Saturday, December 22, 2012

touched by violence

The response around the world to the mass shooting in Newton, Conneticut has been interesting as people express shock and retrospective analysis of the causes and effects of various things from mental health issues, pharmaceutical use and gun control.  The media coverage of these kind of events gives one a sense of intimacy to the carnage and a rather depressing impression that random violence is more common these days than it every once was.

I'm not sure whether it is more common or we just hear about it more in our age of facebooking and tweeting about everything from life events to bowel movements.  I'm also not sure regulating  guns  with more restrictions and now the suggestion of putting armed guards in every school in the US is the solution.  A blanket solution to random sequences of events will not solve all the issues.  The most effective prevention might  have been to interfere when the red flags began to go up on troubled behaviour.

When do we do that and how alert do we need to be of the behaviour and attitudes of our neighbours, friends, co-workers, lovers and family members?  When do we stop being polite and uncomfortably avoiding people who are self-destructive?  When do we understand that it takes very little for their business to become very much our business and that the risk to our own safety is precarious?  Philosophizing about something that happened thousands of miles away is one thing but quite another when it happens in your own backyard.

I live in a large house that has an upper suite and a lower suite.  I live with my two partners and my teenaged son.  A lovely woman, her toddler daughter and my son's girlfriend live in the lower suite.  About a month ago, the woman downstairs reconciled with her boyfriend after several months apart.  Their relationship is quite toxic and they are both alcoholics.  They fought loudly and often.  She lost her job and they broke up in the same week.  During the period where he'd moved out and they were not involved, she straightened up her life and stopped drinking.    She got herself  a new job and was  starting AA.   My son's girlfriend moved in during that time.  The heavy drinking and arguments started again about two weeks ago.   We have been friendly with her and supportive of her desire to change her life around.  I spoke with her about the slamming doors, throwing things and yelling after the last spat about a week ago.  She said they were back in the same rut and she was working with him and her AA sponsor to change that.  I wanted to tell her to give her head a shake and get out of the relationship.  I did say that  two recovering addicts are not going to be able to stay on any wagon.  They need separate sponsors and a lot of support.  We worried about them and her child.  My son's girlfreind would not sleep in the apartment when the boyfriend was over which is when the daughter is at her dad's place.  She couldn't stand the fighting.

You can't make people fix their lives.  They have to want to do it and want to make changes.  You can only suggest, pray and hold their hands when they struggle. Or can you and should you do more?  Where is the line?

Two nights ago, there was a brief argument.  She told him to get out and someone went out onto their porch which is just below our bedroom window.  It was quiet and I snuggled in to go to sleep.  There were two gun shots  and a crash of glass.  She began to scream while I was on the phone to the police.  He may have intended to kill her first but he most definitely shot himself and died.  Five feet below my bedroom window.  Their business was definitely now mine.

I looked out the bedroom window to confirm to the dispatcher that I could see police officers on site so she'd let me hang up the phone.  I saw the lower part of his body and an officer near him.  The look on the officer's face is one I will not soon forget.

Her daughter was at the dad's place.  My son and his girlfriend were away overnight.  The neighbour to the right, heard the argument and was out on his porch having a smoke.  He saw the boyfriend kill himself.  The neighbour on the left and his wife were also on the phone to the police and heard the shots.  The wife had to go to emerg for what the husband thought was a heart attack later that night.

We were interviewed twice by the police and instructed to stay in our home.   During the first statement, she began to scream in a way that made your skin crawl.  I asked the cop interviewing me if that would indicate that he's been pronounced dead.  He said that was most likely the case.   As we waited for a second interview with a tape recorder, we began to try and analyse what had  likely happened by what we'd heard and seen.  After the second interview, the police cars and ambulances left.  The coroner came and went.  We sat up and tried to calm down.  Unfortunately, all we could think of is all the what ifs and ways that this could have gone down differently with more injuries and fatalities.  Retrospective analysis on how we might have interfered and prevented the outcome had moved through the shock to a jumpy sense of being alert to every noise.

