Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Domestic Disturbances

Last week, they were back again: the police, that is. They were paying another visit to the house across the street. I've only seen them once or twice, but our next door neighbors claimed three visits before this one, so we're up to at least four. All of the visits were in response to "domestic disturbance" complaints; I'm not sure who made them. Generally, what happens in these situations is a woman cop talks to the wife and a male cop talks to the husband and, if they choose not to press charges, that's the end of it. Incidentally, it's the cops who decide to press charges. It used to be the wife who pressed charges, but the law has changed. Too many wives were afraid to press charges and get beaten up later for it.

I've never met the couple. They're not as social as most of our neighbors, who will talk your ear off. Maybe they're embarrassed by all the police visits. I have seen them, of course. They're sort of the "typical" family for Hamilton: they're younger than me and Claire, but already have two kids, one of whom is at least eight years old. He is young and looks like a brawler- shaved head, muscles, angry-looking, and dressed like a teenager. She hangs out on the porch, bitching about him on their cell phone. I've heard them yelling at the kids before, although probably no more than the usual Hamilton parent. The norm in Hamilton is for girls to be pregnant by the time they're eighteen or nineteen, and married soon after. The work here doesn't pay very much, so you have people my age whose lives are already decided for the next three decades. Not much is going to change for them.

I see a lot of "dysfunctional" young people here. It makes me think of an old term from anthropology: thin culture. Certain impoverished communities in South America were once said to have a 'thin culture'; culture not in the sense of high culture, but in the sense of a manual for living one's life. Their surrounding culture provided them with no guide to living. A lot of times, when I see these teenage couples walking down the sidewalk- he in a hockey jersey and clearly a bit tipsy, she pushing the stroller and griping at him or the kid- I get the sense that they have no idea what they're doing. Maybe nobody ever taught them how to live this life.

Domestic violence is a problem in every social class, of course. I'd imagine, though, that it's a bit easier to leave when you've got money, not to mention getting good counseling. Claire has done some work in this area and she tells me that these problems don't really get better on their own; they just escalate. I can see that happening. I got the feeling listening to the wife on her cell phone that there's a sort of epic simmering war going on between the two of them. I can't imagine anyone actually "winning" it.

It's hard for me to understand hating my wife. I adore women, which is probably part of it, even though it's hard to say that without sounding like you should be wearing a leisure suit with the top buttons undone. Of course, plenty of men love women, but I get the feeling that some of them just like an idealized version of women- a woman that never gains weight, or gets bitchy, or argues with them. But, that's as much as saying you don't like women. I think I was a bit jealous, or possessive, or whatever, back when I was about 18. What I found out was that it's a pretty quick way to get a woman to leave you. So, I grew up. Maybe these guys (and girls too) never find someone to tell them to grow up. My understanding of it is also that the sort of women who date abusive men and the sort of men who are abusive tend to be good at finding each other.

I do wish they'd knock it off though. It's a terrible, insensitive, bourgeois thing to say, but alas, I don't want our neighborhood to become "the one where the cops are always hanging out", especially when it come time to sell this place. And, morbid and unlikely though it may be in this case, when we were looking for houses, we did get shown a "murder house" in which the nice young girl who lived there was stabbed to death by the abusive boyfriend she had tried to break it off with. That probably won't happen in this case, but I'd hate it if it did. I wish we knew what to do to help, but unfortunately most of us don't. I guess that's why the neighbors call the cops.


Holly said...

As bizarre as this might sound... actually making an effort to befriend them might help. It could be they're transplanted from somewhere else, haven't got enough family, friends, etc, and take it all out on each other.

It's a good bet one of the neighbors is calling the police; if a member of the household was calling, the police would probably be more into pressing charges.

Rufus said...

Yeah, we'll definitely try at some point. Right now, I'm likely to cough on them and that's not too friendly.

Holly said...

If they all die of pneumonia.... problem solved!