Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Brooklyn Girl or Any Girl

Brooklyn Girl or Any Girl

Jane’s story is not for the faint of heart nor is it for those who believe that “it” can’t happen to them because the truth is, it can happen to anyone.


“Hey,” I began as I spread out the usual breakfast of bagels and cream cheese, “where is everyone?”
Lori was the only other person present. She was already cutting into her bagel, still warm from the baker’s oven. Ellen, who was our true Jewish Princess (notice the capitalization), was late as was Jane the one who was most definitely not a Jewish Princess nor an Irish Goddess. She was Irish, so she was far from spoiled. She educated us on her Irish heritage which dictated, she said, “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Since none of us had experienced corporal punishment in our childhood, we did not understand the depth of her claim. To us, it was a meaningless phrase from the Bible. Who Knew?
Jane told us that she was the first one in her family to attend college; Ellen and Lori came from a line of college graduates, and I was the second person in my family to attend. The four of us had become quick friends, though we were worlds apart from each other culturally, socially, and economically. Lori’s and Ellen’s parents were very wealthy, and my husband and I lived a comfortable life. Jane’s family was lower middle class at best, so Jane often viewed herself as the outcast. I insisted that as the eldest, it was I who should consider herself the outcast. I was thirty-two years old with two children, so I thought of myself as everyone’s mother.
I must admit, though, that my Italian background meshed quite nicely with Lori’s and Ellen’s Jewish background. We all loved family gatherings, we all loved food (and lots of it), and we all had positive role models for fathers. Jane promised us her life was quite different. Jane was Irish and she said this as if it were the sole reason why her father drank. She did confide once that her mother suffered physical and emotional abuse from her father, and that family meals consisted of whatever was plopped on the table that night.
 “I know people say we shouldn’t generalize, but I’ll be the first to admit that my family is the epitome of the Irish family. I cannot hide what we are.” We listened to her stories with concern and yes with inner gratitude that we lived better lives than Jane. We adored her and wanted what was best for her, but she was so very different than we were. She was attending school because her guidance counselor had recommended she pursue a volleyball scholarship. She had and here she was.  She wanted to become a school teacher, a high school history teacher, if I remember correctly.
“Ellen’s going to be a little late,” Lori said, “she drove her niece to school, so her sister in law won’t have to be late for work.”
“Alright,” I said. Ellen was always helping out with her nieces and nephews. “I wonder where Jane is. She’s usually here by now.” 
“Hey, isn’t that Jane’s roommate?”
“Yes,” I said as I waved her over.
“I’m so glad you guys are here,” she said with a voice so shaky it was difficult to understand her, “I have some pretty awful news.”
Susan looked horrible. Her eyes were puffy, her face was red, and she looked as though she had not slept a wink.
 “Sue, you look exhausted,” I said, “What’s going on? Where’s Jane?” I looked over at Lori who looked just as concerned as I.
With that, Sue began to cry, no, she began to bawl, “She’s in our dorm room. She won’t come out.”
“What the hell?” I stammered, “What happened?” My naïve mind led me to consider simple problems like menstrual cramps, or a migraine headache (of which she suffered), or maybe something even more ridiculous like she hadn’t prepared for the Psychology exam we had coming up that day. No way was I remotely thinking what Sue finally blurted out.
“Brian beat her to a pulp last night. She’s black and blue all over. She’s in bed and she’s not moving, not talking, not crying, not anything,” Sue revealed.
Lori’s expression mirrored my own. Our mouths were opened in shock. Our eyes were saucers of ghastly proportion. We were speechless. Lori and I looked at each other, but words did not escape our lips. Our heads shook no, our hands trembled, but our mouths were firmly shut. We were speechless.

