Trigger warning for mild domestic violence.
I met him when I was lonely, and confused, and young and idealistic. I met him when I was still aching over the big, gaping hole in my gut that my college boyfriend had left. He was older than me and he had a bad boy vibe and a pickup truck. My closest local friend at the time had just found a new girlfriend and left me alone on Fridays, and so I turned to the next best thing.
I was so desperate to be loved that I let red flags go sailing by. He borrowed $20, promising to return it by Friday — I never saw it again. He got mad at silly things. He told me that I was lucky that he was with me, that I was ugly but that he saw the good in me, and I glowed. He broke into my computer, read my writing, and screamed at me for it. The Tori from today would have kicked him out, but I just hid, and cried, and apologized, and tried to make it better.
There were good days, of course. We laughed, we got a puppy, we had snowball fights and sex (not at the same time). I cooked and he did guy things around the apartment. One day, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes. I don’t know why I said yes, in retrospect, except maybe I thought no one would ever ask me again, so I might as well get it over with.
His abuse was almost always verbal. He was on drugs, and he was great at getting jobs and then getting fired within a week or so. It was always my fault, somehow. I would lie in bed and cry, missing that boyfriend from college, missing the way my life used to be. My best friend hated him, but she stood by my side at the wedding. My family hated him, but they loved me and so they did their best.
One time, my husband told me about a time when he was about 8 years old. He had gone to the county fair, all alone on the bus. He only had a dollar, but he walked in and went up to a game where you could try to snag a real fish. Apparently, he won. He walked around the rest of the day — and all the way home, on the bus — with the fish that he won on his pole. For some reason, the story made me cry and cry. He was all alone. He didn’t have the loving family that I had. I hadn’t had to struggle just to make it, like he had. I saw myself as someone who was saving him. I saw myself as the hero. And so I let so much go that I wouldn’t have.
Money was tight. I had a great job, but he had none, and he smoked all our money up. We would beg — no, *I* would beg, the landlords wouldn’t talk to him — to pay the rent just a little bit late. I used Check Cashing places — at one point I was in debt to three of them at once. Eventually, we filed bankruptcy.
I got pregnant. I wish I would have left the second I saw the positive sign, but of course I didn’t. The pregnancy was not as bad as it could have been. He liked the idea of a baby, so he stopped most of the abuse. He did his drugs in another room and rubbed my feet after I had worked all day. And maybe he tried to return some of the baby shower gifts for drug money, but I stopped him. Our child was the line in the sand that I started to draw, albeit lightly.
The baby was born by C-section. I was happy; he was happy; both our families came. Everyone held the sweet little boy, passed him around and cooed. And then night came, and everyone went home. The baby went to the nursery. My husband drove home for the the night so he could get high. And I sat in the hospital room alone, and terrified. Hormones were leaving my body, and I was sure that I would die from some random complication from the anesthesia, and no one would find me until the morning.
A few days later, the baby and I went home. I was actually supposed to stay 4 days, but my husband negotiated it to 3 with the doctor, because he was sick of driving to the hospital to see me. When we got home, for the first few days, he was the model father and husband. But after the novelty wore off, I was the one who got up for feedings all night long while he snored in bed. I held the baby and rocked the baby. He just got annoyed when I wouldn’t let him smoke near the baby. After 8 weeks, I went back to work. He insisted that he stay at home with the baby, and so I let him. I don’t know what he did at home with the baby, but I know that as soon as I got home, I would take care of the baby. I rocked him and fed him and soothed his cries.
One day, I came home in the middle of the day. I don’t remember why — I may have forgotten something for a class I was teaching. I walked into the bedroom, and there was my husband, passed out on the bed. And there was the baby, who had twisted himself out of the motorized swing, and who was hanging by his ankle in mid-air, swinging and screaming. I scooped up my little guy and held him. And that afternoon, I called a local babysitter, and I got him into daycare.
My ex-husband was mad. His mother told him that this meant I was planning on leaving him. But I was too scared to leave him. I’d seen him go off the deep end with drug dealers that wouldn’t sell to him anymore, or who raised their prices. Still, I stood my ground, and I took our son to the sitter every damn day while I went to work — and while my ex sat on his ass and did drugs.
A year passed. I was growing more and more horrified by my husband. When I got home with the baby, I would take the baby upstairs to his room and lock the door and play with him. I was scared to contradict my husband. Sometimes, he would be nice and would play with the baby, but most of the time he was strung out or just plain mean. One time, my mother-in-law pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to buy food stamps from someone she knew. I said no; I made decent money. I wasn’t the problem. She screamed at me for being too stuck up, and she said she would never help us out again. What she meant was that she would never give her son drug money again. I remembered the little boy alone at the county fair, and I felt sorry for him again. I had a loving family, and he had a bitch. It wasn’t his fault that he was such a loser.
At the same time, though, I knew that I didn’t love him. I also wasn’t getting any younger, and I needed to make a change. I got all my courage together, and I suggested to him that we could be friends — best friends, even — and raise our son together, but that we shouldn’t be married anymore.
