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Letter to a Wife-Beater

Break the cycle—Does anyone wonder how I became some sort of authority on the behavior patterns of the gutless wonders to smack women around when they get a tank on?

What if I were a little rotund bespectacled professor of behavioral sciences at UC Berkeley and I had recently published an academically acclaimed study on Domestic Violence in 20th Century American society? Then I could speak, right?

The fact is I am a little rotund bespectacled loudmouth bitch from Navarro. I got a degree in zip. I am an ex-dope fiend (I said ex, my friends), ex whore, come up from the streets of the Tenderloin from the corner of Stockton and Broadway, from the sideways of Cadell Alley. So don't run any bullshit on me. I'm not stupid. 

These are my credentials: I am the daughter of a man who beat his wife on a regular basis in between bouquets of roses, beautiful dresses and silver and gold boxes with "in love with you" written on gilt edged cards strung with red ribbons. He choked her, he left black handprints on her face, he made her neck swell up (just like you sometimes). He never could remember any of it on Sunday morning — that's only one of my documented credentials.

I am in fact the ex-girlfriend, ex-wife, ex-hitchhiker who was on the receiving end of plenty of violent acts. It taught me a few things along the way about what to look for, what kind of behavior was likely to result in bodily harm (to my body, which is the one I was most concerned about).

The very first time I got raped was with a gun to my head in the midnight desert. I was 14 years old. This guy was probably 45. I was hitching, running away from a fight with my dad where he called me a fucking whore, busted my nose with his fucking ruby ring fist. He threw me out into the world with a paper bag full of clothes. I was a pissed off unrepentant little girl with a bruised face and broken bones — 14 years old.

Got lucky. Got a ride first thing out of that fucking Moab Valley. We sped up over the canyon rim in this old guy’s big Chevy truck and then he pulled off onto a dirt track out in the dark sagebrush. He put a big gun right up above my left ear and he said, "Take your pants off girl and I might not kill you." Well, I made it to California a couple of days later and I never spoke to my dad again for many years, much as I loved him, because it wasn't so much the broken bones. It was calling me a whore, having that much contempt for me, that hurt the most. Bones can heal, but knowing your daddy hates you that much — that takes a long time to get over.

Many long years down the road we got drunk together, he and I, and I told him the story of what happened that night. He said, "You should have let the son of a bitch kill you. I would have!"

Yeah, macho man, since you're the one always doing the punching and pulling guns on your womenfolk, I guess you'd know just what to do about it, huh?

Denial is a part of the pattern that men go through and their women often support them.

You say you don't remember attacking your ex-girlfriend on New Year's Eve and that the court dismissed the charges, so they must agree with you. You really didn't do anything wrong, just a little squabble, that's all.

That's denial. No, let's not use that word — denial is one of those words that makes us all go glassy eyed and intellectual. It ain't about denial, it's about running yourself a whole lot of shit. And then buying it. That's dangerous because you can't learn that way and not learn that it could be fatal. One day you could hurt somebody real bad and some bitch will get fed up with your funky ass, stick a butcher knife in your belly — don't laugh. It can happen. Look at Lorena Bobbitt. I bet he never would have expected that out of her, not in a million years, because all poor pitiful Lorena ever did was cry and then one day she just didn't cry anymore. It was John's turn to cry then.

The reason the court didn't rack your butt up is: you looked so sorry and you are good looking sorry. I imagine you've been practicing all your life. They didn't rack you up because you're white, you've got a job, you don't go around robbing 7-11s and you look a whole lot different sober and sorry than you look when you're a drunked up arrogant, pissed off son of a motherfucker.

I was there. I saw how terrorized everyone felt, not just your girlfriend. She wasn't the only witness, you know. I saw the condition of the property, bearing testimony to your state of mind. I marveled with fear and awe at the degree of rage that generated the strength to hurl appliances out of walls, stoves, hot water heater, propane tank, spewing water lines gushing, metal bent with your fists, doors kicked in, broken cabinets, glass everywhere. I helped clean it up. Don't try to fake me out. Maybe you've got blackout, but I don't. I saw where you pulled out all the gas cans like you're going to torch the place. That was something scary man, that you went so far as to think of doing that. I saw her bruised face, her swollen neck.

