When I read stories of women who have survived domestic or sexual abuse, my heart swoops and falls. And then soars. It falls for the women who have to go through this. It falls knowing that there are women out there who have gone through this, but no one knows because they're afraid to tell. And it soars for those women who tell, so that those who can't don't feel alone. I've spoken before about my own survival, about giving HIM the middle finger, but what I haven't spoken about is men. Not the men who hurt women, but the men who stand by those women who are hurt. Fathers who hold their daughters tight and wish they could take it all away. Brothers who want fight the urge to enact violence on those who hurt their sisters. Husbands who are patient when their wives cringe at the gentlest of touches.
Men like Shane. I've never spoken before about this, and I never intended to do so. Except that the other day, I caught myself responding rudely to him via email. I caught myself and immediately sent another email, apologizing and saying I wasn't thinking clearly. It was good to be able to look outside of myself, because for so many years I couldn't. Hours after I was raped, I showed up on Shane's doorstep. Hurt. Scared. In tears. He settled me on the couch with a blanket and a glass of water, and then I remember he went outside with a baseball and a bat and hit the ball over and over. Recently, he told me that he blames himself for not making me go to the hospital right away, but I don't blame him and wish he wouldn't, either.
We'd been dating for less than a year when it happened. That's a lot of baggage to add to a fairly new relationship, and it's safe to say that I put him through hell and back over the next several years. There are times now when he'll respond to me in a guarded way, and when I ask him why, he says that he forgets that I'm not that person anymore. And then I realize that he spent so long tiptoeing on eggshells, worrying that he'd step too hard and break the eggs. Break me. Because I smothered him. I clung to him like I was on a sinking ship. If he was five minutes late, I would panic. I would fall apart. And then when I was done falling apart, I'd yell at him. I'd tell him he was awful, that he should just break up with me. I would test his love because I didn't understand why he loved me. All of the hate I felt for myself, I poured on him. And he took it. He took it and took it and took it and only really lost his temper with me once and apologized almost immediately. When I try to thank him, I can't make the words come out my mouth. I can't get past thank you. I can acknowledge that it was hard on him, that I was a different person then, but I can't begin to tell him HOW MUCH it means to me.
I could give him a round of applause every day for the rest of our lives, and it still wouldn't be enough. He stood by me. He sat through a two hour deposition with a lawyer attacking him, the same lawyer who repeatedly made sure that Shane was served court summons papers AT WORK, in front of his students. He took the embarrassment and never once complained. He brought me flowers and Skittles and would come over after long days of work and tuck me into my bed and kiss my forehead. He understood why I was the way I was. He listened and loved and put a ring on my finger. He took those vows to stand by me for better or worse, when he'd already stood by me through the worst. He gave me two beautiful sons and gives more every day when he tells me that he just wants them to know to respect women. To all those men out there who have stood by someone who has been hurt, thank you. From the bottom of my sometimes fragile heart, thank you.