Fireworks. He was mad. He threw things, and hit, and cried, and ranted and threatened me. I grabbed the baby, my phone, a knife, and ran upstairs and locked the door. He pounded on the door, screaming. I called my mom. She called the police. The police came, and escorted me and the baby outside. My brother and his entire family came and picked my son and I up, and took us away to their house.
I can remember how I felt as I climbed into their SUV. Adrenaline rushed through my body; I looked into the faces of my brother and his entire family, and I felt shame. Real, face-reddening, gut-wrenching shame. My sister-in-law got the baby into the car seat, and I put our two bags into the back, and crawled into the back of the vehicle between my two oldest nieces. No one said a word. I waited for a lecture from my brother. Anxiety built as the silence dragged on. I worried about my dogs back at the apartment with my husband; he would kill them to spite me, but there was no room for them in the SUV, and no place for them at my brother’s house. My brother drove – down the highway, towards Columbus, down the road to their house. Then, he stopped. We pulled into the parking lot of some taco joint, and we all climbed out, avoiding one another’s eyes. Once inside, we stood in line to order, my oldest niece taking my son and helping him pick out food. I don’t recall what I got, but I do recall that my brother made some sort of joke about unhealthy food adding to his girth, and the spell was broken. The family talked and laughed, and I chimed in from time to time.
I was scared. So, so scared. I couldn’t go back, but I knew that my pattern was that I would likely go back. I couldn’t subject my son to that lifestyle, but I didn’t know if I could make it alone. I needed to somehow draw the line and prove that I was serious this time. Later that evening, lying on an air mattress in the Bonus room in my brother’s house, my son curled up against my body, I called my very best friend. She was on a vacation with her husband; she had placed a moratorium on any outside contact. But I left a voicemail, and she listened and called me back. I remember whispering in this house that was filled with sleeping people. My voice stammered out the words “I left him…”. She gasped and began murmuring encouraging and happy things. We didn’t talk for long, but I knew, after I got off of the phone with her, that this was my line. I had told her, I had told my family, and now there was no going back.
I shut off his phone, turned off the internet and cable at our condo, and cut off all contact with him. From talking to the neighbors, I learned that he sat there for a month, never leaving the house. I never went back; a couple that I was friends with went back and cleaned out the house after he had gone, got my stuff out, and rescued my dogs. I found temporary homes for my dogs. My son and I stayed at my brother’s house for about 2 months, until we had worn out our welcome and we were tired of them as well. I rented a big, purple house and we moved, and things were good.
But, unfortunately, old habits die hard. He would come around, ostensibly to see our son, but instead just tried to get back with me and to get money from me. I didn’t know what to do — I wanted to stay his friend, to help him, but I didn’t want any relationship with him. This continued for quite a while, until I hired a divorce lawyer and took him to court. I got the divorce, and in exchange for signing away my child support rights, I got the right to not let him have scheduled visitation with our son. This helped legally, but he was still a common visitor in our house. He could say all the right things, but by now I knew that they were all lies. I could see through him.
Two years later, I got a new job in a new city, and I moved. Although he knew the approximate location of where we lived, I didn’t give him the address. This didn’t stop him from following my car until he found us. Some days he would visit and would be nice, and other days he would stop over and just scream. And still I tried to pacify him.
Eventually, I met someone, and he made plans to move to Ohio and move in with the kid and I. This made my ex go ballistic. He had never before cared about our kid, but now that he saw his meal ticket going away, he tried to once again use violence and threats to get his way. After one final violent episode (him screaming at me and pushing me in the backyard, where all the neighbors saw), I called the police. I was terrified for my life.
I got a temporary protection order, and eventually I got a 5-year protection order. HIs rights as a parent are fuzzy, and although he’ll email from time to time and threaten or sweetly ask to see our son, he doesn’t try too much. Legally, he can’t be near me anyway, and he’s told me in the past that he won’t drop our son off to anyone but me, so there’s no way I can arrange visitation. He’s already violated the protection order once.
Since all this happened, my anxiety has gone through the roof. I’ve tried medicine from my doctor and psychologist appointments, but the only thing that really works is for me to be near my boyfriend, who’s been with me for the last two years. He’s big, and muscular, and he’s got experience working with drug addicts, so as long as he’s around, I don’t get scared — at least not for long. And the kid loves my boyfriend and calls him Dad, and wants nothing to do with his biological father. The kid remembers how scared I was, and how scared he was, too.
Since I have distance from the whole experience, I can see how I was manipulated, how I was used. But it’s hard to see that when it’s happening. It’s easy to make excuses or blame yourself. I would always excuse what he was doing as “only emotional abuse”, and I would assure myself that I could handle it. But emotional abuse hurts just like physical abuse does. It’s just as cruel. I never thought I would be that person who would allow myself to be abused, but suddenly I was. It’s not like your loved one is cruel to you, and you immediately think, “Abuse! Run away!” Instead you think, “I can fix this,” or “He’s better than that,” and you try and you try to make your world stop spinning… but it won’t. And it takes something to snap you out of that cycle of shame and hurt. I’m lucky; I found my thing. I hope that every other person in this situation finds theirs before it’s too late.
image from flickr’s creative commons