The shiner

Sunny Grace. Photo: supplied.

When Sunny Grace’s dog gave her a black eye, it brought up multiple issues and questions around domestic violence, and the way society handles it.

I wake up in the morning feeling a bit tender under the left eye. Then I remember what happened the night before. 

I fumble for my phone and bring up my camera. Take a photo. It’s a beauty. A real shiner. Purple blue black. Not much swelling because I applied ice for the recommended twenty minutes.  The best remedy for bruising is Arnica ointment. An old wife’s tale, witch’s wisdom, or hippie stuff? I don’t know but it always seems to work for me. 

I know I need to go to the chemist to get some more. I eye myself in the mirror. For some reason, I feel fragile and vulnerable. For a moment, I want to abandon the Arnica mission and stay inside. Hide away. And yet I know I have nothing to hide. It happened when my puppy accidentally got me in the eye with her rope toy. All 30 kilograms of her weight behind it. 

But still I am worried what people will think. Since Covid began, domestic violence has seen a dramatic increase. According to a study by the Australian Institute of Criminology, almost one in 20 women (4.6 per cent) experienced physical or sexual violence over the last three months; 5.8 per cent experienced coercive control; and more than one in ten (11.6 per cent) experienced at least one form of emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviour perpetrated by a current or former cohabiting partner.  

With this in mind, off to the chemist I go. I search the shelves and can only find Arnica cream. Not the same as Arnica ointment. I ask the woman at the chemist for help. She clocks my black eye and averts hers. Interesting, I think to myself. 

“I wrestle with the decision to attend a work event with my black eye or stay home. I know questions will be asked and assumptions made.”

– Sunny Grace

I return home and put on the cream. Take some painkillers and reapply the ice pack. Lying on the couch I wrestle with the decision to attend a work event with my black eye or stay home. I know questions will be asked and assumptions made. There is no point trying to cover it with makeup. I am a minimal makeup wearer at best and don’t have the required cover up. But I decide to be brave. To take my black eye into the world and use it as a social experiment instead. 

I leave the house and go to the event. Walking there is fine, my sunglasses cover the bruise. When I enter the venue, people stare and look away. I meet new colleagues who I have only met on Zoom before and take a very upfront approach starting the conversation with the truth. I laugh it off and tell them the story of the dog. We make bad jokes about it being DV (dog violence) or PE (puppy enthusiasm). 

I leave the work event and make my way home via the bottle shop. As I pay for my wine, I can see the attendant is staring at my eye, so I casually tell him it was my dog. The other guy in the bottle shop replies, “What? didn’t he get his dinner on time?” We laugh and I leave. 

But I wonder what if it hadn’t been my dog and he had made that comment? How would I have felt? 

The next day I get coffee at my local and the barista asks if I am ok, pointing to my eye. I tell her the story. She seems satisfied. She knows my husband is away at the moment too. And she loves him. He is a funny man. When I told him what happened, he joked and said: “Lucky I’m not there or they would think it’s me.” I am not sure what to make of this. 

As the days go by, I play around with other responses. What if I say I am a Muay Thai champion? Would they believe that? Or a boxer? If I was a man, would they even stare? Would they assume it was sports related or a badge of honour? 

This makes me wonder about male victims of DV sporting a black eye. Would anyone even think to ask if he is ok? To entertain the thought men are experiencing increases in DV during Covid too? Apparently, the evidence is that they are. Do these men feel vulnerable leaving the house or is it easier for them to blame it on the gym or boxing and for people to believe them? 

As the week goes on, the shiner appears to get worse. The purple colour deepens and the yellow edges spread. More people start to ask me if I am ok. More jokes are made. My dog’s name is Smokey and so we get, ‘Smokey gave you a smoky eye.’ 

The irony is now I have forgotten about it. As I write this, Smokey is peacefully snoring at the end of the bed. Mind you, that toy has been retired to the cupboard. Didn’t stop her finding a shoe today, though, and running up behind me, whipping me in the leg. 

I tell her to leave it and she does. I count myself lucky; in this situation I still have the power. In DV situations, victims and survivors do not, especially during Covid. 

I am reminded to not make assumptions about others’ appearance and to check in to see if others are okay. 

Family and domestic violence support services

1800 Respect National Helpline: 1800 737 732

Emergency – police or ambulance: 000

Lifeline 24-hour Crisis Line: 131 114

NSW Domestic Violence Line: 1800 656 463

NSW Rape Crisis Line: 1800 424 017

Mensline Australia: 1300 789 978

No To Violence Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491

QLife LGBTI peer support and referrals: 1800 184 527

Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277

Sexual Assault Counselling Australia: 1800 211 028

Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre: 1800 686 587

Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services: 1800 938 227

Women’s Legal Service NSW: 1800 801 501

The dog in question, Smokey. Photo: Sunny Grace/supplied.

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