Op-Ed

The ‘monster’ I knew. My friend needed help. I missed the signs of domestic violence.

He wasn’t a monster, at least not to me.

His wife and I were friends. He was charming, thoughtful, and present. He was the most engaged father I knew; attending every parent teacher conference, every science fair, every band concert, every awards program.

Our children were also friends. When I visited their house, my friend would sometimes tell me about things he had done or said to her or their son. I brushed it off as routine marital conflict; after all, I was only getting one side of the story. Things couldn’t possibly be as bad as she implied. I rarely saw her without him in public. He had a good job and he took care of his family, which allowed her to be a stay-at-home mom. If it wasn’t a picture of domestic bliss, it was at least a portrait of domestic stability.

He wasn’t a monster, at least not to me.

I occasionally invited her to join me at Bible study and other social outings with a group of women because she seemed isolated. Whenever she accepted my invitations, often enthusiastically, without fail she found a reason to cancel at the last minute. As her friend, it was frustrating. Why wouldn’t she ever follow through on our plans?

He wasn’t a monster, at least not to me.

When I would call and leave messages, sometimes weeks would pass without a response. Whenever I did finally connect with her, she often said that she never received the messages. She was constantly having trouble with her phone and the issues were always a bit strange, like her password not working or messages not showing up.

We lost touch when our boys eventually ended up at different schools, but one day I was thinking about her and I decided to reach out. I discovered that my friend was in a shelter for domestic abuse survivors. I felt ashamed. I had dismissed her words and I had not recognized the signs of domestic abuse. Not in a million years would I have understood that her whispered confessions at the front door, while we waited for her husband to retrieve my son from the basement after a playdate, were desperate cries for help.

She never had physical bruises, at least none that I could see. My son had never shared any horror stories about his time with the family. In fact, we often had delayed goodbyes at the door because he loved being at their house so much. I couldn’t fathom verbal or emotional abuse in that home.

He wasn’t a monster, at least not to me.

As I learned more about her situation, I was reminded of watching the film “The Sixth Sense.” This was a surprise twist on a narrative I thought I knew and understood. My limited perspective had not allowed me to see the truth beneath the surface. This new information forced me to reevaluate everything that had come before with new eyes. The image of the doting father and always-present husband that he projected, I now understand to be one method of his control. It’s easy to recognize now that his wife’s phone issues were not accidental. And because the control was easier to wield in isolation, social interactions were minimized. I now understand why my friend had constantly canceled on our plans.

My friend is starting a new life now and I couldn’t be prouder of her. Healing and recovery will take time, but she has already taken the first, most daunting step. We never expect smiling, charming monsters.

We don’t expect them to be present and pleasant at every school function. Some monsters are capable of putting you at ease and persuading you to let down your guard, but don’t be fooled – all monsters are dangerous.

He was a monster.

Reach Tina Bryson, a Lexington writer, at tbryson@twc.com

Domestic violence resources: Greenhouse 17 offers 24-hour crisis line and resources. Amanda’s Center offers resources via phone or in person, and assists with orders of protection. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE, it is a 24-hour crisis line and offers resources. Their website is https://www.thehotline.org/

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