Behind the Hedge. What does the title of my novel mean? I wanted a title that symbolizes that most family abuse is done in private, behind closed doors. But I wanted something more. Something that symbolizes that abuse is not as private as the abuser thinks it is. Behind the Hedge was a perfect fit. If you’ve ever driven past a hedge, and then walked past it, you’ll understand what I mean. When we drive by, all we see is the hedge. We cannot see what is going on behind it. But when we walk by and try to see through that hedge, we will find places where we can get glimpses of what is on the other side. Sometimes if we move the branches ever so slightly, we can see amazing things on the other side. It just takes a small amount of effort.
Family or domestic violence—even when it is non-physical violence—is that way. When we breeze by, everything looks normal. The husband appears to love his wife, and the wife appears to look up to her husband. If they are church goers, he may have his arm around her in church, and they may stay close together after the service. Both may laugh and joke like anyone else. She may tend to be quiet, and he may be so charming. But if we take the time to slow down and really get to know them, we may find a different story. At first, it is like peeking through a hedge. We get a faint clue that something is not right. He may say something to her or about her that hints at disrespect. She may go out of her way to avoid displeasing him. But at this level it is easy to pass off what we see. To ignore it.
But if we make the effort to know them even better, we may find out that he does not allow her to do what she is educated to do or what she is passionate about. And he may limit her contact with friends or how much money she can spend, but he has expensive toys—perhaps a boat or a classic car, or clothes that are more expensive than hers.
And if we spend more time with them, at some point we will hear him say something demeaning to her or hear him react in a irrational manner, or even hear him verbally tear her to shreds. Then we will look at one another as if to say “What is his problem?” If we are allowed to talk with his wife for any length of time, she will indicate she thinks she is stupid, incapable, or inadequate. But if we ask, we will find she was on the honor roll at school and is very bright. By now, we’d have to be quite dense to not see he is controlling her, and likely abusing her at home.
That is why I put a flowering hedge around the Miller’s yard. I wanted people to see that the façade can be ever so beautiful, but if we care about our fellow humans, we will make the effort to see beyond appearances, to offer understanding and help to those who are being hurt and accountability to the offender. Indeed, abuse done in secret is not necessarily hidden. And those who abuse lose their right to privacy. It is very apparent if we educate ourselves on what to look for and if we take the time to find the places to peer behind the hedge.
Waneta Dawn is the author of Behind the Hedge, A novel.
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