As a student and practitioner of martial arts for the sole purpose of self-defense, I’ve found helping people who are victims of domestic violence to be the most difficult. There have been two people with whom I have worked over the years who were significant to me. One of these people was Martha.
She was one of my first real students outside of the U.S.S. Shenandoah’s SSD team. She lived next door to me when I was stationed at Norfolk, VA, while serving on board the U.S.S. Shenandoah.
I was subletting a room from Doug, another guy on my ship, and his wife Pat. We lived in a duplex in the Oceanview subdivision. Martha, her son from a previous marriage, and her husband lived in the attached unit. Her husband was also a member of my ship’s crew.
Martha and her son frequently came outside to watch me and some of the other SSD team members practice martial arts in our front yard. She and I became good friends and talked over coffee while her husband was away on the ship. I remember the nights he was home, because they fought frequently. Their bedroom was right next to mine, and the walls were very thin.
I never told Martha that I could hear their fights; I wanted to spare her the embarrassment. But I remember seeing her some days with bruises on her face, sometimes limping, sometimes nursing an injured arm or other area of pain. This caused me tremendous emotional stress and great rage towards her husband.
Many times I fantasized about beating him senseless, but military law prohibited it. I realized that if I harmed him, I would certainly be put in the brig, if not Leavenworth penitentiary. So I kept my distance, until one Saturday morning when I could no longer ignore the situation.
Piercing My Ear…
I awakened one Saturday morning and for some reason decided that I was going to pierce my ear. Using one of Pat’s sewing needles and an ice cube, I managed to poke a small hole in my ear. I had difficulty inserting the earring and ended up with blood all over me. About that time the doorbell rang, and it was a tearful Martha.
I was holding toilet paper against my bleeding ear, and she looked at me and laughed, even though tears and makeup were dripping down her face. She managed to say, “What in God’s name are you doing?” I looked at her and immediately noticed the shiner she was sporting. She looked horrible, worse than I had ever seen her. I explained that I was trying to pierce my ear.
She was still crying and laughing and in her Alabama accent offered, “Mercy, you can’t pierce an ear with that little thing…hang on, Honey.”
Martha went home and returned with a bigger needle……A DARNING NEEDLE. As she prepared to re-pierce my ear, she said, “Hold still, ‘cause this is gonna hurt ya a bit.” Then we sat down with coffee, and I finally admitted to overhearing their arguments. I told her that I wished there was something I could do. At that, she stopped crying.
The Crying is Over…
She looked up at me and said, “You can. You can teach me some of that kah-rah-tay you guys do.” And she meant it.
She and I spent all day working on basic karate techniques. I asked her to give me specific details of her husband’s violence. We then focused on developing specific defenses and counters to his repetitive attack patterns.
As the day progressed, she became more and more proficient. We spent at least twelve hours straight working out. And she never grew tired. When I got tired, she urged me to keep going. She was amazing.
The husband came home…
Sunday came and went without incident. Martha’s husband was on duty, on the ship, and wouldn’t be home until noon that day. I tried my best to keep busy and not think about it, but it my thoughts kept straying.
I went to bed that night, and I waited. Then it began. I could hear yelling, very loud noises, more yelling, and still louder noises as if things were breaking. Not just little things…BIG things, like furniture and walls. This time the fight lasted longer than the other ones.
In the past, their fights usually lasted about five or ten minutes and ended with the sound of Martha crying. This one seemed to last forever; when it finally ended, there was complete silence. I was suddenly horrified. What had I done? What if her attempts to defend herself had failed and made him angrier and even more aggressive? I wondered if perhaps I should have just left well enough alone.
So I sat there on the edge of my bed and waited, staring at the wall. Then I heard the sirens. Everything was still quiet at Martha’s duplex…all I could hear were the sirens coming closer. Finally, I heard the police out front. When I went into the living room, I found Doug and Pat peeping out the front window.
I opened the door and stepped outside. I saw Martha and her son standing by her front door, with their arms around each other in support. The paramedics and military police were carrying Martha’s husband out of the duplex on a stretcher. I was relieved and happy that she and the boy were okay.
After the police and paramedics left, Martha turned and looked at me. She managed to give me a quick, small smile. I walked over and gave her a big long hug. She didn’t appear to even have a scratch on her. She quietly whispered, “Thank you, Sweetie,” in my ear.
A few days later, I saw a moving van in their driveway. She told me that she and her son were moving back home to Alabama. I never saw her again. I did, however, run into her husband on the ship about a week later.
I had no idea how much damage she had inflicted upon him. However, he had looked very bloody on the stretcher when they carried him out of the house. When I saw him in the ship’s passageway, I noticed the neck brace, the gauze around his head, one black eye still swollen shut, the blood-encrusted broken nose with a huge band aid on it, a lip split in several places; he was limping and using a cane.
That was the last I saw of him. Rumor had it that he was court-martialed, charged and convicted with assault and conduct unbecoming. I hope he ended up serving time in Leavenworth.
Martha’s story is horrible and tragic. It is my hope that no one purposely seeks violent solutions to problems. However, in reflection, this story could have had a much worse ending for Martha. I have convinced myself, a peace-loving person by nature, that this was the only satisfactory way Martha’s story could have ended.
I must believe that she has moved on to a much happier life, with the confidence in her martial arts skills to realize she does not have to suffer through abusive behavior ever again.
—Troy M Wussow
Sunday, August 14, 2005