Bad Husbands Are People Too

I didn’t set out to marry bad husbands. It was something that happened along the way, and rather like unhappy families are unhappy in different ways, my bad husbands were bad in different ways.

This first I won’t talk about because he is still in my life as the father of my daughter and grandfather of my grandchildren – and because at her wedding he suddenly burst out with an incredible backhand apology in the reception line after more than three decades of silence. It was poorly timed, and was a kick to my heart. I collapsed in sobs in a corner while my third husband tried to shield me from the wedding party.

The second one I will talk about because he had someone track me down a week ago after two decades of silence. He is the catalyst for this blog. I had not known for years if he were dead or alive. I last saw him over 20 years ago in a banana grove on the side of a mountain in Maui.

Husband number two is alive, but dying. We will return to him, but, first, let’s do a fast review of husband number three.

No, first of all, I want to say that I am blessed beyond measure. My life is an astonishment of good things outside of my husbands. The dichotomy between the rest of my life and my husbands is an endorsement for reincarnation and karma. I must have been a real bitch in my past lives.

Husband number three was in some ways the worst because his motives were purely self-serving. He had the power to behave differently. He had options. His decision to lead a secret double life with a woman twenty years younger and to buy apartments in Beijing and San Francisco was calculated and deliberate. I saw how power corrupts, seduces, and confuses. It can make you believe you are above the rules that apply to others. He had never considered that I might refuse to accept an arrangement where he would be with me 50% of the time and with her 50% of the time.

It never crossed his mind I would leave, which I did within 25 minutes of reading the 2 ½ pages of revelations and future conditions that he handed me – oh, so sweetly and with such love in his eyes – in our garden. I left 24 minutes after smashing the glass with my strawberry smoothie into the wall.

It got worse after that, a stunning reversal from his being my soul mate since college, mate for 18 years, and champion. His acts were perhaps those of an angry, hurt, and emotionally immature man, but they were not the acts of a broken man. He had choices and options. He could have behaved better, but chose not to.

My second husband, however, was broken. His violence and rages were not calculated. They answered to an internal skewed gyroscope. He blacked out during his violence, though I didn’t know that until a year into it. They were frightening, controlling, and twice just skirted being fatal “accidents,” but they had little or nothing to do with me, or with us. We actually had times of peace, even as I had to be very careful.

His attempt to let me know that he was very ill came by a circuitous route. He asked his wife to contact a mutual friend from 35 year ago, who found my daughter through an Internet search and sent an email to where she worked. That was a week ago. By now I know that he has Lewy Body Disease, the most common dementia after Alzheimer’s. He also has Parkinson’s.

He cannot use a computer and has trouble with telephones. He was recently moved into an assisted living home in Tucson. They had moved from Hawaii to Tucson, he had bad lungs. He always thought it was his lungs that would get him.

I was given his mailing address. What? I’m to write and say . . . what? What does he remember? What does he know? What does he want from me? Do I owe him anything?

He was a failed yogi who meditated hours a day. Everyone thought he was so gentle. He was not. He wore drawstring pants and flip-flops and yogi shirts. At one time he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. People thought he was so gentle. He was not. He controlled my life and blamed me and felt unloved by me even though he was, though with time he was not. He was beaten as a child by his father and thought he deserved it. He smiled serenely and I heard the electricity snap in his back when he meditated. People thought he was so gentle. He was not. He was living proof that if you are going to mess with intense high energies you better have your psychological shit together or you can become very bad.

Life doesn’t follow nice clean script lines. Am I to write to him and say I forgive you when he may not be able to make sense of that? He did, after all, a decade after we separated (30 years ago now) visit my city and beg to see me. I refused. He begged again. I allowed it. He fell on his knees and begged my forgiveness. I told him the forgiveness he needed was his own, not mine. Did he forget that? Does it need renewing? Does this have anything at all to do with harm done?

Perhaps he just wants me to know he’s wrapping things up, and I am glad to know that, and I wish him no harm though my tongue has gone over the scar inside my lip more often this week than it has in many years. After that first time, he learned how to hit without blood.

The past week has included the resurrection of old memories. Disoriented bats of fear and trauma flew at me, shrieking “remember me?” But they have calmed down now, murmuring in a far back corner, wings folded, returning to sleep – so that the week also became one of reflection on him and our time together – and also, for reasons having to do with the dispensing of art, of reflection on my third husband who made choices consciously and deliberately. (In writing this blog, I may forfeit pieces of art I adore, but I’m bloody well finished with self-censoring.)

Forgiveness. Everyone thinks it’s about forgiveness. But I don’t think so. I forgave husband number two soon after the separation, and I forgave husband number three so quickly that it was almost simultaneous with each harm over several years. I don’t seem to have filing systems that store hate. For disgust, grief, momentary anger, repugnance, yes. Hate, no. It always breaks down when I focus on the individual.

Bad husbands are people too, and perhaps there are different kinds of broken. Some are brittle and snap people into fragments. Others are sloppy and bend people to do stupid things and cruel things – and to become blind and deaf to what is good and what is clear.

It is interesting how people who are not clear themselves often cannot tell who around them is clear, or helpful, or good. Projection is a demon.

Yet, I have become the person I am because of life experiences, including three husbands. Perhaps if enough harm is done, one gives up hate because if you did not, it would destroy you. What a perverse way to surrender to love.

Perhaps I will write husband number two. I sent a message back through the circuitous route thanking him for letting me know and telling him I wish him peace. But as his mind leaves, he may forget that. If I send a note saying that same thing, then he has something that he can hold in his hand. Maybe he can manage to remember the good parts. Something in me would like that.


#whyistayed and #whyileft


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.