Monday, September 29, 2014

On having it coming

We all got it coming, kid. 
—William Munny, Unforgiven
Someone I loved hit me once.

I can tell you exactly when and where: Sunday, January 22, 1984, in a service hallway in the Flour Mill apartment complex in Georgetown. I was a sophomore in college. One of that year’s leaders of Mask & Bauble, our theater group, was hosting a Super Bowl party. Washington’s team lost ignominiously to Oakland that year, 38-9, but I left before the game ended.

The person who hit me was someone I’d had a romantic relationship with, but at that point we hadn’t been dating for almost a year. He was seeing someone else, and so was I, but our breakup had been more than usually complicated, with some long-term repercussions. I was only 18; he was only a couple of years older. We’d been avoiding each other, but I’d gone to that party knowing it was likely I would see him, because I wanted to see him. Sometimes it works that way.

I don’t remember why or how we wound up alone in that hallway, but I’m sure it was because I wanted to talk to him, and he wanted to avoid a scene. I don’t remember what I said to him. What I remember is an open hand striking my cheek, and a small popping sound because my mouth had dropped open as I realized he really was going to hit me. Not hard — he didn’t knock out any teeth, he didn’t leave a mark. And I remember what I thought:
I guess I had that coming. 
Yesterday my friend Sue Lin and I had breakfast at a funky coffee house in downtown Baltimore, and she gestured to me as we sat down. “Do you see what that girl’s wearing?” she asked.

I almost gasped. A very young woman at the bar was wearing a Ray Rice t-shirt. She was flirting energetically with the young man beside her, whom I assume was her boyfriend. It was hard not to leap to conclusions about her, about them, even (or especially) when she pulled out her card and paid for their breakfast. During breakfast I saw her turn a couple of times on her barstool and look over her shoulder, as if she expected people to be reacting to her shirt, as if she were wearing it to make some kind of statement.

They left before we did. I suppressed the impulse to jump up and intercept her on the way to the door. What could I have said to her? What should I have asked? I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

If you haven’t seen the video of Ray Rice knocking his girlfriend out, don’t watch it. What it shows is Ray Rice and his fiancée having an argument before they get on the elevator, and it continuing once they’re in the elevator. She’s a slender woman; he’s an NFL running back. She flies at him, apparently scolding, and he cold-cocks her with a punch to the face. She goes down like a deflated balloon, and she is out. He drags her out of the elevator, then picks her up at the waist like a blow-up doll and drops her, still unconscious, immediately outside the elevator door while a hotel security manager looks on.

The Ravens have suspended Ray Rice indefinitely, but that wasn’t what happened first. What happened first was a press conference at which Janay Rice, having married the man who punched her, apologized for her role in the incident.
I guess I had that coming. 
Even now, I’m ashamed of my own behavior when I think of that January afternoon. To do that young man justice, years later I got a handwritten note from him, apologizing — for the slap, presumably, and for other things. I would like to say here, 30 years late, that I’m sorry for the damage I did him, too.




Nobody has that coming. Nobody. Not in an elevator, not on a football field, not in a hockey rink, not on a playground. If you strike someone in anger, you are disqualified from further play. You leave the field. You apologize, you make amends, you get whatever help you need to learn more appropriate ways to manage your anger.

So I guess what I want to ask that girl I saw at Spoons yesterday — what I would ask her, if I ever see her again — is, “Do you think you have it coming? Do you?”


Anonymous said...

Yes, she really does. A lot of women convince themselves that the greatest thing they can do in life is to give themselves completely to serve and service "their man". It's her choice. Maybe someday she'll make a different one. - your pal from that bookstore.

Ellen Clair Lamb said...

I dunno. My first impression of her was that she was trying to be the Cool Girl Gillian Flynn describes so well in Gone Girl — "Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding . . . Men actually think this girl exists."

Anonymous said...

My experience with physical violence began when, at age five, I witnessed my father hitting my mother. When I was 18, a boyfriend hit me. I ended it. At 24, a military superior attempted to assault me. He (supposedly) was court marshaled. I carry the weight of these experiences. They still hurt, but in a different way. At 50, I got married for the first time to a lovely man with a gentle spirit. He would never raise a hand to me. I am confident of this. My heart aches for any woman who thinks, who believes, who accepts, who justifies why she deserves to be hit. I would say to don't. Respect yourself. Love yourself. CCL

Paul Levine said...

Ellen Clair must stunning line in the book. As for the woman in the coffee shop, I think you nailed it.