I have a black eye.
I woke up the other morning with a shiner like I caught a softball with my nose. No trauma, no injury, no logical explanation. I went to see an internist who had no idea what it was, who sent me to an ophthalmologist who had no idea what it was.
After extensive questioning they could tell me what it wasn’t – it wasn’t a sinus infection, an “allergy shiner”, or related to vision, optic nerve or glaucoma. Nor was it related to any vitamins or medicine I take. They also asked if there was any domestic violence in my home. There is no violence in my home and I told them so, but I also said I appreciated that they asked.
This has been an odd experience for me, to say the least. It has also been hard on my husband to know that strangers think he hit me. Even though he doesn’t know them and isn’t with me every moment, he knows the world has judged him.
The eye looks nasty, and even after careful application of makeup, it is clearly visible. Reactions have been interesting. Some glance at my face and look away. Some stare fixedly. Some see the black eye and then give me a once over. What people are clearly doing is creating a story about how I got a black eye. Yet no one looked me in the eye or asked me how I got it.
Why wouldn’t anyone say anything? I am sure the majority of look-away-quickly people assumed my husband hit me. Some of the long stares were probably looking to see if I had work done. Some of the once-over folks were clearly judging me as someone who “allows themselves to be hit”.
While I would have been appalled at the assumption I would also have been pleased if any stranger (or the mild acquaintances like the women at my gym) had asked about my eye or even said “I hope you are OK.” But so far there has been four days of silence.
I remember when my sister was living with her (physically and mentally) abusive husband. Knowing how he treated her, and being profoundly upset by it, I once talked to people at the local domestic violence shelter and found out what to say and how to say it.
“You do not deserve this. It is not your fault. He does not have the right to hurt you or make you feel bad. I will help you if you chose to leave.”
It took almost fifteen years for her to separate from him. She left and went back to him a dozen times, and I have no idea what her situation is now.
I started to wonder what I would say if I saw someone with a black eye. Now. In my current crunchy, suburban life where things like that are not supposed to happen. But they do. We know women (and some men) are physically and emotionally abused everyday. The statistics are awful – One in four women and one in nine men are physically abused by an intimate partner during their lives.
We need to ask ourselves tough questions. ‘What would I say and how would I say it?’ And ‘When is it my responsibility to say something?’ Or more importantly, why isn’t it everyone’s business to end domestic violence?