“Carousel” Teaches Me Something About Myself

I saw the film of the musical “Carousel” the other day at Columbus’ refurbished Ohio Theater. The setting was grand, the film bigger than life and the audience was made up almost exclusively of senior citizens from an assisted living center. This simultaneously made me feel young and old, since I’m not there yet, but not that far away.

But what did I expect? The film is 54 years old—it came out when I was four years old. The only reason I’m so familiar with it is because my mother was a musical fan and had the soundtracks of all the major musicals of the ’40s through the ’60s. I listened to them incessantly to the point where I had all the songs memorized by the time I was a teenager. My favorites were “Carousel,” “Camelot” and “West Side Story.” (I had a thing for tragic love stories.)

Because musicals were such a big part of my life, I’m sure they helped to shape my views about romance. That’s why seeing “Carousel” was such an eye-opener for me.  All these years and I never realized that one of the movie’s main themes was domestic violence.  If I ever did see the film, it was when I was very young and the soundtrack doesn’t clue you in to that aspect of the story.  So I was oblivious to the fact that the musical actually condones domestic violence. It seems it’s okay in the name of love.

The “victim” is Julie Jordan, a sweet and innocent young woman, who elopes with the local bad boy, Billy Bigelow. After their marriage, Billy can’t find work and in his frustration, hits his ever-enduring wife. The local townsfolk are scandalized, but Julie sticks with him through thick and thin, because she loves him.  One of the songs I loved the most was the one where Julie sings “what’s the use of wonderin’ if he’s good or if he’s bad…he’s your feller and you love him, and that’s all there is to that.” She also sings “Any time he needs you, you go running there like mad.”

Later on in the story, when their daughter, Louise, asks Julie if it’s possible for a slap to feel like a kiss, Julie assures her that it is. I was practically in shock by the end of the movie.

That was the model of true love that I grew up with. I internalized that message. If I was truly in love, I would put up with anything. I was determined to be just like Julie Jordan.

It wasn’t long before I found my Billy Bigelow. I was sixteen, he was two years older. He wasn’t exactly the “bad boy,” but he was suspect. For one thing, he was Jewish and that alone made him a curiosity in my all-WASP high school. He was also into theater and poetry. (I became entranced with him when I heard him recite “Babi Yar” by Yevgeny Yventushenko.) When we started dating, I was thrilled.

His former girlfriend, one of my best friends, warned me away from him. She said he was “sick.” I thought she was just jealous and to tell the truth, I was attracted to his “dark side.” It made our love seem more romantic. (I was also heavily influenced by Jane Eyre.)  He soon declared that he couldn’t live without me. He told me that I could never leave him. In a way, I was flattered. I was in love with the idea of “undying love.” It didn’t help that I had lost my virginity to him. That alone made me feel that our lives were destined to be entwined forever.

My family didn’t care for him; that made him feel threatened. He began threatening to kill them, or to have them killed. He threatened to kill me and then commit suicide. He wasn’t physically abusive, but he might as well have been. And the crazier he got, the more I held on. I would prove everyone wrong. To me, he was a “tortured soul” who needed my love to be healed.

I’d like to say that I finally mustered the courage to leave him. But it wasn’t until he went on a theater tour of Europe for a couple of months that the spell I was under began to lift. Still, I didn’t see that I had to end things for my own sake. I fell in love with someone else while he was gone and that gave me the impetus to break up with him when he returned.

But he didn’t give up. He stayed in touch with me for years. The last time I had any contact with him, I was married and had just had a daughter. He called and told me that I was the one who had “gotten away” and that he would like to see me for old times ‘ sake.  I met with him because of the misguided notion that he still had some kind of hold on me. I was in my 20s before I finally realized that he didn’t.

When I was watching “Carousel,” it suddenly hit me how twisted its message is and how much influence it had had on me as I was growing up. It conditioned me to believe that love means pain and sacrifice. The harder it was to love someone, the more determined I was to love him. I stuck to that pattern for years.

But it wasn’t until I married my fourth husband that I realized that I didn’t have to suffer for love. At first it felt funny to be in a healthy relationship. When my husband did things for me and stuck by me through my own craziness, I felt guilty and selfish. I was supposed to be sacrificing for him, not the other way around.

We’ve been married for eight years now and it probably took me at least four to begin to be comfortable being loved by man who is unselfish and giving. He’s no Billy Bigelow, that’s for sure, and I’m happy to report that I’m no longer a Julie Jordan.

Familicide

The experts are calling it “family annihilation” or “familicide. ” A parent kills his or her family and then commits suicide. An entire family is wiped out, just like that. I had never heard these terms until yesterday when I encountered them in the British mystery I was reading (The Wrong Mother , by Sophie Hannah) and again when I turned to a newspaper article about a local man who just killed his two daughters and then himself three days ago. This was the fourth “familicide” in Columbus this year. A total of six children were murdered.

The newspaper article cited these statistics:

  • Between 1.000 and 1.500 people die in murder-suicides each year in the U.S.
  • Nearly three-fourths of murder-suicides nationally involved “intimate partners” — spouses, ex-spouses or girlfriends or boyfriends
  • More than 90% of all familicides are committed by men.
  • Two out of three fathers who kill their children and themselves also kill their wives.

The novel went into more detail about the motivations behind this acts. One is when the parent feels that he has somehow failed his wife and children (often financially) and wishes to “end their suffering.” Another is for revenge, when the family has broken up and particularly if the other parent has custody of the children. Women who commit familicide are more likely to be suffering from severe depression or psychosis rather than from anger or disappointment. Both men and women are attached to and protective of their children and may feel that they just can’t leave them behind.

