The victim of encapsulating violence carries both the real
fear and the memory of fear with her always. Together, they wash
over her like an ocean, and if she does not learn to swim in that
terrible sea, she goes under.
…[T]here is the fact that, during those weeks that stretch into years when one is a battered wife, one’s mind is shattered slowly
over time, splintered into a thousand pieces. The mind is slowly
submerged in chaos and despair, buried broken and barely alive in an impenetrable tomb of isolation. This isolation is so absolute, so killing, so morbid, so malignant and devouring that there is nothing in ones life but it. One is entirely shrouded in a loneliness that no earthquake could move. Men have asked over the centuries a question that, in their hands, ironically becomes abstract: “What is reality?” They have written complicated volumes on this question. The woman who was a battered wife and has escaped knows the answer: reality is when something is happening to you and you know it and can say it and when you say it other people understand what you mean and believe you. That is reality, and the battered wife, imprisoned alone in a nightmare that is happening to her, has lost it and cannot find it anywhere.
I remember the isolation as the worst anguish I have ever known. I remember the pure and consuming madness of being invisible and unreal, and every blow making me more invisible and more unreal, as the worst desperation I have ever known. I remember those who turned away, pretending not to see the injuries— my parents, dear god, especially my parents; my closest female friend, next door, herself suffocating in a marriage poisoned by psychic, not physical, violence; the doctor so officious and aloof; the women in the neighborhood who heard every scream; the men in the neighborhood who smiled, yes, lewdly, as they half looked away, half stared, whenever they saw me; my husband’s family, especially my mother-in-law, whom I loved, my sisters-in-law, whom I loved. I remember the frozen muscles of my smile as I gave false explanations of injuries that no one wanted to hear anyway. I remember slavishly conforming to every external convention that would demonstrate that I was a “good wife, ” that would convince other people that I was happily married. And as the weight of social convention became insupportable, I remember withdrawing further and further into that open grave where so many women hide waiting to die— the house. I went out to shop only when I had to, I walked my dogs, I ran out screaming, looking for help and shelter when I had the strength to escape, with no money, often no coat, nothing but terror and tears. I met only averted eyes, cold stares, and the vulgar sexual aggression of lone, laughing men that sent me running home to a danger that was at least familiar and familial.
Home, mine as well as his. Home, the only place I had. Finally, everything inside crumbled. I gave up. I sat, I stared, I waited, passive and paralyzed, speaking to no one, minimally maintaining myself and my animals, as my husband stayed away for longer and longer periods of time, slamming in only to thrash and leave. No one misses the wife who disappears. No one investigates
her disappearance. After awhile, people stop asking where she is, especially if they have already refused to face what has been
happening to her. Wives, after all, belong in the home. Nothing
outside it depends on them. This is a bitter lesson, and the battered wife learns it in the bitterest way.