I had a friend shortly out of high school. She was probably one of the closest friends I had ever had. Beautiful, charming, honest and loyal – we got on very well. However, she had a boyfriend. They had been dating a long time, and I even had known this boy for years – I think since middle school. What I did not know was that he was controlling, verbally abusive, and aggressive. To see Stuart (not his real name) outside of school, yelling at Tanya (not her real name) was a shock to me as an eighteen-year-old kid. I had always known him as gawky, a little shy and sweet. What a surprise.
What makes me bring on this memory? Well, I did find Tanya, after years of falling out of touch, through Facebook. I live all the way across the country now, but when we spoke on the phone it was like nothing had changed. She was still the beautiful and charming friend I was so close to during our college days, and she has done so well for herself. Now happily married with four gorgeous children, Tanya has put those frightening years with Stuart behind her forever. But she will always bear the memories. They came back to her when she first read Forever Sunshine.
When I wrote Forever Sunshine I was not thinking of Tanya and Stuart, but apparently it resonated with her as a similar experience. Tanya became my Shelly. She was a survivor of a terrible relationship that became too difficult to handle. According to the CDC (July, 2000), one out of every four women have had some sort of exposure to domestic violence in their lifetime. Another frightening fact is that as many as one in five high school girls have reported being abused, either sexually or physically by someone they were dating (Jay G. Silverman, PhD; Anita Raj, PhD; Lorelei A. Mucci, MPH; and Jeanne E. Hathaway, MD, MPH, “Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 286, No. 5, 2001). This is a frightening statistic, considering how young a confused these boys and girls are. I know that my friend, Tanya, thought for the longest time that she was the one who was doing things wrong.
At one of my book signings, a man approached me and told me that he had almost been fired from a job because he fought with a man who had pushed around his girlfriend. He continued on to say that he found it repulsive and shameful that men would hurt women. While I tend to agree, being a devil’s advocate I must say that perhaps this is part of the problem when men do not make any attempt to change. There are options for men to get counseling and attend anger management courses, but men are less likely to report or take any initiative. There is a lot of shame involved. Though not as quiet as in previous years, domestic violence is still a family’s dirty little secret.
In Forever Sunshine, Joe, Shelly and Jacob required treatment to move on with their lives. They were going to take the necessary steps to become productive and happy individuals. That is the first step of any problem – seeking out the necessary help. Many situations require outside assistance, and there is no shame in getting any support necessary to take those frightening first steps.
If you are one of the millions of men and women involved in a potentially dangerous situation, please try to get some help. There are so many options out there, and the dedicated individuals behind these organizations will do everything in their power to protect you.