Anniversary party/the abuser run in edition
October 17, 2013 12:18 AM   Subscribe

Forty years ago, my parents founded a literary society together. (They subsequently divorced). The organization is having its fortieth anniversary party. Both my parents will be there and they are generally very happy/excited to see old friends, read old poems, and remember friends who have passed away. I am going to support them. Here's my problem: my mother dated and lived with one of the other members for years. And one day he went psycho, broke her ribs and put her in the hospital. She called me bleeding and crying from the hospital. It wasn't safe for her to go back home obviously, so she had to go into a domestic violence shelter before staying with a friend and then getting her own apartment. This was 15 years ago and she hasn't seen or talked to him since. She didn't press charges to my knowledge.

Which brings us to this weekend where psychotic asshole will be at the party. The easiest thing would be if he just avoided us. But growing up, he was sort of a stepfather type to me and my brother(he taught me how to ride a bike and played scrabble with my brother), so I could see him possibly wanting to mend fences or say hello. So ideas on how best to handle this without a scene.

My goal here is not have my mother upset, not to cause a scene or ruin the party, but to make it super clear that he shouldn't talk to us. I don't know of any way to contact him before the party. Any ideas on how to handle this? Btw I was going to ask this anonymously but realized I didn't have anything to be ashamed about.
posted by bananafish to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
my mother dated and lived with one of the other members for years. And one day he went psycho... This was 15 years ago and she hasn't seen or talked to him since.

I'm not trying to minimise the violence done to your mother, the trauma to you and your brother, or the awful circumstances your mother had to rebuild from, but is it possible that since this was (from what you've said) out of character, he was suffering from mental illness? Psychotic breaks, for example, do happen.

I'm not suggesting your family reconcile with him, but given the possibility that mental illness played a part here, I'm not sure shunning him is the best approach either. Do you maybe want to think about some scenarios and play it by ear? "You're very welcome at this event but neither I nor my mother is comfortable with you" would be one approach, for example.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:41 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

He can be contacted.

Someone knows his contact info who will be attending this party.

Get his contact info.

Contact him beforehand via email (not on the phone). Tell him this will be the only contact his is going to have with you, your mother, or your father. This is not a discussion, do not reply, do not act like he gets a vote.

Tell him in no uncertain terms that if he so much as says a fucking word to your mother or you, that you will call the fucking cops on him, accuse him of assault, and cause an UNHOLY scene in front of everyone and expose what a violent piece of abusive shit he is in front of the members.

"Fuck you, there is no mending fences, there is no forgiveness, DO NOT ACT LIKE IT IS ON THE TABLE. Keep to your fucking self and don't act like you're welcome in our company and this will not explode into an unbearable hell-storm of embarrassment and accusation.

"But keep your fucking distance, don't smirk, don't even look in our fucking direction or mention ANY of our names to the other members, or all the dirty laundry gets spilled on the carpet in front of everyone.

"You have nothing to say to me or my mother, you have nothing to offer us. Try to say a fucking word to us or act like we're the crazy ones, and the words BLOOD AND BROKEN RIBS gets uttered in front of the whole crowd. Do not fucking test me on this, because you beat my mother and you don't want to know how far I will go to make you pay for that (after all this time) if you even come close to making her uncomfortable by your showing up.

"Test me on this at your peril.

"Any reply you send will be deleted unread. This will be the last contact you receive from me."

Best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:47 AM on October 17, 2013

While I agree with Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey that someone probably has a way of contacting this person, I don't think setting conditions for his attendance are in order. I think it should be made clear that this person just isn't welcome at this gathering.
posted by The Potate at 12:56 AM on October 17, 2013 [18 favorites]

Is there some reason why assaulting the founder wasn't grounds for banning him from the society 15 years ago?

You say she didn't press charges, hasn't seen or talked to him, "which brings us to this weekend". How did you get from there to here?

Is it the case that your mother left the society and he continued as part of that society for the next 15 years without missing a beat?

There's so much missing information here. When you say "psychotic" do you mean he had a diagnosed mental illness? Do you have any way of knowing if he's still a danger to your mother?

