first time. He managed to go from making me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world, to the grossest piece of slime to ever sliver out an ass. And I was so mad, that I couldn’t DO anything. I couldn’t fight back, I couldn’t get away. I COULDN’T DEFEND MYSELF. Because my 5’7 and 130 lbs of lady softness were NOTHING compared to his 6’2 and 190lbs of muscle. Because I was physically and emotionally overpowered and I was helpless. And I hated that, and to this day I still do. I hated being helpless. I hate that someone made me small. I hate that someone made me weak. I hate that someone took away my confidence and my sense of self and left me stripped bare and confused for months after. And that through all that, I still loved him. Like he was my shameful little addiction. Literally he was like kicking crack. You know crack is bad for you, it’s an embarrassing addicting, and it’ll kill you eventually, but you still want it anyway. I’m forever indebted to my friend Jose, who a week later pretty much saved me from relapse, and never made me feel like a loser for it. I had spent a week back at my parents’ house after everything happened and when I got back, Anton was at my door. He was telling me he loved me, how he’d go to counseling, how he’d get himself better so we could be together and be happy again. It was everything I wanted to hear. I knew it was all lies, but I could lie to myself too. And through a friend/family phone chain, everyone found out he was there. Threats of calling the cops made him leave and Jose drove to Brooklyn from Westchester just to let me cry on him for as long as I needed. To just hold me little, which is all I had wanted from Anton, from anyone - to feel safe, and loved, and be held.
The fact that anyone still speaks of Chris Brown amazes me. That men like him and Charlie Sheen are still in our cultural vernacular. Chris Brown is a living breathing FAMOUS representation of Anton, and every man who’s ever hit a woman. And sure its been three whole years, but nothing in his behavior shows that he is any less of the manipulating, controlling, women-beater than he was 3 years ago. I may be making assumptions, but it takes a certain type of man to do what he did to Rhianna’s face, and the word sociopath generally comes to mind. And I’ve seen it before first hand. He acts like either an injured child or a self-righteous prick when anyone of any clout even mentions his infraction. He shows calculated and controlled remorse. SOCIOPATH.
So this twitter feed of young women saying “I’d let Chris Brown beat me” and the like, is overly troublesome. Not only does it make light of a serious issue that CLAIMS and RUINS lives, it shows a disturbing trend in today’s youth that it’s okay to make light of domestic violence. That it’s okay to make light of rape. That as long as a woman is the victim it’s just not that big of a deal. It’s acceptable because we are the second, weaker sex and its just par for the course. That as long as Chris Brown is hot and on top he can punch whomever he wants, because being hit is a small price to pay to get to be with him. Not to mention the implication that Rhianna was “overreacting” or “crazy” for reporting this FELONY against her, because come on, he’s Chris Brown... As if any woman who has been abused needs more ridicule or shame to be thrown her way. That breaking it down to just a little ol’ beating (ain’t no thang) doesn’t completely demean the experience and affects of being abused. It's not about being punched in the face. It's about a split second of time in which everything you believed to be true suddenly isn't. Its about the realization the whether you live or die is in the hands of the man you love and you’re suddenly unsure of which he'll choose. Which is an utterly fucked concept. All of this bullshit encourages this ridiculous idea that loving a man means he isn’t held to any standards of decency. That when a man hits you, you should just get over it. Well I challenge anyone who has never been abused to take a half a second to walk in the shoes of someone who has and then GET OVER IT. One of the reasons that awful things like domestic violence and rape are still so prevalent in our culture are because we’ve become so adept at just sweeping them under the rug. We fill the survivors with shame and then we never speak of it again, asking everyone to just move on and believe in the power of redemption. But if we never address the issues, and never allow them to be associated with the distain and disapproval and shame for the PERPETRATOR that they deserve… they will continue to happen in an unabashed manner. We silence the victims because it’s uncomfortable. Yay! Rhianna you’ve sold a lot of records so your obviously moved on and completely healed. But half of the reticence about talking about it is the unspoken implication that you are somewhat "less than" as a woman, or a person afterwards. That a man could hit you, or that you would CHOOSE to be with a man that COULD hit you makes you appear weaker, or dumber in the eyes of the general public. And maybe if you don’t keep reminding people, they’ll forget to see you that way. Which is bullshit.
At first when I saw the positive responses to Chris Brown I thought “I hope one day they actually do get beat and then they can live with both the shame of being abused and the shame of their disgusting comments” but now I just feel sad for them. Sad they are caught in a cultural cog that makes them demean and lesson their own self-worth. That it has become funny and cool for young women to be the enforcers of their own repression and subjugation! Maybe if they knew that one in four women will have experienced violence from their intimate partner in their life, that up to 3 women are murdered A DAY by their partner in this country, or that 1 out of 6 women in the United States is a victim of an attempted or completed rape - then they wouldn’t think they were so clever anymore. In an age where frat boys circulate lists of “rape-able” girls, and girls tweet about letting famous men BEAT them after we applaud them on national TV, we all need to be more aware of what comes next. Because it’s not about being too much or too little politically correct… it’s about making light of and belittling serious issues that ANY woman, regardless of age, race or class, could face.
A couple of months ago I received a text from my ex-boyfriend. In the text he told me that he was different now, and he lived his life in a better, more wholesome way. That he was happy and healthy - spiritually and physically and he wished the same for me.
That text ruined my day.
So just imagine how Rhianna and every other victim of domestic violence must feel when hordes of young women stand on their feet and applaud Chris Browns’ return to the Grammy Awards… and then tweet “jokes” about letting him beat them. Shame on you.