Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Relationship · #1434360
When spousal abuse happens in public it's everyone's business.
|INCIDENT AT LA BOHEME|
An interesting experience happened to me tonight.
Walking home from the store, I stopped in Barney's Beanery to pick up the L.A. Weekly and, as I walked east on the north side of Santa Monica Boulevard, I heard shouts of anger coming from across the street. I looked in that direction and saw a man and a woman standing before a storefront, they were separated by about 15 feet.
He was yelling at the top of his lungs -- at her. She turned her back on him and started walking away, at which time he rushed suddenly in her direction. She heard him coming and turned towards him. Knowing his intentions, she threw her arms defensively before her. Despite this, upon reaching her, he slapped her in the face several times.
As soon as I saw this, I raced across the four lanes of traffic screaming at the top of my lungs "You Asshole, if you hit her again I'm going to call the cops!" I can't be sure if it was the expletive or the fact that I dare to -- as he put it --"get involved in things that don't concern me" that made him cease his assault but he did immediately.
I yelled at him that "since you chose to strike her in public -- that makes it my business".
His response was to threaten me with the physical violence he had just unleashed on his wife. I had no desire to engage him in a fight. I merely wanted him to stop beating her. His continued advances towards her and his threats aimed at me were sufficient to convince me to go into the restaurant they had just left and have the manager call the West Hollywood Sheriff's department. As I proceeded towards the entrance, he -- being an "in your face" kinda guy -- tried to prevent me. Satisfied he'd found a reasonable substitute punching bag in me, he did his utmost to persuade me to fight.
I gave ground until I had no where to go but the street. Finally, I put my small grocery bag and the L.A. Weekly down and told him I wasn't backing down any more. I could feel the adrenaline throbbing throughout my body. Fight or flight. Nature's way. Standing there in my new suit, facing off against a total stranger, all the little hairs on my neck were at attention. I was ready for anything. Walk away or fight. I told him that if he struck me I would fight back -- and then press assault charges against him. I told him he might think he could bully his wife, but I asured him he could not do the same with me. This seemed to bring some sense back into his hot head if only for the moment.
I entered the restaurant and spoke with the receptionist and the manager. I told them what had happened outside and requested they call the police. The manager, much to his credit, quickly caught on to the situation and accompanied me outside where the husband was still yelling at his wife. My presence only served to set him off again. Bravely, the manager interposed himself between me and the physically threatening husband. He was screaming "our problems aren't your concern" to which I responded "when you air them in public they become the public's concern, especially where violence against women is involved". Assured that he wasn't going to strike her again, the manager and I returned inside to await the police so they could calm down also.
When I came back out the husband had already left the scene while the wife's girlfriend and companion had arrived and were comforting her. The wife admitted to her friends that he had struck her but that he'd never done that before. She was upset and fighting back tears, but she said she had no intention of pressing charges so there's no need to call the cops. To which I responded "it's too late because the police are on their way. I have your husbands license plate number and will give that to the police as well. I have reported a crime and must tell the police every material fact I know."
The wife's friend's companion tried to hustle me off -- give me the bum's rush -- so I wouldn't be there when the police arrived. He told me how much they "appreciate my concern" -- as if I'd seen her vomit instead of being beaten. I told him to forget it. I was going to make sure the police took a report. As a good citizen, I appropriately intervened when I witnessed a crime in progress and I wasn't going to be intimidated into disappearing before I said my piece to the Sheriff's deputies. After all, I hadn't put myself at risk for nothing. My life may be miserable but it's mine and the only one I'm likely to have, so if I'm going to jeopardize my safety, I would make sure the gesture wasn't entirely in vain.
Before the police arrived, the husband drove up and blocked the lane of traffic -- horns blared as pissed-off motorists merged into the left-hand lane -- he tried persuading his wife to get in the car and drive off. She refused. He pulled his car around the corner.
A moment later the first of two West Hollywood Sheriff's cruisers arrived.
