It couldn’t be more ironic if we had been reading lines from a script.
Today’s early morning drive along Route 7 was pleasant enough, as I wound my way from Morgantown, W.Va., to Kingwood. It even included a serene interlude with an old friend at a Reedsville café. From there I continued driving east, to hear Judge Larry Miller sentence a man convicted of first-degree murder in a case of deadly domestic violence.
But before I could leave Kingwood and return home I had to file a police complaint–after I found myself facing a bully who wouldn’t back down.
* * *
I was sitting in the hallway outside Preston County Circuit Court when I saw her. I didn’t miss the cold glare in my direction, but I ignored it. Instead, I looked away and continued chatting with another reporter. Everyone was ushered into the courtroom not long after, where we sat through Denny Ervin’s hearing. I wanted to write about its outcome but instead I’ll direct you to two other worthwhile news reports.
And simply say this: Denny Ervin is an animal, and I have emails from his exes that prove it. Emails I’ve written about in earlier blogs. He carried out acts of terrorism that no one should have to endure, and a life sentence without mercy is too good for him.
But that’s all I’m saying about Denny because I’m writing about my personal experience with a different bully, and how I handled it.
At the hearing’s end, everyone filed out of the courtroom and I saw her. Standing there, with that same intimidating stare. Her body language was equally threatening, and I felt the need to step to the side just to avoid her. She tried to engage me, as I suspected she might, but I cut her off, using humor to try to defuse the situation.
“Hey, thanks for reading my column,” I said with a smile and a thumps-up sign.
My humor fell flat. She said something which in legal terms would probably qualify as an assault. I couldn’t say now what it was, but I do know it was a threat of some kind or other, designed to cow me into keeping silent about thirteen years of domestic terrorism that began when I was a teenage bride.
I looked her directly in the eye. “If you ever contact me again, I will go to the police.” I was speaking about her periodic and harassing Facebook messages—messages designed to scare me and assassinate my character. Full of comments such as, “you can’t rape the willing.”
Then I walked right past her.
* * *
In 1999 I drove my daughters to Ruby Memorial Hospital and waited there with them because their stepmother was having problems during her pregnancy. They were really worried about her and their unborn half-sibling, so I took them. I didn’t just do it for my daughters; I did it for her. I believed it was the humane thing to do, the right thing to do, and a simple act of kindness. I also thought it might engender some goodwill from a woman who has hated me since she married my children’s father. Hoped it might show her I wasn’t the evil witch my ex made me out to be, and that I had a heart.
I always did. Before he remarried, whenever my children grumbled about another one of their father’s girlfriends, I tried to encourage them to see the bright side: “Look at it this way. It’s just one more person to love you.” I did the same thing with his new wife. Besides, with a woman around, I believed they stood a better chance of being protected from his violence.
* * *
In the courthouse basement after the hearing I stood chatting with two reporters. By the time I left the building, she was there. Waiting for me. I knew that the minute I saw her. She made sure I couldn’t reach my car without passing her, because she intended to continue intimidating me, to issue more threats. I did the same thing I did throughout most of my first marriage: I turned the other cheek.
She followed me, her voice louder, trying to force me into an ugly confrontation. That’s when I did it. I wheeled around to face her.
And said the only thing I’ve wanted to since 1999, not long before she went to the hospital for prenatal problems. “You let that man abuse my children until social services got involved and removed them from your home.” I raised my arm and pointed directly at her. “You let him do that!”
“I wasn’t at home,” she said.
Disgusted, I turned to go. She tried to follow me, spewing whatever threats she felt compelled to utter. By then the crowd that had gathered outside the courthouse could hear her yelling. Everyone was watching us. Even a court bailiff had come outside to see if there was a problem.
“Stay away from me!” I said, headed for my car. She followed me, still chattering. I opened my door, stopped, and shut it. Turning around, I walked past her.
“Go ahead, go tell the police,” she taunted.
It was great advice.
* * *
My readers usually wonder what happened after Eddie and I divorced. Many have even written to ask me. It’s hard to talk about and even more difficult to write about because Eddie and his new wife cost me a lot. I left the best job I’d had up to that point, in May 1999, and traveled 3,000 miles to help my daughters after they were forced to leave their father’s home.
Those are a few of my losses. But my children lost even more.
I spent the intervening years with this woman taking issue with me and now, my memoir—which doesn’t give Eddie’s real name, and which took place years before she ever met him.
I’ve contemplated it, and this is what I believe: it must be really hard to stay married to a man whose first wife has accused him of such horrible atrocities, and has the evidence to prove it—in the form of his own words. If you have to live with that lie, trying to convince yourself he’s a good guy, then you have no choice but to hate the woman he spent thirteen years raping. It’s called cognitive dissonance, and it’s something abused women do to survive.
So really, I pity her. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let her bully me. Sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself. I will not be a doormat. For anyone—male or female.
* * *
I have three books, and will soon have four. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is being used in colleges and some high schools; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), due out in July 2013.
For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.
Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!
Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and Sister of Silence placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”