Tag Archives | Domestic abuse

Fade to Black

In the process of packing up the house in anticipation of our move, I’ve unearthed boxes that have been stowed in the

July 1, 1999 blurb in the local paper

July 1, 1999 blurb in the local paper

farthest, darkest corners of the garage.  Boxes that haven’t been opened in more than 17 years.  The boxes contained things that belonged to my first husband – who, as I’ve written before, died of a drug overdose in a stranger’s front yard in June, 1999.  A lot of photos, including his old school photos dating back to early grade school.  Collector coins his dad foisted on him every year for Christmas.  A video tape of his first (and only) skydive.  An old blanket.  Old cards.  Books from his childhood.  Old schoolwork.  His wallet, which was on his person when he died.  Belongings found in his truck after his death.  Our wedding rings.

I boxed this stuff up after he died, and wrote on the boxes: “KELLY’S STUFF – SAVE FOR KEVIN.”  Kevin was two when his dad died, and I believed that it was important to save mementos for Kevin because Kevin would want them someday.  I assumed he would long for some connection to the man who contributed half of his DNA.

The last photo ever taken of Kevin and Kelly.  May, 1999, about a month before he died.

The last photo ever taken of Kevin and Kelly. May, 1999, about a month before he died.

As it turns out, though, Kevin has no interest in any of this stuff.  He has no memories of his biological father, and he mostly feels contempt for him, knowing that he was a wife-beater, a liar, an unapologetic manipulator, alcoholic, and drug addict who couldn’t or wouldn’t get his shit together, even for his baby son.  It’s true that I’m responsible for Kevin’s perception of his father, but it’s all based on pure truth, and if I have any regrets about being brutally honest with Kevin about Kelly, those regrets have only to do with how it has possibly shaped Kevin’s self-perception, and not with anything I may owe to Kelly’s memory.  I didn’t set out to poison Kelly against his dead father, but I always answered his questions with total honesty, and by the time he was an adolescent, he had a pretty clear picture of what life was like for me and for us when Kelly was alive.

After all these years, I still carry around bitterness and pain and anger towards Kelly for everything he did.  I don’t dwell on it, but the hard kernel of it in my heart swells when memories come to the surface.  I struggle to dredge up any happy memories (though I have no doubt there were happy times; it’s just that what good there was was way overshadowed by the ugliness that went on for so many years).

So, I don’t want his old stuff.  Kevin doesn’t want it.  And it occurred to me today as I tossed most of it into our rented dumpster (with the exception of the coins and the books, which are going to Goodwill) that there really isn’t anyone left who cares about these old mementos.  Kelly’s biological mother is long dead, his dad is dead, and his one living brother has made not even the tiniest shred of effort to know or connect with Kevin – his nephew! the one child of his dead brother! – in the more than 17 years since Kelly died (which tells me that he also doesn’t care).  The one living person who might care would be Kelly’s step-mother, but she’s got plenty of mementos already, and anyway, she cut me out of her life years ago.  So into the dumpster Kelly’s stuff went.

Maybe it reveals me as cold.  On some level, it strikes me as sad that a person lived for 33 years and died, and his memory is fading to black.  But mostly, I feel like, well, this is what happens when you live like a son of a bitch, leaving destruction in your wake.

2

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I am a survivor.

I originally posted this on June 3, 2012.

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More than 13 years later, I still look back on it as the worst night I’ve ever lived through.

It was the night of my dad’s funeral. He had died very suddenly of a massive heart attack at the age of 51 after a brief, unrelated illness that had landed him in the hospital for about a week. My big, burly, larger than life, seemingly invincible dad, taken down by a heart that finally stopped beating after a lifetime of hard living – the first person I was close to who I lost through death, and the last person in my family with whom I had a close relationship, so it was a double blow that left me feeling orphaned and so consumed by grief that I felt as if I were suffocating.

He lived with his wife in a house in the woods, up a steep, winding mountain road near the coast in Central California. My husband and I made the five- or six-hour drive up, with Kevin strapped into his toddler car seat, arriving the night before the funeral. Family I hadn’t seen in years gathered at the house from out of state. We checked into a rustic motel/lodge a few miles away – so rustic that there were no phones or televisions in the rooms. Several other family members were staying at the same motel.

The day of the funeral, a Saturday in December, dawned clear and bright. Everyone gathered in a church, which felt wrong, as my dad was openly agnostic and definitely not a churchgoer. He was to be cremated, so there was no graveside gathering, only a service in the chapel which I barely remember. I know that people spoke. I know that I got up on legs as weak as water to talk about my dad and how profoundly I felt his absence. I remember Kevin getting antsy during the service and my husband putting him out in the truck and leaving him there by himself. A red flag, to be sure – who locks a not-quite-two-year-old out in a car by himself for at least a half hour? But there were lots of red flags that had, over the years of our marriage, become flaming banners announcing danger – banners I had learned to live with.

The rest of the day is hazy in my memory. There was a reception after the service, and food was served, and we watched video clips of my dad over his lifetime. I remember that seeing him up there on the screen intensified my feelings of loss so much that I didn’t know how I was going to survive it. We visited with my dad’s parents and siblings, relatives I hadn’t seen in many years and barely knew. Old friends of my dad’s were there. People laughed and teared up and offered each other words of consolation.

Eventually my husband and I and Kevin made our way back to the motel in the woods. Measurements of time have slipped away from me, but I know that at some point in the evening, my husband, Kelly, left the motel, leaving Kevin and me behind in the motel room. I don’t even remember what he told me about his plans, where he was going. His leaving was routine, and being out of town didn’t make a difference. I crawled into bed with Kevin and my grief.

