I was born into a violent family. It started generations ago in Montenegro. Always there was war and genocide. My Baba escaped with her two children, into a mining town. Violent in a different way. She had a power about her. She had needed it to survive. The mines were oppressive and dangerous. She moved, with her daughter, to the land of plenty and my father moved our family to the Emerald city.
Our neighborhood was relatively simple. At that time we were out of the city limits and had woods behind ours and all of our neighbor’s homes. All the kids traveled as a group, playing games and getting fed at each other’s homes. It was idyllic. But not at home. My father could not leave his anger behind. His wretched upbringing reared its ugly head, with regularity. He would lash out, both verbally and physically.
My mom had been raised in a violent home as well. When her parents married, they took on the younger brothers that had been in an orphanage as a result of their father’s drunkenness and their mother’s insanity. Her dad went into bootlegging to support his suddenly large family. My uncle took the lion’s share of his anger, but my mom lived in it fully, so it was normal for her to marry a violent man.
Once we were all born, 5 of us, it became difficult for my father to manage. It was the 60’s and there was revolution – against all he believed in. His own daughters defied him. We became rebels and all fled home, with an utopian vision. I went on to communal living. I found it Idyllic again, but in the same fantastical way as my parents found their move. I was drawn to violence. For me, it was the outlaws who lived outside of society, riding horses and carrying guns, hunting and fishing for survival.
Finally I replaced my father. I had always admired my Baba and wanted to be like her – stoic and strong and a force in her world. I did not see the violence as abnormal. I had been raised in it, although I did see myself a feminist and heard myself often saying, “No one will ever touch me or my children!”. I believed this implicitly, despite my experience to the contrary. One day, in a fight with my partner that became violent, he bit me. I looked at my arm and realized that he had crossed a line. It caused a power to rise in me and I knew that he had made a vital mistake and I was now the one in power. It transcended his greater strength into the realm of his shame. He too, came from violence and abhorred it, despite his actions. I locked myself in my bedroom, to better feel this surge of power and control and decide how to wield it. Instead, I saw another, wiser version of myself, in the corner of the room. The other me was observing me calmly. She said, “Do you not see that you are a battered woman? You are the other side of the broken coin that fits into the violent man. You are not separate. You do not need to fight against your counterpoint. You need to see your part and break away”. I was broken. I hated to be a victim. In that room, a generational part of me died. I took the advise of a friend and went to a battered woman’s shelter. It was not my idea and I felt a bit traitorous. I had been living in a lawless society and now I was using the law against my partner. I went to court for a restraining order. I had to stand up in front of the judge and all my neighbors of this small town, and listen to my partner berate me. He described my own violent actions and I knew it was true. I stood there, in shame and embarrassment and total desperation, but also in a new kind of strength. It was unfamiliar. I became humble, which seemed to mix with humiliation – similar words but so very different. I received my restraining order and he was not allowed around me. This change in me was not instant, it took years to come to fruition. But, from that day forward I did not chose to live in violence again.