The newspaper article was interesting, but the novel put a human face on the problem. Apparently there is another novel titled Loverboy, by Victoria Redel, which is about the same topic. Kyra Sedgewick starred in a 2006 movie of the same name. I’ll have to look one or both up. And then there is Beloved , Toni Morrison’s account of a mother who commits “protective murder.”

Sorry for such a morbid topic, but this seems to be an increasing problem–and apparently not just in the U.S. It’s hard to know how to identify, let alone help, a suicidal parent, but the first step is to have some idea of the tragedy that could occur if help isn’t forthcoming.

The Twin Evils

The twin evils: domestic violence and child abuse. We don’t usually talk about how they go together. But in reading the paper this morning, I realized that there is a connection. They may not both occur in the same household, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they often do. I haven’t seen studies on a possible correlation, however.

The paper I was reading was The Columbus Dispatch, the only daily paper in Columbus, Ohio.  (There used to be two, but the fact that I remember that dates me, big time.) The first article bore the headline “Cases of child abuse multiply.” Apparently there has been a 26% increase in child abuse cases from 2007 through 2008 and a 15% increase over the same period so far this year, according to reports from Columbus’ Nationwide Children’s Hospital. But similar increases have been reported across the nation.

What is most disturbing is that child abuse fatalities have more than doubled over this past year. Nationwide Children’s saw five cases in 2007 and 12 in 2008. These cases draw from the Central Ohio area of which Columbus, the largest city,  is still only three-quarters of a million in population. The thing about child abuse, and especially fatalities caused by abuse, is that even one case is too much.

The most upsetting case I recently read about was where an infant was so abused both her femur bones were snapped off at the hips. The abuser, her father, was sentenced to 21 years. The paper says of the child, now 16 months old, only that she “is recovering.” What a horrible way to start a life.

Then I looked at the next page and saw where a man in Holden, Louisiana, killed his estranged wife, son and two-year-old grandson and seriously injured his pregnant daughter-in-law (who subsequently delivered three months early) before taking his own life when police caught up with him 20 minutes later. And guess what? The wife had a restraining order against him. Surprise, surprise.

In the article about child abuse, the medical director at Nationwide Children’s Center for Child and Family Advocacy, Dr. Philip Scribano, is quoted as saying, “One could argue pretty compellingly that the most potent explanation [for the increase in child abuse cases] is, in fact, the economic decline. ” He said that he believes “that there is something between the stress that families experience during a downturn and how that stress is manifested in the home.”

Might not this also include domestic violence? Our families are at risk because of the worsening economy and the most common victims are wives and children. Not all abusers are male, but the vast majority are and that’s just one more reason to be vigilant about how we teach our sons to handle stress and strong emotions. You don’t snap off the legs of your infant daughter. You don’t murder all the members of your household, including your two-year-old grandson.

Yes, I may be overstating the situation, but to the families of the victims, I’m probably not stating it vigorously enough.

Beheading = Domestic Violence??

Press Release
February 16th, 2009
Contact: Marcia Pappas, 518-452-3944

Woman Beheaded in New York State

National Organization for Women-NYS Questions Media Blackout

ALBANY, NY (02/16/2009; 1237)(readMedia)– On February 12, 2009, in Orchard Park, Buffalo, NY, forty-four year-old Muzzamil Hassan, a prominent Muslim businessman, was arrested for having allegedly beheaded his wife, thirty-seven year-old Aasiya Z. Hassan. What was Aasiya’s crime? Why, Aasiya was having Muzzamil served with divorce papers. And apparently, on February 6, Aasiya obtained an order of protection which had forced her violent husband out of their home.

NOW New York State is horrified that Erie County DA, Frank A. SeditaII, has referred to this ghastly crime as “the worst form of domestic violence possible.” The ridiculous juxtaposition of “domestic” and “beheading” in the same journalistic breath points up the inherent weakness of the whole “domestic violence” lexicon.

What is “domestic” about this violence? NOW NYS President Marcia Pappas says “it is high time we stop regarding assaults and murders as a lover’s quarrels gone bad. We further demand of lawmakers that punishments fit crimes. We of NOW decry the selective enforcement of assault laws and call for judicial enforcement of our mandatory arrest policy, even when the axe-wielder is known by his victim.”

And why is this horrendous story not all over the news? Is a Muslim woman’s life not worth a five-minute report? This was, apparently, a terroristic version of “honor killing,” a murder rooted in cultural notions about women’s subordination to men. Are we now so respectful of the Muslim’s religion that we soft-peddle atrocities committed in it’s name? Millions of women in this country are maimed and killed by their husbands or partners. Had this awful murder been perpetrated by a African American, a Latino, a Jew, or a Catholic, the story would be flooding the airwaves. What is this deafening silence?

And exactly what do orders of protection do? Was Aasiya desperately waving the order of protection in Muzzamil’s face when he slashed at her throat? Was it still clutched in her hand as her head hit the floor?

You of the press, please shine a light on this most dreadful of murders. In a bizarre twist of fate it comes out that Muzzamil Hassan is founder of a television network called Bridges TV, whose purpose it was to portray Muslims in a positive light. This a huge story. Please tell it!

Marcia A. Pappas, President
National Organization for Women-NYS
Phone: 518-452-3944
Presidents Email: NewYorkStateNOW@aol.com
General Email: Info@nownys.org