This is her story,her words, and I think you will agree that it is courageously and beautifully written. Names have been changed.
I’ll never forget when I found out you had been through an abusive relationship. It was a complete shock. I’ve always pictured you as a smart and strong woman-strong emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The kind of woman every female aspires to be. When I found out, I figured maybe if it could happen to you-it’s not so surprising that it could happen to me. I wish I had known back then and I might have reached out to you. It might not have made a difference, but I didn’t talk to anyone about it-I was too ashamed and that’s part of the problem-people don’t talk about it and people don’t know what to do or where to turn. I’ve thought long and hard about your blog and whether to go ahead with my story, but if it helps one single person it’s worth the retelling. I tossed and turned most of the night. I’ve cried and prayed about telling you this, but it’s got to stop and if you have the strength to share your story, I feel obligated to share mine. You know how much it hurts to remember something you’ve tried to bury. But I keep telling myself-it may make a difference to someone out there hurting. I will try to keep it as brief as possible, but I never wanted out of my marriage-I wanted to make it work and it lasted two decades.
THE FIRST TIME
I married young-halfway through college to my high school sweetheart. He was the kind of young man that mothers and fathers want for their daughters. He was intelligent, hardworking, and ambitious. We both came from good families. We went to the same church and shared a couple of college classes together. It really didn’t surprise anyone when we married after several years of dating. As I finished college, we had made the decision to start a family. It was something we both agreed on-I say this to let you know that we really didn’t fight about anything serious and agreed on what was important-I thought.
I’ll never forget the first slap. The right side of my face still stings when I think about it too hard. We were fishing on a hot day out on a boat in the Arkansas River.. I think I said something about not standing up in the boat. I think I said “only an idiot would stand up in a boat.” It was a very small boat really nothing more than a dingy. It rocked hard and often. There were lots of snakes in the water, and I was very pregnant at the time. I never saw it coming. Later, he said I was disrespectful. I don’t remember him saying he was sorry, but I wondered what it would be like to be a single mom and I thought my baby deserved both parents. Maybe it was just the pregnancy hormones making me over-react and I really was being disrespectful when I said it. After all, nothing like that had ever happened before. Surely, it was a fluke.
THE SECOND VERSE
Fast forward a couple of years, the baby came and she was joined by a little brother. Like most children, they loved to play and a favorite game was “fishing”. They’d climb in the boat and throw their lines out. Pretending to catch fish or drive the boat around the lake. They’d do this for hours and it was fun to watch them, but one day I didn’t watch them close enough.
Their father came home and laughed at them and climbed in the boat himself. He noticed that they keys weren’t in the ignition. He started yelling about the keys. It was unbelievable how one could laugh one minute-and be red in the face with anger the next. The anger was enough to scare me so I had my niece take them inside so I could help him look for the keys. After looking for a short time, he said he was going to whip the children because they had lost the keys. I was not about to let him spank in anger so I half ran to follow him into the house. I put myself in front of their door and refused to move. He threw me into the wall-I crashed through the sheet rock, but quickly got up to stand in front of him again. I don’t remember what I said-I was probably hateful. I might have made some threats, but whatever I did it worked-he left for a couple of hours. He came back smiling with a new key and nothing was ever mentioned again.
Later that week I wall papered the hallway to cover the hole and I wore three quarter sleeves to cover some bruises.
His anger had begun to scare me, but I figured that this was my fault-I should have watched the children closer and watch them I did. Every day checking for bruises-making sure his anger was directed at me-and not my babies. He seemed to love them very much but every once in a while that temper would flare out of control.
There was a day I did find whelp marks on my son. His little bottom was tiger stripped. I felt crushed as I had been so careful about watching. He never denied spanking him-and I very calmly explained that he would never, ever touch any of my children in anger again. His life would be in danger if he did. I think he believed me because he never used his hands against them again. Then, he started throwing things.
After the conversation about spanking in anger, he was pretty good at not using his hands. He chose to throw things. Eating utensils, game pieces, books, softballs and even a boat oar. I had hoped that most of this was directed at me-but I can’t be sure what happened when I wasn’t there. The kids never mentioned anything so I’m really not sure. Again, this is one of those things that families need to talk about but don’t. I’ve always wondered if he meant to miss on purpose. Maybe he just threw things because he was mad and those things happened to fly my way. He had pretty lousy aim or bad eye sight because he rarely hit me with a flying object.
Except the boat oar. I can’t lie that really hurt. I picked it up and contemplated hitting back, but no one saw him throw it and it was just too easy to let it go. Considering his mood that weekend, I’m glad I did.
