“I read your articles,” she said to me. “They’re very… um… vulgar.”
Vulgar. Because I write out fuck and shit without asterisks in the middle, and goddamn without any dashes. Or maybe because I wrote about how he held a knife to my throat, or pushed me down when I was pregnant, or hit me just once, at the very end, but I still refused to think it was physical abuse. Perhaps she found it vulgar when I described how he’d kiss me when he came home late from work, or held me close on cold winter nights, or told our 2-year-old daughter to go call me a bitch.
Yeah, I guess some could say that my articles are vulgar.
But here’s the thing: y’all know what I write about, and ain’t nothing pretty or tasteful about domestic violence. And let me tell you something else: it’s not even what you think. Cause who wouldn’t agree that hitting a woman or calling her names isn’t vulgar? Vulgar, which is defined as rude, indecent, indelicate, offensive, distasteful, coarse, crude, obscene, profane, smutty, dirty, filthy… But the secret of domestic violence lies in the vulgarity of the “pretty” and not in what seems obviously vulgar to any decent human being. There is vulgarity in the (blood) diamonds he buys her to make her forget, crudeness in the (sickeningly) sweet notes he leaves her that only make it worse. There is obscenity in his genuinely (in)sincere apologies and his (carefully) sheepish grins that only confuse her. There is coarseness in the tenderness with which he strokes her face, and indelicacy in the gentleness he shows to his children.
This is the vulgarity that should offend, this is what we should all be decrying — not saying the goddamn f-word or c-word or b-word, even one million times.
Maybe the problem is that we are too bent on the wrong words, so we can’t hear her — and I mean really hear her — when she says that, yes, everything is fine, her husband just didn’t join the Shabbos meal because he is really tired… again. Or when she tells you that, oh, clumsy her, she bumped into the staircase and gave herself a black eye. Or that she stopped going to zumba because her husband is too busy learning to watch the kids once a week.
Maybe we only hear it when it looks and smells and sounds like vulgarity, when he is calling her names and twisting her arm and almost runs her over with his car and it makes it to the papers.
Maybe that’s why all she was able to see in my words was vulgarity, and, I don’t know, but maybe that’s why I use them.
I always hesitate before publishing another DV piece, not just because it is uncomfortable, but because it can be tedious to keep doing something again and again when you don’t see any concrete results, or when you know that the people who will actually get it, the people who need to see these words and hear your story, aren’t even listening.
But then I remember the Girl Who Cried Wolf. Do you know her? She is the Girl who is always posting cries for help on Facebook and spilling her pain into every conversation. And at first people listen, they empathize, they offer their phone numbers and the suicide hotline’s and lots of ❤❤❤ on her statuses.
But then it grows old, and people just scroll right past. They ignore her desperate texts and her dramatic voice notes, don’t want to believe that this time she really means it. And when the Wolf comes, everyone wonders why they didn’t see the signs.
Or the other Girl, who told everyone around her that everything is fine fine fine, and lied lied lied, so when she finally worked up the strength to tell everyone about the Wolf, nobody believed her.
See, the thing about words is that they are powerful, incredibly so. But us humans, we get used to everything in life, even powerful things, like powerful words that make our heart stop right in our chest the first time we read them in a book or hear poetry on a stage. When we hear the same words over and over, they lose their power, we become numb to their strength. I know this because the more times I read my own work as I’m writing and revising and working, the less I like it. I also know this because the more times I read or watch or listen to any writer’s work, even if I gasped from the absolute beauty of it the first and second — or even third — time, the less power it holds for me.
But most importantly, I know this because I’ve been called a fucking Israeli piece of shit more times than I can count. And a stupid bitch. And a dumb whore. (I still have the texts.) But as any survivor will tell you, you get used to everything, and eventually you don’t even blink when the words just roll off your frozen shoulders.
That’s the problem with us humans — we get used to everything, even evilness. I know it, and the Girl Who Cried Wolf knows it, too.
And this is why I continue to write about this same topic, over and over and over again, throughout tumultuous elections and multiple New Years, during major world events and smaller individual ones — same topic, same message. Because those who read my words before are already used to them, and it’s important to use new words, to keep this conversation alive and to keep talking, so that we don’t become numb as we humans tend to do.
Any kind of abuse thrives when we look the other way. We must remember that initial power of words, and we mustn’t get used to them: not to his hateful, spitting language, not to her silent pleas for help, and not to her proclamation that everything is fine. We mustn’t get used to vulgarity, but true vulgarity, not the kind they bleep out on TV. I always talk about finding the good in others, about looking for the light. But sometimes it’s important to pick up on the vulgarity that isn’t obvious, to notice the signs of abuse in his generosity, his apologies, his hunger for her attention. We shouldn’t have to wait until it sounds vulgar in his threats, or in a police report.
Remember the Girl, and remember her words. Cause that Wolf? He is counting on all of us not to believe her.