I looked at the clock. It was 3 a.m. I sat up in bed, momentarily disoriented. A man and a woman were shouting. Then I heard a loud THUD, followed by a BANGING sound, as if furniture was being moved or thrown. What was I hearing? A lover’s argument? Rough sex? Or domestic abuse?
Unsure what I was hearing, I cracked open my door. The shouting was coming from the apartment of a young single woman who had recently moved into the unit above mine. Ours is an intimate dwelling—an old mansion that has been subdivided into four apartments. As I slowly climbed the stairs to her door, I tried to discern what I was hearing. A lover’s argument? Rough sex? Or domestic abuse?
I knocked on her door. The shouting subsided. Becky (not her real name) appeared, flushed, out of breath, dressed in a black leotard. “Are you okay?” I asked. Becky nodded, apologized, and quickly closed her door. Relieved but slightly embarrassed, I went back to my apartment and turned on a white noise machine to drown out whatever was happening upstairs. I rationalized that Becky and her friend might’ve been drinking and “horsing around.”
Weeks passed, during which I didn’t see or hear Becky. I chalked up that incident to a “rogue night.” Then, one evening as I turned off Stephen Colbert and climbed into bed at 1:30 a.m., the shouting started again. Becky and a man were going at it hard, their voices escalating with a mean edge. I debated whether to knock on her door again or dial 911. My goal wasn’t to be the Nosy Lady Downstairs but to stop a potentially violent assault.
Ultimately, I did neither. Instead, I texted the landlord, who resides on the first floor, advising him that it was happening again. No landlord wants a criminal assault on his property. I turned up my white noise machine but could not sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about Becky. Why was an attractive young public-school teacher putting herself at risk?
That’s when it came back to me. I hadn’t thought about it in years. When I was in my twenties, I lived with a guy who “accidentally” shoved me during a verbal altercation. We were in the kitchen. My head hit the corner of the stove. My boyfriend’s eyes widened in horror. The fall cut the top of my head. Blood gushed out like a geyser. I was not in pain; I was in shock. My boyfriend rushed me to the ER, apologizing profusely. I did not think about leaving him. He hadn’t hurt me on purpose. It would never happen again. One year later, he punched and kicked me so hard that I finally ended the relationship.
I am tempted to share my experience with Becky in hope she will learn from it. But I am not that naïve. There is an “addictive” component to abusive relationships. Telling Becky to keep her distance from potentially violent men is like telling a heroin addict to find religion. And much of the glue that keeps women sticking to their abusive partners is a well-founded fear that if they leave, they will be hunted down and attacked—even possibly killed—by their abuser.
There are many women’s issues that demand our attention. However, none of these issues takes precedence over domestic violence. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that a woman is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds. The most vulnerable are women between 18 and 24. The cost of domestic violence exceeds $8.3 billion annually.
If you, or someone you know, is at risk, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or the New York City Domestic Violence Hotline, which provides safety planning, referrals, and connections to emergency housing for victims of domestic violence. You can contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800 621-HOPE or (800) 621-4673.
But, first, if you believe an incident of domestic violence is in progress, call 911. Next time, I will.