We Are Together and We Are Fine

The photo shows a couple holding hands, rushing out of City Hall in San Francisco. She is Eliana Lopez, a former telenovela star in Venezuela, and he is her husband, Ross Mirkarimi, the newly sworn-in San Francisco County Sheriff. He has just been charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, after a New Year's Eve fight with her.

A friend and neighbor, Ivory Madison, called the police after Eliana confided in her. She photographed bruises on Eliana's arm, and texted with her about what happened. Later she refused to turn the photo and texts over to investigators, because Eliana asked her not to. A search warrant was obtained, and the material gathered.

Eliana states that the accusations against her husband were "taken out of context" and calls the charges "unbelievable." According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, she says, "As I've said before, I don't have any complaint against my husband. We are together and we are fine."

I'm thinking of Ivory, wondering how their friendship will go from here.
And I'm thinking of Eliana. It takes so long to see what is there. When I was married to an abuser, he'd tell me he wouldn't have to get so angry if only I'd be less demanding, more supportive, more understanding. I hid the truth from everyone, especially myself. One day my old friend Colin McEnroe asked what was wrong and told me it seemed I was disappearing.

I couldn't tell him, and I didn't speak to him for a long time afterwards. The attack on my marriage and my carefully guarded secret felt too threatening. I wanted the marriage to last. I wanted to believe what my husband told me, that we were "made in heaven" -- not what Colin said, not what my own inner voice was screaming.

It took me years to leave that marriage. He never hit me, so there weren't bruises to photograph. Our own private version of domestic violence was emotional and psychological. When friends and my own sister ask why it took so long to leave, I still feel embarrassed. "You had to be there," I want to tell them. You had to know what it was like, living in his reality. You have to understand how our relationship worked: when he was good, he was smart, funny, and everyone's best friend. I'd see that side of him, and believe it would last this time. When the dark, violent mood came clanging down, I'd feel terrified and go into frozen mode -- a type of playing dead, tonic immobility, trying to protect myself until the worst passed. I'd bury myself in writing; my fictional world was where I felt safe.

I wonder what Eliana Lopez's friends and family are asking her.

She's living this out in the public eye. I would want to say to her, trust yourself. Listen to what you know. You are brave.

And to Ivory: I've been there, too -- the friend who tries to help. Now that I've left that marriage, it's easier for me to see when it's happening to others. The scales tend to fall from one's eyes. There's someone I love. She confided in me once, and never again. She hasn't spoken to me in five years. She's in the marriage still.

"Why don't you leave him?" I want to ask. I did it -- I left the husband who hurt me -- and so can you.

But I know it's hard, and it takes as much time as it takes to stop saying, "We are together and we are fine."