“For Your Own Good”: Poems and Stories from a Victim of Lesbian Domestic Abuse

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Leah Horlick‘s For Your Own Good is a collection of poetry written from the perspective of a woman who has fallen victim to domestic violence within the context of a lesbian relationship. Should you read this fictionalized autobiography—and you should—you must do so without expectation. It is not overtly heart wrenching, but rather deeply emotional in an understated way. 

ForYourOwnGoodCover

I suspect your experience with Leah Horlick’s poetic stories will depend on your life experience. If you are an abuse survivor, you might presume that you will immediately identify with the survivor in Horlick’s poems—and you might. Your appreciation for the survivor’s story is not contingent upon your ability to relate, though. The survivor in For Your Own Good does not request our pity, nor does she present as a victim.  The poems read in a direct fashion. You will feel sympathy and you will feel sadness, but in a less gratuitous manner than you might expect out of an abuse story.

The violence, although significant, loses its power upon comparison to the emotional abuse the narrator experiences. The poems capture the essence of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of unjust treatment and disrespect from a lover. In “Grooming,” the narrator speaks to the power abuser holds over victim.  The narrator likens herself to a horse at the mercy of its trainer–her abusive lover. The abused waits for the abuser to “pull on your mouth / to tell you where to go.” 

The various ways in which victims often attempt to change in the name of finding resolution is articulated with subtlety. The narrator’s determination to behave in a manner which will not result in abuse feels all too familiar. It reads as the victim blaming we, as women, often commit against ourselves. In “Little Voice,” the narrator recalls a story of what seems to be a previous close call with assault. She tells of sensing that something was about to happen; she would be hurt if she did not flee. Her “little voice” demanded she leave. And she did; this made her “smart / you were a smart girl.” The presumption is that the narrator believes she knew better back then because she left. Now she blames the abuse on herself because she stayed. The power her abuser has exerted is far reaching; the reader will learn, through the narrator’s experience, how abuse can impact every facet of a victim’s life.

Leah Horlick
LeahHorlick

Our society is just beginning to understand how complicated acknowledging one’s experience with rape can often be. It is not always the violent and aggressive experience we see in made-for-TV movies. Non-violent date rape, in many cases, leaves victims feeling confused and unable to process that they were actually sexually assaulted. Horlick beautifully articulates this sense of confusion in a way which readers can easily grasp and even sympathize with.

Domestic abuse within the confines of a same sex relationship brings about many issues that are not always faced in straight relationships. The validity of violence in same sex relationships is still often called into question. The world still finds it difficult to understand how such abuse can exist outside of man abusing woman.  In “Banishing,” Horlick speaks to this as the narrator reflects on the “story I’ll have to tell / three times until anyone believes me and / I give us all a bad name.”

Readers will feel the sensation of loss as the narrator transitions into life without her abuser. When we don’t understand the complicated nature of abuse, we think it is simple: If she can just make it out alive, all will be well. Unfortunately, life post-abuse is often not the celebration of survival we may imagine.  Horlick, through her narrator, discusses the conflicting thoughts and feelings the abused woman experiences upon leaving. In “Floating Poem,” the narrator tells of two nightmares–one in which her abuser returns to violate her again; in the other, her abuser appears crying, “She doesn’t say / anything, in this dream.  She has heard / everything.  She knows, and she denies / nothing.”  For the narrator, the latter of the two dreams is worse.  She remembers her abuser, not only for her violence, but also for her brokenness. She feels empathy for the victim underneath the abuser.

The tone is direct and it is matter-of-fact. Deep emotion is felt, but not overtly communicated. This is the voice of a woman who has moved past the pain and into the phase of indifference—or possibly healing.  Upon reading For Your Own Good in its entirety, my guess would be the former. 

It is not often that a collection of poems can be read like a book; For You Own Good will grab you by the collar and demand consumption. It is a page turner in the most literal sense of the term. Although the language is abstract, readers will venture through the narrator’s experiences with enough ease to make it consumable and enough complication to leave room for thought and interpretation. The more you read, the more you want to read. You will feel what she feels. You will want for her to heal, but you will know she may not.  You will find solace in her escape, but you will feel the anguish of her past as it remains in her present. But, still, you read because you are invested in her journey.

Follow Emily: @EmilyAMcGaughy

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