SHE’S deaf in one ear and has some tongue on her.
You’d notice the second. You’d never notice the first. She has invested in the most expensively discreet hearing aid ever built. Not a sign of it to be spotted. But that’s only part of it.
She’s as glam as a catwalk celeb. Not quite famous enough to have designers presenting her with their clothes to wear for free, but famous enough, mainly on the business pages, where her reputation as a smart operator puts her now and again. In pictures only, though, not much in print. She doesn’t go out of her way to talk to media and her PR people have long since abandoned their guff about it being beneficial to her to be seen as a “more rounded person who shows her human side”. They’ve given up, partly as a result of her implacability, but also because they’re slightly afraid of her. The tongue, you know? When she decides to cut someone down to size, they end up like Danny de Vito.
The deafness is not hereditary. It came about because of a collision. A collision between the side of her face and her ex-husband’s British-made designer shoes. She was on the floor at the time because he’d lashed out at her unexpectedly with a back-handed closed fist. The collision, as the RSA would say, was not an accident. More like an incident. One of many about which she will never speak except to two friends — not family — she trusts to keep their mouths shut. Because she is resolute about one thing. She will never allow herself to be painted into the “battered partner” victim’s corner.
Not many people would be that eager to paint her into such a corner, since it tends to belong to a stereotype; gentle inoffensive woman who wouldn’t say boo to a goose or any other form of wildlife, but whose partner beats her whenever the bile rises in him. The stereotype neatly summed, in her new autobiography, A Natural Woman, by the woman who is arguably the finest living songwriter; Carole King.
“I thought abuse happened only to women who were uneducated or unsophisticated, women with no money or confidence whose fathers or other male family members had been alcoholics or addicts or bullies asserting control through physical and sexual abuse,” she writes.
The assumption, therefore, was that King would never suffer abuse at the fists of a partner, given the complete absence of such a family background.
In addition, the reality of King’s life put a lot of clear blue water between her and the stereotype. She had her own income, public success, friends and prior relationships with non-violent men. Safe as houses, she was. Sound as a pound. Padded around by a lagging jacket of positive circumstances which not only protected her — she believed — but prejudiced her into a conviction that if a man ever raised his hand to her, she’d be out of there in a New York minute.
Except that when it happened, it was different. Unprovoked, her partner hit her as hard as if they’d been in a boxing ring, literally flooring her. Seeing her there, he broke down in tears, picked her up, sat down on their bed, cradled her. Said he didn’t know what had come over him, but he could guarantee that as long as they both should live, he would never, ever again hurt her. So she stayed. He did it again. And again. And again.
Because Carole King — like the woman with the deafened ear — is self-analytical and not given to self-pity, she eventually copped on that if her partner had a problem, she had a problem, too. Every time she failed to leave him, she continued the context in which the abuse could recur.
“My reluctance to leave was exacerbated by the psychological bond that formed between us every time he became abjectly apologetic. When he vowed his undying love and devotion, I was so grateful to be kissing and making up that I was willing to believe whatever he said. It was a perilous yet irresistible dynamic. One moment I felt completely powerless. The next moment, all the power shifted to me. Rick was so full of remorse that I could say anything at that moment with impunity. I could speak my truth and tell him with righteous passion all the things I expected from him.”
King does not say that she feared the possibility that people who knew the two of them would believe that her charming, sensitive ex must have been driven to physically hurting her. Not that anybody would excuse it, but you know yourself, she was famous, he was not, and it must be hard on a man to stand in the shadow of a pop culture legend. After all, the first time she met John Lennon (another wife beater) he greeted her with so egregiously insulting a response that, 11 years later, she asked him what had been behind it. He’d been intimidated by her fame as a songwriter, he told her. As if it justified the crude comment.
Fame on a woman’s part clearly does not justify her less famous partner using the usually greater strength of a man to thump her into what he perceives to be her proper place. But what about the argument advanced in the last few days that if a woman is very cutting and articulate and therefore always going to beat a man in an argument, a fella might reach the point where he’d give her a bit of a tap.
THAT’S the unselfconscious justification advanced by actor Dennis Waterman about his belting his former wife, Rula Lenska, around the place. She was such an argumentative, good talker with words at will (never mind that English may not have been her first language), what else could he do other than hit her? And hitting her is not the same as beating her, is it?
These three recent cases remind one of Tolstoy’s proposition that, while all happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Each violent man finds his unique set of exculpatory factors. Each beaten woman seeks to find reasons to stay that seem rooted in the uniqueness of the two characters involved, thereby permitting permanence and excuse.
It’s only in retrospect that the dreaded uniformity of domestic violence becomes clear. The Punch and Judy rules are always the same. He doesn’t need a provocation and will turn anything into a provocation when the lust to punish comes over him. She convinces herself that her case and her man are different to the norm about which she’s read. He will change. The woman with five children and a part-time job is sister under the skin with the highly paid childless professional, as both curl foetally on the floor tiles, trying to protect themselves. They are sisters under the skin as both wonder if they’ll come out of this particular episode alive. They are sisters under the skin as, covered in blood, mucous and tears, they sink into those punishing arms and desperately search for reasons to believe.
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