I was working my way through a yoga workout after a week of intense weight-lifting and soreness. I’m never flexible, and on that Sunday morning, I was struggling with severe pain in my back. I also had to go to the bathroom, but there were only ten minutes left. I decided to push through.
I sat on the ground, leaning into a stretch, straining with both hands down toward my left foot. I’m sure it was laughable, but I felt the stretch in that sore – maybe injured – back. And my stomach gurgled.
My husband said something about me not being flexible, walked over, and pressed down on my back. The sore spot between my shoulder blades screamed. My stomach screamed. Just because your body can bend under pressure doesn’t mean it should. I asked him to let go.
He pressed harder. I started to panic. I felt trapped. I raised my voice. “Get off me.”
Until this point, I felt like it was a fair mistake. He likely thought he was helping me become more limber. Maybe he thought he needed to push me further than I thought I could be pushed. Perhaps he was thinking like a coach, trying to get me to the next level.
I do think good people make mistakes with boundaries.
But when I yelled, he didn’t apologize. He did let go, thank goodness. But he screamed at me. Swore. “You are such a bitch. Such a miserable bitch.” There was more. I rarely remember exact words anymore because the soundtrack has been the same, with increasing intensity, for twelve years now. But something to the effect that I have ruined his life, and I am worthless and miserable…a ruiner of life for everyone.
Then he left the room.
My toddler daughter, who was “helping” me with my workout (read: sitting on my lap while I tried to do the moves around her), stared in shock, then burst into tears.
Because I didn’t know what else to say, I told her, “Don’t ever let anyone touch you without permission. Your body is yours. Anyone who can’t respect that doesn’t deserve to be in your life.” She cried harder.
Even at two, she knew it was wrong. Even at two.
But he never hit me.
At 10pm, I decided to quit working and take a bath. As I soaked, with my mindless fiction, I listened to my husband stalk in and out of rooms. Loud, grunty pull-ups on the bar in the doorway to his office (the pull-up bar he picked out and then screamed at me for buying), then a slammed door, then another slammed door, then, of course, he stalked into the bathroom because Heaven forbid he let me be alone in there for five minutes. He slammed the door behind him, of course, because for a person who responds to other people’s noise with visceral rage, he sure does make a lot of it.
He left the bathroom (another slammed door) and moments later, I heard my oldest daughter’s voice outside the door.
“Mommy? Mommy? Where are you, Mommy? Mommy, I can’t sleep.”
“I’m right here in the tub, sweetie,” I responded. Then I heard her father.
“What the hell are you doing out here?” he asked. And then he slammed the bedroom door in my daughter’s face. “What the hell is her problem?” he asked me through the door.
“Comfort her,” I responded. “Something has her scared or anxious. Remind her that she’s safe and cared for.” But there was no response. The bedroom door stayed closed.
I climbed out of the tub and pulled on my pajamas. My husband had apparently gone to bed immediately after the final door slam, so I felt my way around the laundry hamper and slipped out the door in the dark.
I found my daughter back in his bed. I rubbed her back, and he murmured a few things about having to go to the bathroom again and again. I realize this can be many things, but for my oldest, it’s anxiety. She came looking for the one person she trusts with those feelings, and her dad shut the door in her face. My rage on her behalf was palpable.
But he never hit her.
I told my oldest daughter and son that they could stay in the driveway while I brought in the groceries, but my youngest daughter had to stay inside. Because she’s a toddler, you know, and she needs someone to watch her at all times. She didn’t take that news well and the tears began to flow.
My husband came out to the garage and told her he’d stay out there while she played. I was dragging in the groceries, but I found the sunscreen and took it out to him. “Can you please put this on her?” I asked. He is the parent who is hysterical about sun exposure, to the point of fighting me about the pool membership because the kids would be in the sun too much.
“I don’t know how to do that,” he snarled. I was kind of surprised by the ferocity of his response. It seemed to come out of nowhere.
“Just spray it on her,” I responded, and I put the sunscreen bottle on the trunk of his car.
“DON’T PUT SHIT ON MY CAR!” he bellowed.
“But you’re the one who’s always worried about sun exposure and I have cold food that has to be put…”
“I SAID, DON’T PUT SHIT ON MY CAR!”
