I barely managed to keep the car under control and he continued screaming at me, yelling at me to get moving before someone saw. Terrified and crying and anxious that no one see, I hurried. The entire drive, he berated me and told me this was all my fault. I was a horrible driver. I made him do it. The entire time, I told myself it was the medicine, the injury, the trauma, that made him do it. He recovered and was very apologetic and promised it would never happen again. It was the medicine. He was better now. I know now, that the medicine merely removed his inhibitions and if I'd had any self-esteem at all, I would have run.
Instead, I felt guilty. How could I leave him when he needed me most. He cried constantly and insisted he couldn't live without me. Did I still love him then? Even now, I don't know. I always thought I loved him but he was the first boy I ever dated and he told me constantly that I loved him and pointed to things I did as proof that I loved him and urged me to say I loved him. Did I ever say those words on my own? Never. I always said "I love you" to make him feel better and to assure myself that I really did love him. From across thirty years or more, I realize I was too young to know what love really was. Infatuation, yes. In love with being in love, yes. Devotion and loyalty. Yes. Love? Sometimes I still don't think I know what it is.
I wanted to wait to marry but Dave insisted we marry as soon as possible. Thoughts about college brought anger and outrage. No wife of his would ever go to college. No wife of his would ever work. Looking back, I'm shocked that I married him but that was then and this is now. In those days, I was a skinny, flat-chested girl with a hearing loss who truly believed no one else would ever even look at me. I know now that the first thing an abuser does is choose his victim carefully. People with low self-esteem and physical problems are easiest to control. I was a perfect victim. Worse, I was raised to be polite and women in a farming community always deferred to the men back then. It was an almost-instinctive reaction to do whatever the man said and behave as he told me to behave. I had only sisters, not brothers, and didn't know it was possible to walk away. If I'd had a brother or even a close male friend with whom I could confide, I think I could have escaped this trap.
I know now that the second thing an abuser does is very, very carefully start to isolate the victim. Cause a rift between her and her family or widen a gap that's already there. Convince her that her friends aren't really her friends. By my senior year in high school, I was one very lonely girl and my parent were very worried. My sister, Jo, came over to talk to me one afternoon and I very nearly cancelled the wedding afterwards. Dave called while she was still there and with the built-in warning system that some of these abusers seem to possess, he honed in on the fact that I was no longer responding correctly to his questions. I didn't see much of my family after my marriage.
We stopped by frequently but only for short visits. On the other hand, we practically lived at my in-laws-house. We had to ask their permission before doing anything and I began to see where my husband got his temper.
We were married less than a month when the first married incident of abuse occurred. We went to a softball game. He had too much to drink. I asked to drive. He grabbed my arm and shook me and the bruise was evident for a month later. He drove and I was frightened the entire way home because he truly should not have been driving. He wove. He drove on the berm of the road. He stopped once and vomited. He still refused to let me drive because what would someone think if they saw me driving and him sitting in the passenger seat? I was to learn over the years that appearances were everything to my first husband.
Abuse became rather frequent after this but it was never more than a slap or a grab and it was always while drinking. It was his excuse, you see, to drink so he could abuse me and then apologize and promise it would never happen again. When he stopped drinking for over a year, the abuse stopped too and I really believed him. I should have know it would return and with it, the abuse.
Since he only abused me while drinking, did that mean the drinking cause it? I thought so at the time but then he stopped being careful over the years and began abusing me for no reason. I remember one day he walked into the house and I'd spent the entire day cleaning it so he wouldn't be angry. [This, on top of working full-time.] He could find nothing wrong and his eyes flashed with anger. I knew he wanted to hit but dinner was cooking and there was nothing he could find. Finally, he looked up and took his finger across the top of the refrigerator. "How long has it been since you cleaned this god-damn refrigerator, bitch?" And choking, tears, shouting, slapping, followed this incident.
That was when I knew that excuses were just excuses. My husband needed a whipping boy and I was it. He abused me, not because I'd done anything wrong, but because it was his way of shifting blame from himself. He was a failure in life. Things had not gone well. He didn't want to admit, even to himself, that he was in any way to blame so he blamed the booze and blamed me and that kept his oh-so-important self-image intact.
For years, I truly believed that if I was a better person, a better housekeeper, a better wife, a better sex partner, a better whatever-it-was that was needed, he'd stop abusing me. I've learned the truth since then. One day, when my daughter was just a baby, my husband came home in one of his moods. He saw I'd been typing a homework assignment (yes, I'd returned to college) and he blew up. He literally threw me out of the chair and into the wall. I fell to the floor and felt something snap. It wasn't a bone -- it was my mind. I picked up the chair and hit him with it, just hard enough to knock him to the ground. I then picked up the typewriter and held it over his head. "You have a problem," I told him. "You will call AA and go to meetings and you will call a psychologist and make an appointment to learn to deal with your anger."
