MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Every year in America more than four million women are assaulted by their husbands or their boyfriends. Now think for a minute about those victims. The women who stay in violent relationships applying an extra layer of makeup to camouflage a black eye or cowering every time their partner raises his voice, knowing all too well what might be coming next, a slap across the face, a punch to the gut, another night of hoping that the kids down the hall can't hear the mommy begging for mercy.
Chances are, when you think of those images, the picture that immediately sprang to mind was not the meticulously dressed professional woman with a Harvard degree and a husband on Wall Street.
Ms. LESLIE MORGAN STEINER (Author, "Crazy Love"): If you and I met at one of our children's birthday parties, in the hallway at work, or at a neighbor's barbecue, you'd never guess my secret.
NORRIS: That's Leslie Morgan Steiner. She's a former Washington Post executive and best-selling author with degrees from two Ivy League schools. She's raising three adorable children with a loving and successful husband. Her secret is that she was once married to a man who beat her with abandon on a regular basis.
Leslie Morgan Steiner has written about that painful chapter in her life in a new memoir called "Crazy Love," and she joins us now. Leslie, thank you for being with us.
Ms. STEINER: It's a pleasure to be here, Michele.
NORRIS: You must be - in the process of writing this book - you must be examining all kinds of decisions that you made, little decisions, you know, when I made eye contact with him on the subway. When you first met Conor(ph), and we should say that you're calling him Conor in the book…
Ms. STEINER: Right.
NORRIS: That's not…
Ms. STEINER: That is not his real name.
NORRIS: …his real name. When you first met him, did you have any inkling that he was capable of this kind of abuse?
Ms. STEINER: No, not at all. I met him on the New York City subway and he was really clean cut, dressed in a business suit. He looked to me like - kind of like a fresh-faced farm boy.
NORRIS: And you realize you're smiling right now even talking about him.
Ms. STEINER: Yes, even at the memory of it. He was incredibly polite. It happened to be a rainy, kind of snowy night and I looked very bedraggled, so I didn't look like a glamorous Seventeen magazine editor, and I couldn't believe he was interested in me. And then he tracked me down at my job a month later and I was so flattered. And I had no idea.
NORRIS: Tell me about that, that first beating. You write about that. But even as you wrote about that, I sense that there was something that you held back.
Ms. STEINER: Well, I think it - you know, the book took 10 years to write and in some ways that scene of the first beating took 10 years to write. We were living in a small town in New England. My ex-husband had convinced me to leave my job at Seventeen and to leave New York City. In kind of a typical move he had consciously or unconsciously tried to isolate me from my friends and family.
And it was five days before our wedding, and I couldn't get my computer to work. And I think I yelled or I slammed my fist on my desk or something like that, and he heard it. And before I knew it, he had burst into my little office and put his hands around my neck and picked me up and shoved me against the wall repeatedly. And then he threw me down and left the house.
And you know, I should've left then, I suppose, but I think that the power of love just overwhelmed my intelligence, and logic and rationality. And I stayed with him and he beat me again on the honeymoon.
NORRIS: He beat you twice on the honeymoon.
Ms. STEINER: And I was driving our car and he punched me once when I got lost and then we were driving back to our little town in New England and there was an aggressive driver on the highway who was honking at me and my ex-husband woke up from a nap and got so mad at me that he threw the remains of our McDonald's lunch at me as I drove.
NORRIS: Earlier in your relationship, Conor would refer to you as retard and it was a word that he used over and over again. You write about it lightly, but you repeat it enough to, I guess, signal to this reader that there was something to that.
Ms. STEINER: It was a term of endearment, as sad as that sounds. But I think it is one of those red flags that I really missed at the time. We both looked like we had very different childhoods because he came from a very poor family where he ended up being raised by his grandparents because his stepfather was so abusive, but we both had a lot of sadness in our childhood that bound us together.
But he was always really jealous of my educational advantages. And he kind of idolized my advantages and he openly loved the fact that I'd gone to Harvard, but he also humiliated me a lot and I think that calling me retard was part of that dynamic.
NORRIS: Ever confront him about it?
Ms. STEINER: No, I never did. In fact, I still have the last note that he ever wrote me. The last time that I ever saw him, I found a note in my mailbox that said, goodbye retard.
NORRIS: Why'd you keep that?
Ms. STEINER: You know, I kept a few kinds of strange mementos. I kept the wedding photo that he broke over my head that last night that we were together. I kept a copy of the restraining order. But I do keep those mementos in a small box in my basement, and in some ways keeping those mementos are just a reminder of how far I've come.
NORRIS: Conor is in your past, but are you at all worried that he will read this very unflattering portrait of him and your marriage and decide to react or act out in some way?
Ms. STEINER: I think that I would be in denial if I weren't a little bit afraid.
NORRIS: Did you tell him you were writing this book?
Ms. STEINER: No. I have not talked to my ex-husband in almost 20 years. But I think it's a risk that I'm willing to take.
As I tried to grapple with this, I've come up with a saying that is, you know, if you can do a good deed, you must. And I feel like this is a good deed I'm doing for myself and for other women and children, all victims of domestic violence.
NORRIS: So the statistics tell us that every year four million women are victims of domestic abuse. Statistics suggest that someone who's listening to the two of us talk right now may be dealing with this and may be dealing with it in isolation. So what would you say to that person who's listening to us right now trying to figure out how they deal with that awful situation?
Ms. STEINER: Well, my best advice would be to tell somebody, to try to break the isolation. I would also tell any victim that intimate partner violence is a crime. I think if you start to recognize that it is a crime, it takes away the shame. And the last thing I would say is something that I realized during that final beating. I realized that what I was doing was I was trusting another person's rage.
It was very clear that my husband was very angry man, and I'd always said to myself, even if he held a gun to my head that he wasn't really going to hurt me. And I realized that you can't trust somebody else's rage. You know, really think about that. Can you trust the angriest part of the person you love? Because they might kill you one day.
NORRIS: Leslie Morgan Steiner, thanks so much for coming in.
Ms. STEINER: Thank you so much, Michele.
NORRIS: Leslie Morgan Steiner, she's the author of "Crazy Love," a memoir. If you want to read more about the book, go to our website, npr.org.
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