I fled inside.
Moments later, my son appeared, asking for a washcloth and soap. “I’m putting food away. Why do you need a washcloth?”
“Dad says my neck is dirty because you don’t wash me well enough. He says I need to wash it off.” I looked. His necked looked tan to me…not dirty. At 7, he showers by himself. I’ve coached him through the process a number of times and, well, he’s 7. Sometimes he does better than others. I wiped his neck with a wet paper towel.
“Looks fine to me,” I told him.
He disappeared outside, but moments later he was back. “Dad says it’s still dirty. I need a washcloth and soap.”
“Then go get one from the bathroom. You know where to find that stuff.”
My husband reappeared in the house, with the other two kids. He was furious. “He has dirt caked on his neck. You don’t bathe him well enough.”
He stormed upstairs after my son, and moments later my son reappeared with a bright red neck. Aside from the red, there was no difference in the skin, but he was certainly well-scoured. I can only imagine how that went down, since the boy is so ticklish that he falls apart when I put lotion on his neck and shoulders.
“You have to teach him how to bathe!” my husband bellowed.
“I did. And he…”
“No you didn’t. You just throw them in there and sit around and do nothing while they shower themselves.”
“I don’t do nothing. I’m bathing the baby. You can handle bath time, then. If you’re going to criticize, you need to handle it yourself.”
“I did handle it…when [my oldest] was a baby! You like to forget that!”
“I don’t forget that, but that was years ago. And now you’re criticizing, so you need to handle it.”
“You don’t ever do anything. You sit around here and don’t do anything. You like to brag about your $1000 a month that you make. Do you know how little that is, after you pay taxes? It doesn’t pay anything. I pay for the house, for the food, for the gas and electric. You just spend your money on stupid fun stuff like a pool so you can lounge around and do nothing. You don’t do shit. You should be a little more grateful for the life I provide for you.”
He made sure I was crying, and stalked upstairs. Half an hour later, he was back. “Good luck supporting three kids on your thousand dollars a month. You’ll be living on food stamps, in government housing. You won’t be doing all the fun things you like to do.”
But he never hit us.
He did, however, draw a fist on me. He threatened to slit my throat. He repeatedly woke me up to scream at me. Stating that my small-for-his-age oldest son was puny, he forced the child to eat until he gagged and threw up. In front of all three children, including both of my daughters, he informed me that “men are smarter than women because their brains are bigger. Look it up. It’s a scientific fact.” He accused me, again in front of the kids, of turning his son into a “faggot” because I expect him to be kind.
He was covert, choosing to stage his tirades behind closed doors, and especially in the car. He snatched my phone from me, knowing that I might be recording. He left all four of us with severe emotional wounds but no bruises or actual proof. I often wished he would hit me – so I’d have something to show the police.
Friends, if this is what you’re experiencing, this is abuse. It is considered abuse according to North Carolina law. Many therapists consider it more damaging than physical abuse, and it almost always turns physical eventually. I thought for over a decade that it was normal. That it would abate if I could be better. If I could somehow keep him happy. Spoiler alert: nothing makes a man like that happy. And it is NOT normal.
If you have a friend in my place, please know that leaving is so much harder than just moving out. It’s worrying about your kids unsupervised with a monster. It’s trying to prevent him from stealing from you. It’s wondering what he’ll do next. And if a friend shares a story like this and the man seems charming and friendly, know that they typically do. They even likely have fun, light-hearted moments with their family. But that makes it even more confusing when they turn on a dime.
My friends staged an incredible intervention and moved us out of the house in six hours. They reminded me again and again that I’m not crazy, even though he says I am. They fed us and supported us and prayed fervently for us.
I’m not out of the woods. Now I’m locked in a custody battle with a man who claims he’s a good and fit father.
After all, he never hit me.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) is held each October as a way to unite advocates across the nation in their efforts to end domestic violence. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), an average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute. This equates to more than 10 million abuse victims annually. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner, and 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have been severely physically abused by an intimate partner. Millions of Americans live in daily, silent fear within their own homes. In addition, every year millions of children are exposed to domestic violence. Domestic violence incidents affect every person within a home and can have long-lasting negative effects on children’s emotional well-being, and social and academic functioning.”
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