‘Love isn’t supposed to hurt’
After 20 years of enduring abuse and surviving an attempted murder at the hands of her first husband, Bertie Brem of Grass Valley knows too well that domestic violence – mixed with silence – can be deadly.
Brem, 79, shares her experience and strength with other victims through her work with the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition and spoke at the Grass Valley “Take Back the Night” candlelight vigil three weeks ago as part of domestic violence month.
She hopes her story will help other victims escape their abusive relationships and to realize that “love isn’t supposed to hurt.”
After six straight weeks of stalking, threats and attempts to force Brem and her four children to live with him and his new wife, Brem’s ex-husband shot her, then turned the gun on himself in her former North San Juan home on Nov. 22, 1968. Brem will never forget the moment when he showed up at her front door, demanding she go with him.
“I knew when I said no, this was not going to go well,” she said. “I turned to walk away. He hit me in the second vertebrae. I went down. It knocked me out.”
She’ll also never forget regaining consciousness, rolling onto her knees, the gun barrel pointed at her forehead or the eerily “beautiful” spray of blood that came from her defensively raised hand as the bullet ripped through it.
“I’m positive that because there was so much blood, he though he got me in the head,” she said. “He put the gun to his temple and …”
Three of Brem’s children were home at the time.
Sedatives and pain relievers at the hospital had no effect on her frazzled nerves and fractured spine after the attack, she said, because she was terrified he would survive. She finally slept when he died, 13 hours after the shooting.
“Women should be aware they need to leave at the first sign of violence,” Brem said. “When he slaps you, stop right then. It’s better for him, and it’s better for you.”
Brem was raised on a farm in Missouri with loving parents and absolutely no violence, she said. However, she was taught to be nice, be quiet and not make a fuss.
Polite – then fearful – silence may have been what helped her to survive 20 years in a violent marriage, but it was also what kept her there, she said.
Back then, she said, there were no laws against a man beating his wife, and when the police would show up, sometimes they would tell him not to do it anymore.
That didn’t help.
She thought it was safe to tell her ministers, and each time, they told her to obey her husband.
“The Bible tells you what size stick to use to beat your wife,” she said, as if she should have known that confiding in the church would also be futile.
Obeying didn’t work, either, because her husband hit her for myriad reasons, even if he didn’t like her cooking.
“I’m a terrible cook,” she said, laughing. “Anyway, most of the time I had no idea what was going through his head. I never knew what would trigger him.”
She reluctantly admits she entertained thoughts of killing him.
“I couldn’t think of any way to get rid of him and keep my children,” she said. “You think about going to jail, then your mother instinct takes over.”
She was relieved when he had an affair, moved her out to the rickety ranch in North San Juan and divorced her. She thought she was free, but he didn’t see it that way.
The lesson she learned from those nightmarish 20 years is simple, she said:
“It’s an ownership thing, and it has nothing to do with love,” she said. “It’s a great thing that victims now have places they can go like the DVSAC, where they can learn about these things.”
Brem, a talented seamstress and quilter who attends community events, is a social butterfly these days.
A jovial and engaging lady, Brem meets frequently with her quilting club, “Patchwork Pals.” She doesn’t have to worry about walking on eggshells or hiding her opinion with them or anyone else.
“My friends don’t wonder where I stand on something,” Brem said. “I was taught to keep my mouth shut, but not any more.”
To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4236.
Who to call: If you or someone you care about is a victim of domestic violence, contact the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition’s hotline at 272-3467.
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