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Location: Northern California

Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Domestic violence is everybody's business

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. What does it mean to "be aware" of domestic violence?

A couple of months ago in San Mateo a father killed his 17-year-old and 13-year-old daughters and his wife, then shot himself. The police called it a murder-suicide.

Local media gave a lot of coverage to this tragedy. Several publications quoted a neighbor of the family. The neighbor had suspected the home was a violent one and had once seen the man hitting his daughters. She said, "I really regret not calling 911. If I ever heard anything again, even if I didn't know where it was going on, I would call."

I would, too.

When I was a sophomore in college my roommate was good friends with a guy who lived in the house behind us. I've forgotten this guy's name. One time this guy got a new girlfriend. I'll never forget her name.

This guy came over once to show off his new girlfriend. Lorna was a cute pixie-like skinhead girl. She had one of those girl skinhead hairdos, a shaved head with a fringe of bangs around the forehead and back of the head. I remember thinking that it looked cute on her. She was wearing a plaid school girl skirt with a wife beater T and suspenders. Doc martens and ripped fishnet stockings completed her ensemble. She was definitely cute, no doubt about it. This guy had scored a real cutie pie. I guess we were happy for him.

We quickly learned that Lorna had had a horrible family life. I don't remember the specifics, but she had been living on her own for a couple of years. She also had a boyfriend. No, not our friend, but another guy, a "crazy" skinhead who was in a mental institute or something. Her story was typical of girls who come from tattered homes. She left the frying pan and jumped into the fire. It was obvious to me that she thought our friend was the answer to her life of abusive men; our friend was going to treat her right.

I don't know how much time passed before the day we learned that Lorna's crazy skinhead ex-boyfriend was in town and that he was staying with her and our friend. Rumor also had it that he had a large gun and that he was pissed. The situation seemed odd then and it still seems odd even as I write this. I don't know what our friend was thinking or even if he was thinking at all. Why play host to the fucked up ex-boyfriend of your current girlfriend?

A few nights after the crazy ex rolled into town, Lorna came over to our house. I think we were in the middle of what we were calling a dinner party, although in college most dinner parties consisted of large quantities of cheap beer and very little, if any, food. Lorna was an uninvited guest to this party; her presence kind of bummed us out. In part because she had arrived without beer of her own. In other words, she wanted to drink but had nothing to contribute. Plus, she was ranting about her crazy ex-boyfriend. "He's going to kill me," she said matter-of-factly. I wasn't sure if I should believe her or not. If he was going to kill her then why was she sitting in my house, drinking my beer? "Do you want to call the police?" I said. She told me it wouldn"t do any good. He would find her and kill her. "He's crazy."

Lorna hung out and partied with us for an hour or so. After a couple of beers she was calmer than she had been when she arrived. She was beginning to talk about her situation as a done deal; she was resigned to her fate; she decided to go home. I felt apprehensive that she was going back to a situation that sounded like a time bomb just waiting to go off, but I let her go.

I didn't fight her. I didn't tell her not to go. I didn't call the police, and I didn't make her call the police. I let her go back to a crazy ex-boyfriend with a big gun and a chemical imbalance.


I remember asking my roommate and another friend if we were doing the right thing by ignoring Lorna's cry for help, even though her cry was so muted and so matter-of-fact that we weren't sure if it was real or not. Don't worry about it, they assured me. I don't remember if we discussed the reasons why we shouldn't worry about it. I do remember joking with a friend that Lorna was a downer of a dinner guest. Ha ha.

A day or two later I came home from class to find yellow police tape, cops, and the media swarming the duplex Lorna shared with our friend--her current boyfriend--and the crazy skinhead--her ex-boyfriend. As I approached the fence dividing our properties I knew the decision my friends and I had made to do nothing had been the wrong one. Just as she had predicted, Lorna's ex-boyfriend had shot her and then shot himself. The police were calling it a murder-suicide.

The next time I know about a bad situation in a home, the next time somebody tells me that she thinks her ex-boyfriend is going to kill her, I'm going to set down my beer can and do something about it. Just like the neighbor above, I will call 911. I will do it before thinking, "Am I doing the right thing?"

This is what being aware of domestic violence means to me.