Many people do not know that I was married once before – and of those who do know, fewer still know much about the marriage other than the fact that it was short. I do not avoid speaking about that year of my life because it causes me pain to do so; I avoid talking about it because I don’t want to make others uncomfortable. It’s been nearly a decade since it all happened, and as the years have passed I have witnessed far too many around me go through similar or far worse experiences. The time has come to break the silence. I apologize in advance if this post makes you uncomfortable, but perhaps we all need to be made uncomfortable from time to time in order to wake us up to what is going on all around us. It should not be taboo. It should be talked about not in whispers, but in shouts loud enough for the whole world to hear. Today, once and for all, I am screaming:
My Story: The Cycle of Abuse Begins
I suppose it all began long before I met my ex-husband. In hindsight, I realize that it probably began when I was a very little girl. I was raised in an abusive home. I can remember abuse from as far back as my earliest memories. My father abused my mother. He controlled her every move. He would not allow her to have friends. He limited her contact with the outside world. He hit her, and far worse. He also abused me, as well as my older brother (fortunately for my brother, he doesn’t remember much, if anything). My father abused everyone around him, really. I know he had enemies who were looking for him. I remember a time when we had to crawl past the windows of the house and couldn’t have any lights on because we were hiding from one of the many people looking for him. I couldn’t have been much older than 3 or 4 when that happened. I remember times when I heard my mother crying after he had hurt her. I remember screaming and shouting. There are also lots of things I don’t remember, but that have left their mark nonetheless. Thirty years later, I still bear a scar across my nose and one eye from the time that he threw me across the room and I fell onto a cup that had been left on the floor. It broke, and I had glass shards in my eye. I have been told it’s a miracle that I even have vision in that eye. I was two when it happened. He hurt me sexually, too. Eventually, he ended up in prison for attempted murder after he shot his friend in the back while the man stood in his garage, unaware that my father was there. I still remember the night he was arrested. I was sent to the neighbor’s house and she closed her curtains, but I peeked outside and saw cop cars all around. I was very confused and frightened.
Unfortunately, the abuse did not end there, but it did change a little. It came from other family members, and it became more verbal. I remember being told I was ugly, that my hair was a rat’s nest, that I was stupid and that I would never amount to anything. I was abandoned and left with family who really didn’t want the responsibility of raising another generation of children. And in time, more physical abuse came. I was beaten with a wooden paddle with holes drilled to reduce wind resistance thereby increasing pain. I remember a time when I actually had welts on my bottom from that paddle and it was painful to sit. I won’t say I was an easy child or undeserving of discipline, but who can expect an angel of a child after all I had been through?
When I was 10, I moved in with my aunt who never once lifted a hand to me. I thank God every day for sending me to her. Unfortunately, for all her love and patience with me, she could not protect me from my own past. It took a very long time for me to heal, and during that healing time my father was released from prison and for a time came back into my life. I witnessed and experienced more abuse from him, and to this day I believe he is responsible for my grandfather’s rapid decline in health and subsequent death after my father punched him in a fit of rage. I had been told more than once not to speak when he was like that, but one day he demanded answers from me. I do not recall now what he was asking me, but I was trying to remain silent as I had been told. He picked me up off the couch by my shirt and violently shook me, screaming at me that I answer him. My grandfather stepped in to defend me, and my father turned on him and hit him, hard. My grandpa was already weak from emphysema. He was on oxygen 24/7, and it didn’t take much to tire him. Being attacked by my father was too much for him, and he was hospitalized after the attack. He never made it out of the hospital, and even though it’s been 17 years since he died I still miss him more than words can say.
At 14 years old, I was finally free from abuse. I healed and forgave – or at least I thought I did. I was pretty much a normal, happy teenager, except for the whole looking-for-love-from-boys-because-I-never-knew-the-love-of-a-father part. I bounced from one relationship to another, never going long without a boyfriend because I could not bear to be without that attention I craved so desperately. I didn’t understand it then; all I knew was that I needed the affirmation that came from having a male love me (or, what I thought was love).
Ignoring the Red Flags
Given my history, it’s not surprising that I ended up marrying the first guy who hinted at the idea, especially after I had been previously engaged to another young man who cheated on me. All I wanted was someone who was going to love me and not hurt me. When I met my ex-husband, I fell immediately for his charms. He somehow managed to always say exactly what I wanted to hear. I said I was a Christian, and he stated he was raised Catholic but that he identified more with Christianity. He liked baseball, but when I said I was a NASCAR fan, suddenly he announced that he was a NASCAR fan too and gave up his Yankees obsession. I wanted a family, and he was a family man. I believed every lie he told me about himself, probably because I wanted to believe him. I wanted someone who was family-oriented, who would give me the life I had always dreamed of but had never known. I wanted to be a wife and a mother and to give them everything I never had as a child. He said he wanted a wife and children. It was perfection. Okay, so he was married before. No biggie, we all have a past, right? He said his ex was crazy and made up all sorts of lies to take his son (who was then just 7 years old) away from him. I believed it. I mean, there are lots of guys out there with crazy exes. He had recently moved from New York to be closer to his son, so obviously he was a stellar dad, and wasn’t that just what I was looking for?
Just weeks after meeting, I was talking to him on the phone and told him that I had had a dream where he proposed and I said yes, which I told him was crazy because we had only known one another such a short time! His response? He suggested that we should do just what I had dreamed. I fought the idea at first, but he pushed and kept at it until I agreed, and honestly it didn’t take much cajoling because I was already desperately longing to fill the huge hole left in my heart by my own parents. We were married immediately after. I should have trusted my gut when I had a panic attack the night before the wedding. I called and asked him to wait and give me some more time, but he cried and told me how much he needed me and he couldn’t bear life without me. This should have been a huge red flag, but I felt so guilty for making him feel that way. Clearly, it was my fault. I had allowed him to hope for marriage, and there I was on the eve of the wedding trying to call it off and shattering his dreams. I agreed to go on with the wedding as planned. He was happy, so I was happy.
Looking back, another red flag leading up to the wedding was that he suddenly announced that he had quit his job. How on earth could I marry someone who was unemployed? My retail salary couldn’t get us by! (And better yet, why would he quit his job knowing he was about to take on the responsibility of a wife? Too bad I didn’t have the foresight to ask that question.) He assured me it was okay, that he always found a job quickly, and that he had a little money put away that would help us get by. I trusted him when he told me everything would be okay. Because of job circumstances and getting married so quickly, I was unable to move in with him right away. I had to get a job transfer and that took a little while to make happen. While waiting, I drove down to visit him (at the time he lived in San Diego and I lived in the LA area). When I was gone, he would be very moody. He would yell and become abusively angry, saying the most horrendous things to me. He would always apologize afterward. He told me it was because he couldn’t handle having his wife so far away from him, and promised that things would get better once I moved in.
Click here to continue reading the story.