Dear Mrs. Bluth,
Although most things in my life are going smoothly and I really have no personal reason to submit any private issue for your attention, I did witness something first hand that does not give me peace.
A few days ago, I was in the local stocking store. As I shopped, I noticed a young mother and her three little girls excitedly picking out their choices and making their way to the counter to pay. The young mother produced her credit cards and the purchases were bagged in three individual bags so that each child could be given her own choices. I didn’t notice them leaving the store, as I was too busy with my own selections.
As I placed my pile of socks on the counter, making small talk with the owner, the front door swung open and an irate man barreled in, followed by the young woman and three little girls who had just left the store. Without excusing himself, he pushed my purchases aside, not caring in the least that I was in the middle of being checked out and that he was pushing some of my purchases onto the floor behind the counter. He waved the receipt his wife had gotten in the cashier’s face and yelled that he was returning two thirds of the merchandise his wife and daughters had picked out and paid for.
It was only then that I took note of the terror in his wife’s eyes and the shame on her face. The fact that the children hid behind their mother and cried was not lost on me.
To appease the man and still his nasty tone, the cashier immediately dealt with him. He chose two pairs of socks for each of the girls and totally disregarded anything his wife might have purchased for herself. After he paid, he pulled his crying children and downtrodden wife out of the store.
Quietly, the cashier retrieved my fallen purchases from the floor. Not a word passed between us, just shocked looks and a sad understanding that this was probably not the first time the young woman had to undergo this experience.
I could not get this scene out of my mind and almost felt guilty for my own purchases, knowing that there were three little girls who had to go without.
Mrs. Bluth, I am not naive, as I am an avid reader of your column. I know there are men who mistreat their wives and even their children in the privacy of their own homes. What I don’t understand is how this man could openly and without shame do this in public without anyone intervening on their behalf. In fact, I think part of my wrestling with this experience is that I feel guilty for not saying anything. But what could I have done differently? It happened so fast and with such ferocity, that I was left dumbstruck. Why is this still happening?
I can only imagine how unsettling this must be for you; I have never become desensitized to the sadness, helplessness and pain of the cruel and abusive treatment women (and some men) are still subjected to. Even after dealing with plight of abused women and children for over thirty years, the horror and pain of it never lessens. Although some strides have been made in this area, there are still so many women living in fear of physically and verbally controlling and abusive husbands, fathers and brothers, that this episode certainly deserves attention.
As a rule, the abusive spouse saves all the incriminating action for behind closed doors. He or she often portrays a split personality – being outgoing, wonderful in public, while in private, the master of pain and affliction does his damage in a way where the damage is not visible to questioning eyes. Working with families for move than thirty years, I have seen almost every kind of cruelty that can be afflicted. It’s the rare occasion when the abuser lets his guard down in public and allows the anger to spill over. I think this is what happened in your presence. He probably did not even notice you.
As to what you could have done, we should never confront the abuser. Rather we should report him or her to the proper professionals who know how to handle such cases. There are many hotlines and organizations listed in our paper which exist expressly to serve this purpose.
Put your mind at ease, there was nothing you could have done to change the situation you found yourself in. In fact, you might well have put yourself in peril if the man would have become violent. You did, however, do a chesed by bringing it to light. Perhaps others who are being abused will recognize something in your letter, and gather the courage to reach out for help.
There are various different forms of death outside of the physical and living as a victim of abuse can certainly kill one’s spirit and will to live, just as surely as the cessation of life itself.