It seems like you don't have enough information to know whether it's safe for your mother to be at the same event with him at all, much less the nuances of how to do so without causing "a scene".
posted by tel3path at 1:00 AM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do you know what your mom wants?
If she doesnt want him there i would suggest the organizers exclude him from an invite.
posted by chapps at 1:06 AM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

The easiest way to avoid a scene is to tell him he's not invited. Contact him, tell him why and make it clear he's not invited.

This isn't an ordinary level domestic drama where two people fell out it would be awkward if they met again. This is case where someone was assaulted and their presence is more than just a social inconvenience.

If your mother or father no longer control the guest list, contact the person who does and make this clear to them.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:07 AM on October 17, 2013 [14 favorites]

And BTW if both you and your mother want to greet your enemies in the marketplace, and do good to those who hate you and despitefully use you, there is no way I'm going to discourage that.

I do think you need to assess the safety of interacting with him, and also the risk of making "a scene" which would be an unfair disruption for everyone attending the reunion. Until you and your mother know where the edges of your personal safety are, you can't strategize on solving the etiquette aspect of the problem.
posted by tel3path at 1:13 AM on October 17, 2013

You and your brother have to decide who to support: your mother or this guy. I don't think you can protect your mother from her former abuser AND be friendly & welcoming to him, "sort of a stepfather" or not. It makes no difference if he taught you to ride that bike or played Scrabble with your brother: this is an either/or situation, not an all-inclusive one, and you really can't choose to have it both ways. I wouldn't bother contacting him and telling him to stay away (to a lot of abusive types, that's just a red flag to a bull), and if he's a member in good standing the society itself probably has no basis to bar him.

You say you don't want your mother upset..... well, it's either protect her or be nice to someone you yourself describe as a "psychotic asshole".
posted by easily confused at 2:05 AM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I originally wrote a long reply to this post. It immediately reminded me of people who have been involved in both my and my parents lives.

My initial post had a bunch of questions to ask yourself about whether or not you think this guy is reasonable and would have the common sense and non-dick swinging state of mind to not just ignore any sort of "hey, just be a decent person and don't try and talk to us" type of call.

But no, i really think the only thing to do here is to get the guy uninvited. Anything else you do is still going to create and unfairly stressful situation for you and your mom, and anyone else who knows whats up. As muffinman said this isn't some kind of trite low level high school drama where they dated and had a shitty breakup or something.

It's completely reasonable for her to go and him not to get to, it isn't "unfair" or anything. It's your moms freaking organization. That's like him getting invited to her birthday party because they used to date or something.

I really think that anything other than getting this guy uninvited is going to create an uncomfortable, stressful, i have no mouth but i must scream type situation here. The entire time is going to be like setting a sheet of lacquered cardboard on top of a bucket of vinegar and covering it in baking soda, and hoping it doesn't foam over and ruin something.

The guy just should not be there, end of story. Make it happen.

Another big elephant in the room question that your post skipped over though, what does your mom think about all this?
posted by emptythought at 3:06 AM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you can, uninvite him. If you don't have that option, then deal. There's an 80% chance that this guy will avoid you all like the plague. That's the perfect scenario. No interactions = no drama.

If he does decide to make contact you can very easily say, "Given our history, I think it's best we continue to have no contact." Then walk away and don't look back.

That's what you can do to control yourself. What your mother decides to do is up to her. Don't be surprised if she acts all happy and delighted to see him. People who have been through trauma have a way of re-writing the past so that they can live with it.

I'd at least have a discussion with your Mom about this, "I'm really apprehensive about meeting Gary at the party. I've decided that I'm not going to talk to him. What is your plan if he decides to try and talk to you?" Then listen. If your Mom doesn't want any contact, then hover around her in case he approaches and you can present a united front. If she's forgiven him and has no compunction about talking to him, you have to accept her decision.

