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RETURN FROM THE DARK SIDE : Battered Wife, Husband Tell a Story of Violence, Getting Another Chance

Times Staff Writer

After a 5-year saga of domestic violence, Donna McGuire had long since wearied of the charade of living a life of suburban serenity.

She was tired of putting on heavy makeup to cover the bruises, tired of the excuses for the black eyes, tired of the sore ribs, tired of vacating their Laguna Hills home after another of her husband’s violent outbursts.

So last April, she asked the law for a piece of paper to protect her--a restraining order that would prevent her husband, Scott, from coming to the house. If he violated the order, he could be arrested.

“I never wanted to have him put in jail,” Donna McGuire, 28, said. “I never wanted to get the restraining order, but I felt it was time for him to leave, because I was tired of leaving. Many times I was out in the street, in a phone booth, tired and cold and trying to find somewhere to go, find somewhere to live, looking at apartments, sleeping in the car.”

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That piece of paper hit Scott McGuire, 31, with the force of a fist.

“That was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said last week in the home he once again shares with his wife and son Justin, 6. “What happened was I didn’t have any place to go. I was on the streets. I ended up at the YMCA in Santa Ana for a week. I’d call up here and scream and whine and carry on and say, ‘Let me come home, it’s my mom’s house.’ I’d call my mom back East and carry on with her, and they (his mother and wife) just ignored me. And I was alone. I had to make some major decisions about whether I was going to end up in the gutter or pick myself up. It was down to that.”

Unlike most couples where family violence eventually takes over, the McGuires now are able to talk about what went wrong. Neither blames the other, realizing instead that each played a part. Indeed, Scott was not the only physical abuser. Donna concedes that she sometimes found herself in the same assault mode as her husband, although she was not strong enough to hurt him. “Every once in a while, I’d get in a slap across the face, and I’d be happy just to slap him,” she said.

Both McGuires were drug users during much of their explosive periods, but Scott was the greater abuser. But even with the drug use affecting his judgment and behavior, a more complex combination of factors lay beneath the surface that poisoned the family tree--an all-too-familiar mixture of anger, frustration and resentment. Slowly, it turned Scott into something of a monster and Donna into a family-violence statistic.

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Orange County police departments reported 10,955 calls that involved domestic violence in 1987 (according to the latest available figures from the Bureau of Criminal Statistics). The year before, the county’s police departments reported more than 12,000 calls, but an official with the county’s Commission on the Status of Women said that the drop-off is probably a statistical quirk and not indicative of a lessening of the problem. Nationally, more than 1.8 million women will be punched, kicked or assaulted with a weapon this year, according to a University of New Hampshire Family Research Lab study. About 6.25 million will be slapped or shoved.

The McGuires met by chance in a Laguna Beach restaurant in 1982. Scott was on a short break from his job as a Navy corpsman and Donna had spent the day on the beach celebrating her 22nd birthday. They had their first date a couple weeks later and had no more intense plans than just to be friends.

Instead, Donna got pregnant almost immediately and decided against having an abortion. Although she made no demands of Scott, he decided that they should move in together to see if a lasting relationship could develop. They settled in San Clemente, but problems soon began.

“I wasn’t prepared, and I knew I wasn’t, so I was letting it overwhelm me,” Scott said. “The closer the baby got, the more stress I put on myself. I put myself in a position where I knew I either had to marry her or leave. I decided to marry her even though I didn’t want to marry her and wasn’t prepared to marry her. It’s not that I didn’t love her--we didn’t have enough time to find out if we were in love.”

The baby was born in the spring of 1983, 2 months after Donna and Scott were married. Within a few weeks after Justin’s birth, the first violence occurred. Donna was holding the baby in her arms and arguing with Scott. Suddenly, Scott pushed her and the baby backward onto the bed and walked away.

“I cried and cried and cried,” Donna said. “It was my new baby, my new husband and that’s when it all started, with that first push.”

That first shove happened in concert with ever-increasing arguments over taking care of the baby. Like many couples, they argued over simple things, but Scott found it impossible to curtail his anger.

Then one day, he hit Donna for the first time. The blow, which they both say was open-handed, broke her nose. Donna packed her bags and for what would be the first of at least four such moves over the years, left the house.

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“I knew I had become a monster,” Scott said. “There was no question about it. I told her I needed help, and she didn’t understand. I told her I couldn’t love her right now, that I had no love for myself. She didn’t understand that. I told her I was in deep (expletive). She had no conception of what I was talking about.”

The McGuires agree now that had they received some early counseling, many future problems might have been avoided. Instead, they did what experts say many couples do: They repeated the patterns of violence while mistakenly thinking that the problems would go away.

Asked why she did not divorce Scott after the attack, Donna said: “I don’t know. Probably because I had started to feel love for him and for a long time, I really felt sorry for him. I thought he needed me, and I guess I was trying to mother him. I wanted to see him get better, and I didn’t want him to be in pain or hurt any more, and I wanted to give him my love.”

In a voluntary move to get his drug problem under control, he entered a rehabilitation program. For several weeks, he stayed clean. Eventually, his drug use resumed and so did the violence.

The family fights went on from 1983 into early 1988, generally a couple of times a month and usually on weekends. While the couple described some of them as “knockdown-drag-out” affairs, Scott said they were not prolonged bouts. “It’s not like I’d smack her around for 20 minutes and she’d be all bloody.” And for a while, until she lost her resolve, Donna would flail back.

Asked why they stayed together, Scott said: “We wanted Justin to have a mother and father. We were a good mother and father to him. As lousy as we were as husband and wife, we were good parents. Believe it or not.”

Donna echoed that, adding: “There was always a bond there between Scott and me, and I was always hoping it would work. Hope, hope, hope, and there were times I thought maybe there is no hope, but I always hung on.”

Then, last April, Donna and Scott got into a small fight in the kitchen. Having been to shelters before, Donna decided that this time, Scott would be the one to leave. She secured the restraining order and Scott was forced to leave home.

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With time to think and clean of drugs, Scott said he slowly began to sort out his life. “I was clean long enough to realize it was time to stop blaming everyone else,” Scott said. “I had been acting like a 15- or 16-year-old kid. I got myself where I was. No one else got me there. I started thinking and acting like a man.”

He moved in with a friend, renting a room for $140 a month. To pay bills, he took a job as a furniture mover. Mostly, he said, “I sat around and thought about what I was going to do with my life.”

Last summer, he and Donna began meeting casually in the park or at the beach. Afterward, he would return to his Tustin residence and she to their Laguna Hills home. Slowly, they became the friends that they had never become 6 years earlier.

Donna noticed the change in Scott. “When Scott started to think like a man and be a man and act like a man, I started to act like a woman,” she said. “I started to respond like one, not like an animal fighting back with him.”

Late last summer, Scott moved back into the house. He’s now working as a psychiatric aide at a chemical-dependency program at Care-Unit of Orange. For the first time since he left the Navy in 1984, Scott said, he has a job that might lead to a career. The McGuires are talking about having a second child next year.

For now, however, they are piecing together a life for themselves that never really took shape. “I’m not proud of what I’ve done, but I’m not ashamed and embarrassed to talk about it,” Scott said, “because I know there are people out there now going through the same thing. . . . Everything I did, as rotten as it was, is not a nightmare to me. It was all for a reason. Maybe I’ll end up being a successful therapist or something. Everything brought me to this place for a reason. I’ve wasted some years in my life, but I’m still young enough to have a successful career.”

Added Donna, who still sees a counselor once a week: “We still have a lot of growing to do. But at least, we’re working together now.”


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