I recently attended “A Day of Remembrance” put together by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. The main speaker focused on domestic violence. I had this “oh my” moment when it became clear that domestic violence was a factor when Christopher (my 21 year old son) lost his life.
On March 21, 1996, Christopher was shot four times by his school roommate because he put dishes in the wrong cabinet. A small dispute that should have ended peacefully turned into a senseless murder because of rage. (Since then, I have cautioned many parents to check out and know their children’s roommates.)
I always thought about Christopher’s death as the crime of murder, which it is. But it’s also domestic violence. The legal system had known it all along, but I just caught up…and was stunned that I had not been aware of this angle sooner. It makes sense; now I get it and am asking myself, “what took you so long?”
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley spoke significant words, along with Mayor Jean Quan, Superior Court Judge Tara Flanagan (awesome) and a very inspiring young woman survivor, Amily He. Amily will make a difference for many people.
Alameda County has been tracking all the domestic violence deaths since 1996. 1996 is the year Christopher was murdered and was one of 20 deaths. In 2010 there were 3 deaths, 2011 another 4 deaths and 2012 there were 10. Since 1996 all the domestic violence numbers (deaths) have gone down. I am grateful to see this change, and I am sure many others are, too.
It was very apparent to me at the event who was newly bereaved and who was practiced. I deliberately sat next to a freshly grieving woman who has lost her sister recently. She could barely speak through her tears. I had my hand on her shoulder, and I just kept thinking “I am going to pour my love into her and hope it helps a tiny bit.” There were photos on a table of everyone’s loved one and we pointed each other’s out and said their names. She knew she was safe with me and didn’t have to pretend.
I found myself being so grateful for the years that have passed. Fresh raw traumatic grief is very hard to absorb. It won’t let you up for air and you cannot imagine ever being happy again. I don’t miss Christopher less. I am just calm and thankful for the life I am living now. I want to make it count; for him and for me.
One of the more striking realizations I had follows yours, Radha. Ten years ago I was involved with a woman for about 7 months who has a high functioning borderline personality (BP) disorder. Twice during the relationship–about halfway through–she had been violent. The first time she threw a small canister of deodorant in my direction downward to the floor after I made a statement and a calm and non-accusatory manner. I very calmly picked up the canister and said she should not do that and walked out of the bathroom. To her credit this woman apologized about 30 seconds after.
About a month after that, in the middle of a very calm conversation where we were seated at a table, this woman slammed her hand on the table, stood up and walked away, muttering and yelling. True to her disease, later on she could not recall doing that.
About 6 months after getting out of the relationship, I was at a seminar of sorts at Dominican U and Harry Barbier, then with the San Rafael Police Dept., very calmly went over the hallmarks and definitions of domestic violence: it’s violence on or near a victim.
I was literally slapped across the face with that. The woman with whom I’d been involved was committing domestic violent behavior. Even though the canister was small and the toss was at my feet but not directly at me, the result is that it sets up an air of tension. The hand-slamming was the same thing.
I’ve learned since then that violence can be in the form of a whisper. About 3 months in this BP woman began to believe I was ogling every woman who was walling by. Even my looking out to avoid walking into someone who happened to be a woman would set her off–she would shut down. You could literally feel the energy grow cold, distant, and angry. That’s another form of domestic violence.
Realizations like these are unsettling. They make the wound fresh. This BP still lives in the area. I’ve seen her twice in the last ten years. Each time I froze up just a little and then got away as fast as I can.
I just read the story about you on Seven Ponds Blog. I’m so sorry about your loss of Christopher in such a horrific manner.
I have added your blog to the website that I am curating in memory of my 23 year old son who was killed almost 18 month ago.
The site is meant to help bereaved parents and siblings find the resources to help them survive.
I look forward to reading your book.