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"I'm a Nervous Wreck": Gulf Fishermen's Wives Face Trauma, Domestic Abuse, Economic Insecurity

The wives of the men whose livelihoods have likely been destroyed by the BP spill forever, grapple with an uncertain future and air their rage.

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"That's why we need them checks. We never got our second check."

"Us either."

"I heard on TV that BP spent $2 billion on the spill."

"Maybe in boom. It's not comin' in money."

Everyone laughs.

"The money goes through local authorities and they stuff it in their pockets. They gettin' the money and it's supposed to come to us and it just gets stuck there."

"We got our first check for the wrong amount and we went to tell them and they said we had to bring in all this paperwork, then we gotta wait two weeks for them to fix the check."

In the meantime, the women's husbands are working for BP, doing cleanup. Boat captains make $36 an hour, $25 for deckhands, but BP's capping their wages at $200 a day. All around, it's far less than the husbands usually make in June. And there's a lottery for work. Those people who get drawn seven days a week? It's rigged, the women say. There are cliques.

Young, fresh-faced Julie with the toddler on her lap doesn't want her husband doing cleanup anyhow. She tells him to stop doing it because it's dangerous. He says, "How do you want me to feed you?" She says, "How are we gonna eat when we're dead from chemical contamination you're bringing into the house?" He says, "We'll live on the check."

At this point in Julie's re-creation of this daily fight, everyone yells, " But we're not getting the check!"

"Okay," Michelle says calmly. Soon she will admit that she doesn't watch news about Louisiana anymore. She stopped watching it after Katrina. All it does is upset her. When she describes this to us, her body will give away how visceral her response is; she can't talk about the glimpses she's caught of the oil well gushing away, that live underwater feed in the corner of CNN's coverage, without cringing and wincing. But right now, she asks the fishermen's wives how they're feeling.

"Mad! I'm mad! At BP, at nobody has their shit together to take care of all this oil!"

"I'm not depressed; I'm angry."

And the men? How are they dealing with their own anger?

"My husband's talking about finding BP CEOs and hurting them, even if he has to go to prison forever. He's not thinking clearly. The oil spill has completely consumed him."

"They can't smoke pot anymore. It's just a part of the culture, all the fishermen do it, but now they have to take drug tests to get the cleanup work. So now they goin' drinkin'."

"My husband's goin' drinkin'. My husband comes home and screams at me. The food's not good enough, the floors aren't clean enough. That's why I'm here, for him to take it out on me."

In next-door Plaquemines Parish, 11 domestic violence came in on one recent weekend, compared with 3 on a typical weekend. Cathy Butler, the woman who takes the calls, isn't ready to attribute the spike entirely to the oil spill; it's a hundred degrees outside, after all, and calls always increase a bit in the summer. The mayor of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, says they've had 320 percent more incidents of domestic violence since the spill. Whatever the cause, Butler is sure it's gonna get worse soon. "The more people are out of work, the more trouble we're gonna have," she says. " Plaquemines Community CARE is offering help now, but we're gonna need some more counselors. In the coming months, I'm gonna see a definite increase." She says she is also seeing an increase in child abuse calls.

 
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