Prince and Me, Circa 1941
The other day a friend of mine told me a horrible, horrible story, a story that she still, fifty years later, can hardly bear to tell. It seems that when she was ten years old, she witnessed a stable fire at a racetrack.
The fire blazed and engulfed the entire stable before anyone could stop it. People led the flaming horses to safety only to see them run back toward their stalls. I won’t describe the scene in any detail, for it was the stuff from which night terrors are made.
My friend concluded her account of that night by stating that horses instinctively seek to return to their stable and stall because no matter what, that is their safe place.The horses caught in the fire that night didn’t understand that they would die if they returned. No, they simply knew that they wanted to be home in their stall, home in their safe place. The fact that their safe place was no longer safe and wasn’t even a place anymore did not enter into their thinking.

All the horses died that night. When my friend finished telling her story, she left the room. Her own horse had been among the horses in the stable, and that fact made the telling all the more painful. I can only imagine the pain she has endured these past fifty years when the memory of that night of fire has intruded itself into her days and has popped up unbidden in her dreams.

As I listened to her tell this story, I immediately thought of women I have known who attempted to drag themselves from the flames of domestic violence or who were dragged from the flames by others. The women I knew in this situation usually gravitated back to their abusers and to the abusive environment. Only after awakening to the reality of their situation, to the real danger awaiting their children and themselves, did they survive outside the abuse situation and begin to rebuild their lives. A few, unfortunately, did not awaken and find the means to leave in time; they were killed.

Each of us who has lived through prolonged domestic violence has a different story to tell, but each of our stories is a variation on the same theme: Domestic violence, if it isn’t stopped, will generally be fatal to at least one of the parties involved. Often, the abuser will be the person who murders his or her victim. Sometimes a victim kills the abuser. Sometimes more than one person in the family is killed. Many outcomes are possible—all one needs to do is read the newspaper or the police records to know that. But one fact stays the same: If violence within a family isn’t stopped, there will eventually be a fatality.

Shortly after I reported my husband to the police and he left our home, I attended lectures and meetings for women who had lived through domestic violence. I learned about the cycle of violence, a concept invented by Dr. Lenore Walker in 1979 to help people understand the dynamics of domestic violence. If we imagine a clock face, Dr. Walker has depicted the explosion of violence at three o’clock. Continuing clockwise, at five o’clock she lists the Remorse Phase in which the abuser claims to regret his or her violent behavior. Next, at the seven o’clock position, the abuser Pursues his or her victim, possibly with offers of gifts, and following this at the nine o’clock position is the Honeymoon Phase, a phase in which life may appear calm and peaceful to an objective observer. After the Honeymoon, however, at about the eleven o’clock position, comes the Build-up Phase, a time in which the tension once again builds and heads into the Stand-over Phase, the phase coming shortly before the next outburst of violence.  (Source:

Dr. Walker is now a professor at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida ( She has dedicated her life to bringing the issue of domestic violence to the attention of the public and to studying the dynamics of this problem so that programs and laws may be designed to help victims and help alleviate this lethal social problem.

From talking to women who have lived with domestic violence and from reading I have done about domestic violence, I can believe that Dr. Walker’s diagram describes most d.v. situations accurately. My own situation, however, does not entirely fit the pattern depicted by Dr. Walker’s diagram. As I said, though, each of us has a different story to tell, but the ultimate ending to most stories of unchecked domestic violence is death.

Looking back over the first forty-two years of my life, I can only conclude that I must be one helluva tough cookie to have emerged from the abuse to which I’ve been subjected with my wits and my powers of empathy intact! In my case, there were no periods of remorse and no honeymoon periods in either my childhood abuse situation or in my marital abuse situation.

As a child victim, I was physically and emotionally battered and neglected. Neither of my parents apologized or expressed remorse or gave me presents after abusing me. Why would they have done that? After all, I deserved whatever I got, even when my father punished me by picking my cat up by the tail and swinging her against our kitchen wall. In the 1930s and 1940s, that’s what kids got when they misbehaved. Many kids, anyway.

The battering over the twenty-years of my marriage was constant—in one form or another. Unlike my parents, my husband did not beat on me physically, and perhaps that is why I was able to survive my situation. But still, my abuser never apologized for his rough sex, for yelling and cursing at me, for belittling me, and for his deviant and perverse sexual behaviour both in and outside of our bedroom. He never expressed remorse, nor did he give me gifts in any attempt to make peace.

So if I were to draw a diagram of the cycle of violence in my marriage, what would it look like? It would look, roughly, like this:

As you can see, at Point 1, my children and I were on the alert, always on the alert. At Point 2, we each in our own way prepared for the violence of our abuser’s next temper tantrum. After Point 2, anything could happen–independent of each other and unknown to each other, my daughter and I often attempted to defuse our abuser, to reduce his sexual tension, by offering ourselves sexually. I was trying to protect my kids and myself, and my daughter was trying the only way she knew to protect herself. Sometimes we didn’t succeed in defusing our abuser, and he “blew.”
After the explosion, he often would leave the house. Each of us in our own way would pick up our pieces and return to Point 1. My kids and I resumed our tiptoeing around our abuser, and our abuser gradually worked himself up to another explosion of violence. Same ol’, same ol’.  I had lived with it throughout my childhood.  Why should I have expected my married life to be different?

None of us died. I put an end to the cycle when I caught him using our daughter to satisfy his own needs. Maybe I deserved his abuse, but she did not! I knew that! She was an innocent child, my child. And my child was not going to be used to satisfy some need of his. That had happened to me when I was a child, and it would NOT happen to my daughter! I reported him to the police; he was convicted of indecent liberties and given three years’ probation—not nearly the punishment he might have received in this day, but it was better than nothing. This happened in 1981, and in 1981 in rural Washington state, sexual abuse was not something that most law enforcers and judges got excited about. By reporting my husband, though, I got him out of our lives, and my daughter and I had a chance to repair our relationship and take steps to repair our lives.

I said, “None of us died.” That’s true. However, a month or so after my husband was convicted, he said to me, “If you had not stopped the process (the domestic violence), one of us would be dead today.” I was too shocked to ask questions, and he did not elaborate. I assume, though, that he would not have been the one to die. I may be wrong about that, but I’ll never know. Death would have been the outcome of unchecked domestic violence. Whose death? It doesn’t matter. Any death resulting from domestic violence is tragic.

This, then, is a description of my own cycle of domestic violence. Unlike the horses, I never did return to the flaming stable, my safe place. When I became fully aware of the fire’s intensity and felt the heat sear my body and my heart, I ended the violence in my home and made a new place, one where my daughter and I both felt safe. Horses and humans, after all, are two different species—thank God for that!