CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She maintains a blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com. She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
*Article previously published in South Magazine November issue
**Copyright granted by South Magazine, Ronda Racha Penrice, and Blake Crosby
Lauren Smart’s letter was read in court – after
her death.On Saturday, June 7,
2014, Norman Smart killed Lauren Brown Smart.She would have been 35 on July 10.Even more horrifying, her oldest boy from her first marriage, just six
at the time, witnessed it all.Her other
son with Smart hadn’t even turned a year old.
Responding to a call from Norman Smart,
police found Lauren on the floor in the mater bedroom of their Wilmington Island,
Georgia home on her back, with abrasions on her forehead, arms and elbows and
blood stains on the carpet.Norman was
then charged with murder.
the trial, the medical examiner testified that Norman Smart beat, strangled and
stomped a reportedly drunk Lauren to her death – the pattern of his shoes
matched the injuries on her body.
no way to sugarcoat the horror of this crime- nor its pervasiveness in this country.Every day three women are murdered by a current or former male boyfriend.Twenty people (including a small number of
men) are victims of intimate-partner violence every single minute, according to
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Every nine seconds, reports Domestic Violence Statistics, a woman is
beaten or assaulted.Over 38 million
women experience domestic violence every year.Sadly, as many as 10 million children witness this type of violence
woman’s level of education doesn’t shield her from abuse and neither does her
economic status.Domestic violence may
be stereotyped as a crime of the poor and uneducated, but that’s far from the
truth.Women of all backgrounds are
(nor her real name) truly debunks those stereotypes.This well-known socialite and independent
professional in Savannah never imagined she would become a victim of
abuse.Yet, just a few months into her
relationship with a man she believed to be a great match, she found herself a
back, she says, “My first red light should have been one evening when he was
upset and ripped my car keys out of my hand.I attributed it to a bad day at work.”There was no explaining away what happened to her during their
“romantic” getaway to the Bahamas, however.“He got upset with me one night and pushed me, in my pajamas, out of our
room and threw my suitcase at me.I got
another room in the hotel and had every intention of flying out the next day.”
she didn’t.The next morning, the hotel
manager told her, “He’s very upset.He
feels terrible – maybe you should talk to him.”She followed that well-intentioned but very bad advice and spoke to her
boyfriend.“He apologized profusely;
said he was going to get help, all the things you expect him to say,” she
recounts.“He told me about the therapy
he was going to and the breakthroughs he head with his anger-management
long after, it happened again.“For
whatever reason, something triggered his rage again one night, “ she
recalls.“And he came up behind me and
hit me so hard that my teeth went through my lips.I hit the ground and screamed,“I’m bleeding!”He said, “You think you’re f---ing bleeding
now?” and he picked me up by my hair, stomped my head on the ground and dragged
me through the house and let (me) go in the front yard.I had on jeans and a tank top and it was 30
until she could safely go back in the house, Melissa quickly grabbed her purse,
got into her car, and left.“I didn’t go
to the hospital immediately.I was in
disbelief,” she explains.‘I was that typical
(woman), ‘How could this be happening to me?’”
then called the therapist her boyfriend had been seeing and got another
shock.‘I’m sorry.I don’t know this person.You need to call the police,” the therapist
organizations like Savannah’s SAFE (Savannah Area Family Emergency) Shelter
Center for Domestic Violence Services that, for the last 35 years, assists
women less able than Melissa to find refuge from abuse.Former journalist Cheryl Branch has dedicated
nearly 20 years to SAFE Shelter, serving as executive director since 2007 after
heading the shelter’s outreach program where she regularly helped women get
restraining orders, among other services.
don’t see anything wrong with what they do,” Branch says matter-of-factly:“I firmly believe it’s a learned
behavior.Often, one or both of the
people in an abusive relationship grew up in a home where there was some kind
of abuse – verbal, emotional or physical.”
self-esteem, Branch says, affects women of all backgrounds.It’s also an abuser’s number-one weapon.By and large, women blame themselves for the
way they are treated.Women rationalize
the behavior by saying to themselves, “I am going to fix that bad boy,” says
Branch.“He had a rough life.And I, through the power of my love, am going
to transform him.”
of the calls SAFE Shelter receives come from concerned family and friends
struggling to help a loved one reluctant to leave an abusive relationship.Branch advises they reassure their victimized
loved ones, “I’m here for you.”When women
do leave an abuser, SAFE Shelter aids them in numerous ways, especially in
holding the abuser accountable and offering programs for children in order to
break the cycle of abuse.