There's another problem I've been ashamed to ever admit: Embezzling and forgery. No, I didn't do it. My first husband did. You see, he'd grown up with money but he didn't have any real job skills or ability to learn and the money I bought in wasn't enough to supplement his meager income. He truly didn't understand loans and interest and he opened up checking accounts, forged my signature, borrowed money and forged my signature, and did several other incredible things which I only learned about when they were ready to foreclose on our home.
I am ashamed to admit I bailed him out of that situation. Divorce was not an option for me. I was a good little Christian back then and truly believed Johnny Cash's songs that insinuated the love of a good woman was all a man needed to make him right. If my husband had done this, then it was my failure and my responsibility to make right.
Stupid, right? It really hurts to write about this. There are so many things I've buried deep inside so the pain will never touch me again. Dave did go to counseling and the next time he hit me, he yelled, "If the psychologist was here, he'd be hitting you, too. You make me hit you. It's your fault." Well, I went to see this psychologist too, because Dave had evidently managed to convince him that the abuse was partially my fault. I've learned since that some people truly do abuse only one married partner but it's a matter of patterns. You tend to fall back into the same old pattern and thus an abuser can often never break the pattern of abusing his original partner but can sometimes learn to control his anger with a later partner. I wouldn't trust anyone who ever abused but then I'm a victim and I'm never going there again.
The psychologist counseled me to hit my husband next time he hit me. I didn't think it was a good idea. He asked me what I thought would happen. I told him I'd get the shit knocked out of me. He said I was wrong and Dave would walk away. I thought it was a bad idea but I tried it and he was right. Dave did walk away in shock -- the first time. The second time I was beaten harder than I've ever been beaten before until I laid on the floor and played dead. Dave stood over me. "Get up! I didn't hit you that hard. You're just playing. Get up!" I stayed down and didn't move and luckily, he didn't think to kick me.
Over the next few weeks, Dave decided to quit counseling. Whatever it was that snapped inside of me had never repaired. I was walking dead. I had no emotion left except for the children. The moment Dave entered the room, all emotion ceased. The world turned into shades of gray and I felt nothing. At night, I simply laid there while he used me and my mind went someplace else -- someplace where no one could hurt me. I know now this was a defense mechanism but I've since learned it was one of the worse things I could do. The abuse grew worse. I walked into the room one day to stare down the barrel of a gun and I knew then that one of us would die before too much longer. I'd started begging for my freedom earlier but I knew that as long as he didn't want me to leave, I wasn't safe to try to escape. Maybe that was part of snapping. If I stopped being me, then he'd leave.
Sometime during that last year before he left, I stopped hiding the abuse. His parents still never suspected but others began to know and rumors seeped around. I'm sure his parents don't believe, even now, that their son ever hit his wife but I know now from whence it came. I can look back across the sea of years and see Dave's father slamming him into a wall. I remember seeing the kids covered with bruises during their teenage years and I remember his sister's black eye.
I remember the time Dave's brother, Ralph, broke Dave's ribs by hitting him with a baseball bat during an argument. Ralph's in jail for murder now and Dave's youngest brother has two ex-wives who swear they were abused too. Abuse is taught. I knew I had to get my children out before they were caught in the cycle but a wife who leaves is often killed and how could I protect the children when Dave had them during visits? It was safer for me to be there, to be abused, then to leave.
In the end, I did something far more dangerous. I don't know if it will work for anyone else. I don't know why it worked for me. I turned to wood. As I said earlier, everything inside me died when he entered the room. I did not respond. When he hit me, I usually said, "Does it make you feel better to hit me?" or something of that nature.
This was dangerous as the abuse grew worse. I fled for my life once, grabbing both children and jumping into the car. Dave opened the door and his foot got caught in the door. I came so close to hitting the accelerator and dragging him that it terrifies me even now. I could have killed him then, without feeling the least remorse, and the only thing that stopped me was the thought of what could happen to the children.
The kids were my life then. I still love them, but they're older now and the bonds are not nearly as strong. We've had years of arguments and they've developed strong personalities and self-esteem that I trust will protect them through the years. I walked woodenly through life after that and refused to listen to anything my husband said. I got a better job and told him to drop the pretense that I was only working "a few weeks" more. I'd been working "a few weeks" for ten years and if I was going to have to work, I was going to do something that paid better than sewing shirts in a factory for piecework.
I don't know what his family said to him after I got a better job but I do know that it was less than a month when he called to say he wasn't coming home and if I wanted even a penny from him, I could sue for divorce. The funny thing about that last bit is that I was still, at the time, almost fanatically religious. On the way home, with the kids in the car, I had prayed for over half an hour about the abuse. Finally, I did what my minister had been encouraging me to do for weeks: I turned it over to God. I said, "Okay, God. I cannot deal with this problem. I'm turning it over to you and asking you to handle it." I barely walked in the door when the phone rang and Dave told me he was leaving. My immediate reaction was to put my hand over the phone, look up, and say, "Thank you."
