The Echoing of Abuse

"Mom, Suzy’s in trouble. She’s at my house." Our older daughter’s voice sounded calm over the telephone.

"RJ beat her up—bad. The police took her to the clinic for a medical exam and to attend to her cuts and bruises. Nothing’s broken. He whacked at her hair with scissors. It’s a wonder he didn’t cut off her earlobe or pierce her skull."

I was speechless.

Beaten. Police. Medical exam.

We had suspected that Suz, our younger daughter, was living with a man who smacked her around. I knew that he abused her verbally; I had overheard him once when I walked up to their apartment: "You little bitch! What makes you so damned high and mighty? Gimme that beer and get the hell outta here." On and on, until I knocked on the door. He was not in the room when she let me in.

"Paul has gone over to remove her things from the apartment."

That evening, our son Sam drove the 1,200 miles to bring Suzy and her few things home. We nursed her and gave her space to heal. Sam took her on a canoeing trip, one of our favorite family adventures—guaranteed to occupy the body, soothe the mind, and, we prayed, restore the soul.

Suz looked fresh and well with her new pixie haircut when she set off in a newly acquired sleek red car to return to her job. Her boss had been understanding and had held it for her. Friends from the local Quaker meeting offered her a safe place to live, and members of her own meeting wrote to her.

Our daughter has always been so gentle, never a troublemaker, a leader among Quaker youth, and active in a prison meeting and in local activities. She is a poet, a musician, and comfortable in two languages. We struggled on our teachers’ salaries to put her through a Quaker high school and college, but we felt it was worth the investment in her future. Her crooked smile, slight dimples, easy spirit, and dancing hazel eyes materialized before me whenever I thought about her.

"Mom, Suzy’s moved back in with RJ," our older daughter said.

A great, empty, dark space opened inside me. "Why, why, why, why?" echoed in its chambers, ricocheting off one soft wall of my insides to another, reverberating, wounding me.

Sam set his jaw and went to the field to ride his horse.

Suzy’s dad went to the woodpile and swung the ax into a butt log.

The world turned ashen; the sounds of the birds and wind chimes became muted. Voices grew distant. There was no sense in daily living.

Suz continued to allow herself to be beaten. She continued to allow someone to do violence to her.

Our older daughter grew angry as she tried to help Suzy.

Our son refused to communicate with her.

Her dad kept saying, "She has a good base. She’s going to be all right."

Suz used marijuana regularly, perhaps to self-medicate. Friends watched; some tried to talk with her; some made it clear that when she was ready, they would help her.

In the middle of one dark night, I found myself in the mudroom, dressed in PJs, a .22 in one hand and a box of shells in the other. I knew how to load and fire the gun. I knew that I could walk to the woods behind our house, put the gun in my mouth, and pull the trigger. Gray would smash into brilliant flashes, and brain mass would swirl into the unknown.

Night after night, I lay awake, wondering: what did I do wrong? I should have visited her more often at school. We shouldn’t have let her go away to school so young. We let her choose the wrong college. Maybe we spoiled her. Was it our fault because we hadn’t warned her about domestic violence? Her dad was so gentle, but did I let him control me in ways I couldn’t see? Over and over, night after night, I would turn on the light and read the Psalms, one after another. David had certainly suffered, through so many things, so many times in his life. Although it occurs in Kings, not in the Psalms, I could hear his wrenching cry, "Absalom!"

I looked at the dark woods.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills
from whence does my help come? (Psalm 121:1)

I needed help. She needed help. Our family needed help.

The next morning I called our family physician, who saw me right away.

That evening, I called one of my sisters, a psychiatric social worker with advanced training and experience.

Finally, I called a friend.

It was all so shameful. So devastating. So horrifying.

That summer at our yearly meeting, there was a called meeting one afternoon for those who had experience with abuse. The meeting was held at the far end of campus. The spacious room was filled. People sat on chairs and on the floor. They lounged against the walls. Each of us who was willing—almost all—spoke about our experience of abuse. The room was hushed. The immensity of this previously hidden topic was evident in the testimonies of an old man, a boy, a grandmother, a strapping young man, a slight girl, a weighty Friend, a mother. After our time was up, as we were walking away, I thought we must do more, we must learn, we must help each other. But that was the only meeting I have ever heard of on the topic. All those stories of confusion and hurt, anger and shame; where do they go?

What do we tell our children?

What do we say to one another? To the young man who realizes that he has slapped his wife in front of his children? To the teenage girl who has bullied her little sister and the little girl next door? To the Friend who has been raped and cannot overcome his or her feelings? To the Friend who has worked with youth for years and suddenly finds that her younger brother is being tried for the murder of his child, and she doesn’t know if it’s the result of a shaken baby or a terrible accident?

I keep looking again and again to the hills, to the horizons, to some place where hope may dwell.

My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. . . .
The Lord will keep
your going out and your
coming in
from this time forth and for
evermore. (Psalm 121:2 – 8)

That’s the best I have been able to do: Pray the Psalm over and over.

May our daughter be safe. May we interact with her wisely.

May our grandchildren neither commit violence nor enable it.

May we learn how to deal with the terrible scourge of domestic violence among us. May we ask in our meetings: "What can we say to parents and children that will keep them from this scourge? What support can we offer to the adults and children within our meetings who find themselves or their friends faced with incidents of domestic abuse?"
Due to the nature of this material and to preserve confidentiality, we are publishing this article anonymously. —Eds.