I don’t know how long we sat there saying nothing. It could have been seconds or minutes. It was an eternity. My thoughts became a jumble of flashbacks from my own abusive relationship prior to meeting my future husband. 
Shadows I could not distinguish mixed with visions of Jane crouched in a fetal position, protecting her body from the onslaught of Brian’s fist. I broke the silence with the most ridiculous question I could possibly have asked, “Why?” My God, how dumb was I? “Why?” How could I have asked such a stupid question? As if, there is any reason for a woman, girl, child, anyone, for that matter, to be beaten. But, I asked the question, and poor Sue who was just as naïve as I answered.
“She wasn’t home when he called.”
“What?” Lori and I cried in unison.
“She wasn’t home when he called. You know how he calls her at exactly seven every night? Well, we weren’t home.”
“Where did you guys go?” I asked as if it really had been Jane’s fault. I didn’t mean it as such, but I never knew Jane to miss one call, so why had she missed this one?
“It’s my fault,” Sue began, “Back to the Future” with Michael J. Fox was playing last night at the campus theater. You know how much I have wanted to see that movie, but I didn’t want to go alone. So, I begged Jane to come with me,” Susan chewed her bottom lip, “I feel so damn guilty. I should have gone alone. Anyway, she called him to let him know we were going out, but he wasn’t home, so she left him a message explaining where we were and that we would be home before nine.”
Lori found her voice, “So, tell us what happened.”
Ellen arrived just then, “Why all the somber faces? You guys look like you’ve been to a funeral.”
We filled her in as best we could, but Ellen was steps ahead of us, “Did you take her to the hospital? Did you call campus security?”
Wow, why hadn’t I thought to ask such pertinent questions? Ellen’s mother was a registered nurse, so it did make sense that Ellen thought of the medical aspect, but she also thought of alerting security.
“Well, let me tell you what happened first, and then I’ll fill you in on what we did afterwards,” Sue stammered, “The movie ended around eight-thirty, so we were back to the dorm at way before nine o’clock. When we reached our room, we noticed the door was unlocked, and that’s when Jane became alarmed. She began to shake and she kept saying, ‘Oh my God, oh my God.’ I had no idea why she was so upset until we entered our room. Brian was waiting for her,” Sue trembled with the memory, “ Oh my God, it was awful. He told me to get the hell out and when I insisted I would not leave, he pushed me out the door and locked me out. I should have called security right then and there, but I didn’t want to draw attention to us. I didn’t know,” she cried, “so I went downstairs to Carole’s and we just waited till we thought enough time had passed and I could go back up.”
“Are you shitting me!” Ellen gasped, “You left her alone with him? What did you think he was going to do after that horrible reception, kiss her?”
“I didn’t know,” Sue repeated,  “honest. I just thought he was angry. Jane never mentioned his temper.” Sue once again began sobbing, “Don’t you think I would have stayed had I known? God, Ellen, you’re making me feel even guiltier than I already feel over this.”
Ellen got up and embraced her, “Listen honey, my mother sees abused women every night. I know what these bastards can do, and the worst part is the women always go back. I’m sure this isn’t the first time.”
“She won’t go back. She swore to me that she won’t.”
“Ok,” I said, “tell us what happened when you went back.”

