I called 911 because she never would. Because every time it happened, her first thought was about protecting him. Because every time it happened, the sweet, loving man we all cared for so much would come back with apologies, profuse, swearing up and down that he understood how bad what he had done was, and swearing never to do it again. We all loved him, but especially, especially her, and she wanted to believe that the behaviour wasn't going to last.
The reports of violence started with a kick on a private plane, then it was shoves and the occasional punch, until finally, in December, she described an all-out assault and she woke up with her pillow covered in blood. I know this because I went to their house. I saw the pillow with my own eyes. I saw the busted lip and the clumps of hair on the floor. I got the phone call immediately after it happened, her screaming and crying, a stoic woman reduced to sobs.
I understood her heartbreak. He had been my friend, too, a person I loved very much. A person I had once referred to as a brother. A person with whom I had laughed at the absurdity of the media and their spicy claims about my role in their family. A person who came to my rescue in my darkest hour, who I have credited with saving my own life, who I lived with for a year by his invitation while I healed and worked. I knew him to be soft and gentle, with a temper and a dark side, but a golden heart. I didn’t want to believe it either, until I saw the wreckage.
When you call someone your brother, you also commit to calling them out when they are wrong. As she, shaking and crying, described this 195-pound man throwing the full weight of his body into head-butting his 120-pound wife in the face in a fit of rage, I found that an unforgivable line in my heart had been crossed.
I witnessed firsthand the absolutely baffling mental pretzel that an abused person puts themselves into, trying to balance the desire to protect their aggressor, with the knowledge that their swollen face is unacceptable. I listened as she cycled through things she could've possibly done to provoke him, or how she could've made him upset enough to do this.
We say domestic violence is bad, we condemn it. But as a culture, we create the most fertile breeding ground for it to thrive.
I sat and listened, my own heart aching because I had so much care for the tender, generous man inside of all this rage, and yet...the bottom, unequivocal line is, nothing she ever could have said or done deserves what she describes as him dragging her up the stairs by the hair, punching her in the back of the head, choking her until she almost passed out, and smashing his forehead into her nose until it almost broke.
We say domestic violence is bad, we condemn it. But as a culture, we create the most fertile breeding ground for it to thrive. The cycle of abuse is perpetuated by every person who asserts that the victim more likely punched themselves rather than addressing the very real evidence of violence in front of them. The culture of victim-blaming is the very thing that protects abusers' ability to get away with this kind of behaviour.
Right now, every battered woman in the world is watching this media circus, internalising the message that when they come forward for help, when they break the cycle, they will be called a gold digger, a cheater, and be accused of having faked it all for attention.
I’m looking at every journalist, every editor, every person who puts a comment on an article pointing an uneducated finger. You are the lynch mob. You are a deafening chorus. Your searching for an explanation for why he would have hit her sends the clear message that there CAN be a reason why someone hits their spouse.
It doesn't matter what was said between the two lovers, it doesn't matter if the romance was coming to an end, because nothing warrants that response. No person, ever, should suffer violence at the hands of the person they love.
I watched a woman with a broken spirit go on national television the next night, covered in makeup, smiling through a bloody lip, who nearly jumped out of her seat when someone casually put a hand on her shoulder because she didn't know what was coming.
That's why, when it happened again, when I was on the phone with both of them and heard it drop, heard him say, “What if I pulled your hair back?” and her scream for my help, I wondered like so many times before if I should break the code of silence that surrounds celebrities and invite the police into the situation, and in a split second decided that, yes, I was going to. Because I realised that as long as I was protecting the abuser from consequences, I was enabling the abuse and I could no longer partake. I had to stand up for my friend, and for what I believe in my gut to be the code of conduct by which human beings have to behave with each other.
Whether we loved him or not has nothing to do with it. When it comes to violence, "love" is no longer part of the equation.
iO Tillett Wright is an artist, writer, and activist.