It started with a couple of dime store t-shirts. It ended with me running half naked and bleeding from our apartment.
I hadn’t done it right, the laundry. His white undershirts were now pink, thanks to a red pair of shorts that got mixed up in the load. I might have replaced them, scrounged up a few bucks to buy another 3-pack before he got home from work. That was the plan anyway. He met me at the front door. “Where are you off to, Princess?”
That’s what he called me then. Princess. An all too familiar fear washed over me.
“What’s in the bag?” he said, pulling my duffel from my shoulder. I braced myself as he unzipped the bag. His expression softened and, for a moment, I let myself breathe. Looking back now, I think maybe he thought I was leaving him. Maybe I should have been. He seemed relieved. He even smiled as he lifted a ruined shirt.
The first blow took me by surprise. There was another and another. If I close my eyes, I can still feel him kicking me in my side, the way my swollen lips stung. I remember being choked. Then there was darkness.
When I woke, he was smoking a cigarette. Newports. “You ain’t shit,” he said. “Can’t even wash your man’s clothes.”
“Get up. Go clean yourself up.”
I wiped the blood from my mouth and stared at the wall. The front door was a few paces away. The invitation to get up was an invitation to run. I knew I had to run. I got up slowly, then darted toward the door. I remember being led around by the neck, then dragged, tossed like a rag doll into our bedroom. I was all of 90 pounds back then, just under five feet tall. He was an easy 215 and hovered around six feet.
I grabbed an old push button telephone and hit him in the face. He let out grunt, as I wiggled my way past him. I felt a sting, then a burning in my left shoulder. A dull throbbing gave way to the most intense pain I’ve ever felt. I screamed. The roar of my own voice filled my ears.
My clothes torn, half naked and bleeding I kept running. I scrambled out of the building and into the next, where I banged on a neighbor’s door.
“Please help me. I’ve been stabbed.”
There was a blanket, safety, then an ambulance. I knew that if I did not fight, if I had stayed in that house that night, I was going to die. Later that night, I suffered a miscarriage. I didn’t even know that I was pregnant.
I do not know what Kassandra “Kasi” Perkins went through. She is not here to tell her story. Family and friends say her relationship with Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher had become “strained” after the birth of their child, and describe a “fraught relationship.” A brief separation, then a Thanksgiving reconciliation. Others say he was upset that she had gone to a concert with friends the evening before. We will never know.
We will never know because Kasi is not here. Belcher apparently shot her multiple times. She was pronounced dead a short time later at a nearby hospital. Belcher then drove to the KC Chiefs training facility and shot himself in front of team executives.
In the wake of the murder-suicide, there are some who fondly remember Belcher’s “infectious smile” and say that he was quiet, thoughtful and a role model—an underdog who earned his starting spot in the NFL the hard way.
We can never know. We can never know if Belcher was suffering from head injuries he received during his brief career. If we as a society had kept the legally purchased handgun from him, would they be alive? We can never know.
What we do know is this. Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted or beaten. We know that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. Every day in the U.S. more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
Last year, upon the invitation of HLN anchor Richelle Carey, I began supporting Men Stopping Violence, a non-profit organization that works locally, nationally, and internationally to dismantle belief systems, social structures, and institutional practices that oppress women and children and dehumanize men themselves. They invest in men’s education and community restoration. Carey serves the Board of Directors and I am honored to lend my voice to hers.
For some of us, it’s too easy to turn our backs and say “none of my business” when we witness physical or emotional abuse. “What happens between that man and that woman is between that man and that woman,” a friend once told me, referring to the Chris Brown incident. “We don’t know who hit who first.”
As if that matters.
Maybe Brown deserves privacy, but nothing says he deserves fame. He has reportedly reconciled with Rihanna. As the mother of sons and daughters their age, my prayer is they have both sought and received the help necessary for real and lasting change. Somewhere, some young person is watching them. That matters.
Hurt people hurt people. Show me an abuser and I will show you someone with a diminished sense of self worth. Abusers are master manipulators, often engaging in “Jedi mind tricks” to keep their prey off balance. They often try to isolate and alienate you from your family and friends, building a thick veil of secrecy to hide their cowardice.
Domestic violence and other forms of abuse are about control. It is not either physical or emotional. It is always both. And the scars, both physical and emotional, can last a lifetime. “Nobody will ever love you like I do,” Marc used to tell me.
It’s been 26 years and I rarely think about the smooth keloid scar in the upper left corner of my back. It’s too easy to forget about the scar above my mother’s eye, a reminder that in a jealous rage my father put her face through a plate glass window. Or the cousin who was chased down and shot in a grocery store parking lot some years ago. Or the friend, pregnant with twins, whose husband tied her up, doused her with gasoline and waved a matchbook under her nose. The number one cause of death for pregnant women is homicide. The perpetrator is almost always the child’s father.
It won’t be long before we forget about the contributions Belcher made on the field. There will come a time when you will need some prompting to remember that he murdered Kasi, if you remember her name at all.
I tell my story, hoping that you will not forget. I tell my story so that maybe, just maybe you will not turn your back on that sister, co-worker or friend. I tell my story because Kasi cannot tell hers.