Abuse in Another Language

I shared my story about my relationship with Bray on DD last year for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Here is a closer look.

Only once in my entire relationship with Bray was I asked about abuse.  We were walking through shops and along the shoreline in Konstanz, Germany.  I noticed an older woman following us from shop to shop, checking out the same restaurant menus as we did. Konstanz isn’t a big place, so it wasn’t hard for me to know she was there.  Bray didn’t notice, or didn’t care. 

He went up to the bar at lunch, and she approached me.  She spoke slowly and carefully and kept her voice low.

You don’t have to tell him what I say, she started.

He didn’t bother learning any German in preparation of our trip, and he wasn’t keen to pick up much beyond how to order beer.  I had spent the afternoon, like most days, translating for him.  She spoke to me in very simple terms so that my elementary German skills wouldn’t be strained.

I saw him holding your arm.  It is not good.  I heard him speak to you.  It is not good.  If you would like, I could help you.

I’m okay, I explained.  It’s not a problem; she just misunderstood the situation.

I could help you, she repeated.

Tears formed in my eyes.  He’s only pushed me once.  He said he was sorry; he thought I was leaving him, you see.  I didn’t know why I was even telling her these things, but I had to make her understand something I didn’t even understand.  I’m okay.  I’m okay.

Bray came back, asking who she was and what she wanted.  I told him she was just a confused old lady.  She locked eyes with me then turned and walked away.  I didn’t even think about following her.  I thought about all the reasons why I couldn’t.  I was in a foreign country with only a basic understanding of the language.  We still had almost a month left on our study.  If I left, I wouldn’t get credit for the courses.  We lived together back in the US.  He wouldn’t do it again.

Her words stuck with me.  Try as I might, I wasn’t able to shake them off.  It was that night that I realized what our relationship had become.  It was that night that I knew our relationship was over, though it would take four more months for me to end it.  I would watch him solidify a drug addiction before I would call it quits.  I would wake up in the night to being raped before I would make him leave.  I would need stitches before I would pack his things.  I would wish I knew how that woman in Germany knew me so well from only an hour spent eavesdropping before I would be free.


  1. This gives me chills. It reminds me of the nurse who tried so hard to help me and I didn’t understand that I needed help.

    1. I do wonder how many hints there were that I never even noticed.

      1. As do I. I’m in awe that you carried that conversation in German.

        1. I couldn’t do it now, that’s for sure! I’m out of practice in all my languages.

  2. Bridge Builder · · Reply

    How sad and how true. The moment that you realize that your life is in fact not normal. That it is not your fault. That it doesnt have to be like that any longer. Well done for getting out.

    1. You’re exactly right. I thought that was what life was for me. I thought I would have to stay with and marry him. When I learned that it didn’t have to be that way and I was worth more than him, my entire life shifted.

  3. What others see from the outside looking in, is what we cannot see of ourselves looking in a mirror

    1. So very true.

  4. I imagine she could tell by the look on his face and the tone in which he spoke. Some languages are universal. Even though she couldn’t understand his words, she knew what he was saying.

    1. I think that must be the case. That, or she could understand him and didn’t want him to understand her.

  5. How amazing that,that lady could see what was going on and had the courage to speak up, it at least planted the seed and was the beginning of your escape. I’m so sorry for all he put you through. No one deserves abuse xo

    1. I’m amazed and grateful for her everyday — that she could see so little and know so much. I truly worry what would have been my wake-up call if not for her courage.

      1. such an miracle. i only wished people would have spoken up when i was a kid.

        i’m so glad you’re safe now!

  6. Thank you for sharing this story. I agree with some of the other comments, that the lady was able to plant seeds that saved you–even if it was a few months later. I think either I wasn’t around anyone who cared enough to help, or I was too good at covering up the signs…

    1. I’d like to think that it wasn’t that no one cared; sometimes people are too afraid of the abuser or of alienating the abused if they aren’t yet strong enough to leave. I’ve been in that position, and it is difficult ground to tread. My magical German woman was like something out of a dream — and her willingness to speak was likely encouraged by not actually knowing him.

  7. It is scary to read. Stuff like that we reckon only happens in movies, but all to frequently it happens in real life.

    1. I always saw abused women in movies and assumed I was too strong and smart to allow anything like that to happen to me. I soon learned that I was not the strongest or the smartest person to get sucked into a cycle of abuse.

  8. I’m sorry you went through that. When you are in an abusive relationship, no one can help you until you know you need help. For me I was in denial for a long time that anything was wrong, and I wouldn’t listen to anything anyone else said – what did they know? But once you realise it yourself, that’s when you can accept help. So glad you left him xxx

    1. It is as though we have blinders on while there are billboards emblazoned with the truth just out of our view. As soon as we are strong enough to turn our heads and ready to see it, it couldn’t be any more obvious. We cannot unsee it. I’m sorry you have personal experience in that denial. x

  9. Sometimes, we need someone like that to peer into our lives and offer us a hand. Even if you didn’t take it immediately, you reached for it in the end. And saved yourself.

    1. I’ve often wondered if I dreamt her because she was exactly what I needed at that time. You’re right that I did eventually follow her out of the restaurant in spirit.

  10. I’m glad she had the courage to speak to you. One little insight is all it needs for us to change our lives, even if it does take a while for us to act on the information.

    I’m sorry to hear about what you suffered – no-one should have to go through that, no-one should have to go through anything like that, and I wish that the experiences people write about here didn’t happen to anyone. We have a long way to go to improve the world to stop these things happening, but every time someone shares their experience, every time someone takes the time and courage to reach out, there is strength given to someone else to break free.

    I’m thanking God for that woman, whoever she was, and for you.


    1. It took a very long time for me to speak about it (I realised exactly seven years had passed when I finished writing it) for fear that it would make me weak. It did the opposite; I felt much stronger. I read Melanie’s stories and the others shared here, and I’m saddened but strengthened. The more of a community we build, the more strength we can offer others. I’m grateful for the German woman, for Melanie, for you and all the others here and in my life.

  11. […] This post originally appeared July 11 […]

speak loudly, donkeys are sleeping

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: