When I think about the past, I feel like I'm watching a movie. I watch my past and wonder who that woman was - what was her path and how did she choose it...how did she travel and how did she survive? Is today's path different or is the woman? What led her to make the choices she made and does she make better choices today? It's fairly simple for me to deconstruct my issues - intellectually, I understand my behaviors and choices. Emotionally, understanding why I stayed in an abusive relationship is a harder concept to grasp - and harder to forgive.
Once upon a time, I was young and idealistic. I was involved in a lot of youth activism when I was a teenager and I was performing poetry by age 15. A lot of people took interest in my future and I seemed (and felt) unstoppable. Unfortunately there are always two sides to every coin, and my flip-side was a very insecure young woman who never quite felt complete unless she had a boyfriend. It didn't matter how much I was accomplishing in my life - if I wasn't in a relationship, I felt completely inadequate. When I was 18 years old and just a few months away from graduating from high school, I met the man who would become my husband two years later.
I swore that I would never write abut my marriage in this blog, but as I wrote last week, the story surfaced and wanted to be told, and far be it for me to deny a story its time in the sun. I didn't write this story for anyone to feel pity for me. I am still here, and that is a blessing.
On paper, he was perfect - handsome, from a good family, New Mexican/Chicano, Catholic, a hard worker, and culturally, we were compatible. My family adored him from day one and our families had been acquainted with each other for years. I was convinced that it was fate that brought us together. Maybe it was, but fate never said we should have stayed together.
I can remember the exact moment the first sign of trouble occurred in our relationship. He was visiting me at my mom's house and the phone rang. It was a guy that I was friends with and we spoke briefly. The Ex asked who called and I told him - I didn't think it was a big deal. I always had male friends and it was never an issue with other boyfriends. I can still see the shadow that passed over his face and I knew he was displeased but my mom was in the next room and he didn't say anything. Later, when he was giving me the silent treatment and I was begging him to tell me what was wrong, he finally told me that his last serious girlfriend had cheated on him, and that he didn't want to get hurt again. I felt horrible; I apologized profusely and swore I would never cheat on him. He would continue to bring up that particular incident for years. He was punishing me for someone else's mistake, and I was apologizing for it.
From there, his insecurities were constantly my problem to soothe and take care of. He was jealous of everyone - male and female, friend, acquaintance and even family - and questioned every word I said and every move I made. I had to be careful with jokes, comments and even laughter. When I said something wrong in front of other people, the same ugly shadow passed over his face and later, when were alone, we would argue and I would find myself apologizing and feeling sick until he forgave me. Through all of it, I had to keep up appearances and pretend that everything was okay.
|Balmy Alley mural, San Francisco, CA|
That bruise? Oh, I hit my arm on a door at work.
No, I don't really like going out; I would miss him too much when we're away from each other. Maybe next time.
Hey, don't tell him that you saw me out, okay? I wouldn't want him to worry...
That bruise on my arm was from a bite so hard that he broke the skin. I wasn't allowed to go out with friends, be it to the movies or happy hour and definitely not out dancing. When he would go out of town (because he was allowed to do whatever he wanted), I would go out with friends - but I would spend the entire time afraid that he was going to find out. When cell phones became affordable and accessible, it was like having an electronic leash. I had to answer my phone anytime he called and I had to check in constantly. I never had to answer to anyone -not even my parents- the way I had to answer to him. Ironically, I was a community educator specializing in violence prevention, particularly violence against women. I was so good at hiding the truth that I wasn't even sure what the truth was anymore. One morning, we had a particularly violent argument and I then drove to work and did a presentation on domestic violence for a group of women. I was living a double life.
I won't document every incident - partly because there are too many to write about, and to be honest, I don't want to re-live each one in writing. I attributed our "problems" to our age and I was positive that once we were married and older, we would grow and change for the better. As we got older, the only thing that grew was resentment between us and I began to eat to escape my misery. I also kept my hair really short - he hated it short and in grasping for anything I could control, I kept cutting it (my hair is currently at my waist).
I wasn't perfect during our marriage. I was jealous at times, argumentative, I picked fights and I began to lie to him - a lot. I never cheated on him, but I lied about where I went, where I ate, who I spoke with or saw, our finances, what I purchased - you name it, I lied about it. Because I needed some sort of control in my life, lying was how I coped with the abuse. At the time, I didn't call it abuse. I had no name for it and I never told a soul what was happening inside my house. One time I tried to tell a friend and another I tried to tell my mom, but I could never bring myself to tell them the truth.
I never cowered in a corner. I yelled, I screamed, I kicked and clawed and fought back. The entire marriage was toxic and there was no way it was going to get better. While there was total control, a lot of shoving, pinching, biting, kicking and once incident when he threw the cat at my face, there was only one time when his huge, open hand actually made contact with my cheek. That was the moment something inside of me changed, and I realized it was me or the marriage.
Next time: Redemption Song