We were at the lake and I had my head deep in some book as I often did on hot summer days. The kids were taking an afternoon nap and I wasn’t far from it myself. I was laying on my stomach not far from nodding off. All at once I felt a stinging slap on my buttocks and I rolled and lashed out in one even motion. God forgive me- I made contact. I slapped for all I was worth-and I didn’t even realize what I had done or who I had hit until the punches started coming one after another. Over and over. At some point, I yelled out. I think he stopped when he heard footsteps coming down the hallway. It was the kids wondering what was going on-I told them to get their swimsuits it was time to go swimming. Crisis adverted.
I really did take the kids swimming-though I considered leaving. He showed up a couple of hours later and the incident appeared to be forgotten, but I took off my wedding ring and told myself I would put it on when I could forgive him. I never wore it again.
Later one summer evening he threw a shoe at my son. Before you judge me for not leaving right then and there consider how many times he missed hitting me. He made contact with his head and cut it open. I was hysterical. I know head wounds bleed more than they should, but there was a lot of blood. He took my car keys from me and wouldn’t let me leave. He said he had medical training and that it wasn’t serious.
Somehow, child services came to interview our family(another family member had contacted them after seeing the wound). I thought this would be the end. That everything would stop. We were instructed to leave the living room so the counselors could interview the children. Later we were called back-they children had never seen us fight but they recommended counseling.
So to counseling we went. I outlined instances of “outbursts” and the counselor deemed it nothing out of the ordinary. No one had received any medical attention and the police weren’t called. We were fine outstanding members of society. Nothing amiss here.
The fact that I had been slapped, punched, and thrown through a wall didn’t matter. It was all in my head, but the bruises weren’t.
After the session with the counselor, I had a long period of self-doubt. If the counselor saw nothing wrong, maybe I was over reacting and things weren’t as bad as the seemed so I began to do even more. Anything and everything to stay busy. Three kids. Three scout troops. Three ball teams. Dance lessons, music lessons-a full time job-anything to keep busy and to keep me out of the way.
I thought if I worked a little harder everything would magically get better, but it didn’t’. I built a wall and only let him in on occasion. Every time I did I got hurt physically or emotionally. I think the verbal abuse started without either one of us being aware of it. It wasn’t long before he found some much needed friendship with someone else and I started divorce proceedings.
Apparently, I couldn’t even do that right-his anger spun out of control even more. We tried counseling again. It didn’t work. He moved out and back in. I filed for divorce in December just weeks before Christmas-and doubts continued to plague me-was I making a mountain out of a mole hill? Didn’t the kids deserve to have both parents together? Did I really want to throw away a 23 year relationship? I was breaking up the family.
I received an email. He wanted me dead.
I know he was hurt and angry but the email cemented the deal for me. I wanted to live. I didn’t care what the counselors thought anymore. I wanted to live and to feel safe.
I take full responsibility for the divorce. I selfishly wanted to feel safe in a way that I never had before.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
You would have thought my story ended with my divorce, but it isn’t complete until you hear what happened to my daughter.
Like so many teenagers, Stephanie fell in love for the first time in her Junior year in high school. A good ol’ boy drove up in a jeep and captured her heart. They fished together, four wheeled through the country, and went to school together. He carried her books and walked her to class. She’d drive to his house in the morning to take him to school and he’d fix her favorite breakfast. For a lot of people-they were the “favorite couple”. At the prom, they were voted runner up as the best couple-an award reserved for Seniors only.
I got the call one afternoon again in December. “Mom-Wayne beat me up.”
Not he hit me, but he beat me up. What was normally a 30 minute drive became one little more than ten minutes. I determined her injuries didn’t need immediate medical attention and drove her to the police station. Because she was under eighteen, I filed the police report. Everything went pretty quickly and I explained that I wanted an order of protection because they still attended the same school. The officer told me that I needed to have the judge sign it if I wanted the order in place the next day-which I did. It was getting late in the afternoon-and everyone was scheduled to leave at five, but the judge would see us before he left. I handed him the papers for him to read while Stephanie stayed in the back of the room still quietly crying. He asked her to come forward and she did. He looked at her blackened eye and busted ear and I think I saw tears in his eyes too.
He signed the papers and they were served the next day.
The school couldn’t have been better about helping out.
I explained to my daughter that I know she loved that man and that he probably loved her. I explained that I loved her more and that as her mother, I couldn’t allow that relationship to continue. I told her it would be hard breaking it off-just because you love someone doesn’t mean you should be with them. I told her I know how much it hurt and that I would be there for her-did she understand? Did she know she had to leave this love behind?
And she answered : “Mom, if you can do it-I can too.”
We cried a little while.