On the wedding day, I did look lovely. All the relatives came. The message of the day was based on a reading on trusting God. But the party was hardly over when I awoke to reality.
We were stopping at the apartment to change for the honeymoon when L demanded that I take off my wedding corsage. “What the heck?” “Take it off. I don’t want everyone to know we were just married. During our time away, he was focused on my shortfalls as a navigator. I reminded him that since I had never traveled, that was expecting too much.
After we returned, we got back to unpacking gifts and organizing the apartment. Before a month was over, I realized with the most awful emptiness that I had just made the worst mistake of my life. I had made a few, but this was the worst, and I am still living with the implications of that decision.
We met through “mutual friends” …. He was good-looking and very buttoned-up. For him, everyone else had to be just right…. Then again, he was habitually late. After a while he told me he had been engaged before and she broke it off, calling him a “sex fiend.” I had never heard the word applied to anyone I knew. He really was obsessed with sex, the cheating kind, the unwanted advances, withdrawal, which was not in the manual for the rhythm method.
As many honest people will admit, the rhythm method is a way to get pregnant. And I did, within a couple of months of the wedding. When I realized I’d missed two periods, I went in for a test and it was positive. He said nothing at first, but I grew frightened of his increasing anger. He spent the next months reminding me, “You can’t count!” “It’s your fault!” “You messed up my plans!”
He was livid! What had I done wrong? I saw the doctor and was prescribed pre-natal vitamins. He threw me onto our king-sized bed and punched me hard. He tried to choke me. Then he walked into the other room. For weeks, he taunted me with, “I thought you could count!”
Then I had a night of severe pain, a visit to the E.R., and orders from the doctor to rest in bed for a few weeks. Eventually, my body settled, but my mind was ready to explode. What had caused this reaction?
The pregnancy was a huge inconvenience for the father, and he never stopped his sarcastic remarks. I think he was not ready to be a husband, or even to be a friend. He was a boy yet, and his family treated him like royalty one moment and like trash in the next moment. I also had to give up my teaching job because of dizziness and nausea. I was extremely sleepy, which was to be expected, but my husband kept pushing me to be more active, not to take time to just rest.
The books about babies in the 1970s were a celebration of a new way of looking at the bond between mother and baby. Women were forging anesthesia to really “feel the experience.” With my back problems, I had nearly constant pain, and the deliveries were a strain. It was said that nursing baby was the way to go, so I tried, but what I had not planned on was extreme tension after the births. I actually developed post-partum psychosis after the birth of our son. I knew I needed professional help.
The children were beautiful and healthy. I tried to be the best wife possible, but that is never the way to fix a broken marriage. As his occasional outbursts became more intense, I did fear for my life, but I was also angry. I deserved to live. He was not going to kill me.
I remember the exact day, the precise hour, when I realized that no matter what I did to try to make him happy, he was perfectly able and quite likely to kill me. Our daughter was only a week old; I was recovering from delivering her. We sat down to a rather simple supper. He started to complain … this wasn’t done … how had I spent my time that day? Did I get any work done? “What? I have been taking care of our children all day!”
He stood up, went around behind me and dragged me through the living room into that little hallway outside the bedroom door, and he threw me onto the rug, and pressed his arm across my throat, really pressed. He was choking me. I knew that he had learned to kill in the military, but this was not supposed to be war. I did not pass out, I suppose because I was resisting him, but I was terrified down to my bones.
And that became the way I lived. When I was a victim of violence, I felt like I was slowly dying, not just my body, but also my soul. My sense of myself as a person was diminished by punches, choke-holds, blackened eyes, permanently damaged vertebrae. If you are lying on the ground and cannot move …. What do you do? You keep still …. But your mind works, what happens? At first, you are desperate … you see death approaching …. You feel like the big prison doors are clanging shut forever …. You lack oxygen …. You begin to panic ….
In addition, if you survive, if someone helps you up, or if you scrunch and crawl, inch by inch, you might pull yourself into a kneeling position. However, you cannot pray. You do not feel anything. You dare not explore the feelings, which are under your skin, in your gut, because you sense that one tear would melt you away.
My body was hurt badly during those years. My tail bone had been was broken; husband kicked me hard in the butt. He choked, hit, forced me, damaged my back permanently. Many times I had blackened eyes, and I wonder if that had anything to do with my difficulties with vision in the past decade. I cannot lift more than 10 pounds. Pain is, well, chronic. I have PTSD, probably from my childhood, when I lost time on several occasions, and my marriage which I remember in vivid detail until a major depressive episode in the late 1980s.
I was beginning to read and hear that the only way to stop this was to leave, so said the experts. But leaving him meant living out a drama played in which he focused on trying to convince everyone that I was mentally unstable and he would do anything to fix out lives. It was a lie which was repeated frequently. The man could not keep a job, and every two years or so, I would be typing out his resume, and he would spend a year finding another job about which he would complain from day one.
I needed help, but my husband prevented me. For months I was in depression. When his abuse became physical, I felt painted into a corner. I didn’t know where to turn…. I did not know there was any way to turn for help. One day I called the women’s center in town, and a lovely woman let me talk. After a while, she said they always tried to get a woman and her children safe. I took the children away to my parents’ home. He arrived there tried fiercely to keep me away from my family.
He told me plainly that if I ever left, the children would stay with him and I would not see them again. The trauma of this first threat to my family – the children not being with me – frightened me deeply. This was not the first nor the last time I tried to leave him. And experts will tell you that the most dangerous time is once you have left your home.