Much has happened since then in terms of her grieving behaviour and the trauma sustained by those of us who were unwilling intimates to their business.  Police have been around the property constantly and the couple who own the house have been in contact.  All of us went to work the next day, and found some support in talking with co-workers and debriefing a bit.  We've heard her home but not spoken directly with her.  Victims Services and her friends and family have been surrounding her.  My son and his girlfriend don't feel safe and we are helping them find a place to move in as soon as possible.

While we and this unfortunate couple weren't involved as lovers/partners so not a poly configuration, we were friends and we considered them extended family.  We included them in family and poly group activities in our home and so on.  What happens in a poly relationship configuration when a relationship within that configuration devolves into domestic violence?   There was no abuser in this scenario.  No one was getting beat up and the verbal abuse was mutual.  I didn't realize that there was a gun in the house although I clearly remember comments NOW that indicated that there has been a gun or two in their suite for some time.  It didn't tweak me before.   Do we need to be so involved in other people's habits and issues that we can protect ourselves from the fallout?  How do we do that?  We have safer sex agreements and dating agreements.  Do we need acceptable habits, when to intervene and storage of weapons agreements?

Tragedy touches you and changes you, whether you were standing right there or just heard about it.   My partner says he doesn't know what to feel but I think its that we don't know which emotion to feel first.  We are scared, saddened, angry and aware of what else could have been saved or lost if any one moment had been different.

Tonight I'm grateful for the miracle of being alive and in a peaceful loving family.  I'm grateful for neighbours who share my trauma but worry about us.  I'm grateful for police, paramedics and victims services volunteers who were an amazing team.

I wish that I had insisted on coaching them on how to communicate non-violently as a couple.  I wish that I had hugged them more often and been a real nosey mom figure in their lives.

I wish with all my heart that he is at peace now and she will find closure and healing some day soon. 

I wish that I could shut out the instant replay tape in my head and stop sleeping in alert mode.  I wish that I wasn't sitting up now with the TV on, afraid to go to sleep and be vulnerable.  I  thought my home to be a safe sanctuary which is important to most people but on par with winning a gold medal  for me as I am a former battered wife.  Being exposed to a domestic war zone has triggered so much for me and likely why I interfered with their business as much as I did.  One never knows how much is enough and how much is too much.

The fallout to violence endures long after the shots are fired and impacts all who hear the news.   Is there a way to always protect ourselves and those we love from it or can we only ever minimize the risks and hope for the best?


  1. O M G. Having been a victim of violence, I struggled to keep reading this and give due attention to your experience while keeping my reaction in check. Is there anything I can do to help you? I'm here to talk with if/when you feel a need.

  2. Thank you for posting this.

    I hope writing this eased some of the trauma for you, as much as I am certain the love, wisdom, and courage in your words will help others.

    There are no simple answers to the questions in this post. But I think that makes asking/contemplating uneasy questions all the more important. So thank you again.

    Best wishes to you, your family & loved ones.

  3. Violence never leaves ... because it never came... because it was always there... some are built with out it some are built with imation parts... once one has experienced violence it shows them either what others are capable or what they are capable... to be violent is to cross boarders... its a sense of irrational courage and aggression ... its also a very addictive sensation violence can be used for " good ". it is not what should be feared. the irrisponsible and unjust use of it by those who arent knowledgable of its use are the ones who should be feared... not all monsters are " bad "... it is unfortunate that you had to go through this experience unready and. unwilling... but try to stay in the possitive. what can/did you learn from this?... dont invest so much time dwelling on it and make it the center of your world because then it becomes just that... and it sounds to me like you dont want that. my apologies if i mayy have disturdeb or bothered anyone.

    sincerely yours - The Self Made Monster and product of his enviroment

  4. Dear Polly ..
    Just read through this story. You are riveting in the observations you make about the violence of that night. That you were five feet from a gun-shot makes me shake. I thank whatever gods exist that you and your family are safe.

    Blessings ..

  5. Hello Polly,

    The signs were there.

    Living in a culture that accepts violence or abuse
    in a relationship of any sort should bring questions to mind.

    We do not protest the bully nor the perpetrators lest we are next. Hiding and camouflage are two survival mechanisms that keep us alive.

    Remembering that we have professionals that do the same is also important information.