I have been thinking about her this week.
It was the first headline I read Monday morning, over the day's first cup of coffee. A local man shot and killed his ex-wife. She was found in her apartment, in a suburb south of Madison, with two fatal gunshots to her head.
They were married 23 years. They had two teenage children. Their divorce was newly final.
She did everything she was supposed to do. In the face of physical assaults and death threats, she managed to keep her job. She managed to save money and move out and settle herself in a new apartment. She managed to get a restraining order. She managed to file for divorce.
This is all hard, brave work, when the force you are managing against is a man who wants to kill you.
She did everything she was supposed to do.
On Saturday, May 16, he showed up at her door carrying a gun. This is the moment that catches me, the moment that happened next. Did he push his way in? Did she try to talk him down from his rage, thinking it was like all the other times and he would stop right before he crossed that line? When did she realize that he wouldn't? When did she think, "I will not see my daughters again"? Was it fear or terror she felt at the end, in the final seconds before he pulled the trigger? Or was it something closer to a desperate relief, that finally it was over, and he wouldn't be able to hurt her anymore?
This story is more than the headlines, more than the manhunt, more than the ex-husband's body found two later in a nearby park, death by self-inflicted gunshot. The story is more than the newspaper accounts of their turbulent, violence-ridden marriage. It's more than the measly $500 bail the ex-husband received after he tried to strangle his wife and attacked his daughter with a fireplace poker the day after Christmas.
The heart of the story is the moment that matters -- the moment Francie Weber realized she was going to die, at the hands of someone who claimed to love her and then exerted every effort to inflict harm. The look in her eyes. The thoughts in her head. The panic. This is the moment her terror becomes real.
I read the newspaper account to Joe that night. "That makes me so mad," he said. He stood up from the couch where he had been sitting. He paced the room. "How could any human being do that to someone else?" he asked. "Doesn't it make you angry?"
I paused and sighed and looked away.
Because anger isn't the word for it. To be perfectly honest, I told him, it makes me feel a little defeated. It's a reminder that sometimes it will never be enough. Restraining orders and divorces and new apartments and fresh starts sometimes don't help if an abuser is hell-bent on killing you. Prison helps. But most domestic violence cases are never reported to the police. And often, prison only happens once something horrible has occurred, something like murder.
What does make me angry is that despite this crime, and despite the fact that the most recent murder in that same suburb was yet another domestic violence homicide, and despite the fact that the news these days from all parts of the country (like here and here and here ) seems to be fraught with headlines of husbands killing their families, we as a society still don't seem to think of domestic violence as a real problem.
Yes, we pay it lip service. But we still appease ourselves with the false reassurance that domestic violence doesn't happen to "people like us."
What makes me angry is that more people don't consider this a public health emergency. How can we fight for economic justice -- of any kind, for anyone -- or lobby for health care reform, or demand an end to torture, yet ignore the fact that one out of every three women in this country is terrified of the person in their own home?
These issues are related. Economic justice for women fleeing abusers is critical -- not having financial resources of her own can be one of the main obstacles preventing victims from leaving their abusers. Health care is critical -- consider how many costly emergency room visits are the result of intimate partner violence.
And if the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib captures our attention and inspires nationwide calls for investigations and policy reversal, then the torture of women and children (and to call systematic physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse "torture" is not an exaggeration) in every community in our country should rally a similar and related cacophony of outrage.
And yet it doesn't.
It isn't seen as political. It isn't seen as important. It isn't something that happens "to people like me."
Until it does. And now another woman is dead, and two kids are parentless, and the community is left to ask, once again, "why would someone do such a thing", and then we forget until it happens again.
Because it will keep happening until we demand that it stops.