issue 187 - September 1988
What I deserve
He beats her. Humiliates her. Why does she stay? Here Debbie Taylor
explores a troubling - and taboo - aspect of abuse.
I wear my wounds with pride. The bruise like a blackberry stain on my shoulder, yellow and grey round my eye; the raggedness on my forehead where he wrenched out handfuls of hair. I have other scars, too: inside where you can't even see them.
My name is O, pornography's nameless one: ever open, ever ready; branded on my buttocks; beaten and used by the man that I love, who says he loves me. 'I belong to you,' I whisper. 'Punish me.'1 My name is Jane, sociology's faceless one: packing suitcases secretly in the small hours; sobbing helplessly down the telephone; pounding frantically on the door of the refuge; beaten and used by the man that I love, who says he loves me. 'I belong to you', I whisper. 'Punish me.' My name is Grace, psychology's shameless one: listening to his excuses, forgiving his infidelities, understanding his insecurities; beaten and used by the man that I love, who says he loves me. 'I belong to you,' I whisper. 'Punish me.
I eat pain, gobbling it like chocolate until I am bloated with repugnance and self-loathing. Oh, but the power! Swollen as I am, glutted and battered as I am, I am never more powerful than at this moment - when he stands over me with that fire in his eyes. What do I care if it is the fire of revulsion, of hatred and anger and rage? I care only that it is I who ignited that fire. I am the chosen one, the sacrifice. What greater proof could there be of his love for me?
I am a rat in the zoologist's cage: trained to press a lever that releases my food and burns my paws with electricity at the same time:2 I am baby Joss, my cheeks pinched by my mother's fingers, my thighs pierced by her pins, chortling and giggling my love into her eyes.3 I am Simon, child of the Bone People, flogged into silence by my father's hands, my brown skin striped with blue bruises, gazing in dumb love at his face.4 I am Jenny, consenting adult, lashed by my arms to the bedposts, lashed by his belt on my buttocks, moaning my love into the pillow. I am the chosen one, the sacrifice, the victim. 'I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy will.'5
It's not that I'm immune to pain - although sometimes I can hardly feel a thing.3 It's just that pain for me is a passport: a passport to pleasure and power.
You see if he did not torture or beat me how would I ever know that ecstasy: of holding him in my arms afterwards, while he sobs and sobs like a baby, telling me over and over how he loves me, begging my forbearance and forgiveness? Oh the joy of being so wronged! Of having so much forgiveness to bestow!
You see the violence started gradually, like foreplay. Each time trying my endurance a little further, like a seducer's hands on the clothes of a virgin. And there was always that balm of repentance, seducing me with terror and tenderness, and the belief that one day he would change. Yes, I always believed he would change.
But soon violence was the only love I knew. Violence was my whole world, my universe: fearing it, suffering it, forgiving it. And all other worlds started to recede as I made excuses to my friends and my neighbours, sidestepped their gentle enquiries and sat at home nursing my bruises. Oh, agony of expectation: waiting for the sound of his car in the driveway, for the sound of his key in the door, alert as an animal to his tempers, wired like a junkie to his moods, chained like a rat to my pain.
You see it is only I who really understands him. I know that, at heart, he's a good man. He's kind to animals, gives money to Christian Aid. And last time he hit me - and my tooth was broken and I needed stitches in my lip - it was such a beautiful card that he brought me, with 'I'm sorry' and 'I love you' inside it. And I'll never forget that holiday in Scotland, when we held hands and walked together by the loch. Things like that make everything worthwhile, make me certain that one day he will change.
You see what I mean? He's a good man. And normally he wouldn't hurt a fly. That's how I know that it's me who's the guilty one, that it's something I do that sparks off his rage. I am the chosen one, the sacrifice, the victim. What I get must be what I deserve. Just one look at me and it's obvious: I'm so stupid and my legs are so fat; my hair's a mess and I don't suit this colour. Beside him I'm a worm and a nothing.
I heard of one woman who murdered her husband. I hear of others who walk out with their heads high, saying 'This is the last time you'll touch me', saying 'I deserve better treatment than this'. But those women live on another planet: they see a person when they look in the mirror - not a nothing with no rights and less value.
Do you see now why I can't leave him? Yes, it's true I'm afraid he'd come after me; yes, it's true I've no friends left to turn to; no job and no house and no money. But at least I have a man who says he loves me.
You must understand why I can't leave him: I have no heart to protest my subjection, no soul to rebel at the outrage, no deep-seated respect for my self that would scream out my fury at these atrocities. All I have is my woman's nothingness and understanding. And, deadliest of all, my forgiveness.
And, sisters, don't dare think that you're so different. I've seen you swallowing your anger. I've watched you gobbling your pain. I've heard you proclaiming his innocence and defending the indefensible. I've heard you forgiving the unforgivable because it is committed against you. Don't wonder why I stay with my torturer if you are bound by the same chains to yours.
Debbie Taylor is a freelance writer and former NI editor.
1. Pauline Reage, Story of O, New York, Grove Press, 1966.
2. Jack Sandler, Psychological Bulletin, 1964.
3. Erin Pizzey and Jeff Shapiro, Prone to Violence, Hamlyn Paperbacks, 1982.
4. Keri Hulme, The Bone People, Picador, 1985.
5. The Holy Bible, Luke, ch. 1, verse 38.