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Two days after Christmas, my neighbor Jill* called me, crying. Her husband had threatened her. She said verbal abuse had been going on for awhile, but now the threats had escalated. Jill had talked to a counselor and was planning to go to the shelter where they’d help her move out of state and go into hiding. She asked me to take her child for the day so she could pack before her husband got home from a business trip. Truth is, I hardly know Jill. Our children have had one playdate together and that’s it. I knew nothing about her family or her marital crisis. Jill apologized for “dumping” this on me, explaining that she didn’t have friends or family in the area, and that the only other person she called for help wasn’t home. Not wanting to walk into the middle of a dangerous domestic situation, I first made sure her husband was out of town and wouldn’t return until the next day. Then I agreed to come over and take her child until the evening. I brought the child back to my house, made breakfast and let the kids play. Later we went to the mall and I made them a picnic which we ate in the park. It was an ordinary, even boring day, which Jill’s kid loved. There was a normalcy about it which the child seemed to crave. When Jill came to pick her child up, the kid didn’t want to leave. I get it. I wouldn’t want to go back into that situation either. I gave Jill a hug and told her to keep herself and her child safe and I wished her the best of luck on her journey.

I’ve known three other women in similar circumstances. All smart, well-educated gals, from middle and upper incomes, not the image you have of battered women. The first was the girl across the hall from me in college. I would see her in the dorm kitchen, heating instant Ramen noodles in the microwave, wiping tears from under the dark sunglasses she wore to hide the black eyes her boyfriend gave her. When asked about the bruises, she’d say she fell. She actually thought we believed her, too, which was almost as sad.

At my first job, I worked with a young woman who had just graduated from Cornell and moved to L.A. with her boyfriend, a medical student. Over a brown-bag lunch, she casually asked me if I thought it was okay for him to hit her. From my appalled look, she knew the answer. She then made excuses. “He only does it occasionally,” and said she must be doing “…something to provoke it.” I felt like I was watching a movie on Lifetime. She blamed the stress of medical school for his punching her every now and then and was certain it’d get better once he was a doctor.

Then there was the 20something actress in my yoga class who was living with a well-known, older actor. I loved this guy on T.V. He played the wise, thoughtful character, the mediator between the crazies on a hit television series. Onscreen, he was the peacemaker. Off screen, he beat the hell out of a girl less than half his age. We went out for drinks after class and she asked me if I thought she should leave him. I told her to get the hell out. Then, I didn’t see her in class for weeks and was terrified that in taking my advice she’d gotten herself killed.

The thing that upsets me most is that even in 2007, there are still women who don’t recognize that it’s wrong for their partner to hit them. I understand that issues of self-esteem and self-worth are powerful forces keeping some women from taking action to get out of an abusive situation. There are many services available. For starters, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or go to In almost every city and small town there is access to shelters, counseling and underground networks. Doesn’t matter where you are, they can help you. Although none of them can guarantee an end to the violence – restraining orders can be violated and shelters broken into – knowing that it is wrong to let someone hurt you is the start of realizing you need help. is about empowering us as parents, but we must accept that in order for us to be good parents to our children, we have to take care of ourselves first. For many reasons, that’s a hard thing for a lot of us to do, on a small scale, like watching our weight and reducing stress, but also on the grander scale of protecting ourselves from abusive and dangerous situations.

The evening after Jill picked up her child, I told my husband that although there were many situations I could imagine with him – shouting matches, throwing plates, abandoning the family and running off to Paris (me, not him), even the Al-Green-scalding-hot-grits-being-dumped-on-him scenario (him, not me) – having David threaten to kill me wasn’t one of them. I realized that compared to other domestic situations, I guess I shouldn’t get so upset when my husband leaves stinky clothes strewn across the bathroom floor or interrupts me while I’m writing because he can’t find the peanut butter. As much as we don’t like to admit it or as my sister-in-law says, “We assume it doesn’t happen in our circle of friends,” it does. Domestic abuse is so much more prevalent than we realize. It’s the dirty little secret of the suburbs.

My daughter came home yesterday and told me she saw Jill’s kid at the park. Despite Jill’s plans to take her child and start a new life out of state, she’s still here. I’ve been told she’s not living with her husband anymore, which is good, but she’s still in punching range. Brand new year, same old troubles.

*Jill is not her real name.

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