two years

Two years ago today, I entered a domestic violence shelter for a two month stay, along with my kiddo. Because of that,  October 13th will always, always have significance. I felt a quiet pride and gratitude last year, on this day. I’d made it! I wondered, in the days prior, how I would commemorate the date. I settled for a nice, quiet dinner at home. Last night, I decided that this year, and perhaps in the coming years, I would invoke the accomplishment’s larger, more hard fought reward, and live the day just like anyone else.

Just like anyone else. For eight years, I felt little like anyone else, and even less like myself. I’d reunited with an old sweetheart, moved into his house in a nice enough neighborhood in a quiet, rural town, and after three years of cohabitation, we had the kiddo. I was thirty-three at the beginning of that relationship. In love. And ready. Ready to commit. Ready to be someone’s partner, lay down roots, and work together toward common goals. When he’d emphatically stressed that he wanted a lover and not a “just” some roommate after I’d mentioned gunning for a career in journalism during that first week I’d moved in, I capitulated and abandoned the idea with little thought. Why bother immersing myself into a career that I’d only eventually leave when we had kids? It’d be easier to do so if I didn’t have to leave in the first place. I settled for a part time job way, way outside the realm of journalism, for which I was vastly overqualified, and ultimately, bored with. There was to be one more part time job, during which it became clearly apparent that there was really to be no job; that any time spent away from him, or the house (when he wasn’t there), was a betrayal to our relationship; that I preferred to be a “roommate”. There would be no middle ground. Being his lover meant ’round the clock availability—not sexually—-but in presence, in time devoted exclusively to him. Time spent away, in areas among others, out of his control, was a cardinal violation of our relationship. No amount of logical explanation, soothing words, protestations of loyalty, or  overcompensation on my part would atone.

I’d done nothing wrong. I’d done nothing wrong. I know that, today. But at the time, I’d started getting the feeling, ominously, all of the time, that I was doing  something wrong in his eyes, even when I knew I had not. Which was insane. And that was the beginning.

That was the beginning, what I can see in hindsight as the demarcation between love and abuse. I could not and would not see that line for three years in the relationship; I could not see the abuse for what it was until his control willed and enforced itself through escalating verbal putdowns, veiled threats, and frankly, mental torture, as I began to chafe. I’d like to say I chafed because by then I knew better, but honestly, I chafed because I had someone else after three years who needed my time and attention more: my daughter. I think we both felt joy when our daughter arrived, but I think resentment lay beneath it for him when she became the priority in my life. His demands became more outrageous, his putdowns more cutting. I meant nothing to him, he’d claim, but my self esteem became the prize he was hellbent upon taking. I dreaded hearing the truck pull into the driveway. I could physically feel my stomache recoil and knot itself up. Eventually, I feared sleeping. My own mother feared me sleeping. It was not unreasonable to fear anything happening.

There was no physical violence directed at me until the end, when a tossed end table full of books directed at my head  had him led away in handcuffs from the apartment, permanently. I’m lucky. But how much easier it would have been to recognize, how much easier it would have been to exit in the beginning, with so little invested, if there had been that emphatic, undeniable, and clear cut  evidence of abuse. Sadly, not even such clear evidence, not even evidence short of murder, moves the court’s attitudes toward domestic violence and women even more unfortunate than I. But that’s another story. Sometime.

I am a generous person. A generous lover. I believe love is a gift, is its own  gift. Love is, of course, too broad to be universally, concretely defined. It has its intangibles, and its bastardizations. For me, love is freedom, is freeing. I want those I love to feel that. It would be easy to point a finger at that spirit and blame myself. Blame myself for giving too much. Giving in too much. Giving is not a crime. The crime in this case is taking all of that, and more, and using it to isolate, belittle, humiliate, stymie, and diminish someone one claims to “love”.

I will always, always remember this personally historic day in my life, when I climbed into a van with my little one, along with the husband of my good friend, and their little ones, with an open  can of Diet Coke set thoughtfully for me next to my seat “for the road” on the beginning of this journey. This day has its worth. I am not as close to being like anyone else as I’d liked to be. To begin with, after close to eight years of unemployment, I am with little history of professional existence. I still…though less, now…have momentary interludes of weepiness doing something so simple as shopping in public places such as Target. I have filled my house too much, filled myself with too much food, and gotten, quite honestly, too many birds. Because I can, now. But mostly, because I’d  felt so empty, after all of that—gutted is a frequently employed word to describe my emotional state. I’m closer to being just like anyone else, every day.

But it begins and ends with me, now. And forever. I promise.

3 Responses to “two years”

  1. 1 betsy October 14, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    There’s an open can of diet coke next to me, as we speak. I raise my can to you, old friend.
    xx, b

  2. 2 petitmuse October 14, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    thanks, bets. still seems like only yesterday sometimes. wow.

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