Hang in there, the object of the evening is NOT to have drama.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:16 AM on October 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

I absolutely agree that the best case scenario is either to get the guy uninvited, or to make sure that you do everything possible ahead of time to avoid having to have any contact at all with him. But I also think that, in the event that he tries to mess with your mom, you have to be mentally prepared for the possibility that you will have to make a scene in order to protect yourselves and your mom. That doesn't mean approaching him at the event to yell at him or anything; you should stay away from him as much as possible. But if he approaches you, and he refuses to back off, you need to tell him firmly that he cannot speak to any of you, loudly if necessary. You have to care more about keeping him away from her than about whether someone overhears. So, if he refuses to take no for an answer, you have to be prepared to loudly and publicly say, "You beat my mother up and put her in the hospital, and I need you to step back and leave us alone." I realize that's uncomfortable, but if he's persistent, your goal of keeping your mother safe and your goal of not disrupting the event may be mutually exclusive, and if that happens, you have to prioritize your mom over being polite.
posted by decathecting at 7:30 AM on October 17, 2013

Response by poster: My mom dropped out at the time of my parents divorce. My father ran the organization for twenty years or so, but he has since left town and doesn't have so much involvement. I don't know if this guy has a diagnosed mental illness; he's now in his early seventies, so I'm not afraid of him hurting my mother or anyone else. What I am afraid of is his trying to talk to us, upsetting my mother, or causing a scene. He is a very prominent poet, he is likely scheduled to be reading at the event, I doubt anyone running the event would be willing to uninvite him because we asked. Yes, my mother is one of the founders, but it's now a formal program through a local university run by professors and she hasn't been involved in 38 years.

I'm sure my mother knows that this guy will be there(she told me recently he had a new book of poems). She is generally happy and excited about hearing some of the poetry, seeing her old friends and also remembering some her close friends who died. She's been so happy about it, I haven't wanted to bring this up, but I guess I should.

I have his phone number and his address (it was in the back of poets and writers magazine), but he doesn't seem to have email. So short of calling him(which seems like it might escalate things and I really don't want to do) I don't see how I could get in contact.

I guess I really just am looking at ways to deflect him if he tries to come over and talk to us.
posted by bananafish at 7:50 AM on October 17, 2013

If he comes over and tries to talk to you, you tell him that given your history--or, more specifically, "the way you treated my mother"--you don't have anything to say to him. If he persists, walk away.

What you need to be prepared for, I think, is the possibility that he will persist, and you will walk away, and then he will keep persisting. My experience with people like this is that they're often quite willing to pretend that [horrible thing] never happened, to the point of being angry and offended if you are not also willing to pretend that [horrible thing] didn't happen.

My advice would be that if he doesn't back off when requested, you ask a second time, and after that you tell him that if he doesn't leave you alone, you'll be escalating this. Figure out who you will escalate to--will there be security? If he's harassing you, is there someone big and burly who you trust to intervene? Are you willing to call the police if he won't leave you alone? I'd hope for your sake that you'd be willing to do all of these things, but at a minimum, you should figure out who you'll be going to in the event that he won't leave you alone. You may also find it helpful to decide what you're going to prioritize: not making a scene, or not speaking with him. Personally, I'd go for not speaking to him, but only you can make that decision.
posted by MeghanC at 8:17 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cut him dead. Literally turn around and physically present your back to him. If you see him heading towards your mother, impose yourself between the two, same thing. If he speaks to you while you are facing him, make eye contact long enough to be uncomfortable, with a blank expression on your face, and then turn around. If he tries to inject himself into a conversation, ignore everything he says, or move away. If he catches your mother in conversation, walk over and lead her away by the arm, saying, "Oh, mum, you must come see the crudités!" To you, he does not exist. Most adults will get the hint.

It is rude and it is noticeable, but it is less noticeable than causing a scene. If someone asks you what's going on, simply say you have no desire to speak to that person. The less emotion you offer to him or to anyone about him, the better.
posted by Nyx at 8:22 AM on October 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'd be leaning towards telling the event organizer of the situation. Regardless of whether they decide that he gets un-invited, it may help to have someone else in on what is going on in case a situation DOES arise. If I were you I would probably look in to inlisting the help of some other guests with whom I or my mother are close, and have them help you keep him away from you and your mom.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:15 AM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

