This is the book that started it all. Marilyn Stanton, my beacon of light at the public library in Watseka, Illinois, had been invited to Oprah’s book club show when she introduced Black and Blue as her next book club selection. After hearing my story, Oprah asked me to write a review of the book based on my experiences. Following are excerpts from my letter to Oprah written on Easter Sunday, 1998:
Enabling versus Empowerment
When your producer slid a copy of a book under your arm during a commercial break on Thursday, I caught just enough of the cover to know my fears were coming true ~ Black and Blue would be your next book club selection. It was a book I didn’t want to read. It was a story too close to home.
You asked me if I would read the book. I wanted to say, “no,” but I looked into your eyes and knew I could trust you. You have helped me through some rugged times, Oprah. Your shows have been like a lighthouse piercing the fog and guiding me to a safe haven. Whether by coincidence or brilliant strategy, you have given me an Easter weekend I’ll never forget. Here on Earth, In the Meantime, and Black and Blue are a fabulous trilogy.
What did I think of Black and Blue? It was very hard for me to open it and start reading. Once I did, Anna Quindlen seduced me with the poetry of her words. They were as rich as a sinfully delicious dessert or an evening in my former lover’s arms. Although I had only gotten two hours sleep the night before, I kept reading. I couldn’t put it down. I was mesmerized by her brilliance.
Anna Quindlen captured the heart and soul of every woman who has ever tasted the bitter fruit of abuse: “It’s like he stole my soul.” (page 219) She deftly navigated the undercurrents of domestic violence. She powerfully demonstrated how our society and legal system enable both the abuser and his/her victim to continue destructive behavior patterns. She turned a bright spotlight on the Patty Bancrofts of the world who seek to control rather than empower women. She threw down the gauntlet to families everywhere who rear women to be helpless doormats and condone the vicious conduct of men through their silence. She painted a sensitive portrait of the shattered innocence of a child caught in the crossfire. In short, Anna Quindlen turned over every rock and examined the mass of maggots hiding underneath.
Anna Quindlen captured the fear that paralyzes every battered woman. Fear is a funny thing. It clouds our ability to think clearly. We conspire to hide the truth that will set us free. We are afraid to go. We are afraid to stay. We don’t know where to turn or what to do. We become prisoners of our own silence:
“Then Bobby looked at my face, looked at it good, looked at it with a cold, cold look. . . .And like he’d been rehearsing it he said, real quiet, “What are you gonna do, Fran? Call the cops?” That’s when I knew. That’s when I knew that this was the last time, that I was leaving. If there was a moment when I decided that Bobby Benedetto would never touch me again, it was at that moment. He was gloating, really. . . .He was telling me that I was trapped, that I was chained in some basement he’d created. . . .He was telling me that I’d never get away, that he could do what he wanted and I couldn’t do a thing about it.” (page 173)
“. . .[she] called the cops. The cops!” (pages 272-3) This time it was like a stranger coming at me. The hard hands no longer felt familiar, the breath tarred with cigarettes and some kind of booze was noxious; the feel of him. . .felt like something strange and criminal. Even the voice was no longer as hypnotic as it had once been. . . I can hear him say in his rich deep voice. “Killing’s too good for you. I want you to suffer.” And I do, every day. (page 278)
Fran/Beth was born to be a victim. Her parents abdicated their responsibility to help her build a solid foundation for her life: 1) self-confidence, 2) intellectual curiosity, and 3) a healthy sense of responsibility. Her choices were so typical of abused women. She never took control of her life. I wanted to ask Beth: “Ever heard of Caller ID ~ you know ~ how Bobby found you?” Arrgghh!
How did I end up staring down the barrel of a gun? [The judge] and I met at a law school alumni dinner in Chicago. It was lust at first sight. We were wounded children who made a pact to cross the bridge to empowerment together. [The judge] was attracted to women who had difficulties bonding with men. He saw shades of his ex-wife in me. I was looking for a man like the one who married dear old mom. Subconsciously, we were hoping to “get those relationships right” by hooking up with each other:
“That’s what had first gotten to me about Bobby, the idea that someone would keep me safe and sound, look out for Frannie better than Frannie could look out for herself. . . .Jesus Christ, the illusions you manage to sell yourself, better than any car salesman.” (page 209)
If [the judge] had moved to Chicago, it might have ended differently. But, in [his hometown], he was surrounded by people who had a vested interest in enabling his dysfunctional behavior ~ abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, and women. He simply didn’t have the strength of character to cross the bridge. He tried to coerce me into joining his merry band of enablers. I refused ~ and paid a heavy price. This is my favorite quote of the book because it summed up my feelings in a nutshell:
“He’d driven. . .dead drunk. . . . “You want to get home alive, Fran?” Bobby had said over and over, like there was a right answer and I hadn’t gotten it yet. The next morning he made me waffles for breakfast. . .he made good waffles, even hungover and pissed off. Death threats and Belgian waffles with bacon. What a life.” (page 207-8)
Since we split up, [the judge] ran unopposed for re-election, was nominated for a spot on the federal bench, and was [appointed to the state supreme court]:
“I don’t give a damn for the law. What did the law ever do for me? . . .The past? . . . ‘It’s only a story.'” (page 289)
How did I cross the bridge from victim to empowerment? In the beginning, I felt so terribly alone. All I had was my faith in God. I prayed ~ the get down on your knees and pray for deliverance kind of prayers. Oprah, you were my first guardian angel. I will never forget a show you did in late 1992 suggesting we tell a loved one 10 reasons why we were happy he/she was in our lives. [The judge] never beat me like Bobby did Fran. He used the power of his office to have me arrested on a false charge. He watched while the deputies beat me. I still had the bruises on my body when that show aired. It took me all afternoon, but I came up with 10 reasons. It was the first step in my path to forgiving him and forgiving myself.