At some point in the night I woke up. Kevin slept beside me. It was very dark, and I sensed that some hours had passed. Kelly still wasn’t back. The hot stone of fear and panic began to settle in my stomach as I began filing through possibilities in my mind: car accident? DUI? Neither of those would have been firsts. He disappeared at home with some regularity, and I never knew where he went or when he would return. Sometimes he would call me in the middle of the night with some tale of a car broken down or a friend in need – stories we both knew I didn’t believe – but more often than not, there would be no call; he would just show up when he was finished with whatever it was that enticed him away, looking and smelling road worn.

There was no phone in the room. I did own a cell phone, but this was back in the days of having a cell phone only for emergencies. I didn’t even carry it in my purse – I left it in my truck, and that’s where it was, out with Kelly wherever he was. Who would I call, anyway? I was in a strange place, alone with my toddler son in a sparsely furnished motel room in the mountains – utterly alone. I sat with my growing panic for a long time.

Eventually he did make it back to the motel in the wee hours of the morning. He was clearly drunk. I was beside myself. He had pulled this countless times before, but on this of all nights – the night of my dad’s funeral? I probably should have just feigned sleep to avoid a scene, but my grief and rage completely took over, and I began screaming at him, demanding to know where he had been and how he could have left me all alone at a time when I most needed comfort and consolation. He screamed back at me – I had no right to tell him what to do! He had tracked down my brother (from whom I was mostly estranged) and they had gone to a bar to drink in my dad’s honor. How dare I be so selfish as to deny them that!

The fight escalated. By now Kevin was sitting up in bed crying. I tried to console him. Kelly went into the bathroom and I could hear the sharp cracking of porcelain as he slammed the lid of the toilet up and down, up and down, until suddenly with a shatter, it stopped – he had busted the toilet and now the bathroom was flooding.

It was inevitable that the motel management would get wind of the scene, as would probably most of the motel guests – relatives of mine among them. The police were called, and we were told to leave. To this day, it still boggles my mind that the police not only allowed, but demanded that a woman and small child leave with a belligerently inebriated man.

I could hardly breathe as I gathered Kevin’s and my things as quickly as I could, sobbing, in a state of utter panic. How could we leave with this man who was so dangerous and out of control? Where would we go?

I got Kevin strapped into the back seat in his little footie pajamas, crying and wide-eyed with fear. Clearly Kelly was in no shape to drive (though he had driven from wherever it was he had gotten drunk back to the motel), so I got in the driver’s seat and gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles, tiny points of light flickering before my eyes with my rage. I felt like I was going to throw up and pass out, simultaneously. Somehow, I managed to pull the truck out onto the dark, winding mountain road, with Kelly next to me in the passenger seat, having absolutely no idea exactly where I was or where to go. As I drove, Kelly alternately screamed obscenities at me, spit at me, and pummeled the right side of my body with slaps and punches. “IF YOUR DAD WERE ALIVE, HE’D KICK YOUR FUCKING ASS FOR BEING SUCH A CUNT!” he screamed at me.

My dignity was gone. Any sense of safety or security I might have had was gone. My sense of my ability to protect my son was being frayed. And now, I was being robbed of my right – my need – to grieve my dad – the one person who had seen the best in me. I wanted to die, I truly wanted to die. The pain was just too much. I wanted to close my eyes and make this horrific nightmare end, and never wake up.

The towering pines of the forest whizzed by us as I drove with no destination in mind. Should I just make the several-hour drive home? I didn’t even know where we were or what direction we were heading in. Eventually a small roadside motel revealed itself. I pulled in and went inside. No vacancies. I was overcome by an impotence and hopelessness that threatened to take away the last shreds of self-preservation I had. Crying, I got back in the truck and continued on down the road.

After awhile, we came upon another motel. Yes, they had a room available. Ignoring Kelly, I opened the back door to take Kevin out of his car seat. Kelly was on me in a flash, trying to pull Kevin from my arms. A physical struggle over the baby ensued, till I was knocked to the ground with Kevin in my arms. I struggled to my feet and went to the motel office to check us in. “Are you alright?” the woman at the desk asked me. Clearly she had seen the physical altercation out in the parking lot. “Yes, I’m fine,” I struggled to say between sobs. “My dad died, and my husband is very distraught. We just need a room.” There I was, making excuses for him, handing what should have been my right to grieve my father over to him. Even now, all these years later, when I think back on that, I am filled with shame, and I have this wish so strong inside me that it’s a physical feeling, a wish that I could go back and ask that woman to call the police and have Kelly thrown in jail for battering me.

But that’s not what happened. Who can blame the woman for not wanting to get involved? Easier to ignore the red sting of palm prints on my face and accept the excuses I gave her. We checked into a room where I curled myself around Kevin in one of the beds, wondering how I had ended up here and how I could possibly survive and make my way out of this Hell.

I woke up to sunlight streaming through the window. Panicked, I realized Kevin was not in bed with me. I sprung up and looked about the small, shabby motel room. The door opened and Kelly walked in, announcing brusquely, “Kevin’s in the truck. You have five minutes to get your ass out there or we’re leaving without you.” Here came the tears again, and the quiet fury eating away at my insides. What could I do? He had my son.

We had left and I had not said goodbye to anyone. Later I would give some vague story about an emergency at home, and when asked if I knew anything about the scene at the motel with the cops and people screaming and yelling, I would feign ignorance. No, I didn’t hear anything. I have no idea. I wonder what it could have been.

The drive home was mostly silent, except for one gas/restroom stop during which Kelly laid into me and told me, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive you for this.”

Mostly silent weeks followed, until I finally begged him to forgive me. It was all my fault. There was nothing wrong with him going out the night of my dad’s funeral to raise a few glasses in my dad’s honor. What right did I have to try to deprive him of that? I was just a bitch, a control freak. It was all my fault, that whole terrible, terrible night. I brought it all on myself.

Please forgive me. I’m sorry, so sorry. Please.

In the darkest part of my heart, I knew it wasn’t true, it wasn’t my fault, and hatred burned inside of me – hatred of him for making my life a living Hell, and hatred of myself for allowing him to. Begging for forgiveness, however, was the only way I could hope he might stop punishing me.

Roughly six months later, Kelly would be dead from a drug overdose, and I would finally be free of him.

That’s not my life anymore. But scraps of shame and bruises on my heart remain. The memories still haunt me.

9

Diaries

I was inspired recently by this whole Throwback Thursday thing that people do on Facebook and Instagram to pull some old, dusty boxes from the garage and hunt for old photos.  I uncovered stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day in fifteen years – old year books, lots and lots of old photos, mementos (much of which I have no idea now why I ever held onto), and old diaries, both of the handwritten variety, and of the typed variety.  Stuff from as far back as the 1980s.  I’ve skimmed a lot of it, but to read all if it in detail would take weeks, maybe months – and I’m not sure I want to.  But I also know that I can’t part with it, because it’s a record of so many experiences I’ve had that have left so many marks on me and shaped me in so many ways.

This is a brief diary I kept in March, 1999:

Friday, March 12, 1999

Kelly didn’t come home until 10:15.  Missed dinner.  I never bothered paging him. He finally called at 9:40 to say he would be home in 15 minutes. He was drinking. Said he stayed after work with the guys.

 

Saturday, March 13, 1999

Boxing night. Kelly went somewhere to watch the fight (after having mentioned earlier in the day “let’s do something tonight.”  I don’t know where he went, a bar probably.  I’m pretty sure the fight was over by 10:00 because a friend of Kelly’s called then to see what he had thought of the fight. Kelly didn’t get home until close to 11:00 though.  He was drinking, of course.

 

Sunday, March 14, 1999

Kelly left the house at about 2:00 saying he was going to the grocery store.  Kevin was down for a nap and we had planned to take him to the park when he woke up.  Kelly did not get home until 9:30 p.m.  Missed dinner.  I paged him at around 6:30 but he never bothered to call me back.  Didn’t have his cell phone on.  When he finally got home, he said he had remembered when he left the house that he needed to go to work to take care of a few things (on a Sunday????).  He said he didn’t know why he didn’t call to let me know.  When he got there, the guys were there so he stayed out drinking with them.  He was very restless and agitated when he got home and I was very upset.  However, within 15 minutes of finally getting home at 9:30, he turned around and left again saying he was going to the store.  He was gone for another hour, out drinking some more.

 

Monday, March 15, 1999

I got home at about 6:30 after picking Kevin up from Bill & Becky’s.  Kelly was already home.  He no longer seemed sorry for the night before and was defensive instead.  We had another big fight where everything was twisted around and made out to be MY problem.  He didn’t appear to have been drinking when we first got home, but after our fight I think he was sneaking out to the garage.

 

Tuesday, March 16, 1999

I called Kelly at work to make amends.  He came home after Kevin went to bed, can’t remember exactly what time but it was after 8:00.  He had been drinking, gave me his standard line that he had had just one beer. Which I don’t believe.

 

Wednesday, March 17, 1999

We talked on the phone in the afternoon and he said he’d be home by 6:00.  He called at 7:30 and said he would be home in 10 minutes and got annoyed and huffy when I told him that I was putting Kevin to bed rather than keeping him up to see his daddy.  Kelly didn’t get home until 7:50 and missed dinner.  He appeared to have been drinking and/or something else.  I’ve noticed over the last few months that sometimes when he comes home he seems agitated, antsy, sketchy.  He claims he doesn’t know what I’m talking about.  He insisted he had not been drinking or anything else tonight but I have absolutely no reason to believe him.  Later when I had gone upstairs to read, I heard him coming and going in and out of the garage and just making a general racket downstairs … typical drinking behavior.

 

Thursday, March 18, 1999

Talked to Kelly on the phone around 5:00.  He was still at the office and when I called he said he had 2 other calls holding for him and that he was trying to get out of there right away.  He called again at 7:30 and said he would be home in 5 minutes.  I told him I was putting Kevin to bed and he insisted I keep him up so he could put him to bed.  I gave in.  He got home about 15 minutes later and put Kevin to bed.  He had been drinking again.  He said he stopped on the way home for 5 minutes to have one drink.  I told him again that I can’t keep living like this, that Kevin and I deserve more than this and that the only difference I see between continuing on with my life with him like this and being single is that being single would at least give me more options.  I told him that I have needs and desires that aren’t being met, as a wife, a mother, and as a woman.  All he had to say was that yes, we need to work on things.  I implored him to realize that Kevin is going to grow up learning about how relationships work from watching us, and that this isn’t how he should see husbands and wives behave, that he needs to see a cohesive family that cares about each other and does things together. He agreed.  In that spirit, I suggested we have a family date tomorrow night.  I wanted to do something together as a family, so I suggested we go to the Block and walk around, have something to eat, have coffee, ice cream, whatever.  He said “What time do you want me home?”  I said “How about 5:30?  Can you do that?”  He said “I’ll be here.”

 

Friday, March 19, 1999

I tried not to get my hopes up about our date tonight, but I still felt a little excited, thinking how nice it would be if we could really pull it off.  I got home with Kevin around 5:00.  5:30 came and went.  I paged Kelly.  I finally gave Kevin dinner, but still with the hope that we could still get out for a while together tonight.  Kelly finally called me at 6:10, was very apologetic, said how once again things took place beyond his control, that he had to go drop off some material for a customer, etc. etc.  He said he would be home in 30 minutes.  It took him over an hour to get home, and by that time Kevin (who hadn’t had a nap all day) was tired and cranky.  Kelly gave him a bath and put him to bed.  He had been drinking.  (Side note: earlier in the evening, I had found a beer that was obviously carefully hidden in the fridge behind a loaf of bread, and Kevin had happened upon a day-old cup of leftover beer in the family room left on the floor between the couch and the end table).  I was very angry and hurt and was yelling and crying.  He said that the fact that he had had a drink had nothing to do with why he was late.  As if it even matters.  He doesn’t get it that the fact that he drinks EVERY NIGHT is the issue, that it’s out of control and destroying everything.  He was apologetic at first, insisting that he had wanted to be here and that he was disappointed too that things didn’t work out, but I just got angrier and angrier and it turned into a huge fight with both of us yelling and him calling me a psycho bitch and telling me that I was freaking him out (this is one of his usual ways of twisting it around to make ME the one appear with the problem).  He will not address his drinking, every time I bring it up, he avoids it and says that I am the one with the problem, that I take little things and turn them into huge things, and that his drinking would not be an issue except that I have a problem with it and have turned it into an issue.  I told him that I think we ought to get separated because this just isn’t working out and I can’t live like this and neither can Kevin. He said he couldn’t believe how easily I would throw it all away.  At about 8:15, Kelly left again, saying that he was running to the store for a can of Skoal and would be right back. He was gone almost an hour and when he got back he was noticeably slurring his words and it was clear that he had been drinking even more while he was gone. 

 

He stopped fertility treatment a couple weeks ago, saying that I am putting too much pressure on him and that we shouldn’t bring another baby into this situation.  He is right about that.  What kills me is that he is creating the situation in the first place.  So he has made things unbearable, and has chosen to take away from me the one thing that means the most to me in the world – to have a family, more children.  I hate him for that.

 

Saturday, March 20, 1999

Kevin had a birthday party to go to today.  Kelly and I were going to take him.  I awoke at 6:30 this morning as Kelly was getting dressed to leave.  He said he had to go to work to move some material that had been left out in the rain.  I reminded him about the birthday party.  He said he would be here to go.  I ended up taking Kevin by myself because Kelly never showed up.  It’s 4:20 p.m. now and he still isn’t home, although he called at 3:30, returning the page I had left for him and hour and a half before that, and said that he had to drive out to Riverside unexpectedly and that he’d be home in an hour.  I left the house with Kevin around 5:00 (Kelly still wasn’t home) and went over to Bill & Becky’s.  I got home at 8:30 and put Kevin to bed.  Kelly was home.  I don’t think he had started drinking yet but was treating me like someone who had done something wrong, saying that my leaving for the evening was playing tit for tat.

 

Sunday, March 21, 1999

I woke up at 4 this morning and realized that Kelly was still downstairs, all the lights were on, the TV was on.  I went down and he was drunk again.  I spent the next couple of hours tossing and turning in the spare room.  When I got up this morning, I started searching for his stash, as I know he sneaks out to the garage to drink.  In the backyard I found a trash can separate from where all our usual garbage goes and in it were dozens of empty beer cans and bottles (most of them extra large), as well as 2 empty 5ths of Jack Daniels.  I searched the garage and finally found inside his Defenders video game an empty bottle of Jack Daniels, a porno video and a stack of at least a dozen dirty magazines.  I took everything upstairs and dumped it on the bed where he was sleeping and told him to leave. He says he is not going anywhere.  Naturally, it’s all been turned around to be my fault, my problem. He followed me downstairs and out into the backyard and hurled the magazines, the video AND the glass bottle of JD at me.  We had it out again later, with me crying and both of us yelling and Kelly basically refusing to be held accountable for anything.  He finally said “Fine, I won’t drink and I’ll come home at 6 every night.”  But he said it like he was going to prove me wrong, prove that I can never be satisfied with anything no matter how he is.  In spite of that I actually was stupid enough to have a glimmer of hope that he would try at least on a temporary basis, but before the evening was out, he was drinking again.

 

Monday, March 22, 1999

Kelly was home before me.  It seems like for some unknown reason, he is usually able to be home at a decent hour on Mondays, the night I pick Kevin up from his parents’ house.  And he almost always calls over there under the pretext of checking up on me (he rarely calls me other nights, nights when he is late, even when I page him).  I think in reality, he calls over there for two reasons: (1) to let it be known to his parents that he gets home at a decent time, and (2) because he feels threatened on some level that I am over there.  Anyhow, I got home with Kevin between 6:30 and 7:00 I guess, and Kelly was already home.  I don’t think he was drinking last night, although I asked him point blank if he was going to be drinking and he said “Just for that, for asking, yeah, I think I will.”

What an asshole.  I fucking hate him.

 

Tuesday, March 23, 1999

Kelly got home a little after 7.  I had made dinner and Kevin and I had already eaten.  I left Kevin with Kelly and told him I was going to Ross to buy shoes.  He got all huffy, wanted to know what I was really up to, blah blah blah.  I ended up going to the craft store as well and he called me on my cell phone 3 times to check up on me in the hour I was gone.  I think he has a hell of a lot of nerve to act suspicious of me.  When I got home he reeked of JD and was obviously well on his way to being drunk.  I was furious that he can’t even restrain himself when I leave him responsible for Kevin.  I broke down and was sobbing and bawling about everything, about how it’s all going down the toilet and I feel desperate and broken and I begged him – literally – to go to marriage counseling with me.  He finally agreed.  I should know better than to have a meaningful conversation with a drunk, but I couldn’t help myself and plan to hold him to his word (whatever that’s worth, not much it appears lately). 

 

I asked him if he remembered being in the hospital when I was in labor, watching Kevin come out into the world, and all the hopes and dreams we had for the life we were going to make together.  He went off on this long emotional drunken tangent about how Kevin almost died when he was born (he needed a little coaxing to start breathing, but I don’t think he actually almost died), how I had no idea what was going on because I had just delivered and then went off into la la land, but how he watched Kevin turn purple and thought he was a gonner and how that traumatized him and that was a defining moment for him.  He is so full of shit.  First of all, I was completely aware of all that was going on after Kevin was born, but leave it to Kelly to know better than me what I was feeling and seeing and perceiving.  Second of all, if that was such a defining moment for him, how did it change him?  It certainly hasn’t made him any less selfish or more committed to his family and responsibilities.  He insinuated that his experience with that was just as profound, if not more so, than what I went through, growing a baby in me for 9 months and then pushing him out into the world.  He hasn’t a clue.  Again, I should know better than to have a meaningful conversation with a drunk.

 

Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Kelly was obviously hung over this morning and wasn’t able to drag himself out of bed until around 9, and that was only after his pager had gone off several times.  He was real nice when he got up though, went out and got me coffee at Starbucks and even kissed me goodbye (can’t remember the last time that happened) and said he would be home early.  He did get home around 6.

 

After Kevin went to bed I went downstairs and Kelly was out in the backyard filling up the dogs water bucket and as soon as I opened the door to go out I smelled JD.  He swears he hasn’t been drinking tonight though.  I just know he lies a lot – he lies about everything, all the time.  I went up to take a shower and when I was done I went downstairs and discovered him in the garage dialing the phone, and when I opened the door, he looked like a deer caught in headlights.  He made some lame excuse for making his call out there, but I think he was looking to score something.  I hit redial on the phone and he was apparently calling his pager.  I hate being so suspicious of him, but he has completely ruined any trust or faith ever had in him. 

 

I did contact a therapist today, a guy Sue and Laura have raved about.  I made an appointment for us for April 15.  Wish it was sooner, but there’s a lot going on between now and then – we have to go up north to spread Dad’s ashes on his birthday – and that’s the soonest it would work.  I haven’t consulted Kelly about it.  If I bring it up this far in advance, he will have plenty of opportunity to get out of it.  Not that he won’t anyway.   I am just going to bring it up a few days beforehand and remind him that he agreed to go.  I can’t do any more than that, either he will go or he won’t.  I see several possible scenarios.  Either he will change his mind about going, or I will make an appointment and he will run so late that he won’t make the appointment, or he will go and deem the therapist an idiot as soon as things are brought out that Kelly doesn’t want to deal with.  Of course, my hope is that Kelly and I will both go with open hearts and open minds and we will resolve our issues in time and live happily ever after.  Pathetic, huh?

This was about three months before he died.  Between the end of this particular diary and the day he died three months later, things got worse and worse: he was in a car accident (his fault – which I was sued for after he died); he finally admitted to me that he was using cocaine (as well as drinking excessively); I took Kevin and left him and was gone for about a week; he talked me into going back; things continued to spin out of control; he disappeared overnight with Kevin while he was on a binge; I took Kevin and left again, for good, filed for divorce, and got a restraining order against him.

Reading this was surreal.  When I think back to that time of my life – to my first marriage – I feel a great sense of remove, distance from it.  Not detached, really, but as if it was a movie I saw about somebody else’s life that can stir up emotions in me.  But reading this – it brought so much of it back to the surface – the terrible fear and anxiety and distrust I lived with day in and day out, how I could barely eat or sleep (I went down to 105 pounds by the time I filed for divorce – skin and bones), how my stomach was in knots all the fucking time and I felt like I might die from it.  I was in survival mode for so long, I didn’t even know what actual living felt like.

I felt raw when I finished reading it.  And I realized that I still carry around an incredible amount of pain and anger.  I’ve never really gotten over it.

15

On Being Battered

One thing I can tell you about living in a situation of ongoing abuse is that most women on the receiving end won’t admit it or reach out for help – or even emotional support – until they’re ready to do something drastic about it.  Like leave.  Women will cop to all sorts of other unsavory aspects of their relationships – drinking problems, porn addictions, financial ruin, in-law issues, you name it – but abuse?  No.  Because the thing is, everyone knows that nobody is going to support staying with a man who’s smacking you around, and once you start talking about it, you better be ready to extricate yourself from the situation.

Here’s something else I can tell you: you don’t really know how you’d deal with a situation until you’re face to face with it.  Oh sure, you can sit there and say, “I’d NEVER put up with a man hitting me.  The first time he laid a hand on me, I’d be outta there!”  It’s very easy to say that – to believe it – when that situation is only hypothetical.  When it actually happens, though, it’s a whole different story.  You tell yourself all kinds of things to try to rationalize the situation.

I know these things from experience.

I lived with an abusive man for many years.  I honestly can’t even remember the first time he laid a hand on me in violence, but there are many, many episodes that I remember, starting before he and I even ever got married.  The night of my dad’s funeral may have left the most livid scar on my psyche, but it certainly wasn’t an isolated incident.  I look back now and wonder: who was that girl who put up with that?

At this point in my life, all these years later, she’s someone both strange and intimately familiar to me.  She’s like someone I knew in a dream.

I know she learned about how relationships work, like most kids do, from watching her own parents, and because of that, violence was nothing new to her.  Some of her earliest memories are from toddlerhood: the sounds of shattering glass, flesh impacted by flesh, bodies being shoved into walls, shouting, screaming.  I know her mother spent the first half of her life tearing her down, telling her how bad she was, so that when this guy came along and paid her some sweet attention, she ate it up.  I know that he represented a way out for her, and she had no idea that she would only be trading one hell for another.  I know that he wanted someone to rescue, someone weak and needy so that he could feel big and powerful.  I know that for a long time when she grew up, she believed that this was just her lot in life.  She wished for something better but didn’t believe it was her due to have something better, and had no idea how to attain something better, anyway.  I know she was scared.  I know she felt trapped and very, very alone.  I know she told herself over and over, “If I could just be a better wife, a better person, he would stop hurting me.”

Part of the method the abusive man uses is emotional warfare.  He tears her down to the point where she believes it’s her fault, that she’s brought this all on herself.  He used to tell me, “I’m not like this.  You bring this out in me.  You make me do this to you.”  He leads her to believe (because she’s susceptible) that there’s no possibility for a better existence outside of the relationship.  The message is, “I hate you because you’re unlovable, but I still love you more than anyone else ever would.”  The message is, “Nobody else would put up with you.  You’re lucky I do.”  The message is, “I hate you because you’re a miserable piece of shit, but you better not ever leave or you’ll be sorry.”

Yes, I was trapped like that for years.

So how did I finally get out?

It’s complicated.  But in simple terms, Kevin and Michael were both the impetus for my finally extricating myself.  It’s bitter irony that Kevin was one of the reasons I stayed as long as I did; once we had him, I thought about leaving all the time, but I couldn’t bear – absolutely couldn’t bear – the thought of having to share him, to give him up to this horrible man on alternate weekends or whatever the court might come up with.  In the end, though, it came down to realizing that it’s one thing to put up with a hellish situation yourself, but to subject your kid to it is a whole other story.  There came a night when he was coked up, and he took Kevin and disappeared for an entire night.  I was frantic.  To this day, I have no idea where he took him or what Kevin was exposed to.  He came back the following morning, and I met with a divorce attorney that day, and took Kevin and left the following day.

And Michael came along.  And he saw me as a person with value, someone worthy of goodness.  It was the first time I began to believe that something else, something better, was possible.  It’s probably sad that it took something, someone outside myself to see that, but there you have it.

There are many reasons women stay in abusive relationships: financial dependence, lack of a safety net of available friends and/or family, fear, and not the least, self-esteem.  It really all boils down to that, I think.  And I think that for anyone who has a daughter, instilling in her a strong sense of self – of self-value, self-esteem – needs to be an absolute priority.  By the same token, raising sons into healthy men requires instilling the same positive sense of self, as it is the broken man who will lash out and victimize someone.

I know now that it wasn’t about me, it was about him.  I’m as flawed as the next person, but I’m not a worthless piece of shit.  He would have abused anyone he ended up with.

It was a hard road to travel, but I got out.  And I am thankful.

6

Life Stories

Several months ago, I finally sat down and did what I had thought about doing for years: I wrote about what I remember as the worst night of my life.  Although the night in question happened now almost fourteen years ago, the memories of it have haunted me all this time.  It was a devastatingly traumatic night on many levels, and over the years I would flash back on it and be filled with rage and anxiety and shame.  There was always a part of me that thought if I could write it out – what happened that night – I could somehow relegate it to the past where it belongs and gain some sense of closure on it.  But I was also ambivalent about writing it out because I knew it would force me to relive the events of that night in detail rather than in the snippets that would sometimes flash in and out of my mind’s eye.

When I did write about it finally, it was an emotionally draining process, but in the end, it was cathartic as I had hoped it would be.  Reducing it all to paper, so to speak, found a way to take much of its power away.  And the memories finally stopped plaguing me.  It was a horrible night that happened a long time ago, to a person who only vaguely resembles who I am now.

What I wrote, An Excerpt From the Life of a Battered Wife, seemed to have quite an impact on other people, too.  So much so that I decided to submit the piece to a couple of publications with the hope that it might be accepted for publication.

The Sun magazine declined it.  They sent me a very nice letter telling me that, while they felt that it was a very well-written piece, they get so many submissions every month that they often have to turn down even very good ones.  (Okay, this very well might have been a form letter, but I’ve decided to take it at face value, thank you very much.)  About a week later, I received an email from the managing editor of Mamalode telling me that they wanted to publish it.  She called it “powerful” and “very moving.”  I was elated.  I would get paid for this, which seemed like a sort of sweet justice, given the subject matter of the piece.

So for the next week, the managing editor and I worked together on editing the piece.  I’ll be honest: the first edited draft she sent me left me feeling pretty deflated.  She cut so much out of the original version that it lost much of its punch in my view.  But of course, I was biased – I had lived the events, and it was impossible to separate myself from it and look at it objectively.  Still, it was interesting, and a little frustrating that she felt so strongly about taking a “less is more” approach.  I remember a few months back when I was working on edits to my review of The Shape of the Eye for Literary Mama, and how the editor kept wanting more; “Dig deeper,” she told me.  And that was a book review!  This piece, on the other hand, is a very personal story that is supposed to have a certain gut-wrenching impact, and the editor wants less.  Hmph.

So I pretty much scrapped her edited version and, working from the original, edited it down myself, thinking, okay, if it’s a space issue, I can cut it down without removing the parts that really need to be there (you know, in my completely objective view).  She didn’t like it.  In fact, she told me very nicely that if I wasn’t happy with the edits she suggested, if I felt that strongly about it, I could decline publication, because they certainly didn’t want to publish anything I wouldn’t be happy with.  (I make her sound snippy here; she absolutely wasn’t.  She was very kind and respectful.)

So I had a choice to make: forget the whole thing, or make some concessions and accept the fact that a willingness to make concessions is part of the deal if one is going to write for a broader audience than a personal blog.  I decided to go with Choice No. 2.  It would get my work out there, get me some exposure, and the whole thing is a learning experience as far as writing goes.  Right?

So here is the final published version: A Bruised Heart

As it turns out, I will get paid based on the number of unique views – which means if you click on it fifty time because you dig me, it won’t count.  But, please, feel free to pass it along to anyone you know who might get something out of it – either literarily (is that a word?) or, you know, as the story it relates to life experiences.

I’m going to write more here, soon, about being a battered wife, because it’s very much a part of my past and therefore has played some role in shaping me, and I think it’s an extremely important social issue that still remains pretty taboo.

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An Excerpt From the Life of a Battered Wife

About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”

[I just recently discovered Just Write on Heather’s The Extraordinary Ordinary blog, and I love the idea of having something to motivate me to write – about anything – on a regular basis. For a week now, I’ve been contemplating what I might write about my first time participating in this endeavor, and what I came up with was a dark memory from a long time ago. It’s something I’ve held onto for a very long time, a traumatic event in a long string of traumatic events from my “former life,” that still festers inside me like a sore after all these years. The idea of “free writing,” however, is to write freely in the moment without overthinking it, so I confess that I’m not even sure if writing about such an old memory fits the bill here. That said, I did finally, after all these years, just write it out – something I’ve thought about doing for a long, long time, but something always stopped me (fear? Repulsion at the memory? I really can’t say) So, here it is. Take from the reading of it what you will, and I’ll take from the writing of it what I can.]

__________________________________________________________________________

More than 13 years later, I still look back on it as the worst night I’ve ever lived through.

It was the night of my dad’s funeral.  He had died very suddenly of a massive heart attack at the age of 51 after a brief, unrelated illness that had landed him in the hospital for about a week.  My big, burly, larger than life, seemingly invincible dad, taken down by a heart that finally stopped beating after a lifetime of hard living – the first person I was close to who I lost through death, and the last person in my family with whom I had a close relationship, so it was a double blow that left me feeling orphaned and so consumed by grief that I felt as if I were suffocating.

He lived with his wife in a house in the woods, up a steep, winding mountain road near the coast in Central California.  My husband and I made the five- or six-hour drive up, with Kevin strapped into his toddler car seat, arriving the night before the funeral.  Family I hadn’t seen in years gathered at the house from out of state.  We checked into a rustic motel/lodge a few miles away – so rustic that there were no phones or televisions in the rooms.  Several other family members were staying at the same motel.

The day of the funeral, a Saturday in December, dawned clear and bright.  Everyone gathered in a church, which felt wrong, as my dad was openly agnostic and definitely not a churchgoer.  He was to be cremated, so there was no graveside gathering, only a service in the chapel which I barely remember.  I know that people spoke.  I know that I got up on legs as weak as water to talk about my dad and how profoundly I felt his absence.  I remember Kevin getting antsy during the service and my husband putting him out in the truck and leaving him there by himself.  A red flag, to be sure – who locks a not-quite-two-year-old out in a car by himself for at least a half hour?  But there were lots of red flags that had, over the years of our marriage, become flaming banners announcing danger – banners I had learned to live with.

The rest of the day is hazy in my memory.  There was a reception after the service, and food was served, and we watched video clips of my dad over his lifetime.  I remember that seeing him up there on the screen intensified my feelings of loss so much that I didn’t know how I was going to survive it.  We visited with my dad’s parents and siblings, relatives I hadn’t seen in many years and barely knew.  Old friends of my dad’s were there.  People laughed and teared up and offered each other words of consolation.

Eventually my husband and I and Kevin made our way back to the motel in the woods.  Measurements of time have slipped away from me, but I know that at some point in the evening, my husband, Kelly, left the motel, leaving Kevin and me behind in the motel room.  I don’t even remember what he told me about his plans, where he was going.  His leaving was routine, and being out of town didn’t make a difference.  I crawled into bed with Kevin and my grief.

At some point in the night I woke up.  Kevin slept beside me.  It was very dark, and I sensed that some hours had passed.  Kelly still wasn’t back.  The hot stone of fear and panic began to settle in my stomach as I began filing through possibilities in my mind: car accident?  DUI? Neither of those would have been firsts.  He disappeared at home with some regularity, and I never knew where he went or when he would return.  Sometimes he would call me in the middle of the night with some tale of a car broken down or a friend in need – stories we both knew I didn’t believe – but more often than not, there would be no call; he would just show up when he was finished with whatever it was that enticed him away, looking and smelling road worn.

There was no phone in the room.  I did own a cell phone, but this was back in the days of having a cell phone only for emergencies.  I didn’t even carry it in my purse – I left it in my truck, and that’s where it was, out with Kelly wherever he was.  Who would I call, anyway?  I was in a strange place, alone with my toddler son in a sparsely furnished motel room in the mountains – utterly alone.  I sat with my growing panic for a long time.

Eventually he did make it back to the motel in the wee hours of the morning.  He was clearly drunk.  I was beside myself.  He had pulled this countless times before, but on this of all nights – the night of my dad’s funeral?  I probably should have just feigned sleep to avoid a scene, but my grief and rage completely took over, and I began screaming at him, demanding to know where he had been and how he could have left me all alone at a time when I most needed comfort and consolation.  He screamed back at me – I had no right to tell him what to do!  He had tracked down my brother (from whom I was mostly estranged) and they had gone to a bar to drink in my dad’s honor.  How dare I be so selfish as to deny them that!

The fight escalated.  By now Kevin was sitting up in bed crying.  I tried to console him.  Kelly went into the bathroom and I could hear the sharp cracking of porcelain as he slammed the lid of the toilet up and down, up and down, until suddenly with a shatter, it stopped – he had busted the toilet and now the bathroom was flooding.

It was inevitable that the motel management would get wind of the scene, as would probably most of the motel guests – relatives of mine among them.  The police were called, and we were told to leave.  To this day, it still boggles my mind that the police not only allowed, but demanded that a woman and small child leave with a belligerently inebriated man.

I could hardly breathe as I gathered Kevin’s and my things as quickly as I could, sobbing, in a state of utter panic.  How could we leave with this man who was so dangerous and out of control?  Where would we go?

I got Kevin strapped into the back seat in his little footie pajamas, crying and wide-eyed with fear.  Clearly Kelly was in no shape to drive (though he had driven from wherever it was he had gotten drunk back to the motel), so I got in the driver’s seat and gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles, tiny points of light flickering before my eyes with my rage.  I felt like I was going to throw up and pass out, simultaneously.  Somehow, I managed to pull the truck out onto the dark, winding mountain road, with Kelly next to me in the passenger seat, having absolutely no idea exactly where I was or where to go.  As I drove, Kelly alternately screamed obscenities at me, spit at me, and pummeled the right side of my body with slaps and punches.  “IF YOUR DAD WERE ALIVE, HE’D KICK YOUR FUCKING ASS FOR BEING SUCH A CUNT!” he screamed at me.

My dignity was gone.  Any sense of safety or security I might have had was gone.  My sense of my ability to protect my son was being frayed.  And now, I was being robbed of my right – my need – to grieve my dad – the one person who had seen the best in me.  I wanted to die, I truly wanted to die.  The pain was just too much.  I wanted to close my eyes and make this horrific nightmare end, and never wake up.

The towering pines of the forest whizzed by us as I drove with no destination in mind.  Should I just make the several-hour drive home?  I didn’t even know where we were or what direction we were heading in.  Eventually a small roadside motel revealed itself.  I pulled in and went inside.  No vacancies.  I was overcome by an impotence and hopelessness that threatened to take away the last shreds of self-preservation I had.  Crying, I got back in the truck and continued on down the road.

After awhile, we came upon another motel.  Yes, they had a room available.  Ignoring Kelly, I opened the back door to take Kevin out of his car seat.  Kelly was on me in a flash, trying to pull Kevin from my arms.  A physical struggle over the baby ensued, till I was knocked to the ground with Kevin in my arms.  I struggled to my feet and went to the motel office to check us in.  “Are you alright?” the woman at the desk asked me.  Clearly she had seen the physical altercation out in the parking lot. “Yes, I’m fine,” I struggled to say between sobs.  “My dad died, and my husband is very distraught.  We just need a room.”  There I was, making excuses for him, handing what should have been my right to grieve my father over to him.  Even now, all these years later, when I think back on that, I am filled with shame, and I have this wish so strong inside me that it’s a physical feeling, a wish that I could go back and ask that woman to call the police and have Kelly thrown in jail for battering me.

But that’s not what happened.  Who can blame the woman for not wanting to get involved?  Easier to ignore the red sting of palm prints on my face and accept the excuses I gave her.  We checked into a room where I curled myself around Kevin in one of the beds, wondering how I had ended up here and how I could possibly survive and make my way out of this Hell.

I woke up to sunlight streaming through the window.  Panicked, I realized Kevin was not in bed with me.  I sprung up and looked about the small, shabby motel room.  The door opened and Kelly walked in, announcing brusquely, “Kevin’s in the truck.  You have five minutes to get your ass out there or we’re leaving without you.”  Here came the tears again, and the quiet fury eating away at my insides.  What could I do?  He had my son.

We had left and I had not said goodbye to anyone.  Later I would give some vague story about an emergency at home, and when asked if I knew anything about the scene at the motel with the cops and people screaming and yelling, I would feign ignorance.  No, I didn’t hear anything.  I have no idea.  I wonder what it could have been.

The drive home was mostly silent, except for one gas/restroom stop during which Kelly laid into me and told me, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive you for this.”

Mostly silent weeks followed, until I finally begged him to forgive me.  It was all my fault.  There was nothing wrong with him going out the night of my dad’s funeral to raise a few glasses in my dad’s honor.  What right did I have to try to deprive him of that?  I was just a bitch, a control freak.  It was all my fault, that whole terrible, terrible night.  I brought it all on myself.

Please forgive me.  I’m sorry, so sorry.  Please.

In the darkest part of my heart, I knew it wasn’t true, it wasn’t my fault, and hatred burned inside of me – hatred of him for making my life a living Hell, and hatred of myself for allowing him to.  Begging for forgiveness, however, was the only way I could hope he might stop punishing me.

Roughly six months later, Kelly would be dead from a drug overdose, and I would finally be free of him.

That’s not my life anymore.  But scraps of shame and bruises on my heart remain. The memories still haunt me.

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