Don’t bullshit me about "The court said." You call that "dirty laundry." I call it something scary man. Real scary.

I suppose that you will find I really am not qualified to speak on the subject because I have been a victim. That disqualifies me. I could not be objective enough. Better go find your little fat dude with a briefcase full of case studies. The closest he ever got to real violence was beating his pud to The Story of O when he was an undergraduate at some fake school. He will tell you what it is, based on scientific truth — no emotion. 

But what you did is all about emotion. That emotion is rage and you've got to plenty of it and you haven't got a clue how to handle it.

Another observation on men who batter women —

Not all, but many (among them you and my father) have very high standards of behavior towards women when they are sober. They have complete contempt for men who hit women. When they drink, something else happens. All this rage comes up. They are not just mad at women. They get in trouble in bars. They are looking for trouble. But usually it's when they get home from the bar that the real trouble starts. Usually it's the woman who gets the brunt of it. Because she said the wrong thing or didn't say the right thing.

It's like two people in one. The next day the other guy is back, can't remember, would never harm a woman, never has, never will. My mother even made a tape recording of the other guy (the wife beater) and played it for Mister Nice Guy the next day when he was god awful hung-over and sorry. He said that it didn't even sound like his voice on that tape. But it wasn't long after that he went away for a few years. He came back sober, never took another drink, never raised a hand to his wife or anyone again. When he got fed up with domestic nitpicking he would sign on for back-to-back long hauls, crisscrossing the country in his big truck. When he came home, his anger would have all dried up and he'd be happy to see her for a while. He learned how to stop hurting us.

But it took so long! So fucking long. His kids were all grown by then and they had a bellyful of old scars, crusted up old wounds that never heal. He was a wonderful man yes, all the grandkids knew it, and we knew too. But we still had visions of loaded guns on the table, him drunk and saying he would kill us all before it was done. He was a good man, would have given the shirt off his back to anyone who asked. But in the old days when you saw him take that first drink you best get out of the way because trouble was likely coming. The black marks on her neck, the broken bones.

Booze is the trigger, rage is the gun.

You lost the love of your life because you attacked her in a drunken rage. She lost her job because she could not recoup after the emotional devastation of that night. She could not function anymore.

Neither one of you tried to get the help you needed. You (who should stop drinking if you are truly sorry) are still drinking and justifying yourself.

Booze is the trigger, rage is the gun.

You don't have to drink and you can learn to channel anger in other ways. But first stop lying about it, will you?


  1. George Dorner June 27, 2019

    This is the finest summation I ever read of this kind of vicious drunk punk behavior.

  2. Iggy June 27, 2019

    Missed you, Dayla

  3. Jonah Raskin June 28, 2019

    Thanks for this impassioned & insightful piece which reminded me of the days back in the 1980s when I worked with & for the Shelter for Battered Women in Santa Rosa and when one of my jobs was to move the Shelter, lock, stock and barrel from one sort of secret location to another sort of secret location. The wife beaters would find out the location of the Shelter and go there and stalk and harass. The Shelter did provide some protections and help with legal advice but some of the women on the staff didn’t help because they viewed and treated the battered women as victims and so the cycle went around and around. I often think of the beautiful, intelligent, courageous women I met who were temporary inhabitants of the Shelter and wonder if they are alive and well. One woman, Linda Bunke, was beaten to death in her own kitchen. Her husband used his belt to beat her to death. I don’t like to remember that, but I do.

  4. Janet July 2, 2019

    You’ve just about summed it up. I have worked with domestic violence survivors for nearly 40 years, in a legal setting. It’s the situation I hear everyday, or a version of it. Even when women get to court when they’ve filed a restraining order, too many times I feel that these women have been verbally and emotionally abused by the judges. Yes, even some judges “don’t get it.” It can cause the survivor to give up. It seems that no matter where they turn for help. they are sometimes not believed.

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