Free From a 10-Year Sentence of Shame

Has the world tilted just a little on its axis? Do people respond--post-trial, post-verdicts--just a little differently to domestic violence?

For one woman, who says she was beaten, strangled and left unconscious by her husband 10 years ago, the answer is yes.

And for that, she wants to thank the men who came to her aid at San Francisco International Airport while they were waiting at Gate 77A to board United Shuttle's Flight 2043 a little after 4 p.m. on Oct. 11.

She doesn't know your names, but she recalls three of you: One of you was an attractive Steven Spielberg-type, tall and calming with a slight snaggle tooth, in dressy casual clothes. One was tall and blond with green eyes and a beachy look--a fortysomething in a Hawaiian shirt. You were both in first class. The third was big, military-looking and macho--with aviator glasses and sat in coach, in 8F.

She wants you to know how grateful she is for what you did.


For 10 years, she has lived, as she says, like a "bunny rabbit"--fearful, jumpy, worried that the man she divorced after a single year of marriage would find her, would hurt her again.

Their wedding photo, of course, reveals none of the ugliness to come. She is very attractive, with auburn hair and perfectly polished nails. He is tall and handsome in his suit and boutonniere, and rests his hand lightly on her arm as they smile into the camera.

She was a divorcee, he a widower whose first wife was murdered. The murder has never been solved, and after he beat her, dark fears entered her mind. During the O.J. Simpson trial, she was haunted by a comment attributed to one of the detectives, that "the husband is always a suspect."

Ten months into the uneventful marriage, she says, her husband woke her in the middle of the night and began verbally abusing her. Then he began hitting. Then he choked her.

"As he was strangling me--and I had never felt hands like that around my neck--I felt it was my last breath. I heard myself saying: 'Is that what you did to [your first wife]?' It shocked him so bad from his violent, rageful coma that he dropped me."

The next day, she told her employer she had been in a car accident. Then she went to the doctor.

"I heard this voice telling the doctor that I fell roller-skating. They said, 'Look, was it your husband?' I said yes, but he will be sorry. I am sure he will get counseling. They said, 'Do you want us to call the police?' I said, 'No, of course not!'

"You are in such shock and shame and denial. You don't know what the syndrome is. And you don't know you have just succumbed to it."

She fled. She took her children to another state. She went into hiding.

When she appeared in court for the divorce, she says, the judge refused to hear her story. "This divorce is taking longer than your marriage," he chided.

She felt abandoned by friends and family, none of whom could believe that such a nice man would do such an awful thing. Her children resented her for uprooting them again.

She has spent years, she says, trying to rebuild her life, looking over her shoulder.

She has never remarried.

"This is something that causes you not to be as trusting or open with people," she says. "Even though you would like to be, it changes you."


He was, as it happened, not the furthest thing from her mind as she stood in the airport waiting to board her flight. Another flight's passengers began streaming off a plane. Among them, the ex-husband she had not seen for nearly a decade.

Without thinking, she walked up to him, looked into his face and said very quietly: "O.J. was acquitted, too, and in fact you have been on my mind an awful lot lately."

"I have?" he said, looking her up and down, unable to place her.

"Then it dawned on him," she said, "not just who I was, but what I had just implied. He got rigid, panicky, fearful, and walked away, just walked into the horizon. And me, who has been the bunny rabbit all these years, instead of being afraid and victimized, I just shouted after him:


And the verdict came in 10 years to the day after you beat the s--- out of me!


Instantly, she felt an old, familiar cloud of shame gathering. "I am sorry," she said to no one in particular. But just as quickly, the three men, these "guardian angels," as she has come to think of them, rushed to her and stood around her protectively, murmuring, comforting, stroking her arm.

She felt safe, unafraid and unburdened.

She isn't sure what they said, but this is what she heard: "Ten years of shame is enough."


Robin Abcarian's column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053. Send e-mail to

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