We Wear the Mask We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--Langston Hughes

Like a member of a minstrel show, I wore the mask to hide the scars of life so that I could perform among those closest to me. Domestic violence often forces you into the shadows so the wounds are not visible to the rest of the world. It took a long time for me to step out of the shadows and remove the mask that I held onto for so long.

It was an evening not unlike any other, dinner was finished and my children and I were preparing to end the evening. My husband had been gone for a while and the house seemed peaceful in his absence. I stood in the kitchen with my youngest in my arms and heard the car pull-up in the driveway. A thousands knots twisted within me and for a moment I could not catch my breath. I looked at my son who was smiling and realized I needed to exhale. The door opened and I managed to release a hello that echoed throughout my body. No response. Something's wrong.

I stepped to the side as he moved through the room. Wondering what level of anger would be unleashed tonight, I stood holding my child even tighter. My husband continued through the house and I could hear his footstep mount the stairs and a moment of relief allowed me to sit and play with my youngest. Within an instant, I heard the footsteps approach and fear made me rise. I had heard somewhere that a blow is easier to take if you stand up. I held onto my son, tighter, surely he would not hit me with an infant in my arms. As he entered the room I was questioned about a long distance call I had made to a family member. "Why?" No answer was good enough. I felt the rage fill the room and without notice he called my other son to come and get his brother. "Please don't take him", but the words were caught in my throat and once again I could not breathe.

Before my son could leave the room with my youngest, a golf club came across my hand, once, twice, three times. I kept my arm in front of me to protect the place my mask would rest. Again the club came across my arm and the only pain I felt was the betrayal of unconditional love. Really? No conditions? I hadn't realized that the swinging had stopped. No words. He left the room and returned with my youngest who was still smiling as if to say, where is your mask mom?

Within the hour the swelling started and I realized I had to take another trip to the hospital because of an unplanned emergency. I sat alone and my son, who was now asleep, lay next to me. I looked at my hand and decided not to cry. My husband entered to room, looked at me and proclaimed, "Bitch, don't expect me to take you to the hospital." He turned and left the room. Once again peace settled within me because it was over, at least for the night. I grabbed my mask and prepared for my next performance. An audience of professionals. Encore. Stitches across my left hand, bone broken in seven places. What new lie could I tell?

That was one of my final battles. Courage had lived inside me in places I thought were vacant. I eventually went to court and realized a moment's decision can change your life. On that day I laid my mask down and looked in the mirror and realized that I did know how to smile.

Artist's Note: We may not know someone is suffering abuse because the victim has learned to hide it from other people-for survival. Out of terrible fear, a broken spirit, and isolation, victims pretend that everything is alright, the same way that abusers pretend everything is alright. Here a simple phone call to a family member wrought a painful experience, yet people continue to ask, "Why doesn't she just leave?" This survivor was married to a well known Major League pitcher with children who looked up to their dad. She obtained tremendous courage to leave the money, get out, and go through the court system to get divorced and obtain custody of her children, all on her own. The fancy mask the abuser wore in court, along with his fame, brought the worst nightmare of losing her children to an explosive man. Commonly victims will not follow through on court because of the trauma they have endured, the lack of advocacy, and the fear of losing their children. The frustration about this lack of follow through could be alleviated with understanding the nature of the situation and to have a quality advocate to help her wade through the legal system. Many victims believe the legal system will not help them. This must be changed.