“If I drive all the way up there, they better damn well let me see my son, or I’ll get a gun.”
These words might have been ripped from the headlines of the recent mass shooting that happened in Texas, where an abusive husband attacked the church congregation his ex-in-laws attended. At least 27 people were killed, and many more were wounded.
But that quote wasn’t said by him.
It was said by a teacher at a school to his colleagues. It was also said to a secretary there. It was repeated at least three times that we know about.
It was said by the man I used to be married to.
It was said almost two years after I left him.
It was said while I had the proper protection orders in place. It was said after I had filed at least six other counts of violation of that protection order.
The officer who wrote up the incident report said he investigated, and determined that it was simply a statement made in anger and frustration, and there was nothing to pursue. I was made aware of the statements, and I told the officer about the other violations. He said it didn’t matter and there was nothing else he could do. He told me to call my local police if anything happened to me or my family in the future.
That man—my abuser— could go out and purchase a gun at any time. Tomorrow, if he wanted.
I don’t know the Texas shooter’s full story, or how he got to a place where his words became action. Maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges.
But I feel like we are in the same orchard.
So is everyone else who has ever experienced domestic violence. We walk paths that are our own, but echo each other in the hollows that abuse leaves in our souls. Every one of us can envision a conclusion to our own story that ends with our version of bullets in a church.
It’s been over a decade since the state trooper called me to tell me that violent threats were casually bandied about in a teacher’s lounge. I’m so grateful that his coworkers reported him. I’m so glad I knew the depths of anger that lay just under the surface—anger that is probably still there. My son still sees him regularly. We talk about safety, and we take the proper precautions.
It’s been over a decade, and every major event in my life is still evaluated in relation to this man—what’s the best way to pass on information? What facts need to be shared, and when? What is the risk to me, my son, our family?
It’s been over a decade, and things are status quo, and we are safe. Probably.
It’s been over a decade, but an incident like the one in Texas fills me with deep sadness as well as fear that is very personal.
When things like the shooting in Texas happen, the country weeps. We ask what happened. We talk about change. We say we never want this to occur again.
But very quickly, other people’s tragedies become the soapboxes we climb onto. We use this week’s current event as our reasoning to prove why the country needs fill-in-the-blank: we talk about stricter gun laws and mental illness and how guns don’t kill people and what this country needs is more Jesus and on and on and on. Two sides shout at each other through social media, and other people’s pain becomes our pithy tweet or snarky Facebook status.
Sure, there are times when we join together and there are profile picture overlays and #metoo campaigns, and I start to think that maybe we are all starting to really listen to one another.
And then 27 people die in a church.
And as I watch this made into another soapbox, another notch in an argument for Christians, for gun control, for mental health awareness, for better legislation…there are so many things I want to say. I want to ask why someone who is guilty of intimate partner violence is allowed to buy a gun. I want to ask why we don’t have better communication between the military and the FBI. I want to ask why there isn’t a better system than a set of files and a recommendation to call the cops if anything happens.
But I’m just so….tired. It all seems so futile.
In one of my English classes, my students are reading Romeo and Juliet. Every year when I teach it, they always say the same thing: “They should just tell their parents they love each other and that they want to be together.” And every year, I have to explain that no, this is impossible. Romeo and Juliet live in a world of hate, where violence begets violence, where the streets run with blood, where love has no place. But somehow, love found its way in. It wasn’t embarked upon without flaws, nor was it acted on perfectly. But their love ultimately changed the way their society saw itself. That love was the mirror that reflected the need for a change.
As I enter into these discussions with my students, I can’t help but reflect on our own society and the violence we see around us.
We live in a world where a filing cabinet like mine must exist, years and years later. Just in case.
We live in a world where the violence of one family can ripple out and harm those around them as well as friends and neighbors caught in the crosshairs.
We live in a world where we can no longer pretend that what goes on behind closed doors does not affect communities and generations.
In the wake of things like the Texas shooting, my voice feels so small. My actions feel feeble.
This isn’t a time for soapboxes. This isn’t a time to hammer home our philosophical points about gun control or mental illness or domestic violence. Those things should be discussed, certainly. But not right now. At least not for me.
It is a time to choose to find that bright spot in a dark world. It’s a time to remember that love matters more than hatred.
What does that look like? How do we live in this world and choose to be brave?
For me, it means I don’t live under the weight of that file drawer. It means I get married, and I find happiness, and I remember to be brave even when I don’t feel safe.
Sometimes the bravest thing to do is to move with certainty in an uncertain world.
Sometimes loving despite the darkness is the bravest act there is. Sometimes we have to love even when hate feels like it is all around us.
I choose to live bravely. I choose love. Personally. Communally. Globally.
It’s not much, but it’s the only thing I’ve ever seen truly make the world a better place.
Abuse is not just hitting. It is about power and control, and there are lots of ways that happens: emotional, financial, mental. It doesn’t matter how long it has been, how many times you have covered it up, or how it looks to other people. If you are in an abusive relationship, tell someone. And if they don’t listen, tell someone else. Call the number below. It won’t be easy, but it will be better.
National Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 http://www.thehotline.org/