Eleanor was married to Dale, a very successful businessman. She described him as a 5-foot, charming, JFK lookalike with a major drinking problem. Outside of work he was a completely different man and, at home, an unthinkable monster.
Eleanor was 90 years old when she passed last year. Very few people knew she was a domestic violence survivor. She became a mentor to a fellow domestic violence victim last year. The two spent many hours together crying, laughing and learning to put life back on track. The letter below was Eleanor's last message to the woman she helped learn to live again.
I wanted to let you know I arrived in Heaven and I am up here dancing with all the fellas. 90 years on earth you see a lot and learn a lot. The true treasures in life are the people in our lives, the experiences we share with them and the memories we take with us. The magical bonds we have with them will last forever, no matter where we are.
Us old folks still have stories to tell, kindness and compassion to give. We aren't dead, we didn't just get stupid because our once sexy bodies are now all wrinkles. Many of us are survivors of abuse and that makes us experts on the topic. It gave me great joy to be a part of your healing journey and get to watch you get stronger every day.
Never forget that abusers come in all disguises and it is the ones disguised in the candy-coated shells with the waxy shine, that are the most dangerous. It is the good looking, charming, flirtatious abusers that hide behind that candy shell. Cowards, frauds, fakes, hiding behind the waxy shine and the bigger the fraud the bigger the waxy glow.
Dale would always tell me I didn't deserve him. To that I say, “Dale, you are right, I didn't deserve a monster like you. I outlived you and I ended up marrying someone so much better, while you remarried and repeated your abuse.”
The man in the expensive suit and the woman in the petite little dress will ALWAYS BE just empty, soulless humans repeating the cycle on whoever will let them. You my dear friend are a tower of strength and you have the biggest heart of anyone I ever met, and you know me, I have met a whole lot of folks in my day. You are the face of domestic violence and you live in truth. Let that guide you everyday and help you stand strong to help other sisters who need that strength and courage. I will save you a spot on the dance floor. I will be the gal surrounded by all the fellas. I will check in on you from time to time, but I know you will be doing just fine. Thank you for filling this old lady's heart. All my love -E.”
Domestic violence doesn't discriminate. I am the woman Eleanor helped recover from my abuse. I met her rehabbing my broken arm/torn ligament that my ex-girlfriend broke in the last fight we had.
I am a 50-year-old professional woman who never thought I would ever be in an abusive relationship. I thought, no way would I ever stay with someone who is physically abusive. The concussion I suffered after being thrown against a wall was the first injury I got from my ex-girlfriend. Two years later, my broken arm was finally enough for me to have the courage to walk away for good.
I almost married her. I got caught in the emotional/verbal abuse, the repeated comments she made: “You're not good enough, no one will ever believe you. Look at me, young, small, petite girl; look at you, you look like an athlete. They will never think I am capable of hurting a fly.” You add alcohol to that young, small, petite woman and it equals rage you can't even imagine.
Eleanor taught me many things for which I will forever be grateful, but mostly that I am not the stereotypical domestic violence victim you see on TV or in the media and that I need to be the voice for those like me. Domestic violence does exist in the LGBTQ community, just like in any other community, but we don't talk about it or hear about it. By sharing this letter and part of my story, my hope is that more professional women gay and straight come forward and give another face to domestic violence victims so other girls/women in abusive relationships can see they are not alone and they can get out, they can heal and learn to live and love again.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. It crosses all cultures, races, sexual orientation, industries and every possible community you find women (and men) in. Courage to stand in truth and compassion means that we stand with all victims, regardless of any other “label” we give them.
Lisa Cotten is a YWCA board member.