"I don't want to talk to you." and walk away. No need to make things more complex than that.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:03 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd: Make sure I knew where he was at all times. Keep at least one arm's length between us if he approached me, even if it literally meant walking backwards the entire time. Never ever ever put myself in a physical situation where I couldn't immediately walk away if he approached (i.e., not rest against the wall, not sit in the corner of the room, not sit in the middle of a row of chairs). Tell him "I'm not interested in talking to you," if he did approach me and then immediately walk away (this is where keeping distance and not getting physically trapped comes in). If he continued to pursue me, yell "I told you to leave me alone!" loudly enough that at least a few other people hear and are alerted to what's going on, because if he's made it clear that he's not going to respect my boundaries, then I'm not going to collude with him in pretending everything is fine.
posted by jaguar at 11:16 AM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ugh. I'm so sorry. It's so fucking awful when abusers are in highly regarded social positions and the group just collectively pretends that they're stellar citizens. I'm so sorry that happened to your mother, and I'm glad that she and you and your brother are safe now.

It sounds like you don't want to cause a massive scene that would ruin your mother's nostalgia and enjoyment of the party (and remembrance of her friends who have passed), which outing him at this point or any of the more open shunning tactics would do. I would not go with cutting him dead, or any other overt shaming tactics that a person known to be angry and abusive might take eagerly as ammunition to start shit and make a scene (the phrase "prominent poet" was a red flag there for me :/). Those might be good for another situation, but are risky here if your goal is to let your mother enjoy this event without incident.

Can you contact the event organizers and let them know that they need to run interference and provide handlers for him to steer him away from your family? Could you in addition deputize some of your mother's old friends, or any friends you have who are either burly and intimidating and/or good at social misdirection, to act as a security barrier for her? Have someone there who will steer him away to some super important hors d'oeuvres or fascinating conversation on the other side of the room if he starts looking like he wants to approach you and your mom.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:21 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's so fucking awful when abusers are in highly regarded social positions and the group just collectively pretends that they're stellar citizens.

Actually, it's not clear that anyone else even knows about this.

OP, if this man caused grievous bodily harm to your mother, and the community and its leaders knew this but carried on regardless, well... it's not a safety issue any more because of his age, as you say. But whether or not you have the support of the community is going to factor into what constitutes "a scene".

Personally I would be more inclined to respond firmly if I were in a community that didn't support me (because fuck them, that's why). But I assume she wouldn't be putting herself in that situation anyway if that were the case.
posted by tel3path at 1:27 PM on October 17, 2013

Response by poster: No, nobody else (except my dad and my brother) know about this. I don't think my mom would really want anyone else to know, which is why contacting the organizers won't really work because doing that would violate her privacy. I will ask my father to run interference, but he is MCing and reading and may not be available the whole time.
posted by bananafish at 3:01 PM on October 17, 2013

Can you bring a friend or two to run interference? Either yours or your moms? You don't have to give them all the gory details, just that this guy was a horrible to your mom and no one in the family wants to talk to him.
posted by nooneyouknow at 5:13 PM on October 17, 2013

separate your concerns from those of your mom. I would get clear on what my boundaries were in relation to this person. then I'd tell my Mom about my feelings and express my worries about her welfare and listen to what she had to say in return.

or: exactly what Ruthless Bunny said.
posted by macinchik at 10:42 PM on October 17, 2013

You really need to talk to your mother about this, because at this point, you're making plans to protect her from something she may not need or want to be protected from.

Maybe she knows she can be blandly civil to him if she has to. Maybe she plans on giving him the cut direct. Maybe she has the perfect, steely-eyed set-down that she's been rehearsing for years, ready to deliver the moment he tries to talk to her.

Find out if she'd like you to keep him away from her, and if he does, you can do that by staying near her and literally heading him off at the pass if he looks like he's coming toward her. Walk him away from her and then just quietly say that you don't want to make a scene, but your mother still isn't comfortable seeing him after all this time. And keep in mind, you can't force this person to not make a scene if he intends to. You can only act in ways to let him know that you don't plan to make one as long as he stays away from your mother.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:52 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So after all that, he was scheduled to read, had turned in a poem for selection, my mom was practicing saying "I have a restraining order,". he never showed up and we had a great time. Thanks everyone!
posted by bananafish at 12:45 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm glad both that your mother had a (good!) plan, and that no plan was necessary!
posted by jaguar at 8:14 PM on October 22, 2013

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