Through March 8 (International Women’s Day) True Stories Well Told is featuring special-focus posts on the problem of violence against women, including guest essays exploring how the abuse of one affects us all. The following essay was written by Brian Lavendel, who blogs at Enjoy and Inspire.
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I’ve been asked why I work to end violence against women. I don’t think there is only one reason. But my sister, Yvonne, and the life she lived and the life she didn’t live must be part of the “why.” I miss you, Yvonne.
These things don’t happen in real life. That’s what I was thinking. This is not happening. I was maybe 13 years old. We were on our way back from a day boating with my sister and her husband. My sister, who I trusted so and who I thought of as capable. Independent. Together. Her husband, Buddy’s what they called him, although William Workman the Third was his name.
In the front seat, yelling angrily. Cutting words slashing the air. “Make it stop. Make them stop.” I was back in my childhood home, subconsciously flashing back to the fights between my mother and father. But no, this is my sister. This is today. I don’t know who starts the physical part. It could well have been my sister. She was strong-willed.
Really my half-sister, Yvonne was 8 years older than me. A sister who would take her younger brother along on a date with a high school boyfriend who drove a copper-colored Pontiac LeMans. But this was no high school date. This is stark and biting. Reality when we are not ready for it.
Soon the blows get vicious. The car stops. There is scratching and slapping. Screams and tears. The car doors open and the fight explodes outside.
Somehow my sister breaks free from his grip, runs back to the car, with us–my little brother and me–huddling, paralyzed, frozen, in the back seat. She gets in and starts to drive away, leaving him in the red clay dust along the side of a country road in rural Georgia. I picture him, powerless and furious at the same time.
And then I do something I can’t believe. I say to my sister: “you can’t leave him there.” Why would I say such a thing. Why would she listen to me? But she does. She stops the car. And now, white hot with rage, he reaches the car. Pulls my sister out. I try to get in between them, but am tossed aside like a crumpled piece of paper.
Unbeknownst to us, a resident of a nearby house had called the sheriff. The fighting stops in a flash. The deputy is handcuffing Buddy.
And here Yvonne does something that amazes me–but perhaps shouldn’t. She says, pleadingly, “don’t tell them that he was driving.” Later I realize, she didn’t want him to be arrested for drunk driving. Protecting him.
Still, thankfully, he was locked up. Later, at our folks’ Atlanta hotel room, she is begging my stepfather to bail him out before the night was up. Somehow she couldn’t bear the thought of him in jail. Feeling already remorseful for his just punishment? Or was it that she couldn’t bear the thought of what he would do when he got home? I’ll never know.
Do I need to say that we never again talked about this? Or maybe that’s obvious.
Yes, there was another time. Yvonne came home to Madison to stay with us for a few days—without her husband. Even I, a naive high school teen, could see that she had come to rest and recuperate. She had “fallen down the stairs,” was bruised up, battered. But even though our home up north was a place for her to recover from the injuries of her marriage, it was but a temporary respite. We were not able to throw her a line and —arm-over-arm as I can picture it today—haul her to shore. Yvonne drifted from our reach and was pulled back to the deep end again.
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There are many ways we can and need to work to end violence against women and girls, not the least of which is to work with boys and men. Some men in the Madison area are gathering to undertake that work. But until boys and men learn to end our mistreatment of girls and women, I think one of the best ways to help is to empower girls.
Girls, Inc. is a national organization working to empower girls to achieve academically, lead healthy and physically active lives, manage money, navigate media messages, and discover an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. They have sites in 350 cities across the US and Canada. You can support their national efforts with a donation. If you are in Madison, and you prefer, your donation can go directly to fund the three sites in Madison: Goodman Community Center, Kennedy Heights Community Center, and Wisconsin Youth and Family Center. To donate locally, go here and click “donate now.” On the donation page, indicate that you would like to support “Citywide Girls Inc.” The Goodman Community Center will divide your donation between the three Madison area sites for Girls Inc.
– Brian Lavendel