In the spring and summer of 1986 random parts of my face started growing for no apparent reason. I would be at home, on the subway, or off working somewhere around DC.
First it was a swollen eyebrow. Then that would go away and a day or two later, my cheek would grow so that I couldn’t see well out of one eye.
Mostly it was my lips, though. They would grow, sometimes individually, sometimes together. I looked like a duck.
Did I mention I was also getting married in September? That September? And while John and I had a fairly small and simple wedding, I was unenthusiastic about going to the altar looking like a daisy. Especially this one.
But work was so completely crazy that I ignored it. I was a lobbyist/flunky at the time, and was spending long days up on Capitol Hill working on the Tax Reform Act of 1986. (And it was the perfect assignment for me; I did my own taxes – on the U.S. Government 1040-EZ form. Tax Returns for Poor Dummies.) I was in over my head, didn’t have a clue what was going on, what was important, or which way was up. I was a wee bit stressed.
Plus that summer we decided to buy our first house just so we could send my stress level through the roof of my brand new adorable little house.
But back to my problem. My ever changing facial features.
People were looking at me strangely which I understood – I often and suddenly looked really odd. But even stranger, they stopped talking whenever I would approach. These were people I’d worked with for more than six years. Something weird was going on.
And I found out what that was early one morning as I stood talking in the front lobby to my boss, also (irritatingly) named John. He was giving me instructions on that day’s most important issues, when to pay especially close attention, when to call him immediately with an update.
At the beginning of the chat, my face was normal. But as we talked, my lips spontaneously grew larger and larger. More duck-like.
“Elyse,” my boss said, “what’s happening to your lips?”
“They’re growing. Spontaneously. I don’t know why. But you’ve seen me with a swollen face off and on for the last couple of months. Haven’t you noticed? And it keep on happening. Luckily, John has promised to marry me even if I look like Daisy Duck when I arrive at the church.”
The look of relief on his face was instantaneous – he joked with me about the fat lips, about stress, about what I might be allergic to. He’s a really nice guy, and he cared about me. But it wasn’t until much later when I realized just why he had looked so relieved.
He thought I was being abused by my husband-to-be. And he, a very powerful Washington DC lawyer, who knew/knows everybody in town, had no idea what to do. He didn’t ask me if anybody was hurting me. He didn’t threaten to report John, or try to find out discretely whether folks in John’s office thought John might be abusive. No, my boss talked to other folks who also cared about me and who also didn’t know what to do to save me from what, had it been true, would have been a huge mistake.
(In fairness, they didn’t know my John at all – it wasn’t a very social office.)
And once I made the connection, I remembered feeling similarly helpless once. I thought about a secretary named Kelly who had worked with us briefly a few years earlier. She and I had become a bit friendly, even though we worked on different floors and in totally different departments. We both loved to play softball. One day I saw Kelly with an enormous black eye.
“I was playing softball with my husband’s team,” she said, shaking her head. “I should have caught the damn ball.”
“I once caught one with my left thigh,” I responded to her, truthfully, but naively. “You could see the stitch marks on the bruise.”
The next day she was gone. Obviously to everyone else her husband had been beating her, and she got help and got away.
The image of her face has haunted me. What would I have done – would I have been able/willing to help her? Would I have ever figured out what was happening to her?
My story ended well. I hadn’t had time to eat properly and subsisted pretty much on a diet of Milky Ways for two months. Woman cannot live on Milky Ways alone. Maybe ducks can. I stopped eating chocolate and looked OK at my wedding. Or at least, I didn’t look like a duck.
I don’t know how Kelly’s story ended. I never will.
* * *
Yesterday, the GOP in the U.S. House of Representatives allowed the Violence Against Women Act, which had been law since 1994, to expire. And they let it happen because it would have expanded coverage of the law to more women including immigrants and Native Americans.
Perhaps you don’t know what the Violence Against Women law does.
My bible, Wikipedia, says that it provide programs and services, including:
- Community violence prevention programs
- Protections for female victims who are evicted from their homes because of events related to domestic violence or stalking
- Funding for female victim assistance services, like rape crisis centers and hotlines
- Programs to meet the needs of immigrant women and women of different races or ethnicities
- Programs and services for female victims with disabilities
- Legal aid for female survivors of violence
But what it really does is help abused women. To let them know that they can get help. That they are not alone. And it can also give their families, friends and co-workers vital, life saving information about how to help. How to act. What to do besides wonder amongst everyone else but the person most impacted. Literally.
Now tell me, what’s not to like about this law? It gives vital assistance to vulnerable women – those who most need it. A place to go where they can take their kids, get help.
It gives folks who don’t know what to do or what to say a clue as to how to help women in need.
Where they don’t have to give up that last little bit of their heart.
I have stated this more often than I can stand, but the men in the GOP are not on the side of women, or on the side of men who respect women.
GET THEM OUT OF OUR LIVES
Then, Damn them to Hell where they belong
What you and I can do:
Contact your representatives in Congress and demand they pass the Violence Against Women Act as it stands today with expanded services: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/