The clarity of the survivor is chilling. Once she breaks out of the prison of terror and violence in which she has been nearly destroyed, a process that takes years, it is very difficult to lie to her or to manipulate her.
She sees through the social strategies that have controlled her as a woman, the sexual strategies that have reduced her to a shadow of her own native possibilities. She knows that her life depends on never being taken in by romantic illusion or sexual hallucination.
The emotional severity of the survivor appears to others, even those closest to her, to be cold and unyielding, ruthless in its intensity. She knows too much about suffering to try to measure it when it is real, but she despises self-pity.
She is self-protective, not out of arrogance, but because she has been ruined by her own fragility. Like Anya, the survivor of the Nazi concentration camps in Susan Fromberg Schaeffer’s beautiful novel of the same name, she might say:
"So what have I learned?
I have learned not to believe in suffering. It is a form of death.
If it is severe enough it is a poison; it kills the emotions." She knows that some of her own emotions have been killed and she distrusts those who are infatuated with suffering, as if it were a source of life, not death.
In her heart she is a mourner for those who have not survived.
In her soul she is a warrior for those who are now as she was then.
In her life she is both celebrant and proof of women’s capacity and will to survive, to become, to act, to change self and society.
And each year she is stronger and there are more of her.
1978, 1988, 1993
A Battered Wife Survives
TAKE BACK THE DAY
This essay is now ten years old. Wife-beating is the most commonly committed violent crime in the United States, according to the FBI. In New Hampshire, I meet eighteen-year-old women who work in a battered women’s shelter. One talks about how she feels when women decide to go home and she has to drive them. In Toronto, I meet two women who travel through rural Canada in the dead of winter to find and help battered women. In a project called "Off the Beaten Path," Susan Faupel is walking 600 miles–from Chicago, Illinois, to Little Rock, Arkansas–for battered women. In a southern state, I am driven to the airport by an organizer of the rally I have just spoken at; the car keeps veering off the road as she says she is being battered now; when? I keep asking; now, now, she says; she has gone to the organizing meetings for the antipornography demonstrations with make-up covering the bruises on her face. In the South especially I meet lesbians, married with children, who are being beaten by their husbands–afraid to leave because they would lose their children, battered because they are lesbian. In Seattle, I find safe houses, secret from most feminists, for women being beaten by their women lovers. In small towns where there are no shelters, especially in the North and Midwest, I find safe houses organized like an underground railroad for women escaping battery.
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LETTERS FROM A WAR ZONE