It’s been so long since we’ve been in touch. I’m so sorry, I just haven’t known what to say that will make a difference to you, for you, about you… and, your life. But, now is the time... It won’t get any better.
Do you remember when you first met? It really did seem like god had answered your prayers. Just as the ruins of your first marriage were still burning, HE swept in. On that first night, the intensity of HIS gaze appeared to see almost completely through you, right to your soul. When your friend, who had introduced you, told you about how HE had helped her escape from her boyfriend a few years back when that other jerk had broken her arm? You were so relieved that HE had gotten her out of there. HE must’ve been a good guy, then, right? The way HE looked at you and made you feel? As if you had finally, really, met your prince, the knight in shining armor who would love YOU. Especially after your family had practically disowned you, when they said that you had to work out the mess that was your first marriage, HE was the only one there for you, there was no one else. Even though…
It’s why I haven’t written, because you haven’t wanted to see the truth and it’s been just too awful to watch you. I guess it’s fine… but, it’s not. There’s only so long you can hide, from HIM, from the kids, and from yourself. If you keep hiding, you are going to lose… maybe, not him; but, possibly, the kids; and, definitely, yourself. This is your truth, your story, your life. You need to own it. NOW. Because… Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
HE really did sweep you off your feet, though, didn’t HE? The dates for dinner, going to meet HIS friends, and all of HIS attention. It was something you really hadn’t experienced before. The guys before HIM? Treated you like you were a convenience and, eventually, like you didn’t matter. Like your parents, they mostly made your choices for you and you were supposed to go along. You hated that. You hated being disrespected, discarded, while they assumed that you should and would just sit and look pretty. But, eventually, that’s what HE wound up saying to you, “Just sit and look pretty,” right after he would hush you with a, “tssss tssss,” to interrupt and dismiss you as you were talking. Initially, of course, it was a joke, like when he would say, “Why do you dye your roots brown when your hair is such a pretty blonde?” Always, the backhanded compliment. But, then, it was no longer a joke; but, rather, a bitter statement, better left unsaid.
God forbid you asserted yourself. Whenever you brought up an idea that would be great for you, for your family, HE not only trashed it, HE destroyed it by telling you that you couldn’t afford it, when HE had just bought a $50,000 truck. Or, when HE made you get a job and then decided that HE couldn’t be available to watch the kids when you needed to work. Or, when you asked HIS family for help when HE started disappearing … HIS family reminded you that he’s still the same person HE was when you met, and you did say, “for better or worse.” But, wasn’t the “worse” supposed to be acts of god, like illness or accident, not intentional harm to others?
I don’t know how you kept a kind face after you begged your family and his for help after the first time he grabbed you and threw you against the wall, only to have them ask you if it was really abuse, or could you be exaggerating a bit?
But, the shame. The absolute shame. If they only knew how early in the relationship it had all started. They’d, of course, say that you should’ve gotten out then. Yeah, because they’d all have been there for you, right? NOT. Where else could you have gone for solace, care, a friend, especially after HE stealthed you the first time you slept with HIM? When it was over, and you had figured out what had happened, you had hoped that he was just one of those guys who just “hated” condoms, as he had claimed. But, of course, two months later, when you found out that he had given you HPV, HE gave you the silent treatment because you had the audacity to question HIM.
I could see how it shriveled you; as though you had crawled into a cave and withered to nothing but a skeleton covered in a thin sheet of shame. The shroud of it enveloped your existence, yet left you exposed. It couldn’t show, though, not for anyone. The horrible mistake in judgment. They would all know that they were right about you and that you couldn’t do better than what you got. And, so, you got what you deserved.
Who knew that twenty years would pass with you doing everything in your power to cover up for what was ugly, hidden, and terrifying in your own home?