I quickly explained to the Officers what had happened and why they were called.
They pulled their car around the corner, turned on their flashing lights, got out and approached the husband, his wife and their friends standing along the west wall. I'm thinking: `The guys got a beautiful wife, a late-model Porche Targa, enough money to afford a dinner in a posh eatery -- what frustration is he venting on his wife'. I concluded the weight of all his material success is too much for him to handle, he knows it can't last and he's expecting his world to come crashing down around him any day now. And it must be all her fault.
The female officer pulled the wife aside and asked her what happened. From about 15 feet away, I could hear the female officer trying to explain to the wife how serious wife-beating is and her rights. The wife was being very intransigent and refusing to say anything other than "nothing really happened -- it's all been taken care of". Meanwhile, the husband is about 10 feet away from me talking to a male deputy, making light of the whole thing and pointing at me as if I were the problem.
After several minutes, the officers instructed the husband and wife to join their friends and wait. This group stood by the wall saying "what a hassle" and casting disparaging glances at me. This only served to make me angrier. In trying to do the right thing, I had been physically threatened by a husband slapping his wife and forced to call the police to settle him down -- I was feeling, to say the least, a little put out myself.
The first two deputies on the scene got in their car and drove away. I approached the sergeant and his partner and told them that I wanted to make sure they got the entire story. They informed me that since the wife refused to press charges there was nothing they could do. It happens all the time they told me.
It was little comfort when the sergeant said to me that I did exactly what he would have done under the circumstances; I refused to engage in a fight and I called the police to report a crime I had witnessed.
For in fact, wife-beating is a crime and a sign of a cowardly man. All his "head cock of the hen house" threats against me couldn't hide a man deeply troubled with a tenuous sense of his own self-worth. I told him his affairs weren't my business but a man beating a woman in public is. I tried to explain to him it wasn't a good idea to make threats against people he didn't know. Now that I think about it, it probably wasn't the smartest thing for me to do either. Fortunately, I had right on my side. He could perhaps "beat the living shit out of me" as he claimed he was going to -- but it still wouldn't have made him right. In light of the Mike Tyson conviction and sentence, perhaps if someone had intervened on Mike's behalf he would be in the ring instead of behind bars.
I had done the right thing. I felt good about doing the right thing; what, I pray, someone else would do if it were my sister, mother, wife, daughter or any woman.
So what. Did it change anything between the husband and the wife?
I hope so but I think not. They seemed more embarrassed by the commotion the police occasioned than the issue of a man beating a woman in public. I must even face the sad fact that my intervention could accelerate his anger and violence. I hope not. If so, I feel sorrow for them both. Part of my reason for notifying the authorities was to introduce them to sources of help.
Unfortunately, they still have yet to confront the problems that led to him acting out his repressed rage in public.
Was it worth it? The tearful thank you of the wife assured me that -- for the moment, at least -- I had made a difference. I felt like George Bailey in "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE": little, insignificant me, had made a difference. How much of a difference I'll never know. In fact, we didn't even exchange names. The situation, us being strangers and all, her pain and vulnerable condition, was too much for civility's sake. All I could really be sure of was that I had temporarily terminated the public beating and humiliation.
Later, two young women who had viewed the entire incident, including the facial blows, came up to me in the restaurant and thanked me for all the women -- just like them -- and for having the courage to stop it. While I'd like to credit my "Cowardly Lion's" courage, I think it was more that I was raised in the south and a man just doesn't hit a woman. Period.
Yes it was worth it. Would I do it again? Damn right I would. And so should we all.
I don't write this letter to glorify myself, only the action. I do it to underscore the act of one human being helping out another in a time of need and thought it important enough to share, for one often wonders how they might respond in a like situation. This time I was up to it.
Further, I wish this letter to be a salute to the many people whose everyday acts of bravery, however large or small, make the lives of others easier and the world a better place to live.