At a recent eye examination, the young optometrist asked me if I had experienced any trauma to my left eye. I said I couldn’t remember but didn’t think so. The examination continued and after a few minutes I said, “Oh yes, more than thirty years ago my then partner punched me in that eye”. I had to go to the emergency department of the hospital as I had broken blood vessels, not to mention the classic domestic violence billboard black eye.
I told the optometrist the story of how at the hospital the young doctor asked me what happened, and when I told him his response was “did you deserve it?”. I was horrified and distressed but not being the well-schooled feminist and domestic violence advocate I am today, I just retreated into a shame that didn’t belong to me. The me of today likes to imagine kicking him in the balls and asking him the same question.
The optometrist and I had a useful discussion about domestic violence where I gave her some resources and suggested she could follow up her “trauma” question with “for example, has anyone ever hit you or punched you in the eye?”. She was very open to having that conversation with future clients, and I was pleased to be a resource to her. She told me that she teaches at a university and was going to have a conversation about introducing how to recognise and respond to domestic violence into the curriculum. My work here is done I thought.
She also told me to expect that my left eye might deteriorate more quickly than my right as I aged.
Two years before that assault, which occurred as I was trying to exit the relationship, I was at the emergency dentist having a front tooth repaired after that same former partner threw a large stone ashtray across the kitchen hitting me in the mouth and snapping a front tooth in half. When my dentist was replacing that crown a few years ago, she asked me how the tooth broke. When I told her, she was shocked, but it led to a very interesting conversation with her about domestic violence, and again I was able to give her resources and advice about how to ask the questions.
She also told me to expect that I may need a permanent tooth replacement in the future.
In both situations I was very matter of fact and solely focused on education of these two primary care workers. That’s what I do. That’s my first instinct. I have survived my personal domestic violence traumas and I rarely think about it now.
But it seems my body, my face, will never forget.