The cycles had become so routine that you could schedule HIS melt downs up to the day of the week and time of day that they would occur, even going so far as to exclaim with disdain, “Oh! Mr. Happy’s here. It must be Tuesday morning.” Until, that Tuesday morning. The one when HE chased Son2 through the house because Son2 gave HIM some sass over getting ready for school. When Daughter3 starting screaming, “Stop it! Stop choking him! Put him down!” Your world spun into a kaleidoscope of slow motion glass shards scattering within the shrinking confines of your well-coiffed hair, just finished before having to go to work.
That was it, you said, that would be the final straw. He went after one of the kids. Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. You just couldn’t get past it. You spent that day going through the motions, wondering when/if another teacher or the principal, would confront you, especially because you went straight to school right after it happened. The kids did need to go to school and you did need to go to work… What else could you do? But, what if? What if Son2’s teacher had noticed the bruises? What if Son2 couldn’t make it through class?
Good thing you thought to call and tell Joy. When she offered to call Safe to Tell anonymously, it was a stroke of genius. You were absolutely terrified of what would come of that call. The two days you waited for a response, any response, were panic-inducing. Joy was smart enough to tell the Sherriff’s Department that HE was a towering 6 feet 8 inches tall and 220 pounds. They showed up at your door at 11:00, right after you had turned off your bedroom light.
Six officers stood ominously at the front door when HE opened it, asking if HE could help them. One, the seeming spokesperson, told HIM that they received a call, and could they come in? HE hesitated. Although it was for only a moment, it was obvious. The officer indicated that Safe to Tell had received a call and, wouldn’t it be better to discuss it inside? After HE showed the officers in, the spokesperson/officer told you both that the anonymous caller indicated that Son2 had bruises on his arm. The fury that ran through HIM at the implication of the allegations was apparent in the glare that was shot your way. A second officer asked you, “Ma’am, is it alright if we speak with your son?” Of course, you complied, waking Son2, wondering what excuse HE would come up with for the bruises. By the end of the officers’ visit, 90 minutes after they came to the door, the officers had gotten accounts from Son2 and the other kids, as well as from you. The story of how HE lifted up Son2 by the throat, strangling him as HE screamed about how Son2 should listen to HIM, flowed out of child after child, rendering HIM stuck in the mire of the truth.
As they were preparing to leave, HE seemed mollified, though, after one of the officers was kind enough to inform HIM that it isn’t illegal to discipline kids; it’s just illegal to leave marks. The glint that shone in HIS eyes at the comment, ran chills down your spine. Your thoughts racing to, “What is going to happen after they leave? Please don’t leave us with him!” But, they did. Rather than lash out at your or the kids, HE shrunk into the dark silence of the bedroom, closing and locking the door. You were relegated to sleep on a couch for the night.
Where would you go? What could you do? Your thoughts raced. By this point, you were 16 years in. HE told you more times than you could count, most of the times with HIS hands tightening around your throat as HE threatened you, that HE would kill you if you tried to leave. HE told you that HE’d take the kids. YOUR kids. When HE was supposed to be caring for them, after not looking for a job, and didn’t? They were your babies and all you could think of is how you had failed to protect them, instead of how HE attacked them, and you. This changed things, though, didn’t it? You didn’t know. So, you waited. Even when you had found out that HE had a felony child battery conviction filed in Division of Human Services, you were afraid of what HE could or would do to you, the kids… So, you forgave HIM again, hoping that the severity of the situation with Son2 would finally, really, shock HIM into realizing what a gift HE had with all of us.
After 20 years, the cycles were fairly-predictable -- 3-month rounds going from seemingly-contented and attentive, to withdrawn, to sullen, to silent, to violent, and then the cycle would begin again, the cycles getting worse and worse until each two years the violent went from punching the walls, throwing items, screaming and yelling, to chasing after you or one of the boys, pushing, shoving, slamming, strangling, or hitting one of you, and then acting as though it never happened, reverting back to the silence before realizing HE needed forgiveness again, not that HE would ever admit what HE did to you or the kids. EVER.
