Yesterday was a fun-filled day of parties for my family. We had my neighbor’s holiday party, followed by my son’s school holiday party. There were chocolates, candy, pinyatas and good festive fun. My hubby was on “Daddy duty” all day, because I had my yearly women’s luncheon for Breast Cancer Research: “Women of Action, Pink Lady Fund.” Each year, three outstanding women in our community are honored for their accomplishments and tireless dedication to their work and community, and for being “a women of action.” The highlight of the event, is always the guest speaker. The event is only a few years old, but over the past few years, we have seen the likes of Marianne Pearl (who was portrayed by Angelina Jolie in the movie A Mighty Heart), Margaret Trudeau (former wife of our former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who suffered with mental illness), and Jeannette Walls (author of the best-selling book, The Glass Castle).
Each year, the stories get better and better, and are exceptionally moving. This year was no different. I knew we were going to be hearing speaker Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of Mommy Wars and Crazy Love. I had not read her books, and only briefly read her story. I knew that she had graduated from two ivy league schools (Harvard and Wharton). A smart, beautiful woman with a career on the rise. Brought up in a financially comfortable and loving family. She had the world by the tail… that is, until she married a violently abusive man and entered into a life of hell for four years .
She read us the first page of her new book, Crazy Love.
If you and I met at one of our children’s birthday parties, in the hallway at work, or at a neighbor’s barbecue, you’d never guess my secret: that as a young woman I fell in love with and married a man who beat me regularly and nearly killed me.
I don’t look the part. I have an MBA and an undergraduate degree from Ivy League schools. I live in a red brick house on a tree-lined street in one of the prettiest neighborhoods in Washington, DC. I’ve got 15 years of marketing experience at Fortune 500 companies and a best-selling book about motherhood to my name. A smart, loyal husband with a sexy gap in his front teeth, a softie who puts out food for the stray kittens in our alley. Three rambunctious, well-loved children. A dog and three cats of our own. Everyone in my family is blonde (the people, at least).
Ah, if only being well-educated and blonde and coming from a good family were enough to defang all life’s demons.
If I were brave enough the first time I met you, I’d try to share what torture it is to fall in love with a good man who cannot leave a violent past behind. I’d tell you why I stayed for years, and how I finally confronted someone whose love I valued almost more than my own life. Then maybe the next time you came across a woman in an abusive relationship, instead of asking why anyone stays with a man who beats her, you’d have the empathy and courage to help her on her way.
We all have secrets we don’t reveal the first time we cross paths with others. This is mine.
And then she played us this video, CLICK HERE.
She told us about “Connor’s” abusive upbringing, and how when they started dating, SHE was going to be the one to save him from his demons. She was going to help him heal. The night before their wedding, he beat her for the first time. It was just an isolated incident, she told herself. He had a stressful day. Then twice again on their honeymoon. And then for four more years.
And as she recounted the reasons she stayed for so long, one of them being, because he never did the same thing twice, the hair on my arms stood up, and my eyes welled up with tears. Once, he threw her against the wall in a choke hold. Once he pulled the keys from the ignition while she was driving on the highway. Once he threw her down a flight of stairs. Once he kicked her. Once he held a loaded gun to her head. And in all of this, she never once considered herself a wife of domestic abuse. She thought she was simply, the wife of a disturbed man. She thought that only “poor, uneducated” women are battered. Not anyone with her credentials, and certainly not anyone from a good upbringing such as her own.
She recounted the many horrific details of their four year marriage, and of the night that she finally picked up the phone after the worst beating, called the police, and left her husband for good.
Here is a quote from an open-letter in Glamour Magazine that Leslie wrote to Rihanna:
“I left my marriage broke and broken—physically, emotionally, financially and socially. It took me years to pay off our debts, to enter a room with an easy, confident smile, to fall in love again and trust that the man I loved would not raise a finger to me, ever. But I did. My message to any woman who’s been betrayed is this: You have another life waiting for you. You may be isolated, but you’re not alone. I hope to welcome you into a very exclusive girls’ club. One filled with wise, wise women whose experience with abusive love rests deep in the past.
Looking at my life now—my quiet, kind husband, our three kids, a satisfying career, a beautiful home—you’d never guess that I spent my twenties hiding cuts, bruises and a broken heart. At 22, before the beatings started, I thought I was merely lucky—lucky to have my degree, my job, my cute apartment, my boyfriend. But I don’t place my faith in luck anymore. Some of us take our lessons in love straight up. Everything I have now I earned with hard work and hard lessons, plus a stubborn faith that I deserved, despite everything, to live happily ever after. We all do.”
So today I honor Leslie Morgan Steiner, a woman of courage and inspiration, who certainly got off the fence. She is currently in a loving marriage, with three healthy children. She has not seen or heard from Connor in twenty years. Thank god.