Donna Kaz is a multi-genre writer and author of “Un / Masked, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour,” which chronicles her relationship with the late William Hurt and her journey to become an activist fighting domestic violence. Kaz writes about her about her emotional response to the news of her death.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw him, standing at the front door of Jimmy Day’s bar in Greenwich Village, where I served tables. The sun behind him made him look almost pious. It was 1977. I was 23 and had just moved to New York to pursue a career in theater. He was a regular at Jimmy Days and worked at the Circle Repertory around the corner. When I took his order of him, he asked me what I had done. When I told him I really was an actress, he said, “Congratulations,” as if pursuing a career in the arts were the pinnacle of honors. He was performing on Lanford Wilson’s “The Fifth of July” at the Circle and invited me to come. I remember sitting in the dark theater, watching him on stage and falling deeply in love. For the next three years, there wasn’t going to be a day we’d spend apart.
His name was Bill Hurt and soon after we met he was chosen for “Altered States”. He asked me to accompany him to Los Angeles for the shoot. We lived in a beach bungalow in Malibu. On her days off, we swam, read poetry, and made love. But our relationship quickly turned into a different cycle. Bill snapped, physically pushed, punched me and beat me, followed by tears, apologies and him offering me expensive gifts. When the beatings started, I chased him away. He said he was sorry. Maybe I instigated him. I only had to visit the ER once. It was only after many, many years that I admitted to myself that I was a victim of domestic violence.
I was with Bill early in his career. I survived “Altered States”, “Eyewitnesses” and “Body Heat”. In 1980, at the height of his physical abuse, he dumped me. But we couldn’t let go and stayed in touch, seeing each other a few times a year until 1989. In 1992, while living in Los Angeles, I decided to volunteer for the LA Rape and Battery Hotline. I actually thought I had chosen this organization at random. It was during the orientation that, for the first time, I realized that I was being mistreated. While other volunteers introduced themselves as survivors, it struck me that I too was a survivor.
After coming to terms with what really happened between us, I cut all ties with Bill Hurt. Recently, I started to google his name and the word “obituary”, but my search was always empty. I once read that he was sick, but he had fully recovered. And then a few nights ago my phone rang with too many messages to be good news. My famous molester was dead.
You need to understand something about surviving violence. It is always with you. It is something you will never get over. And just as you will never get over it, you embed the experience into the fabric of your life. Become a part of you.
Survivors of domestic violence also bring something else with them. They take their hitters with them. Their attacker lives forever in the memories of a deep love that inflicted cruelty and harm. These memories will always be linked. They are impossible to separate.
My trial for dealing with abuse went like this: I kept it secret for 35 years. When I finally decided to write about it, my attacker was constantly in the back of my mind. I heard him ask if writing this sentence was really necessary and it really happened this way and wasn’t I just exaggerating everything and using our relationship to carve out my little fame?
My drummer was William Hurt. I wrote about our three-plus-year relationship in a memoir published prior to #MeToo. I want to tell my story when the time was right to tell it. It changed me forever. There is something extremely empowering about telling the truth. All artists know this. Your own personal truth is the thing that merges you with all who come into contact with it. This is why we feel a connection with the actors. Their truth is in line with ours.
I have no idea if Bill ever read my memoirs. One night I stood up after a deep sleep with the strange feeling that he had just finished it. In the book I gave him a personal manifesto: “Promise to step aside and allow me to follow my chosen career path even if it means you have to sacrifice your career for mine to thrive.” I know he didn’t step aside, but he never stood in my way. He did not try to prevent the book from being published. I had stopped hearing him talk more than 25 years ago, ever since I publicly claimed I was a previously abused woman by appearing on CNN when Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered.
William Hurt died on March 13. Since then there have been accolades across social media, print and television for his acting, his awards, his career. I agree with all of them. But I also have to use a good amount of energy to keep his memory from sitting next to me and abusing me again. To write this I had to let it live again for a moment or two. And in that moment there was pain, regret, anger and a dream of reconciliation that will never be.
I wonder about all the people who google their abusers, waiting for the day they no longer exist. Death humanizes people. When our abusers die we might be surprised to find that they were ultimately mortal humans. Aside from us, they are also boyfriends, lovers, spouses who have tried to change the course of our lives, leaving behind brutal remnants that we will never forget.
I want this to be the year everyone talks about violence and abuse and works to end it forever. I want #MeToo to remain a powerful movement. I never want to regret writing about my experiences because someone will judge me for doing it just to promote my work.
I am ambivalent that my chance at reconciliation with William Hurt will never be. I feel lucky to have survived and won it. I am thrilled to be still alive to tell my truth.
Together with her alter ego, Guerrilla Girl and Guerrilla Girl On Tour, Aphra Behn, Donna Kaz creates visual and performance art to attack sexism and show that feminists are fun at the same time. Find her on Twitter @guerrillgsot and @donnakaz.