You spent your 44th birthday in Amarillo. Mine was on Thanksgiving Day, 1992. I was homeless. I spent the day delivering turkeys to poor people. . .
[A friend] took a great risk in sheltering me in her home. She took me to a Bible study group at her son’s home. The group embraced me. We studied John 1: 11-13:
Jesus came to that which was his own, but his own people did not accept him.
Only a few welcomed and received him.
All who trusted and believed in him were given the right to become
children of God ~
children born not of natural descent, nor of human passion or plan,
but reborn from the will of God.
[My psychologist], helped me understand that abuse is not love. It was a startling revelation. She told me I needed to learn to love myself. She suggested I re-parent myself. But, she never defined healthy love: respect and admiration. She didn’t know how to coach me on parenting skills. Nevertheless, I experienced one of God’s miracles at [the Coast]. I watched the waves crashing upon the shore and contemplated the courage and faith [Sir Francis Drake] must have had to sail the Pacific Ocean without a map in a tiny boat. As I squeezed through bushes on a cliff, I experienced the miracle of spiritual rebirth. . .I began my journey. . .
I found an apartment and camped out for a year. I read voraciously. I watched you shed pounds. I either swam a mile or hiked up the side of the mountain where I lived every day. I made new friends. I won a prize for gardening. I was starting to feel safe and secure when it all came crashing down in January, 1994, with the phone call from the guy with [the state bar association]. I resigned from the practice of law, sold my dining room furniture to fund my move, rented a truck, and fled in the middle of the night:
“. . .it was as though, as never before, he’d touched my insides, who I was, who I am. And it was his threat, too, that made me understand that I had to run to hide, to get away. What was I going to do, call a cop?. . .That’s why I left when I did, how I did. During the long nights of a Florida winter. . .I had a lot of time to think.” (page 175)
“‘. . .I can’t worry anymore about how I make other people feel about me. I have to worry about how I feel about myself.’ ‘You have to worry about staying safe. . .’ ‘That, too,’ I said.” (page 209)
When I got back to Illinois, I realized I had merely seen the tip of the iceberg that had sunk my ship. The lessons I learned were exceedingly tough. But, I was determined to build a foundation for my life ~ brick by brick if necessary. I translated the 10 Commandments into 10 Affirmations of God’s love. I searched the area for domestic violence services and came up empty ~ the counselors were either Patty Bancrofts with unresolved issues of their own or too burned out to help someone else. My parents’ minister’s sister had been killed by her husband and he was on the board of the local shelter. Yet, he was not committed to making the shelter a reality. So, I turned to the wonderful resources at the library:
“Patty Bancroft was our public face, our voice, our leader. You could tell that she enjoyed that, that it made her feel good, to have gone from being powerless in her own home to being powerful in the world. I realized that that was what had always bothered me about her, that she enjoyed her work so much. (page 206) . . .now I was one of Patty Bancroft’s puppets, a woman scared to run around the block. . .a woman who’d take what she could get. . . .The fact that Patty Bancroft and Bobby Benedetto so often said the same things, so often made me feel the same about myself. . .” (page 207)
. . .I scoured the local library. . .I kept watching your show and reading books by authors who seemed to have answers to my questions. I couldn’t find a job so I started writing a book. . .
Before we can successfully make the connection and initiate lasting change, we must isolate the root cause of our problems. As Iyanla Vanzant correctly pointed out, those issues typically arise before we are born. At this juncture, I know I must forgive. . .But, the wounds have pierced my soul and my heart needs time to grieve. I’m not there yet.
Kudos to Anna Quindlen for surfacing the horrors of domestic violence in a way that society can no longer ignore. Kudos to you, Oprah, for having the courage to air this issue during the May sweeps. The reviews of Black and Blue at your website are right on. You are going to hit some nerves. You are also going to liberate a lot of women.
Oprah, I’ve stared death in the face many times. I’m not afraid to die. But, I’ll be damned if I’ll let some bully make me afraid to live. That’s what the Bobby Benedettos do ~ they make us afraid to live by making us afraid to die. To liberate our souls, we must remember your dear friend Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Women. We must remember the call of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We must stand tall. No man can ride the back of another man standing tall.” We must remember the closing passage of 1 Corinthians 13:
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love (joy).
But, the greatest of these is love (joy).
My dream is to watch you host a dialogue on empowering women with Maya Angelou, Anna Quindlen, Iyanla Vanzant, and the Holocaust survivor/psychologist from your show on adversity (4/3/98). . .The greatest wisdom I have learned comes from the lives of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Victor Frankl:
“The Holocaust survivors,” Mrs. Levitt said savagely one day when she saw a story on the news. “Like a club. . .” (page 253)
My journey has been long and arduous as well as richly rewarding. At times, I felt like Moses wandering the desert in search of the Promised Land. . .