I stayed because it was my second marriage and 40 years ago you did not leave a second marriage. Plus, the hitting did not begin until six months into the marriage and after great trauma around a custody suit.
Plus, I loved him. Plus, I thought I was strong enough to heal him, though what dangerous mix of reserve strength and delusion that came from I cannot now imagine. Plus, he was the most handsome man I had ever seen, and I am aware how shallow that sounds.
Plus, as perhaps the majority of women who have been married to abusers could tell you, every time the violence stops – during the peace lulls – you want desperately to believe the last hit or kick was the last one ever. You want to believe when he promises to see a therapist or is on his knees begging that it will be the end.
Plus, after the custody suit I had no funds. Plus, I let him isolate me in a state far from friends, initially without even a telephone. Plus, I was humiliated.
Plus, it takes time to realize the unthinkable is happening to you and that it is not going to stop.
Plus, we met through a spiritual commune and the ways in which the loving tenets of that commune confused my ability to make tough decisions in the “real” world are not easily explained – but people thought he was a gentle man, a modern yogi with great spiritual understanding. They did not believe me when I broke my silence two years later.
Plus, he never broke any bones, and bruising was rare. After the first hit with a closed fist – I still have the scar inside my lip – he slapped or hit with an open hand, kicked, threw, threw things at, and more.
Plus, he never showed violence in front of my daughter, knowing instinctively that to do so would have instantly shattered any hold he had on me. Abusers know what they can get away with.
I write this, adding my story to the emerging litany, for two reasons.1) People who haven’t been there need a lot of information to make it real. 2) Women and men who have been there, or ARE there, need to know again and again that they are not at fault, they can get free, and they can reclaim – or make for the first time – a beautiful life for themselves.
I read that women in abusive relationships make an average of six attempts to leave before they get out. I only remember five attempts. I’m sure there were more, but I have no desire to recall everything.
Once I drove an hour and a half from the valley in Tennessee and stopped for groceries. In the parking lot I saw a large snake, alive and wiggling. A man, a stranger who recognized me though I hadn’t a clue who he was, said “That snake must have followed us from Celina.” I felt then that I could not escape – oh, the mind does tricks – and I got in the van and drove back to Celina and the valley thinking I was stuck forever, that we were two children on a raft of grief instead of that he was the grief and it was okay to leave him.
A second time he was driving and hit me in the passenger seat. I almost jumped out of the van along the Potomac River under the overhang of the Kennedy Center but then I didn’t or he grabbed me, I don’t remember which, but I know the door was open. Somehow an hour later I got the keys, jumped in the van, locked him out and drove to my first husband’s law offices. Humiliation or no humiliation, I made a break for it.
But my first husband was inept and said “Maybe you should give it another chance,” and my second husband arrived – ran? taxi? – and the receptionist sent him back and he fell on his knees again and pleaded his case. (My first husband had the grace at least to step outside.) Without money or a place to stay, and only a modicum of pride left, I went with him and we drove out of town. After hours of silence in the dark, he told me had no intention of keeping his promise to see a psychiatrist.
People don’t want to know, they don’t want to hear. Abuse is emotionally inconvenient. Four decades ago people particularly didn’t know what to do with it. (This is my way of saying that I don’t blame my first husband. He was just desperate to move the scene out of his firm’s law offices. By the time he might have been able to process everything, I was gone.)
At that time there were also no hotlines for battered spouses. I still remember an operator’s voice as I begged for a number to call, without actually calling the police. She felt helpless.
Now, I do blame. NFL officials shouldn’t have had to see the video inside the elevator before they acted appropriately. Period. No excuses. No. Excuses.
I read that it averages two months of preparation from the time you decide definitely to leave and when you get out. I knew in a moment of revelation in my garden in April, but I didn’t get wholly out until the following January. I went public a few months before then. One friend called every day to make sure I answered the phone. Most of the others didn’t believe me.
It is a godawful business.
The final ending wasn’t pretty. I had gotten him to leave the valley, but, insanely, I tried one more time to make it work. I flew to Marin, California where he was with friends. I thought maybe he wouldn’t be crazy if we weren’t isolated.
Within 30 minutes of arriving I became desperately ill and was confined to bed for two days. When I got up, he began non-stop verbal abuse.
Somehow he was willing to drive me to the San Francisco airport where he threw my clothes out of my suitcase at me and screamed I was a whore. That is one impressive way to shock people at the check-in line. I called someone who let me book a ticket on their credit card and I flew out on the red eye.
Months later I was in a bookstore and picked up a book on physical and emotional abuse. It had a checklist of characteristics. Every single one of them pertained to my situation. There was no “special case situation” for yogis and mini-gurus. There was no separate category for educated people who had good intentions and meditated. I was just a run-of-the-mill abuse case. There was nothing special about it at all. Not a thing.
A couple times I realized he was capable of killing me and making it look like an accident. Cold ice goes through your veins at those moments, but it may not the moment to leave.
Instead you become feral, you sniff the air for change, you register each vibration, you don’t show strong emotions either happy or sad, you never criticize, you exude being calm, you do not turn your back, you watch if he’s keeping the car keys in his pocket because that’s a signal that pressure is building inside him, you manage to get an extra set made and hide them outside near the car, you always reassure – you reassure the person who harms you that you love them. Yes, that’s what you do. You pretend, and you better make it lifelike to both of you.
And you grieve because you did love him, because he was gentle once, because you know he was beaten as a child and told he deserved it and he believed that, because he has a beautiful face that belies what is damaged inside, because in some way you believe he still loves you and needs you, because he is a tragedy.
April half my lifetime ago, propping up baby romaine lettuce knocked down by a rainstorm, I heard a voice: “You who know so well the value of lettuce, of how much more value are you?”
It wasn’t often that God spoke to me, but I recognized the voice.
I stood and said, “If I leave, he will kill himself.”
The voice: “Not your first concern.”
In an instant I realized I was created out of the Divine Source and that my first obligation was to care for me. I had a responsibility to the force that created me.
In that instant I knew I would leave, that I would build my strength silently, get straight enough inside to leave.
That is what a miracle looks like.
I will never judge a woman, or man, who has not yet found the power to leave an abuser, but I would warn them in advance if I could, I would help them if they asked, I would rejoice in their courage when they did.
You are weaker than you realize. Do not allow abuse.
You are stronger than you realize. Do what you need to live your one life with joy and happiness.