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VOL. 111 | NO. 16 | Friday, January 24, 1997

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By SUZANNE THOMPSON A balm for healing Former battered wife uses writing to help other victims cope By SUZANNE THOMPSON The Daily News She sits on her sofa, her face encircled by sunlight which floods the room from the window behind her. Her smile belies the anguish she suffered during an abusive relationship that spanned two decades. Elizabeth Shelley her new name has a new life, one in which she has found peace. Now a full-time volunteer and poet, Shelley uses her experiences to help other victims of domestic violence. Remembering the way her nightmare began, she glances from side to side, takes a deep breath, and begins her tale. In 1968, Shelley worked as a school teacher. At 25, independent and self sufficient, she married a young professional, and her hopes for the future were bright. Two weeks later, her husband wanted to invite his parents to dinner. With papers to grade nightly, Shelley was distraught at the prospect of entertaining during the week without her husbands help. He made it clear that in his view all domestic responsibilities belonged to her, and when she objected, he slapped her. "I really thought it was some fluke incident," Shelley said. Recalling her reaction, she said, "I felt devastated and confused. It was like somebody I didnt know. It was like this whole other person." Raised in Ann Arbor, Mich, Shelley attributed her husbands expectation that she would perform all household chores to some Southern cultural difference. Her husband, while he continued to be demanding and overbearing regarding domestic tasks, didnt hit her again for almost a year. Then one day, as he was driving the car and the couple began to have a disagreement, he reached across the seat and hit her so hard he broke her nose. Shelley said after that occasion, the beatings gradually became more frequent. She said her husband would blame her for his violent outbursts. "He would always say, If you just wouldnt do this, it wouldnt happen. I just thought that if I could do better, it would stop," Shelley said. She said her husband had served three years in the military prior to their marriage, and he told her how much he missed it because being an office gave him power over others. Shelley remembered that she tried to rationalize his violent tendencies by blaming his professional lack of fulfillment. After he rejoined the military, the couple moved to another state, and Shelley said she stayed home in an effort to be the perfect military wife. "That is the period when I really got locked into the thing," Shelley recalled. "I didnt want to do anything to jeopardize his career." During this time, Shelley gave birth to two sons, now 27 and 28. She said she did "what was expected" of her in terms of attending functions for military wives, and as always, her husband continued to be imperious about the condition of the household. "He was the type who would come home and run his finger across the top of pictures to make sure everything was ...," she trailed off, rolling her eyes. "He was a perfectionist." After completing four years of military service, her husband decided to bring the family back to Memphis and bought rental properties in Midtown. All the while, the beating were becoming more regular, occurring weekly, with Shelley becoming badly hurt at least once a month. "My whole life revolved around him and what he told me to do," she said. Shelley recounted some indignities which she routinely encountered such as kicking, slapping, hitting and hair pulling. "I had cuts. I always had bruises," she said. Since these incidents routinely took place with her children or friends as onlookers, she sought adolescent counseling for one of the boys, who had become troubled. She recalled with wonder that no one ever talked about the abuse at all, though there was no prior agreement not to talk about it. Her husband had become something of a demigod in the house. "He was like God. It would be like telling on God." She explained that it is common for domestic violence to occur in front of children. Shelley cited statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence that 62 percent of boys 14 and over get hurt trying to protect their mothers from an abuser. Armed with this knowledge and realizing that her children, then almost grown, would soon be leaving home, she knew she had to act. She said she could not imagine living alone with her husband, because he often had threatened her life. Shelley recalled one such incident when he sharpened a knife in front of her and told her that no man with money ever went to jail for killing his wife. "I was afraid they [the children] would leave and I would be killed and nobody would ever know," she said. She contacted the counselor again, and this time, told him everything. The counselor, she said, finally got her to realize that if she did not leave, there was a good chance somebody would get killed. Now, eight years later, Shelley shares these atrocities with others in an effort to comfort other victims and fight domestic violence. Additionally, Shelley serves on the Tennessee Task Force Against Domestic Violence where she is Chairman of the Battered Womens Caucus. She also gives speeches on domestic violence and participates in forums held by the Domestic Violence Council. Shelley recently received an award from the Young Womens Christian Association for her outstanding work. She holds writing groups for victims of domestic violence, as well as summer sessions for children from abusive homes. The writing, Shelley said she believes, has been an important therapeutic tool in helping her deal with the abuse she endured. She also said she has been in counseling since she left her abuser, although she sees the counselor less frequently now than when she first left her husband. About her new life, dedicated to helping other victims, Shelley said, "It was like I just wasted twenty years. In order to make anything positive out of it, I decided to use the only thing I had gotten out of it, which was knowledge about abuse, in some positive way."
RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 62 288 2,619
MORTGAGES 52 197 1,783
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 16 53 275
BUILDING PERMITS 0 569 5,701
BANKRUPTCIES 0 87 993
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 110 491
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0