Maybe it was shame that kept me silent.
Things like this aren’t supposed to happen to women like me. You know, women with “an education.” A career. Smart women. Sassy women. Women who aren’t afraid to use their voices.
But that’s how it happened, actually. My mouth.
Not that I blame myself. Not at all. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Repenting at leisure
As rebound marriages ago, it was disastrous. But I’d been hurting after my first husband left and “he” appeared, dreamy, adorable, sweet, considerate and understanding. All of those things were true of him, every one. And so I remarried in haste.
My mother didn’t think it was a good idea. To be honest I knew it was a mistake even as I walked down the aisle. I’d begun to see the flip side of that dream man and had I not still been so wounded from the demise of my first marriage I might have called this one off. But I wasn’t very experienced at heartbreak… or at life.
Later, I learned to identify the things that would be relationship deal-breakers: Political differences. Intellectual differences. World views that didn’t jibe. But I was still an innocent then and believed that love could make a difference.
But I wasn’t innocent for long.
I didn’t think it would happen to me
It was an argument in our third year of marriage that caused him to grab me and beat my head into the kitchen floor. Here’s the truth: I had words and he didn’t. Words are effective weapons, especially if you don’t have a talent for them. And especially if you feel that lack makes you “less than.” And so he retaliated the only way he could. With violence.
I grabbed the kitchen phone and dialed 911. He pulled it out of the wall and pinned me down. My head hit the floor repeatedly.
I thought I was going to die. He told me he’d kill me, drown me in the pool,make it look like an accident.
Instinctively, I knew what to do to try to save my life. I went limp. I said the right things. I got him to stop. I staggered up, my head pounding.
Just then, the phone rang in the bedroom. In tears, I answered. It was 911 calling me back.
“Are you alright?” they asked me. Tearfully, I told them I was. They didn’t believe me, but I insisted, then hung up. Within minutes, two squad cars appeared, lights flashing. I went to the gate. He sat in his easy chair like a pasha.
“Does he have guns in the house?” an officer asked before entering the house. I said he did. They asked where. I told them.
They came in. I was infuriated when they began engaging in small talk with him, about the garden, the house. Now I know it was a technique to defuse the situation but then I saw it as male bullshit.
Third time’s the charm
They stood with me while I called a friend, then I packed a few things and left.
“I didn’t think this would happen to me,” I said to one of the officers.
“It takes three times on average,” he replied. “Three times before a woman leaves.”
It was my third time.
A few days passed without hearing from him. I saw a doctor. I had a concussion and a three-day headache.
And then, the phone rang at work, as I knew it would. He wanted to get together to talk. We met in a public place. And the tearful apologies began, as I knew they would. The contrite promise that it would never happen again. Even though it had. I’d heard it all before.
This time, I wasn’t buying it. I rented a condo and moved in. Even as the van came to get my stuff he wanted me to tell them to put it back in our house. “No,” I said.
There were other awful things that had happened during the marriage, but this was the real end. A few months later I was starting fresh 3,000 miles away in California with no job and knowing no one. He called every day to ask me to come home. Every single day. My answer was always the same. I can’t.
A month after I’d moved I met Marilyn, who would be a close friend the rest of her life–some 30 years more–and who inspired this business. But all that was yet to come. I was in California, alone, jobless and it still looked better than where I’d been.
He was still calling me daily when a friend who lived in his town phoned to tell me that he had remarried, a fact he’d conveniently omitted in his calls. I’d been gone four months. So that was that.
In California, I rebuilt my life from the ground up and I did it myself. I pulled myself out of the abyss and emerged stronger and smarter.
Yes, it’s hard
I won’t say it wasn’t hard. It took years. None of them were easy. But I had no regrets. Especially as I watched his views become more and more conservative and more inflexible. We stayed in casual touch because I believed it was a way to honor what he’d given me when I needed it. And of course, I needed to be loved. Don’t we all? Once, 15 years later, he came to visit my father, me and my new husband. He brought his wife. They stayed. And stayed. And overstayed.
His wife wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but she seemed pleasant enough. We were cordial. Decades later she’d friend me on Facebook (strangely) and in a series of messages confide her deep unhappiness with him. I remained noncommittal: I had no dog in this hunt. She must’ve come to regret telling me so much, as months later she blocked me on Facebook after commenting on my stupidity for supporting Hillary.
Stupidity? Ha! That was pretty rich. Buh-bye and good riddance.
Forgiveness is free
I forgave him long ago. It cost me nothing: I never had to have anything to do with him again if I didn’t want to. On Facebook I’d accepted his friend request. But every so often he’d attack a FB friend of mine for their politics, insult them or make a homophobic comment. I unfriended him. Afterwards, he tried again with a couple of friend requests. I declined, and finally, he stopped requesting.
I’d also stopped thinking there was any reason to be in touch with him. I was done. I am a big believer in forgiveness but that doesn’t bring with it any obligation to put someone back in my life. Nothing good could come of it. We’d had our time decades ago and I was grateful for the way it had shown me the way. I just didn’t realize at the time that it would show me the way out, too.
I’ve thought a lot about why I stayed three years. Part of it was that I was embarrassed to have a second divorce so soon after the first. To have made that level of mistake. But hope played a big role, too. I hoped against hope that the knight in white shining armor I’d met at the start would reappear.
And then, I had never seen myself as a victim. I was an empowered woman. Usually. So this didn’t fit the person I believed I was.
Digging out the root
And finally, the truth is that there was abuse in my family, both emotional and physical. So perhaps I felt some comfort in its familiarity, as dysfunctional as that seems. It’s not an uncommon response.
So I knew I had therapeutic work to do and spent years in the late 1980s and early 1990s doing it with a good psychotherapist. Very helpful and the only reason I’m relatively functional today.
My siblings, who were far more damaged than I –partly by just seeing what had happened to me — never got there. Their lives have been a good reminder of what mine could’ve been: angry, bitter, resentful and mean. They left my life a decade ago. I don’t miss that dysfunction, only the fantasy that I, along with every other Boomer, was fed about happy families. And love. God bless those 1950s TV shows.
Get out ASAP
What does all this mean today?
When women come forward after years of silence. I get it. I understand why they stayed so long. But I’m here today to encourage anyone suffering abuse to step forward early. To not risk their lives.
That man could have killed me. Many women do die from domestic abuse.
If a man is violent, don’t just walk away, run. Immediately. There is support. There are shelters. There is help.
Yes, it will be hard. And you will find a way.
You’re worth it. Go on and be your beautiful self without them and their dysfunction.
And don’t be afraid to shine a light so bright that everyone can see what’s happening.
Abusers count on our silence. Our shame. Our embarrassment. It’s how they get away with it.
Don’t let them.