Sunday, September 14, 2014

Emma and Jerry Russell's story of physical and mental abuse, and Emma's eventual escape

Posed by models
Spousal Abuse: A Social Phenomenon

A true story 

Emma Russell's introduction to physical abuse did not begin until her marriage to a struggling musician. His name was Jerry Russell, her second husband. Remembering the first time Jerry struck her, Emma recalls it was two years after they were married.

"I can't remember the feelings the first time he hit me. I don't know if I felt shock, hurt, surprise . . . I don't remember. But I do remember it was because he wanted to spend a weekend with some of his friends, and we got into an argument about it."

Emma's short bout with an abusive husband started in the early 1970s, a time when spousal abuse was an issue not discussed--especially by the recipient of the abuse. Emma was not a battered child; therefore, did not view physical abuse as a way life. She did, however, see and hear heated arguments between her parents.

"My father was a military man, and he traveled a lot. When he was away the house was peaceful. When he was home he and my mother were arguing all the time."

Psychiatrists agree that batterers are victims of physical abuse inflicted on them as children. Being early targets of abuse they learn to reverse the role of victim, and become the arrow that inflicts pain on others. Contrary to that psychiatric assessment, Jerry's problem was not caused by direct physical abuse. His actions were more mental, according to Emma.

"I don't know if Jerry was a battered child," Emma says of her now ex-husband. "He was kind of tossed around. His grandmother raised him for a while. He had two grandmothers living in different cities, and he was bounced back and forth to his father, his grandmothers and his mother. He had a real unstable childhood," Emma concluded sadly.

Jerry didn't suffer from two characteristics associated with wife abuse: jealousy and alcoholism. He was not committed to either of these relationship wreckers. Nor did he partake in drugs. "I had freedom to do what I wanted to do, go where I wanted to go. He just wasn't a jealous person. He gave me all the freedom in the world," says Emma.

Emma said when they dating, and during the fist two years of their marriage, there were no signs of Jerry being an abuser. "He was so sweet," she says softly. "He was very supportive and sensitive. He was a nice guy when he wasn't in an angry mood."

A woman living with an abusive mate feels responsible for her husband's explosive behavior. She avoids upsetting him at all costs. She allows her abuser to put the full responsibility of keeping his temper, and the marriage intact on her shoulders. Subsequently, the burden leaves the abused victim feeling as though she is living in a house without a foundation.

"It's like walking around on egg shells. You want to crack them but you never know what is going to set him off. You never know what's going to happen. What's going to cause the bomb to explode," says Emma.

Each year millions of women are seriously injured by their husbands and boyfriends. Those injuries range from black eyes, busted lips, broken arms and legs, bruises all lover the body, even death. Emma said she remembers one such incident. She was badly injured when Jerry punched her in the face. He said he was a boxer in the Army.

"He never hit with anything other than his hands. He fractured my cheek bone. What happened was . . . ," she says, her voice trailing off as she recalled the painful event. "He had promised me on a Friday that he was going to take me out. When I got off work, he told me that he had to practice with the band. I got mad. I had worked all week and he promised to take me out," she repeated, reliving the disappointment.

"So anyway, he went to his band practice, and later on the same night, about three or four o'clock in the morning he came home, getting in bed like nothing was wrong. The room was completely dark, and he wanted to make love. I pulled away, saying 'No.' He was angry. The next thing I knew I saw silver! It was like a flashing light.

"He had hit me in the face with his fist. When I hollered out loud, he got up and turned on the light. I told him that I was hurt and needed to go to the hospital. He didn't want to take me, and kept telling me, 'Ain't nothing wrong with you!' He finally took me to the emergency room," Emma says.  

She said all the way to the hospital Jerry told her there was nothing wrong with her. Upon arriving at the emergency, the nurse on duty immediately suspected a case of spousal abuse.

"How did you do this?" the nurse asked Emma. Jerry, who was in the examining room, said nothing as he watched. Emma refused to answer the nurse's question. Lying on the table, clutching her hands, Emma dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands, drawing blood. She looked at the ceiling as sharp pains consumed her face. The persistent nurse asked her another question about her injury.

"Did your husband do this to you?" Again, neither Emma or Jerry answered the question.

"I don't know why I didn't answer,"  says Emma, a puzzled look on her face. "I don't know why I didn't tell her he broke my jaw."

Emma had to undergo surgery to repair the damage to her face. "They had to shave my head on the side," she says, pointing to where her head was shaved. "They had to go in on the side of it to do surgery, so there wouldn't be a scar on my face. I was studying broadcasting at the time, and I knew that someday I wanted to go into television. The doctors came up with a way to go in through the side of my head to put my cheek back together."