The time HE dropped you down the stairs after carrying you from the bed by the neck, strangling you after HE relentlessly accused you of cheating. That four-hour accusation session, starting with whispered accusations at 10:30 on a hot July night, while the children slept, ended with you in a crumpled pile at the bottom of the staircase, bruises all over your legs and back from the fall. Remember how grateful you were for having so many collared and high-necked sleeveless shirts to cover the neck bruises? Or, even the time HE threw you down the stairs in front of SON1 after more of those insane accusations three months after the first time? Really, what could you have done? I’m sorry, my friend, that you felt stuck, by HIM, by them…
I know you were worried about what they all thought of you, your family, his family. But, now please hear me out, if they really cared about you, would they have convinced you to stay with someone who hurt you? Would they want that for you if they really loved you? Do you want your girls to think that this is okay? For some guy to start yelling at them, hitting them, calling them awful names? Depleting their very sense of who they are, slowly, deliberately, day after day? Would you tell them to stay? To tolerate it? To make the best of it? Of course not, you would do everything you can to avoid that because you love them; and, if they were ever in that situation, you would do everything you could to get them out, because that is love.
Do you want your boys to grow up with the message that they can do anything they want and the family, particularly the women in the family, HAVE to tolerate it? Of course not.
Elizabeth, I know you didn’t look for this, or want this, or deserve this. One day, you WILL believe that, I promise you. I know somewhere, deep down, you know that you didn’t deserve this, that your kids didn’t deserve this.
You can’t rewind, though. This is your story and it is playing out. This last cycle of silence had been the most terrifying yet. HE wouldn’t speak to you, kept yelling at the kids for everything, and was escalating things with Son2 and Son1, again. Maybe the counselor Son2 went to would have had some answers and help, you thought. But, when she asked Son2 about what was going on, she turned to you when he was done and had you make an appointment for you, not Son2. She asked you directly, “Does HE treat you differently in public than HE does in private?” When you answered, “Yes,” she followed up with, “Does HE say HE’ll change, do so for a little while and then revert back to being abusive?” Again, you answered, “Yes,” to which she gave you TESSA’s green sheet of instructions on how to escape an abusive situation, and advised you to go to TESSA immediately.
I don’t know what it was about the counselor or TESSA, but I’m so glad you finally got out and away from HIM. I can’t pretend to know how hard it was for you to go home that day after seeing the counselor and then the TESSA counselor, to quietly ask your children to trust you, to tell them to pack a bag, fill it with clothes, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc., enough for at least a week, and that you were getting them away from HIM, but that you had no idea of where you were going or for how long you’d be gone. That your kids would fill those bags the best they could, as quickly as they could, and get all their things, the dogs and the dogs’ things out of the house without HIM knowing what was going on, was a feat in and of itself. But, you pulled it off, beautifully, quietly, swiftly. YOU GOT YOU OUT.
Perhaps, it was that they were able to provide more than just the, “You need to get out,” advice. Perhaps, it was that you were given step-by-step instructions as to how to not only get out, but how to get both a temporary order of protection and, then, two weeks later, a permanent order of protection, against your abuser. Perhaps, it was the attorney that was provided for you through TESSA to ensure that your interests were appropriately represented at the hearing for the permanent order of protection. Perhaps, it was all of these things that finally got you to extricate yourself from the life of inconsistent terror that you lived for 20 years.
Whatever the reasons, the circumstances, I’m glad you’re out, because you are worth so much more than the doubt, the fear, the disrespect, that you believed was your lot in life.
The beautiful woman who has raised five amazing children… SHE deserves your love.
The intelligent woman who has been able to strategize around an abusive partner, and achieve so much in spite of the pain… SHE deserves your brilliant mind.
The giving woman who would help… well, practically anyone… SHE deserves your attention, time, and care.
I hope, now that you are free, that you find the love of your life… within you.
You are worth finding the safe path to freedom… to you. Take it as soon as you can.