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Terror, Abuse, and Freedom

July 22, 2004

There comes a time, in the dark of night, when fear rules you.  When the handle of your knife in the palm of your hand is the only thing that will comfort you.  When the hard shape of a gun under the pillow is the only thing that will help you sleep.  When the shadows in the corners whisper of fear, of horror, of terror.  And you, alone and lonely in the dark, lay awake.

Abuse is all about control.  An abuser uses fear, threats, and the victim’s love for the abuser to control her.  She knows that he is hurting her.  But he tells her that he knows best.  That he’s doing it because he loves her.  That they are in this together, and that she can never leave him, because no one else will love her the way he does.  No one understands her but him.  If she shows signs that she may leave him, he calls her a whore, accuses her of cheating on him, manipulates her into swearing that she will never cheat on him, never leave him, never listen to anyone who might try to tell her that he is wrong.  And if he is careful, when he finally hits her, she won’t have anyone left to turn to but him.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past four years researching abuse.  I know how it happens, I know how it starts, and I know the hundreds of ways that it can end.  I’ve chronicled the path a victim takes downward, and I’ve kept diaries filled with the pains and fears of coming back up.  Because I’ve been there.  Among my writings is a series called The Muse of the Mouse, which deals with that abuse.  But this isn’t a Muse of the Mouse.  It’s a Purple Sheep Paper.  Because this isn’t about me.  It’s about America.

The one question people inevitably ask about an abusive relationship is “How could she let him do that to her?”  The answer is that it never starts out with a punch, or a kick, or a blow to the head.  It starts with little things.  Small abuses.  Things that he can explain away, kiss her on the forehead over, and tell her it will be alright.  He begins isolating her from her friends, her family.  He makes her live in fear for their relationship.  Every woman is out to steal him from her, which is why they tell her he’s bad.  Every man is out to steal her from him, which is why they try to convince her to leave.

There are people in America who have for years now been telling us that terrorists are out there.  We know they’re out there.  They’ve attacked us, so it’s not something we can deny.  However, these people have also been talking about our American way of life.  How terrorists want to threaten it.  Want to bring it down, want to destroy it, to take it away from us.  This is also true.  There are people who believe that by destroying our homes, our cities, our people, they can destroy the country that they hate so much.  The leap comes when we, as a people, are told that anyone, any person, any country, any ideal, which goes against the ideals of the American government, is a terrorist.  And for a long time we believed them.  In our fear, our sorrow, our lonely cowering in the dark, we believed.

There are hundreds of ways that abuse ends.  In the simplest terms, either the victim ends it, or the abuser does.  When the abuser ends it, it is rarely because he recognizes that he is an abuser.  It does happen.  But not often enough.  When the victim ends it, it is not because of anything that her friends say, or her family does.  Interferences by friends and family will more likely drive the victim further away.  The abuser will use these intercessions as proof that her friends are trying to hurt her and tear those bonds a little more.  The most effective method of helping an abuse victim is the quiet doubt.  If her friends stand by her, and at her most open moments insert a little quiet doubt, she is more likely to try to leave on her own.  Because it will be her choice.  She will relapse, doubt her decision, cry in the night when he threatens her for leaving him, but it will be her choice.

In the beginning, we stood strong.  We held each other through the rough times, waved our flags, and recognized that we were all in this together.  But slowly, that patriotism began to be a tool.  Just as a victim’s love for her abuser is the tool by which he binds her to him, our love for our country is the tool that the current government is using to abuse us all.  It started with little abuses.  Things that they could slip by, kiss us on the forehead, wave a little flag in the name of patriotism and tell everyone that it would be all right.  Then, as the abuses grew bolder, the quiet doubts began.  Now the louder doubts are being raised and in the manner of abusers, those doubters are being labeled as The Enemy.  Doubters are trying to tear the country apart.  When they came from without, it was because those countries hated America.  Now, when they are coming from within, it is because these people are Un-American.

I have been called un-American by plenty of people.  Because I wanted my friends home and not off fighting a senseless war.  Because I demanded accountability from our leaders.  Because I wanted to know the truth about when, where, why, and who knew how much.  I can not convince the diehards that what the government is doing is wrong.  Just as there are abusive relationships that will only end with the victim’s death, there are some people for whom their faith in their government in unwavering.  These are not the people I am trying to reach.  These words are for those in the middle.  The ones straddling the line, just needing a little quiet doubt.  For you, the ones who have heard the arguments on both side, who have lain awake in the night, afraid for your future, who have spent months praying for a job in a time when tax cuts are for the rich, who have passed gas stations and wistfully remembered the days when gas was half its current price, who are struggling to stay afloat on a lower salary when everything else around you is getting more expensive, who have watched as the government passed laws they claimed were for the betterment of the country and wondered how the lessening of freedoms could ever make for a better America….  This is for you.  This is your choice.  This, right here, right now, is your quiet doubt.

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