Last Saturday I woke up feeling invincible. The Dude was travelling again and I’d decided that instead of moping and sending him guilt-inducing texts, I’d make myself productive. There was my relationship manager at the bank who had to be yelled at, the driving test that needed to be scheduled, bills that needed to be paid and emails to be answered. But I didn’t get any of it done. Why? Because I was nursing a friend whose boyfriend beat her up.
I was barely awake when she called, crying hysterically. She mumbled something about a fight and how he’d gotten violent. I got dressed and left immediately, but for some reason my mind kept telling me that it couldn’t be that bad. He just wasn’t the kind of guy who beat up women. I don’t know where that thought came from—I don’t need to be taught that even one slap is one slap too many.
Nothing could’ve prepared me for the sight of my friend when she unbolted the door. Bruised lip, swollen cheek, black eye, chin that was fast turning an angry purple and boot marks on her back—she had them all. I was stunned. How does one go from being a perfectly normal, sane person to a cruel monster in the matter of one fight? Even as the rational part of me took over and clicked pictures to use as evidence, my emotional side was crumbling. I’d heard the stories, but having a doctor friend talk you through the motions of checking for internal bleeding over the phone makes one confront the chilling reality of violence against women in a way nothing else can.
I knew the words I had to say, words she’d need to hear: it wasn’t her fault, she couldn’t have stopped it, no one would judge her... But even to me, the words felt hollow. I’d gone there with faint scepticism, it was him after all; what was to stop others making the same presumptions?
Within a week, I saw all my fears come true. The day she outed him on Facebook and Twitter, all hell broke loose. There were three kinds of people who responded: the supporters, the haters and those who simply agreed with the bigger bully. The supporters urged her to file a complaint, the haters called her an attention whore for cleaning her dirty laundry in public and the rest just tweeted in keeping with the popular vote. By the time the week drew to a close, the supporters and the haters had moved on to more urgent matters—like weekend plans—and the followers had, understandably, followed suit.
Now that she is no longer being called an attention whore, my friend can try to move on. She makes concussion jokes, but they are not so funny when I notice her angling her head to hear me better, because her ear still hurts from the blows. They are even less funny when she calls in helpless rage, asking questions that none of us has answers for. How do you forget the paralysing fear that gripped your body when your throat is being squeezed by the same hands that caressed you? When she looks at her wall, is she supposed to remember being pushed against it in passion or having her skull smashed into it?
As surreal as they are, both sets of memories co-exist, jostling for prominence. Right below his panicked message to not lodge a police complaint is his marriage proposal. Next to the pictures of her injuries are photos of them grinning stupidly at the camera, very much in love. There are days when her mind lingers on the happy memories and she wonders if every moment they spent together was an elaborate lie. It confuses her when she finds herself missing him, because you’re not supposed to miss the man who does this to you… And even if you do, who can you share that thought with?
Sometime during the week, I managed to yell at the relationship manager, schedule my driving test, pay the bills and answer the emails. I even managed to feel normal enough to give The Dude grief for not making time for me. But I wonder when my friend will feel normal again; when she’ll be able look at the walls of her room and see brick, mortar and POP. But that is something the issues-ridden woman who called her names and posted offensive links will never get to see. Because for her, the story ended at attention whoring.