From the Diary of Judy Banger:
“He called me a fat, stupid cow last night. I missed the final question on Jeopardy. So, did he, but I’m a fat, stupid cow? Yes, I need to lose some weight, but when we fight the first thing I do is reach for the ice cream. Stupid, right? I know this relationship isn’t healthy, but if I leave, I’ll be admitting failure–another failure. Just like Mom predicted. So, what’s worse–listening to his bullshit or proving my mother right? It’s not like he hits me. It’s only words.”
When I started writing my Screw Senility series, I had a very one-dimensional view of my heroine, Judy Banger. I knew she was older (54), overweight, out-of-shape and divorced. I assumed some stereotypes that were flat-out wrong. She wasn’t lonely, unhappy, or feeling sorry for herself. She’d started working out and she’d even started dating again. (So, that might not have been the best choice, but, at least, she was trying.) The point is: she’d decided life wasn’t going to change unless she changed it.
But, deep down, Judy was still dealing with the scars of an abusive relationship. And, because her ex-husband didn’t hit her, she stuck out the marriage longer than she should have. She made excuses for him. She forgave him his pettiness, his crass and demeaning slights, his power trips and vicious rants. She never once called him a bully, even though that’s exactly what he was. When some straw or another broke their already fractured marriage and she divorced him, Judy told herself she was okay. She was stronger for having survived. But the damage those cruel, hurtful words had inflicted remained, undermining her self-confidence.
Recently, someone very dear to me was the victim of a verbal attack by a bully. The shocking, disgusting slur sliced to the quick. Who says you can’t communicate tone via a text? The tone came across as intended: vicious and mean-spirited. Was the slanderous charge true? No. Not at all. But the wound bled for hours. It interrupted badly needed sleep. It brought tears and self-doubt–”Am I really that awful a person? Did I do something wrong to warrant this attack? I must have. Why else would someone say something so horrible about me?”
I turned to my heroine for advice. Here’s what Judy Banger taught me about bullies:
1. A person who calls you names is not your friend.
2. He or she does not love you. Love is about building up, not tearing down.
3. By diminishing someone else, a bully feels stronger, more powerful and in control–at the other person’s expense.
4. A questionable choice–such as liking, friending or, even, marrying an abuser–doesn’t make you a bad person. Mistakes make you human. That doesn’t give anyone the right to cut you down for it.