After a 5-year saga of domestic violence, Donna McGuire had long since wearied of the charade of living a life of suburban serenity.
She was tired of putting on heavy makeup to cover the bruises, tired of the excuses for the black eyes, tired of the sore ribs, tired of vacating their Laguna Hills home after another of her husband's violent outbursts.
So last April, she asked the law for a piece of paper to protect her--a restraining order that would prevent her husband, Scott, from coming to the house. If he violated the order, he could be arrested.
"I never wanted to have him put in jail," Donna McGuire, 28, said. "I never wanted to get the restraining order, but I felt it was time for him to leave, because I was tired of leaving. Many times I was out in the street, in a phone booth, tired and cold and trying to find somewhere to go, find somewhere to live, looking at apartments, sleeping in the car."
That piece of paper hit Scott McGuire, 31, with the force of a fist.
"That was the best thing that ever happened to me," he said last week in the home he once again shares with his wife and son Justin, 6. "What happened was I didn't have any place to go. I was on the streets. I ended up at the YMCA in Santa Ana for a week. I'd call up here and scream and whine and carry on and say, 'Let me come home, it's my mom's house.' I'd call my mom back East and carry on with her, and they (his mother and wife) just ignored me. And I was alone. I had to make some major decisions about whether I was going to end up in the gutter or pick myself up. It was down to that."
Unlike most couples where family violence eventually takes over, the McGuires now are able to talk about what went wrong. Neither blames the other, realizing instead that each played a part. Indeed, Scott was not the only physical abuser. Donna concedes that she sometimes found herself in the same assault mode as her husband, although she was not strong enough to hurt him. "Every once in a while, I'd get in a slap across the face, and I'd be happy just to slap him," she said.
Both McGuires were drug users during much of their explosive periods, but Scott was the greater abuser. But even with the drug use affecting his judgment and behavior, a more complex combination of factors lay beneath the surface that poisoned the family tree--an all-too-familiar mixture of anger, frustration and resentment. Slowly, it turned Scott into something of a monster and Donna into a family-violence statistic.
Orange County police departments reported 10,955 calls that involved domestic violence in 1987 (according to the latest available figures from the Bureau of Criminal Statistics). The year before, the county's police departments reported more than 12,000 calls, but an official with the county's Commission on the Status of Women said that the drop-off is probably a statistical quirk and not indicative of a lessening of the problem. Nationally, more than 1.8 million women will be punched, kicked or assaulted with a weapon this year, according to a University of New Hampshire Family Research Lab study. About 6.25 million will be slapped or shoved.
The McGuires met by chance in a Laguna Beach restaurant in 1982. Scott was on a short break from his job as a Navy corpsman and Donna had spent the day on the beach celebrating her 22nd birthday. They had their first date a couple weeks later and had no more intense plans than just to be friends.
Instead, Donna got pregnant almost immediately and decided against having an abortion. Although she made no demands of Scott, he decided that they should move in together to see if a lasting relationship could develop. They settled in San Clemente, but problems soon began.
"I wasn't prepared, and I knew I wasn't, so I was letting it overwhelm me," Scott said. "The closer the baby got, the more stress I put on myself. I put myself in a position where I knew I either had to marry her or leave. I decided to marry her even though I didn't want to marry her and wasn't prepared to marry her. It's not that I didn't love her--we didn't have enough time to find out if we were in love."
The baby was born in the spring of 1983, 2 months after Donna and Scott were married. Within a few weeks after Justin's birth, the first violence occurred. Donna was holding the baby in her arms and arguing with Scott. Suddenly, Scott pushed her and the baby backward onto the bed and walked away.
"I cried and cried and cried," Donna said. "It was my new baby, my new husband and that's when it all started, with that first push."
That first shove happened in concert with ever-increasing arguments over taking care of the baby. Like many couples, they argued over simple things, but Scott found it impossible to curtail his anger.
Then one day, he hit Donna for the first time. The blow, which they both say was open-handed, broke her nose. Donna packed her bags and for what would be the first of at least four such moves over the years, left the house.