I was living in Florida for about six months when I finally reached a decisive point in my life. I had an experience that opened my eyes to the fact that I was not going to allow one more man to be abusive to me.

It happened one day as I was standing in the check-out line of a grocery store. I was a new customer to this store. I was writing a personal check. The manager had told me it was fine to sign up for the check-writing privilege in the check-out line and when I got into the line there was no one behind me.

Unfortunately, that did not last and a man standing behind me started to grumble. He started to grumble louder. Then he yelled at me. That was my defining moment. I turned around, looked him straight in the eye and I said "I want you to stop being abusive to me right now."

You could have heard a pin drop. I felt the entire store become silent. I did not turn my back on this man, I stood there and I stared at him. He uttered something back but I was on a roll. I stated very clearly without wavering that I believed he talks to his wife that way, too, and that he probably doesn't stop at being verbally abusive.

The silence in that store made me feel like time was standing still but it wasn't, and it doesn't in any situation where the public is faced with a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. We all have a tendency to "freeze on the spot." We hope the situation will go away. We do not want to be involved.

Years ago, people were uncomfortable talking about cancer. We seem to have moved beyond that, but we have not moved past the fact that abuse happens in front of our faces. Abuse happens to people we love, it happens to our best friends, it happens to our mothers, it happens to us but it is not talked about.

Telling anyone that you are a victim of abuse is certainly not tabletop talk when having lunch with friends. Abuse victims don't walk around wearing a T-shirt that says "I survived domestic violence." It is a life filled with shame. Victims are ashamed to admit it because they will be judged. They will be asked why they chose this person or why they still stay with the abuser. Not only are they a victim of abuse, they are a victim of a society who makes them feel they don't have a brain in their head because they "allow" this to happen.

One in three women has been abused, know someone who has been abused or will be abused. We all know or will know someone in this situation, and it happens to women from all walks of life. No one is truly immune.

I did not know that the man who courted me into a financially secure, allegedly loving marital relationship would put a pillow over my face one day and try to smother me to death. He was an upstanding member of society. He was a practicing attorney and a licensed social worker. He ran a Salvation Army program for men who were arrested for hitting their partners. He was also arrested and placed in jail because of what he did to me. Shock and awe, right? It certainly shocked all our friends. I used that week to move out because I knew that if this ever happened again, I might not survive.

The fear of it happening again doesn't disappear by leaving. I saw my abuser on street corners, in cars, on the beach, in nightmares. It took counseling, it took learning how to spot an abuser, it took hearing he had died for me to feel safe again.

We all need to be aware that someone might need our help. We need to ask that difficult question. We need to respect the answer we are given. At least by asking the door has been opened to let someone know we are here for them. We need to let them know we are willing to help.

We have to move past that feeling of being uncomfortable because I will be the first to tell you that your feelings of being uncomfortable are miniscule compared to the thoughts, the fear, the feelings a victim of domestic violence lives with every day.


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