My friend, Jillian, called me unexpectedly yesterday to wish me a happy birthday. It was unexpected because Jillian and I haven’t spoken for over six years.
Jillian’s husband is what I call a fully functioning alcoholic. He holds down a responsible job, pays the mortgage, occasionally picks up the kids from school, and to the outside world looks like a respectable, upstanding citizen. Except for the fact that he is wasted by 7PM every day. And I don’t mean a merry, giggling, singing 80s pop hits kind of wasted; I mean a nasty, vitriolic, I’m-going-to-put-your-head-through-a-window kind of wasted.
I have known Jillian for 20 years. She has been married for about 18 of those years. I am fairly certain that she has been abused either physically or emotionally by her husband for most of that time.
That’s why we stopped seeing one another. He broke her jaw. Fractured her pelvis by kicking her down the stairs. I couldn’t even calculate how many black eyes or split lips she’s had over the years. I also couldn’t estimate how many times I took her to the hospital at two in the morning.
I asked her to leave him. I ranted and raved and begged. So did all her friends. So did all her family. Most of us gave up when she constantly insisted he was getting better, drinking less, that he didn’t mean it. It is incredibly upsetting to watch someone you love be hit over and over. It makes your heart sink to a place you don’t think it can ever rise up from. Getting involved in the fracas doesn’t help; it completely destabilises an already unstable situation.
I felt like I was abandoning someone who was drowning when I told her I couldn’t see her anymore. Because of him. I still cry when I think of the look of horror that came over her face, because the very same day her sister had told her the same thing. Jillian knew at that moment that she was alone.
Her sister and I haven’t spoken to Jillian since that day, but we have kept tabs on her. She is still with her husband. I don’t know if the abuse has continued. When I spoke to her yesterday I was too frightened to ask.
I don’t know what it’s like to be physically abused because it has never happened to me; but I can tell you that watching it happen makes you ill. The worst thing about it is waiting for it to happen again.
For my own state of mind I had to separate myself from Jillian’s situation, but it wasn’t easy. Part of me still feels undeniably guilty about it. I worry about her and pray every day that she is all right. Her sister and I hoped that our leaving would be the catalyst for Jillian to make a stand and say: ‘That’s it. I’m not going to take it anymore.’ But six years later it still hasn’t happened.
Jillian and I only had a brief conversation yesterday but I was so touched she called. ‘I still think of the fun times we had,’ she said. ‘I know if I’d had the courage I would still have that.’
How difficult must it be to live in a prison of your own making. And know it. But even self-constructed jail cells have a way out.
It’s never too late to change.
Even for Jillian.
Yesterday a phone call from an old friend gave me hope.