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Black Eye

Escaping a Marriage, Writing a Life

Judith Strasser

Publication Year: 2004

    Seventeen years after she married, Judith Strasser escaped her emotionally and physically abusive husband and sought a better way to live. In the process, Strasser rediscovered what she had suppressed through that long span of time: exceptional strength and a passion for writing.
    Black Eye includes excerpts from a journal Strasser kept from 1985 to1986, the year she made the decision to leave her marriage, and present-day commentary on the journal passages and her family history. Strasser works like a detective investigating her own life, drawing clarity and power from journal passages, dreams, and memories that originally emerged from confusion and despair. With language that is both insightful and poetic, she reveals the psychological and social circumstances that led a "strong" woman, an intelligent and politically active feminist, to become an emotionally dependent, abused wife.
    Not coincidentally, the same year that Strasser finally found the courage to leave her husband, she also reclaimed her creative voice. Newly empowered and energized by this enormous life change, Strasser began writing again after twenty-five silent years dominated by her mother’s illness and death, her own cancer, and her painful, fearful marriage. Black Eye is one of the fruits of this creative reawakening. Strasser’s writing is refreshingly honest and instantly engrossing. Not shy of wretchedness or beauty, Strasser’s story is bitterly personal, ultimately triumphant, and inspiring to all who deal with the adversity that is part of human life.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Table of Contents

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

I learned that the University of Wisconsin Press would publish my memoir, Black Eye, on December 5, 2002, sixteen years to the day after my husband gave me the black eye for which I named the book. It was an astonishing coincidence. ...

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Unpleasant Truths

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pp. 3-17

My husband punched me in the eye. What is wrong with that sentence? It follows all the rules. Subject, verb, direct object. A simple sentence. I could go to the board and, chalk dust flying, diagram it just as Miss Montgomery taught me to in seventh grade. ...

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Questions of Politics

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pp. 18-38

Can’t remember ever being so depressed about Christmas. Fought with Stu this morning about whether we would go together to look for a new TV for his mother; best I can figure out about why I was so angry is a feeling that he has once again dumped all responsibility for this alien holiday on me. I’m sure this is made more annoying...

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Intimate Strangers

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pp. 39-52

Last night, I worked in my writing shed later than I’d intended. It grew dark, and I didn’t have a flashlight to show me the path back to the Norcroft lodge. The sky was cloudy; there were no stars, the moon had already set. I stepped outside my shed, turned off the lights, and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark. ...

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pp. 53-73

Bizarre, horrible day. A letter from Shelly brought a Guardian clipping about the Goldmark murders. Apparently, an anti-Semitic, right-wing nut decided that they were Jewish Communists and their lives threatened our Christian democracy. On Christmas Eve the murderer knocked on their door, pretending to deliver presents. ...

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True Colors

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pp. 74-96

Yesterday, because it had rained almost all day and was too muddy for biking, I left my Norcroft writing shed to walk for half an hour along the Highway 61 frontage road. The rain had stopped, but the world was shrouded in mist. The gray sky and flat light made every color stand out: velvet brown on the tiny alder cones, crimson...

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Clear Vision

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pp. 97-122

I am very upset and sad. Stu is obviously still furious with me. I suspect he wants to split, and I think that I am most upset at the prospect that he will tell me this is his decision without giving me the chance to give him an ultimatum about getting his act straight. ...

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Standards of Performance

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pp. 123-134

As I was preparing for bed, Stu barged in—unable to sleep, he said—to demand conversation.We talked for about an hour and a half. “Do you think you’ll ever be able to be loving toward me?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I said,“but certainly not unless you deal with your alcohol problem.” Ultimately, he said...

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Selective Attention

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pp. 135-158

It feels like the first night of summer. Very hot. Stu is randy; he actually changed the sheets on the porch (putting on the polyester “satin”) and tried to lure me to bed with a bear hug. But I am exhausted from four and a half hours of sleep last night, talking to Santoro and Carol Madsen, and doing a lot of outdoor work today. And I am planning...

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Tokens of Love

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pp. 159-170

Pleasant enough day; if it weren’t for the fact that we now communicate via in-baskets and written notes, live in separate parts of the house, and speak very formally to each other, one might almost think Stu and I were getting along quite well. He has now assumed a very paternalistic attitude toward me. He wrote Bill Lange...

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pp. 171-192

The last two days went by in a haze. I spent a lot of time reading back over the journal I’ve kept since last December and studying the chart I started in late April on which I scored our day-by-day progress on issues like “control,”“help around the house,” and “sex.” Stu and I talked. He apologized for the door-slamming. I did not apologize...

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“J Jumped for It”

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pp. 193-207

Early March, a little like spring, at last. I took my Standard Walk today, an hour-long circuit over the hill and through Hoyt Park. I wanted to check on my favorite pussy willow, a huge shrub, like a small tree, eight or ten feet high. Each spring, it puts out the fattest, softest “pussies”...

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Jekyll and Hyde

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pp. 208-221

I have been sorting through too many photographs. I unearth snapshots from the horse-packing trip the kids and I took in Wyoming with my sister Ellen, the year after I left Stu. David is a pudgy twelve-year-old; Eli a cute, short, nine. Two years later, we visited the Thompsons, who were living in Japan. David and Eli stand under a black umbrella in the Hiroshima Peace Park, beside...

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Halcyon Days

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pp. 222-239

Eli turns nineteen today, so I am beginning the last year of my decade as the mother of teenage boys. Today that seems much less momentous than where I am, physically: back at Norcroft, working in the same writing shed I inhabited last October! I arrived yesterday, on the summer solstice, for a week that is really pure gift of the gods. Or goddesses. ...

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Cause and Effect

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pp. 240-258

A day or two after we arrived in Davis, Stu and I signed a month-bymonth rental agreement for a furnished one-bedroom apartment in a brand-new building near the University of California campus. Stu soon found a part-time job with a professor who agreed to sponsor a proposal Stu was submitting to the National Science Foundation. ...

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Trouble on Its Way

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pp. 259-288

A poem in the new issue of Prairie Schooner begins “My sister asks if / I have fed the house.” The poet, Faulkner Fox, hears this as metaphor. But the best metaphors describe how the world really works. I do not feed my house. That is one of the true pleasures of living alone. I spent part of Labor Day weekend attacking...

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Enormous Rage

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pp. 289-313

Early November 1997. I am at Ucross, a writing retreat in northeastern Wyoming. I will be here a month; by the time I leave, I hope to have finished the first draft of this memoir. From my studio window, I see a small grove of leafless trees, the brown tufts of dried grasses, a gray sky. Snow flurries. Winter descended on the High Plains a couple of days ago, as I drove...

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The Gift

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pp. 314-340

Last night I dreamed about Carl. I had been away on a long trip. We had made tentative plans to go to a concert, to a movie, out to dinner, when I came home. He said that while I was away he would find out performance times, make reservations, and so forth. But he was also going to see if he could make his marriage work. ...

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pp. 341-345

“You can’t end it there! ” Just about every person who read a draft of this book insisted that they wanted more of my story. But they all had different ideas about what I should put in an epilogue. One person wanted to know, “What happened next?” Another reader wondered if I’d found a new man. Someone asked, “How did your


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pp. 347-348

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pp. 349-350

Authors need many kinds of help. I learned this when my first child was a week old and I had to make the hour-and-a-half-long drive from Davis to Berkeley to conduct an interview for a magazine article I’d been assigned. I loaded the van with my newborn, my visiting mother-in-law, the diaper bag, a stroller, a tape recorder, and a steno pad. Helen took David and all...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299199333
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299199302

Publication Year: 2004