didn’t even have battered-women shelters until the 70s’ in this country,
“Branch notes, explaining that awareness has improved, but still has a ways to
go.A powerful reminder is ‘Silent
Witness Initiative,” a national art exhibit that travels to various venues and
events featuring life-sized, free-standing silhouettes bearing the names of
Violence Awareness Month in October, the Chatham County Silent Witness Exhibit
will be on display in Savannah for the first time – and Lauren Brown Smart is
one of the 13 victims highlighted.
get so numb to statistics and you need that reminder that this was a daughter,
a sister, a mother,” Branch says of “Silent Witness.”
Brown, Lauren Brown Smart’s mother, needs no such reminders, though.The horrific aftereffects of her death haunt
Sunni every day.Lauren’s oldest son,
now seven, who witnessed his mother’s death, has been in therapy since the
murder, but still fears that Normal Smart, despite being sentenced to life in
prison without parole plus 20 years for cruelty to children will still come for
him.And now, the youngest grandson, who
is nearing two, is in therapy too.
says what pains her most about the tragedy is that “two children have to grow
up without a mother.”Brown says she
hopes the telling of Lauren’s story will help a domestic-violence victim get
out of an abusive relationship before it’s too late.
**Images attributed to Renee
Sheridan and copyright by Christal Rice Cooper
To All Victims of Domestic Violence:
yank of hair.
tired of dreams.
to the ribs.
I collapse to my knees.
kick my face, flat on my back,
my clothes, “What do you think of that?”
My eyes are shut
pretend I am dead.
grunt, and stand,
a shovel, and hit my head.
snow and hot blood,
I lay in bed,
corners of my body,
my arms and legs.
bloodshot eyes bleed on me:
lips open to yellow bones,
in thick red gruel,
tongue stretching, sliding
rams in me,
After he is finishes,
walks out the door
I come through the door
a cold night comes.
My hand on the blade
heart in gaps
lips kissing her damp mouth bloody.
handle in my hand
soft soul cutting the velvet of night.
did it mostly at night,
said to go
he said, watch.
tried not to cry,
us to think
turned her over
her red, black and blue.
put his pants on.
would hear her whimper then.
not this time . . .
the first the time in my life
wanted to hear her cry.
Thomas hears them
an upstairs room
Wrestling, he thinks,
Then Father says honor
The way to
is to take it away.
Now he remembers
as a lion.
Father ate mommy,
the woods beyond -
branches tearing at his eyes,
gritty in his mouth,
wings of deer flies
wore pajamas, they said
sad blue lambs,
hair in his face
flies pasted to bare legs
He wore pajamas, they said
sad blue lambs.
rolling down his legs
He hid behind a bush
his blood and smelled it.
way Father taught him the hunt.
he ran,Called her.
he said when she swallowed
pills.And Thomas called 9-1-1.
white people came.
Long ago, she sang
there is gurgling.
He hid with them in the straw
the doghouse floor.
as if he carried heavy things.
was a noise-
kind of sound a lion makes
the counting of sixty-nine pills,
the palm of Father’s hand.
The dogs stopped yelping
He didn’t know
he was standing beneath the moon
he felt the light,
the sad blue lambs
is what righteousness sounds like,
sound of his zipper’s teeth, opening
now I hear the groans,
You’re my beautiful boy.
hate that word
wife asked why I cringe, I say,
because of the beatings
empty food, my full vile,
of my belly,
pearl onion bleeding over me,
made me wait
it dried, scrapped it on a plate.
I vomited it back up,
put that on the plate, too.
is the Lord’s Supper
room to move my tongue
weapon of bad burn
feel the stream of onions
my tongue, throat.
vomit hot air.
want to be frozen,
his inebriated angel
was, is, will be
I Am The Great I Am
our dictionaries, books,
scare my wife, but not
boy blue, asleep,
a pink sea of repetition.
sins of the father
wake up with desire,
for my wife.
what I remember
what I forget.
put the gun, bullets
severely beaten and had sustained serious injuries –abdomen injuries, defense
wounds, brain swelling, his liver was almost split in two, bruising on the back
of his hands, blisters on his chest, and burn marks (from what experts believe
was a sauntering iron) on his thighs and ears.Mark succumbed to his injuries and died due to severe bleeding.
Excerpt from The Altus Times article
dated Sunday, April 6, 2003
By Chris Cooper