“I knocked on the door, but no one answered. When I entered, I thought they had both left. It was so quiet. And, then I heard whimpering, soft pained whimpering coming from the other side of Jane’s bed. What I saw nearly knocked me over. You won’t believe what she looks like. She doesn’t look like Jane. Her eyes are swollen shut, she has choke marks on her neck, and she has punch marks on her chest and arms. It was then I called security even though she insisted we keep it quiet. When they got there, they asked her what happened, but she refused to tell them.”
“Please don’t tell me you didn’t tell them,” Ellen said.
“I did. As soon as she was admitted into the hospital, I told them, but they said they can’t do anything unless she reports it because I was not a witness. They said their experience is she won’t give him up. And, she won’t. I begged her to report it, but she said she can’t. She blames herself for not being there when he called. He told her he was worried sick. That he had driven like a madman just to make sure she was ok. It didn’t matter to him that she had left a message. He was sure something awful had happened to her.”
“Let’s go talk to her. She has to know this is not normal. We have to convince her. We have to,” Lori pleaded.
The small dorm room was dark and smelled much like a hospital room from the many bandages and balm that had been applied to Jane’s broken and bruised body. The quilted blanket was drawn past Jane’s head, and she was in a fetal position. Ellen went to her while the rest of us stayed quietly by the door.
“Jane,” Ellen whispered, “how are you feeling sweetie? Can we get you something?”
A muffled wisp of a voice drifted from the beneath the covers, “Please go away.”
“Listen Jane,” Ellen continued, “I know you want to be left alone, but you need to report him to the police. I’ve heard enough about domestic violence to know it won’t stop. It will go on until something really horrible happens and then it’s too late. Please, talk to us.”
Jane moved a little and with each move came whimpers of pain, “He’s not like the others. I can’t report this. I just can’t.” She lifted her head from under the covers and we gasped at what we saw.
Her eyes were closed shut, not from exhaustion but from severe punching. They were swollen shut. They were black and blue, and an ugly rendition of red more like maroon. Her nose was twice its normal size and her lips were cut and bruised. I noticed stitches on the right side of her lip, and there were multiple marks on her throat. In short, her head and neck showed signs of a severe beating. I could not imagine what her arms and torso looked like. I moved toward the bed and knelt beside her, “Jane, honey, listen to Ellen. Her mother has seen women who have been abused, and she knows that these men rarely if ever stop abusing their girlfriends or wives. We’ve talked about it on several occasions, and most of the time the violence escalates. Honey, you don’t want to end up paralyzed or God forbid dead.” I wanted so badly to say, “Jane, you don’t want to end up like your mom.” But, I held my tongue. Jane had told us about her abusive father. She hated his anger and tirades. Who knew she was dating someone just like him?
“I know what you’re all thinking,” she began, “you’re thinking I should know better since I have a father who is just as abusive, but I really think Brian is different. He loves me so much. My father could care less about my mother. He spends his salary on alcohol before he even gets home. I’ve never seen him kiss her or take care of her when she’s sick, but Brian does all that. Remember this past winter when I had the flu? He came by and brought me a box full of goodies, so I would get better. He’s affectionate and kind most of the time.”
“That’s just the point,” Ellen said, “most of the time. That doesn’t cut it. You’re comparing him to someone who you believe is worse, but why don’t you compare him to someone who doesn’t beat their girlfriend ever. Compare him to someone who is always considerate and loving or to someone why doesn’t fly off the handle when things don’t go his way.”
“That man doesn’t exist. My mother told me every man she ever went out with beat her and that my father was the sweetest man she ever met because he hit her only when she didn’t listen to him.”
“Oh my God, you must be fucking kidding me,” Lori chimed in, “let me tell you something, I have never known a man who laid a hand on any woman. This is all too new and scary for me. Jane, believe me there are plenty of men out there who are always gentle and kind to women. My father, grandfather, uncles, and both my brothers are as gentle as you or I. Honey, you have a warped understanding of relationships. I’m sorry, but you just had a wakeup call, so wake the fuck up.”
Lori was Lori and if nothing else she was frank, sometimes brutally so. But, truth be known I agreed with everything she said. Jane, on the other hand, must have thought Lori was making all of it up because she shook her head in disbelief, “Maybe the men you know are better at curbing their anger till you’re out of the picture. Men are naturally aggressive. Maybe it’s the alcohol that makes some become more violent than others, but they’re all the same. That’s what my mother says, and she’s right.”
We stayed with her for several hours trying to convince her that she was in a very volatile relationship, and she needed to get out.
None of us attended classes that day. We called the campus’ mental health counselor who also visited with Jane but nothing helped. The four of us sat by her bed during lunch and through dinner. At seven o’clock on the dot Brian called. Jane was ready to answer, but Sue ran to pick it up.
“No, Brian she’s not here. Would you like to come by again? We have the police here this time, you prick.” She slammed the phone back on its cradle, but two seconds later, it rang again.
“Brian, you listen to me,” Sue began, “I’m not kidding. She’s not here because she’s in the infirmary. They want her to stay overnight, so hang up the fucking phone and don’t call again.”
“You’re not helping me, Sue,” Jane said softly.
“I’m trying to honey. I really am. Now he knows he can’t mess with us. I wasn’t lying. We did alert campus police, and Ellen and I alerted the guards at the gate. We gave them the make of his car and the license number, so he won’t be allowed to enter campus. I think we need to call your mom and tell her what happened.”
“No, I don’t want to worry her.”
“Honey, what are you afraid of? You should turn all this around and scare him. Maybe your father can beat the shit out of him this time, so he knows what it’s like.”
“Brian got enough beatings in his lifetime. I don’t think he needs more. Let’s let it be. I’m tired,” she said patiently, “Why don’t you all go home?” She tried a smile, but it failed in its pained execution.
We were exhausted. It had been a full day. Sue promised she would call us if anything happened during the night. Nothing did happen that night or any night after that. It wasn’t until the following weekend, after she had begun to heal, that we were once again at Jane’s bedside.
For nearly two weeks Brian had been the perfect boyfriend. He sent flowers, called her with pleasantries, and begged her to come home. We begged her to tell him to go to hell. Not Jane.
“He’s different. I promise,” she said, “he’s so sorry; he has changed.
“Jane, Ellen spoke patiently, “he’s a very good liar. Please don’t trust him.