Jerry did not  visit Emma in the hospital. When she came home, he cried and apologized for hurting her. "He said it hurt him so bad that he just wished he could cut off the hand that hit me." 

The apologies always came after each beating. Emma said she never fully understood what caused Jerry's volcanic, violent outbursts. He never gave her a reason for, or explained his behavior. He was not unhappy that they did not have children. She concluded that he acted out of frustration.

"I think he thought I was smarter, even though the jobs I had were average to me. He wasn't happy in his work. I was doing some of the things I wanted to do. He was out of work for a long time, and we began to have financial problems. He finally got a job but it wasn't what he wanted. He wanted to be a musician. He had studied music, and there was a lot of frustration in him when he couldn't get the job he wanted," Emma said, making excuses for her abusive mate.

Reflecting on more of her past with Jerry, Emma revealed there was another time she was hospitalized when she came close to getting seriously injured by Jerry. "One night I decided that I wasn't going to take anymore of his abuse, and I told  him that I was going to leave him. He told me that I wasn't going anywhere. He wouldn't let me out of the house, and when I did get out, he followed me to the car. He was going to take my portable sewing machine, and throw it through the window so that I couldn't go anywhere. I got out of the car and went inside. We argued." Emma did not leave Jerry.

Another episode occurred when Emma made up her mind to leave. Jerry did not try to stop her. "He told me to go ahead, and that I would probably commit suicide within a year. I believed him!" Emma says, now able to laugh at his assumption that she was weak, and incapable of surviving without him. "He knew that I stayed with him all the times he beat me, and I guess he thought 'well, I got her and she can't leave me.'"

Hesitating, her mood changing, Emma says she did consider suicide as a way out of an abusive situation. "But you know . . . they say your darkest hour is just before dawn and that's when I realized . . . during that time my life meant something to me and my mother. My father was dead." With the constant abuse being interwoven parts of her daily life, Emma found that it began to take a toll on her mentally.

"I would get real depressed for a few days. I tried to figure out what went wrong. What could I do to make it right. I wondered what I was doing wrong. What was I not doing that he needed. I thought it was all my fault," Emma says.

Subconsciously, Emma knew the main dilemma causing element in their marriage was Jerry himself. But he did not agree with her, and repeatedly preached that "Nothing is wrong with me. It's you!" Of course she accepted the blame in the wavering marriage, which was well on the way to falling apart. Emma says her home life was affecting her on her job. She made more threats to leave if the abuse did not stop. Her threats went unheeded. As a final straw she approached Jerry with the idea of going to see a marriage counselor. He refused to listen at first.

"I told him we're going to see a marriage counselor or this is it! He didn't want to but he finally agreed to go. We started going together, and then she split us up. She had him going to one session and me going to another. She helped me realize that sometimes you can't always change a situation. I thought I could save my marriage and make things right by working together. She helped me realize, too, that you can't always make things the way you want them to be."

Emma began to see that talking, pleading, counseling and trying to please her disagreeable husband in every way, was not the solution to her dilemma. She began thinking violence and abuse herself. She says towards the end of the marriage, when she had absolutely made up her mind to leave Jerry, she started fighting back.

"Sometimes I knew there was going to be a fight. I wasn't afraid of him this time. I grabbed a baseball bat, and hit him on the arm. And you know, it was like I was thinking where am I going to hit so that he won't be able to hit me back. And then I hit him in the shins so that he wouldn't be able to chase me. And then I began to him all over. He didn't fight back!" Emma says with a note of innocent surprise in her voice. She outwitted Jerry.

Frightened that she had seriously hurt Jerry, Emma called a friend of his, and told him to come and see about Jerry. That particular confrontation jolted Emma into another realization. Someone could get killed if they both became violent and abusive. Emma left Jerry for good soon after that, seeking refuge in a hostel for battered women. This helped her get through the separation. She found other women in situations similar to her own at the hostel.

Currently working as a news reporter for a Texas radio station, Emma says there is no chance of a reconciliation with Jerry, even if he promised to change his abusive ways. Emma did not emerge from her marriage without lasting scars and bad memories.

"I can talk about it now, but for a long time I didn't. I couldn't. I don't believe I'll never get over it. Once in a while I have flashbacks. I still find it hard to trust anyone . . . a man. I don't know if the effect is over yet."

**The real names in this story were changed to protect their privacy. This story was first printed on my blog 8/13/2011

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