I’m more than slightly embarrassed to admit I’ve watched the show Basketball Wives here and there while battling boredom on the gym treadmill. That’s where I first saw Evelyn Lozada, a beautiful and hotheaded bombshell from Miami who fell in love with the professional football player, Chad Johnson. I know Chad Johnson from his showboating days on my husband’s much-loved hometown team, the Cincinnati Bengals. I tell myself it’s because of these two little connections that I’m tuning into the news about Chad head-butting his wife of only five weeks. But I know that’s not really why.
The beginnings of the story can be traced back to about 1987. He was my mother’s boyfriend, only 23 to her 37, and his rages were land mines that would explode at any time. I lived in a constant state of fear, not only for my mother but for myself as well, knowing that at any moment I could be next. For those of us who have listened or watched as our mothers have been hit, shoved, smacked, yanked, head-butted and beaten, questions abound, questions that we spend the rest of our lives trying to answer. How can a man hit a woman? How can she accept this in her life? And why do women go back again and again? My mom went back. And when he left she moved on to someone even worse.
As I read more and more about Chad Johnson and his history of abuse, I can’t help but compare him to another celebrity who’s been accused of domestic violence, Charlie Sheen. At this point, no one really disputes the fact that Charlie has gotten physical with at least one of his exes. And no one seriously believes he has expressed much remorse over it. But unlike Chad, who was immediately fired from the Dolphins and whose VH1 show was cancelled, Sheen goes on his merry way, with a new sitcom and a standing ovation by Jimmy Fallon at the Emmy Awards in September of 2011.
I watched in horror as Fallon, who seems like a decent guy, stood up to cheer Charlie on. At that moment, I thought about the times I heard my mom get shoved against the wall in her bedroom, the grunts and groans as each blow struck, and the bruises I saw on her body the next day. I thought about the fear and pain I still experience today, sometimes when I least expect it, but always there, lurking in the background of my life. The physical scars may have faded, and I’m no longer a girl living in house filled with fear and pain. Now I’m an adult, still tending to wounds that I know will never fully heal.
Whether it’s Chad or Charlie, the fact is that there are still many women – and men – being abused by their partners. And there are still many children listening in the other room, listening and learning. Will they make the same mistakes? Will they become abusers, or will they be abused themselves? I have no answers, though I do know this: regardless of whether we continue the cycle of violence in our own families, it's unlikely that those feelings of powerlessness, fear, rage, and deep sadness will ever completely disappear. Ever.
If you are in a relationship that is causing you or your children harm, contact a trusted resource that’s close by. In Chicago, two health care professionals I know recommend LilacTree.org. Their phone number is 847-328-0313.
~By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop