“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! Please, someone, anyone, please, help me! Let go of me!”
The covers fly off my face as I let out a blood curdling scream in the black of night. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I catch my breath, taking in the sights around me. Shadows dance on the walls, picture frames filled with the smiling faces of those I love most staring back at me. I glance over at my precious, loving husband, snoring away next to me. Surely I didn’t actually scream, surely I was dreaming.
Late at night, enveloped in the twilight of the world that only exists between sleep and wake, the memories come pouring back. Some days it seems like an easy read, true crime novel that I’m thumbing through rolling my eyes at the naivety of the main character. Some days, I feel the pain, as though freshly inflicted, throbbing, searing through my soul. I hope and pray that this Momfession piece touches the lives and hearts of those that need to hear these words most: You are not alone.
I am not the type of girl that anyone ever would have expected to end up in an abusive marriage. I am fiercely independent, outspoken, a champion of justice, and quite frankly, I simply do not take garbage from anyone. Do not get me wrong, this determined and strong personality absolutely masquerades under a blanket of southern charm and cheery disposition, but those who know me best, know that my ability to tell you to “take a hike” in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip, is my spiritual gift.
He was a charmer. The type of guy who you could picture taking off his jacket and laying it over a mud puddle for his date to safely cross without so much as a speck of mud on her heels. Others jokingly referred to us as Barbie and Ken. He was perfect. A perfect gentleman.
We were the perfect hosts, the perfect couple, we had the perfect life. From the outside.
Even before his proposal, there were signs — signs that I missed, or made excuses for. He had a hot temper and short fuse. I would jokingly make excuses to others that when he was little, he was that hot headed little kiddo on the baseball team who would toss the water cooler over when he struck out. Oh, how I wish that was all that it was. About a year into our marriage, I realized that I was dealing with so much more. I now know that I was dealing with an abusive personality. I still am.
Maybe it was the full water bottle thrown forcibly at my head from an angry arm, the “accidental” shove onto the ice when I was six months pregnant, or the one mile walk up the expressway in 90-degree temps to visit my baby at the hospital after an argument when a truck door was opened and I was pushed on to the service road, but I began to suspect that my marriage was not “normal.” This was not the man who promised his love to me for better or for worse. The man who vowed to love and protect me.
Turn the Other Cheek?
After the birth of our first child, the stress evoked by this event seemed to really ramp up the abuse at home. One day I was calling 911, after he grabbed our baby and a gun, loaded them into his truck and drove off telling me that he was leaving to kill himself. The next day, he pulled back into the driveway with a brand new shiny SUV just for me. I spent three years on a pendulum consistently swinging from nightmare to dream come true. I doubted myself, I doubted my memory, I accused myself of overreacting, or worse, actually deserving the abuse I endured.
I was terrified to leave. He filled my head with scenarios about having to leave my special needs child in daycare, or being unable to afford life on my own, supporting a small child. I felt like I had to stay in this marriage for my child, for my child’s future. I feared the reactions of friends and family who adored the charmer and had absolutely no idea what type of reality I was living. I feared that no one would believe me. When I reluctantly confided in my own mother, she admitted that the things that were happening were abusive and wrong, but told me she thought that maybe I was instigating things, and that I should continue to try to work things out. She too, expressed the idea that I was stuck in this situation, and had no other options. I hit rock bottom physically and emotionally. I crawled into the shower, fully clothed, and cried on the shower floor for a full hour. Finally, an entire year after I filed an assault charge with the police department for the first time, and continued to live in the marriage, something happened that changed everything. The screams, banging, crashing, swearing, and slamming doors were followed by a horrifying wail. My toddler had just witnessed and processed what had just happened. I filed for divorce three days later.
Hear me, hear this: You are not imagining the abuse. You are not remembering things to be worse than that they actually were; in fact the opposite is much more likely. Your situation is not impossible. You are not alone. Your children are watching you.