Dave did come home that night. He said he'd talked to his parents and they said that if he left, I could get him for desertion. I had no money to file for divorce and had to wait for a paycheck. Utility bills went unpaid. David paid for nothing and I still swear that the tires on my car DID have whitewalls and one day, they suddenly didn't and were bald tires. There were other things that happened -- unpleasant things that won't be discussed here.
A friend, Vicki, was watching the children while I worked. This was her profession and while she didn't want to take on more children, she agreed to do this until I could find another sitter and she agreed to wait for money. She also told me that I should give her a week and she would tell me the name of the other woman. I laughed, certain that wasn't why Dave finally left. Five days later, Vicki called and told me the name. This was Dave's second wife and while he claimed he never abused her, she told me after her divorce that the reason she left was because her daughter's had bruises and she learned Dave was beating them when she wasn't there to observe this.
But back to the divorce. It was messy. It was hugely, cruelly, incredibly messy. In my still Christian attempt to be noble, I offered Dave joint custody. He screamed. Life was hard but when is it ever not? Child support checks were few and far between and ONLY paid when his parents were aware it was unpaid. Appearance were still important to Dave. I learned he borrowed huge sums of money from friends, claiming it was to pay my outrageous child support. I let people know it was no such thing and his source started drying up and the threat of abuse loomed again. d at me that he didn't want it and that these were, and I quote, "YOUR kids." He further told me that "You don't deserve child support."
Funny, I always thought child support was for the children. He wanted to see them when he wanted to see them and no other time. If I took a college course on the weekend (as I did for several years thereafter), then don't expect him to watch the kids for me. He wasn't going to be my babysitter.
If I wanted the kids with me, then he wanted them. If I needed them elsewhere, then forget about asking him. The court awarded $50 per week child support and child care cost $70. Dave paid nothing until we went to the first hearing and his attorney learned child support was unpaid. He immediately requested a continuance and when we went to court three months later, child support was brought current to that date with a payment made fifteen minutes earlier downstairs. He had the receipt. I still had to wait two weeks to get a check. Dave always entered the house when he returned the kids. I would greet him outside and ask him to leave. He always had to go to the bathroom or needed a glass of water. I figured out later he was casing the house and refused to let him in. The locks were already changed. I won't bore everyone with details. Suffice to say I bought a gun.
Suffice to say I almost used it once. I watch the news sometimes and see murder reports involving domestic disturbances and my heart turns over every time. This could have been me. I could have died. I could have killed. My children could be at the bottom of a lake, trapped inside a car filling with water. Any one of these tragedies could have happened to me and there's only one way to avoid it. If you're considering living with someone who hits, don't. If you're married to someone who hits, then leave very, very carefully. Tell everyone you're an abuse victim and don't hide it. Later, at the trial, it's going to be important that everyone know there was a continual pattern of abuse.
I just hope, for your sake, that you're the one sitting with a defense attorney rather than your abusive spouse, claiming he didn't kill you. Self-defense is seldom believed in domestic violence cases and it's especially never believed when the victim hasn't made some effort to protect himself/herself. Yes, husbands can be abused too.
For those who abuse: Well, I doubt you read this far; but if you do, I sincerely hope you'll get help. The possibility of staying with the one you love to abuse is small. Few success stories exist of those who stay but there is hope that once you leave and work out your problems, you can break those old habits and learn better ways to control your anger for a new relationship. As for me: My second husband is not an abuser but I still find myself slipping back into old patterns.
It's hard to break the tendency to run outside and walk away. It's hard to break the old habit of saying, "Go ahead, hit me." I know I need to see a professional to learn to cope with these things and I have, occasionally, done so. I learned enough to be careful in choosing my next mate and I refused to become involved with anyone who drank. I did, perhaps unfortunately, abandon my religious affiliations although I still cling to my religious beliefs. A church can be a good place for a person to be a victim because misquoted and misused segments of the Bible can become justifications for abuse and reasons for staying with an abuser. I'm sure this is not what God intended and I believe firmly that Dave left when he did because God solved the problem I gave him. The fact that some members of certain churches did not want to consider that possibility or recognize that maybe not all marriages should be saved is one reason I now avoid all organized religions. I do not need someone else standing between me and God as an interpeter. I refuse to ever again trust in any mortal person to tell me what God believes.
Thank you, everyone, for
listening. If you read this far, you endured a lot. I suppose I should proof-read
this someday but at the moment, it hurt so much to write all this that I cannot
go back to do this. Later, I will correct the many errors and improve the prose
but at the moment, all I want to do is rid myself of the pain of making this
confession. I was an abused wife and it was my fault, not because I made my
husband abuse me, but because I made a bad choice in marriage partners. If you're
not married, please be careful about the people you allow into your life. If
you have any doubts at all, go to pre-marriage counseling. If your potential
partner won't go, then you're better off without him or her.
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