Intimate Partner Violence: Sarah and Jolene

The following character monologues were originally written for an educational theatrical production to educate youth on intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is domestic violence perpetuated by one current spouse or partner against the other within an intimate relationship. IPV can take a number of forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. Recognized in Canada as a public health issue, intimate partner violence can have far-reaching consequences on not only the direct victim, but also on families, communities, and society at large.

Sarah

Most days I want to blow away. Erode like a crumpled paper in a bonfire. Explode and be carried away in a million pieces by a northern wind. But some nights, when I’m about to fade away into space, Jolene comes home and tells me I’m everything she needs. That I’m the fire that feeds her and that she worships me. She tells me how beautiful I am and kisses me all over. Tells me I sustain her and that she couldn’t bear it if I left her. She makes me feel elated. Needed. Important. For that night at least. In the morning those feelings start to crumble away and the questions begin.

“Will you be leaving the house today Sarah? Where to? With who? You’re wearing that? You’ve smoked how much already? I know you don’t have that kind of money. The old you would get some work done. Christ, can’t you even wash a dish right? Sarah are you blind? Come over here and do it right. How are you so incapable of doing the simplest things? Admit to your mistakes Sarah, don’t live a life of delusions. Put some elbow grease into it Sarah. Jesus Christ.”

Have you ever seen that video of a supposedly real alien autopsy at Roswell? Sometimes they show it late at night on the History Channel. A little grey man lays dead and lifeless on a cold metal table. His eyes open wide look at the camera forlorn as he’s poked, prodded and disemboweled by masked figures. This is me. Joleen taking everything out of me. For fun maybe. For anthropologist study maybe. She digs through my purse, my drawers, my shoes. She read my journal until I burnt it. Now she reads every notebook and scrap piece of paper. Even demands access to my phone. She empties the pockets of my jeans from the laundry hamper, examines the crotches of my underwear, and I swear: digs through the garbage. Searching for what? Something incriminating. And in her eyes anything can be incriminating. I am always in trouble. Any tiny inconsequential item, act, or phrase, can become a severe insult, a fatal crime, an earth-shattering offense.

Jolene says this is normal. Couples don’t keep secrets. Couples live each other’s lives. These are acts of her desire and concern for me. Acts to keep me safe. But I don’t feel safe anymore… except for rare fleeting moments in her arms. The rest of the time I’m always on edge. Just waiting. Waiting for the next shit storm to hit. Sometimes I feel so nervous I have trouble eating. Jolene eats beside me, happily chatting about her day while I stare at the TV, frozen. Unable to swallow my steak or even my own spit.

Jolene has never hit me. But sometimes I wish she would. I wish she would just get it out of her system and stop screaming at me. Stop being so mad and disgusted with me all the time. If she hit me… maybe I would have a reason to leave.

Jolene

Wherever we go Sarah attracts men like a flame. I watch her outside the bar, smoking her cigs with a nervous pace and sucking men into her orbit. She breathes them in and exhales smoke into their faces. They ask her for a light and she says something to make them blush. Should I just watch all their desires unaffected? I’m not that strong. Those men. And even worse, those other women. They’re drawn to Sarah’s angry broken fragility. Just like I was. Am. I’ve felt the fires they’re feeling, I know what feeds them. They want to take her, break her, love her, fuck her, fix her. Good or bad intentions they want to take her away from me. And she lets them believe they can. Dangles them, taunts them. Savours their lust and laughs at my insecurity.

Sometimes I wake Sarah up in the middle of the night to ask her if she still loves me. It’s pathetic i know… but I just need her to tell me. If she loves me why does she treat me like this? Why play games, why numb me with silence? I don’t have sympathy for her tears anymore. She uses that trick too much; I know she just produces them to get out of conversations. Cries to milk sympathy and shortcuts from everyone around her. She can be just like my mother and I hate it. My mother, oblivious to her family and responsibilities. My mother, drunk and passed out on the couch. My mother, calling me, her only daughter, a whore at 9 years old. My mother, wailing on me until the neighbours call the cops. My mother: the victim, the hysteric, the martyr, the good… always left off the hook.

I’ve done so much to help Sarah, given her so much. Given her all of me, my house, my money. Therapists and vacations and gifts. Nothing is ever good enough for her. She just seems oblivious and bored with it all. I worry she’ll walk into a river out of languor. Fuck a homeless man just because she can. She’s not the woman I once knew. She’s ruining her own life and trying to ruin mine. Drag me down into the ashes with her. Well I won’t let her. Won’t let her ruin me or herself. I see flashes of the woman I know she can be. It’s her that I fight for. If I can just keep her on a routine that I know is healthy maybe that woman will bubble up.

I don’t care if she hates me for it now; she’ll thank me later when she’s employed and successful. When she’s looking down at those slutty scammer friends of hers, still struggling and hustling to make ends meet. Sarah’s problems aren’t problems and I need to break her delusion. I know I can better than any therapist can. Her problem is a lack of motivation and focus. Not brain chemistry or other hocus focus. I pulled myself out of nothing. She can do it too. Together we can be fantastic. We can have it all. I’ll make her see.