I want to share a story about something that happened to me. It doesn’t sound like it’s something that happened to me because the worst of it happened to and because of people who are not me. But I don’t know what they were thinking or are currently thinking about this event. I don’t know the background or the aftermath and that isn’t my story.
I used to be a regular at a bar in Halifax, as many of you know, as many of you were there. I was (and still am, just no longer actively) an alcoholic. I did some regrettable, embarrassing things during my tenure there, of course, and I watched regrettable, embarrassing things happen around me. But I never felt unsafe. On the contrary, I felt so safe, surrounded by good friends with kind hearts. And the people who ran and tended the bar, I felt, were looking out for us.
There was a couple who hung out there a fair bit and with whom I was friendly. They were drinking buds of mine. Not really friends, but potential friends I thought at one time, and people I really liked. I knew the man better than I knew the woman, because he’d spent more time at the bar and we’d had more conversations. He never seemed sketchy or unsafe, and this is maybe what gets me the most. I always thought I was a good judge of character.
One night, after last call, the three of us decided to continue drinking at a bar down the street called Reflections, which had a cabaret license that allowed it to continue serving alcohol until 3:30 am. Then I went back to their place where we continued drinking for god knows how long. Probably not that long, given the timeline. We were lost in conversation and having an excellent time and we didn’t want the party to end. This was not a particularly strange thing for me to be doing at that time in my life. I was a partier, and a drunk.
I crashed on their couch. Also, not notably unusual behaviour.
At some point, when it was light out, I woke up because I heard banging coming from upstairs, where the couple’s bedroom was. It took me a little while to figure out what was going on. I was disoriented because I was not in my own bed and because I was drunk. Within a few seconds I remembered where I was and how I had gotten there. The banging continued. This, I didn’t understand. I don’t remember hearing any yelling, but I may have. I remember that the impression I had was that someone was being thrown against a wall. It sounded forceful, violent, and scary. I think I must have heard voices but I don’t remember anymore. It was a long time ago. I remember yelling up the stairs, somewhat meekly, “Are you okay?” The sounds stopped for a moment, and then filled the silence again. I got the hell out of there.
I was pretty sure this was going on: He was beating the shit out of her.
Here, I know, I did exactly the right thing. I left the presumably violent situation and I called the police as soon as I could locate a payphone.
I looked at their street address and repeated it over and over in my head so I wouldn’t forget it. I walked up towards Gottingen street, which wasn’t very far away but felt like miles. I was drunk and sleep deprived and I was suddenly in the midst of people rushing to work like it was a regular day. I think I was in shock. I had been fortunate enough to never have experienced that kind of violence first-hand, and it really stunned me. I searched for a payphone. These were few and far between because most people had cell phones by then. I finally found one and I called 911 and I told them the address and that I thought there was a domestic situation.
I got home in a daze and I told my roommate about it and I must have slept, but I don’t know how the rest of that day went.
That night there was a music event at “my” bar, and I was working the door, as I frequently did, in exchange for free beer.
I told people what happened. I told my friends, who knew him too. They believed me and they were shocked too.
Some time over the next few days a friend of the abuser came into the bar and relayed that the abused had been taken to the hospital after the police were called, and the she had been badly beaten. I overheard him telling this to the bartender. I didn’t say anything and I don’t know why. I hated the way he said it though, like he was just relaying some gossip, like it was interesting rather than horrifying. This friend of the abuser still hung out with the abuser, which I knew because I saw them both sitting at the bar together way too soon after the incident. The bartender served them both, like nothing had happened. This went on at the downstairs bar while I was sitting at the door in the upstairs bar, and someone came upstairs to let me know he was there.
I wish I’d been louder about this part of my story because this part really hurt me. I don’t know what they were actually thinking but I know that the men who worked at that bar continued to serve the abuser even though they knew he had beaten the shit out of his girlfriend and scared the shit out of me. I don’t think they disbelieved me but I don’t know how they could do that.
The abuser wasn’t a regular anymore, and I think he mostly tried to avoid me, but I know he still popped in on occasion, and once, when I was sitting at a table by the window, he walked by and banged on the glass right in front of me, intentionally intimidating.
I had a disappointing conversation with the abused in the aftermath. I’d been worried about her, and had wanted to get in touch but hadn’t known how. We spoke outside the bar once. She asked me if I’d been the one to call the police. She said she assumed I had been but wasn’t sure. She told me it had been really good for their relationship, that it had straightened him out, and that they were much healthier now. That he used to abuse her regularly but didn’t anymore. It broke my heart.
Should I be saying his name? I know his name. I know some of you facebook friends of mine know his name, too. Maybe he has changed, has gotten help and is truly a better and remorseful person. If I say his name though it’s like saying her name and her story is not mine to tell. She can tell it if, when, and how she wants to.
I wish I’d been louder about how betrayed I felt by some of the people at that bar. I felt like it wasn’t my right because it wasn’t my bar and maybe that’s true, except it is my right to talk about how I feel. And when I saw him in there with mutual acquaintances, I wish I’d said, “How could you? Don’t you care about what this man has done? Don’t you care that he makes this place unsafe? How can you sit there with him?”
I don’t know what anyone except for me believes about what happened, and may continue to happen, for all I know. I have never heard his side, and I imagine his friends have.
But I think I should talk about it because this is one of the things I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this week, and I think it’s an example of how our culture makes it easy for people to get away with abusive behaviour. Everybody knew, and everybody was still nice to him. He got away with it. I don’t even know how complicit I was and am in this myself.
I feel a twinge of guilt whenever I relay this story, because it’s not really something that happened to me. But the actual waking up in their house and calling the police and walking home part of the story, this is one of - if not the most - traumatic things that has ever happened to me. I really did feel in a state of shock. And I think about her, and all of the other people I know who have actually been victims of violence, and I feel so goddamned lucky. How fucked up is it that I feel lucky, and exceptional, to have never been a victim of violence?