Not Jane. She wouldn’t listen. She loved him. He was her world. She would love him till she died. We told her he probably would be the one to kill her, but she didn’t believe us, so she returned home despite our pleadings.
Jane went home on Friday. A day later, Ellen received a phone call from Sue. Jane’s father had just called her to tell her that both Jane and his wife were in the hospital. The four of us drove to Brooklyn Hospital. When we arrived, Jane was still in surgery and would be for nearly six more hours. We sat with Jane’s father and learned what happened. I really think the scenario changed that man because he appeared broken when he told the story.
He had been at work when the beatings took place. Brian had called Jane but she had not been at home because she and her mother had gone to the grocery store. Jane had wanted to make something special for her “two favorite men.” When Jane did not answer, he became angry and left his job to find out where Jane had gone. Jane and her mother had just entered the kitchen when Brian pulled in the driveway. He did not bother to knock; instead, he stormed in, and without reason or provocation proceeded to beat both women till he was exhausted. Then he called 911; he told the operator there had been an accident at the said address, and left.
Both women were unconscious when the medics arrived. When Jane’s father learned what had happened, he immediately told the police who had done it. Brian was arrested, and Jane and her mother were fighting for their lives.
We listened, we cried, and we cursed. Ellen, God bless her, proceeded to explain to Jane’s father why it was that Jane accepted abuse. She actually told the father that had it not been for his own abusive behavior, Jane would not think it normal to be abused. He listened and did not make eye contact. He clenched and unclenched his hands. There were tears in his eyes, but he wiped them before they passed his cheeks.
When the doctor arrived, Jane’s father was beside himself with worry, “How is she?”
“Well, I think she’s going to be ok,” the doctor said, “Would you like to see her?”
The two walked away. 
“What do you think? Will this change him?” Ellen asked.
“If this doesn’t, then I hope Jane and her mother leave,” Sue said.
We all agreed they could not return to an abusive home. Ellen knew people who could help them with shelter if need be, but we were hoping Jane’s father would seek counseling.
“You can go in to see her,” he said when he returned. His face was sullen and wan. Though he stood over six feet tall, he seemed smaller as he hunched over. “She’s in bad shape, but the doctor says she’ll make it through and so will my wife. They were lucky.”
I couldn’t stand to listen to him anymore. Yes, he was emotionally beaten, but he had done his share of beatings. I wished he was the one in the hospital, but he wasn’t and the truth is he probably would not change. The ones who would have to change were Jane and her mother. Would they?
We stood outside Jane’s door but we hesitated. The four of us stopped to pray. We had no idea what we were about to see, even though her father had told us to expect the worst. We still weren’t prepared.
Jane lay motionless. She was attached to a heart monitor. There was a tube down her throat and an intravenous on her right hand. Her face was unrecognizable. We stood by her bedside for hours just looking at her disfigured face. We watched her breathing, praying she would survive this horrific ordeal. According to the doctors, Jane had suffered broken ribs, a broken jaw, a broken arm and internal bleeding. It was close to midnight when we left. She never saw us.
On our way home, we talked about the physical and emotional scars Jane and her mother would have to wear for the rest of their lives. “So, what do you think will happen?” Lori asked.
“I think she’ll leave him,” Ellen answered.
“What makes you think so?” Lori wondered.
“Because this time he hit someone Jane loves, and that is unacceptable.”
Jane did not return to school till the following semester. She looked fine, on the outside, but her conversations were broken, sometimes unclear. The doctor warned it would take time for her to regain mental astuteness. Her emotions were frazzled and she was easily shaken by loud noises or sudden movements. She left Brian, and though he was already out of jail, he had not bothered her anymore. I’m sure Jane’s brothers had something to do with that. Jane’s mother and father were still together, and it seemed they were working things out.
Jane did not graduate with us; she remained behind to complete some of the courses she had not completed.

Lori, Ellen and I kept in touch, but Jane went her way, so we never did find out what happened to her. I pray she learned to love herself and stayed clear of Brian. But, who knows?  Maybe, just maybe, he said he was sorry and all was forgiven. Till the next time.

© Natala Orobello


S Heart said...

I just finished the story and it's quite good but I have a suggestion.
I hope you dont mind my saying so but you shouldn't start a story with such a blatant character description. It does nothing to draw the reader in. It would be better to skip that paragraph all together and try to work the description into the story. Instead of saying "she has blue eyes" at the start, try to slowly add in your description of the girl by weaving it into the story. You could have said something about her face being swollen so that you can't see her blue eyes. It's nicer to read.

All the best>
S. Heart

Frenetic Geek said...

In addition to the comment left by S. Heart, I'll add the story was too rambling: I found myself skipping ahead to see what would happen next. I found myself appalled at the amount of time the women spent talking *about* the victim rather than trying to help her.

While this story attempts to convey an important message, it gets too caught up in unnecessary dialogue and details.