Domestic abuse takes many forms, and in light of the talk surrounding Whitney Houston’s death… not just the drug abuse but the stormy past marriage to Bobby Brown, I am going to take advantage of the opportunity to once again tell my story. Bear with me here. It’s a subject we all need more understanding of. Some of you, particularly those of you who have been friends with me on Gather for years, already know the story, but there is a particular reason I’m reminded of it and telling it now.
I was once a victim of child sexual and emotional abuse and neglect. My mother did not want me, and told me so. My father adored me but was too busy for his children. The perpetrators of the sexual abuse (to my memory) began with the babysitter’s husband when I was three or four, and included several others over the years. I guess that’s why I thought I was a horrible person. If I were a good girl, why would this sick stuff keep happening?
Turns out that’s not so unusual, but I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know that predators seek out specific personality types, and that it has nothing to do with being good or bad but mostly whether that child (or adult) is insecure enough to let them get close enough to perpetrate evil and get away with it. I was as insecure as a child could get, being belittled and berated constantly, so I was easy prey. There was also no way I was going to go tell my mother, after telling her one time and being told to use my imagination for better things.
I got involved at sixteen with a man who never once laid a hand on me, but tortured me in every other conceivable way, including "forcing" me to marry him at eighteen. No, there was no gun to my head... but he had long since told me that if I ever tried to break up with him, it would be the last thing I did. I trusted that this was not a threat but a promise. I stayed. I stayed quiet about the threat, and I even married him when he wanted me to because he didn't give me another option... and now, looking back, even I wonder how someone, even at that age, rationalizes that "I have to marry him because he will kill me if I DON'T" is a safety measure.
I had the dubious pleasure of seeing the B-52's in concert over this past weekend. I never liked them, but he did. About halfway through listening for the second time to their first album, I made the mistake of telling him I really didn't like them. It just was not my type of music. His response was not violence, but it had the same impact. For weeks, if I was home (so, basically, any time I was not working) he played that album, repeatedly and loudly, even while I tried to sleep. Not to get me to like it... to torture me. To punish me for having the audacity to dislike something he liked. To this day, their music gives me a knot in the pit of my stomach. It makes me feel like lashing out at someone, something. Makes my skin crawl, when someone hits a high note. And when someone says it's "fun" music, I beg to differ. There is nothing fun about torture. I can't expect others to understand that, I know.
He abused me for ten years, sometimes like that but sometimes just by calling me vicious and hurtful names, telling me I was stupid and ugly. I wasn’t allowed out of the house without full makeup, and he told me how to wear my hair and what clothes I was allowed. He told me what I could cook; what spices I could and could not use. He walked three or four steps ahead of me, and belittled me for it though he had a distinct advantage, having far longer legs than mine and refused to slow down to accommodate my short ones.
By the time we had been married for four years and had a child together, I had been worn down to a mere nub of a person. Nothing I said had value, and nothing I did changed anything in our relationship except in a negative way. Even our son rejected me, and if that wasn’t proof of my being unredeemable, what was? After all, my mother had expressed her dislike for me my whole childhood long, and still, I adored her. Granted, I adored her from afar, but my son didn’t even give me that. He cried when we picked him up from his grandmother’s house after I’d been working.
It wasn’t a big step, to go from a worthless excuse for a wife and mother to a prostitute, and that year, I gave in to the pressure he had been putting on me for years. I thought “at least I will make him happy if I just do it once.” But once was not good enough, and stole my argument that it was “wrong.” If it was wrong, why did I do it? He would ask me.
I never told a soul. In fact, when someone asked why I put up with him, I would lie and tell them he wasn't "that way" in private. Actually, that wasn't a lie, but I implied he was better in private than in the company of others, when nothing could be further from the truth. Still, it all became my "normal" and I did not realize I deserved better than the treatment he gave me.
When I finally became strong enough to tell him I wanted out, he tortured me more than ever. Didn't let me out of his sight for thirteen weeks. Literally. Kept himself up at night, somehow, to watch me sleep. Followed me into the bathroom. Nothing was private. Nothing. And then he held our son hostage, while I got a taste of life without him on a cross-country trip to visit my sick mother... he wanted to make sure I knew how much I would miss my child, and assured me that if I did not return, I would never see my child again. I returned. I hadn't changed my mind about wanting out, and told him so. That day, had there been a gun available, one of us would have died. He refused to let me go, and I had simply had all I could take. It was the first day the struggle became physical, and the last day of our marriage.
There was no gun. There was a sharp pair of scissors he was eying as we both (physically) fought to gain power. I fought him with adrenaline and then with my teeth. With him in his sleep-deprived, half-starved state (he was on a hunger strike for all those weeks, losing thirty-five pounds by then) I was able to sink my teeth into his flesh until it brought him to his knees. I wasn't proud to do that, but I got away, once and for all. I also lost my son for nearly three years, in the process, as he "made good" on his threat.
When I look back now, I know that I always had a choice, but I swear it never felt as though I did. My second husband once told me that a girl with whom he had grown up "liked getting beaten up." His reasoning was that her husband kept beating her and she kept going back, staying with him; therefore she obviously liked it. The day he told me that was probably, looking back, the first time I realized my second marriage was also doomed, as he knew all about the first one and could still make that sort of statement. He is not alone in feeling that way, I am certain.
In my case, the abuse wasn't even physical so how could I have stayed out of fear? I must have liked what he did to me, correct? Do you, does anyone, know how much I used to wish and pray that he would hit me... leave bruises or broken bones or some kind of evidence, so that someone would know and rescue me, taking the choice away from me?
The thing is, I know now that the abuse I suffered as a child set me up for that first marriage; made me the perfect victim for his particular brand of abuse. It was interesting to find out AFTER I left, that others knew of his violent tendencies in ways I had never actually witnessed. My brothers, for instance, saw him beat my dog to death with a shovel. No one told me because they were "protecting" me. Might it have made a difference? Perhaps, but not in a positive way. More than likely, I would have feared him even more than I did. Perhaps I would still be with him. After all, one of the motivating factors was logic. "He's never actually 'hurt' you," I told myself. "Maybe he won't."
I tried to watch the B-52’s this past weekend with an open mind. After all, it has been more than twenty-five years since that hellish marriage ended, and I told myself it was time to let go. It was still torture, and though not the same kind it used to be, I still felt that knot in my stomach. I distracted myself by watching people in the crowd, and after only a handful of songs (only one of which I recognized) my husband said. “I’ve heard enough. Let’s go home and get warm.” Yes. I went home happily, for the first time letting myself feel the joy of walking away from the torture. If only I had known… believed… I could survive walking away back then.
But who is to say I would have?