If you met Nalia today you’d wonder why such a pretty and charming young woman allowed herself to be emotionally and physically abused by her mooching boyfriend.
The contrast between Nalia and her boyfriend Scaram was so great especially at the time Scaram beat her up so badly she spent days in the hospital. Nalia was in college, working part-time and raising her daughter. She was living in her father’s home expense free. Much of the money she earned was being spent on Scaram. He didn’t have a job, didn’t have a car, had lost his driver’s license, and didn’t even have a place to live. He slept on the couches of various and sundry friends and forced Nalia to be his chauffer.
Why, you ask did she stay? Why did Nalia choose to support this bum? What motivated her? What in her past caused her to think so little of herself that she would enter into and remain in a relationship with a man who had so little to offer her?
As you start to peel the layers of the onion, you learn that there were prior incidents of Nalia being verbally abused by Scaram. He told her she was dumb. He called her ugly. He accused her (wrongfully) of sleeping with other men. He was extremely jealous and possessive. He demanded she spend less time with her counselor, her friends, and even her extended family. The one area in which she resisted was his insistence she quit school. Nalia was determined to get her degree – although her grades were suffering and she was often late for class because of some demand made by Scaram.
Scaram wanted her all to himself – needing her to take care of him, and him alone.
As you continue to peel the layers of the onion, you realize that Nalia hadn’t lived with her father all her life. He came back into her life several years ago. Her parents had been divorced when she was young and her mother, never very maternal, had often left Nalia and her younger sister with the older brother by a previous relationship. This brother, Luis was a bully and a tyrant. So you start to learn that Nalia’s relationship with significant men in her life included them treating her badly.
You also learn that her mother treated her as a child would treat a doll. Pick her up and play with her calling her pretty and “momma” (a term of endearment in their culture) and showering her with kisses. Drop her and forget about her for days at a time. Get frustrated about something unrelated to her child and take it out by screaming at Nalia, or one of her siblings, often pulling, grabbing, and forcing them to move fast or out of her way.
Yet, for years now, Nalia has been seemingly safe. She has been living with her father. Her mother is no longer in the pictures (actually she died some years before) and her father is a successful high-tech CEO. Why then, you continue to ask yourself would Nalia allow herself to remain with someone who gave her as little emotional support and regard as Scaram.
My role was to act as mentor to Nalia and counselor to her father helping him to learn how to deal with her and all the issues and drama that were part of her life. He – his company – had been clients of mine many years ago.
Two incidents that I am personally aware of give you the answer.
When Nalia was scheduled for her first appointment with the counselor at college, her father accompanied her. For reasons still unclear to me, just prior to entering the building, he started screaming at her, telling her she was worthless and he didn’t understand why she was demanding he support her through college. When they entered the building for the appointment, Nalia was in tears. Needless to say, her first interview didn’t go well. It was a good thing I was there to help.
The second incident occurred when her father had a rage attack when talking with me. He was at my office during a regularly scheduled session we had to discuss Nalia and his handling of her, her daughter, and unfortunately her friends who hung around his office all too frequently. Our session was during the time that the “Occupy Wall St.” group was becoming vocal and noticed by the press. Harry, the seemingly calm CEO, started screaming at me about those “New York Jews” including me in his rant about how all they (me!) take money from people, etc. Reminded me of the accusations about Shylock or Hitler’s rants in Germany.
As I watched Harry become more and more out of control during this rant, I realized that this was not uncommon behavior on his part. Harry would from time to time lose his temper and go off so badly that his rants and raves were quite destructive to the emotional well-being of his children.
So, Harry, her father was the first of the abusers in Nalia’s life. Her brother the second. Her mother contributed mightily to a very poor self-image.
Nalia never learned to expect better treatment from men. No matter how much she advanced her socio-economic and educational position, she still thought of herself as a woman who deserved men like Scaram.
On the surface Nalia appears to be a beautiful, poised young woman seeking to advance herself professionally by acquiring a college degree. Her father is a successful and highly regarded corporate CEO. On the surface finding her beat up in a hospital doesn’t make much sense. It is by scratching that surface and watching her with others and watching and learning from those that were responsible for her, that we can see the badly bruised and insecure little girl starving for affection and attention at almost any price.
If she were one of the central characters in your novel, how would you peel the layers of the onion so that your readers would come to understand the reasons she continued to have a relationship with Scaram? Character development takes many twists and turns.