Columbus, Ohio 2000
We had been living in the apartment complex for less than a year when the new tenants moved in, two doors over. They were a young couple who attended HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) as my wife (Connie) and I did. Because of that and a few other commonalities, we hit it off immediately. They were only a few years younger, which we often joked about during our dinners together at our apartment, calling them “young’uns” and “new school”. Especially when we challenged them in their so-called knowledge of “old school” music. A trivia battle that we always won.
A few months later, a kitchen fire forced them out of their apartment for a few days because of the heavy smoke. We offered our apartment as a temporary home while their own place aired out, for their children’s sake. They gratefully accepted.
It was then that we decided I should talk to him about his perceived abuse.
No, we hadn’t noticed anything like faded bruises on her person or makeup that appeared just a skosh heavier at times. But the 911 call, weeks prior was still heavy on our minds. Upon checking on them, he told us that some nosy neighbor called to report screams, emanating from within their apartment when they were only having “a tickle fight”. Then there was the second call, during a visit from her relatives. I wasn’t home, but my wife told me that she could hear her cousins yelling about him “putting his hands on people” just before she walked outside, respectfully keeping her distance.
Once they were settled in to our place, we observed them more directly during our conversations. No, I wasn’t worried that he would strike her or even motion to do so. I would never have allowed that. But we did identify noticeable signs in her subtle responses to his sharp words and seemingly short temper during one of the conversations. Sometimes, something as minor as what appeared to be an infinitesimal flinch. Still, we feigned ignorance of the matter. Glancing at each other, Connie and I silently agreed that his poorly masked words and actions were leading indicators of something far worse as we changed the nature of the conversation to lighten the atmospheric tone.
Later in bed, Connie and I discussed how I would talk to him at my earliest opportunity. The key was to be selective about how and when I approached the matter and what I would say. It was important to not be accusatory in our discussion, which could lead to a defensive position in his responses or a rather short conversation. There was also the risk that it could escalate into a physical altercation between the two of us in a worst case. Stranger things have happened.
One thing was for sure, whether or not we could be of effective assistance, that talk needed to happen before their return to their own place.
I asked him to come with me to the store the next day and run some additional errands. He readily accepted the ride-along invitation. After an hour or so, I stopped at a pizza restaurant and suggested we dine in, both being famished.
We weren’t long into a casual conversation before I veered towards the subject of “nagging housewives”. The more we talked, the more he alluded to his low patience with people in general and his propensity for anger. Seeing the opening, I asked him about how that related to his marital situation and he admitted to having struck his wife on occasion. That sometimes, she made him angry, knowing how he would act.
He said that he only shared that with me because we were so hospitable to them and that I was cool. He said he saw me very much as a good friend and a big brother to him, which he often called me.
In my calmest voice, I advised that no matter what is said or done to us in life, WE are responsible for how we respond. That nothing can MAKE us do ANYTHING.
I paused, again, choosing my words carefully as opposed to snapping at him (disguising my own anger, which had become significantly heightened). I told him that I liked him a lot and loved them as a couple, but I had zero tolerance for spouse abuse. I warned that I couldn’t “get with that”, knowing he put his hands on her and that type of character is not included in my circle of friends. I maintained my serene tone so as to not appear judgmental, even though I had already passed judgement in my heart, which had broken for her.
I’ll talk about my personal position on domestic violence another day. Suffice it to say that I don’t accept it on any level and have a tendency to get involved, even when it’s not warranted.
I added that there was nothing more blessed than a loving woman and if he loved God as he often claimed, he would appreciate and cherish “God’s greatest gift”.
I carefully explained that when a woman agrees to date/marry someone, she entrusts him with her love, her life and equally important, her safety. I softly told him that a woman has a choice when it comes to the man to whom she dedicates and devotes her life. When he asks for her hand, he’s making a promise to not only love her, but to protect her, for the rest of her days.
Then my tone sharpened.
I asked him if he was so lacking in compassion and reason that his only solution for conflict was violence. I asked if it was fair for him to repay her trust, the promise that he would keep her safe, by being the very evil in this world from which he’s supposed to defend.
Finally I asked, “Are you the protector that your children are supposed to love and admire, or do you think they see a monster?”
I knew that question would either make or break the discussion, but I also felt that he and I were close enough as friends for me to challenge him at the deepest level. I never fashioned myself a therapist, but I’m always known to speak my heart, to a sizeable degree of success. Or so I’m told. Thank God.
At this point his gaze was no longer fixed on me. He was quietly circling various ingredients on his pizza with his forefinger. I waited a few seconds before opening my mouth to ask if he had heard me.
I got my answer.
He looked back up as tears began to stream down his seemingly tortured face.
I turned my attention back towards my food as we ate in silence. Unsure if I should bring up the prospect of spiritual counseling, I left it there, believing that option was not foreign to him. After a few moments, he excused himself and walked to the bathroom. I thought about what I would say upon his return, then decided to let him direct the flow of conversation, if we didn’t leave at that moment.
Nothing else was said and we finished our meals.
Columbus, Ohio 2007
My friend and I stood by the barbecue grill on his deck while the now-older children played in the yard below and the wives talked in the kitchen. We had waited for everyone to clear the area so we could shove a few wings and dogs down before dinner actually began. We had both long since moved out of that apartment complex and into our own homes. We hadn’t seen each other as often over the years, but we talked every now and then on the phone to check on each other. We also visited each other’s homes 2 or 3 times a year.
“Hey dog, I wanna thank you for that day at the restaurant,” he offered unexpectedly.
“What day?” I asked, thinking about the times he invited us to swing by the restaurant he managed for a free dinner.
“That day you set me straight about fighting my wife.”
It immediately came back to me. I thought about correcting him by saying they weren’t fighting; he was beating. Timeliness and appropriateness overruled. I remained silent as I put some more hamburgers on his grill.
“If you hadn’t schooled me on what I was doing, I don’t know WHAT I would have done to her.”
“Did I really tell you anything you didn’t already know?” I asked honestly.
“I knew, Big Dog,” he answered. He loved calling me that. “My family talked to me about it before. But nobody ever kicked it like you did. It hurt me to my HEART.”
“I was just speaking MY heart.”
“You were and I appreciate it. Remember, we ended up going to counseling.”
“I remember and I was so glad you did. How’s that coming?”
“We stopped going years ago. But I haven’t touched her since. I owe it all to you.”
“No, you don’t. That was all you two and God. You DO owe me another wing. Hurry up before they see us…”
Of course I got cursed out when his wife walked through the sliding glass door and busted me putting it to my lips. He casually denied having anything to do with it, saying I took it before he could stop me. He continued to laugh as she spanked me like her own child, leading me into the kitchen to help, since I couldn’t be trusted outside.
He and I never spoke another word about, leaving the conversation, as well as his dark past, IN the past. I/we had been fortunate, as that conversation could have gone a very different way. She could have ended up another way and consequently, he would have ended up another way.
I can only thank God that we got the desired outcome.
The only other thought I gave the matter…
…and still do, to this day…
…was/is the wish that other men around the world will someday come to the realization that he did and change their ways…
On Health Cares About Domestic Violence Day I only ask, no, I challenge and encourage with these final words:
Gentlemen, never forget to make God the focal point of your relationship.
Love your better half and be thankful they choose YOU. Never make them regret it.
Domestic violence has increased significantly, especially during the pandemic of COVID-19. Know where to get help.
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233
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Animated Gif Scenes from “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”