Domestic Violence doesn’t always look like black eyes and casts. I wish I would have known that before.
I left after friends convinced me that being chased around my apartment by the man who had vowed to love and cherish me for the rest of our lives shooting fireballs at me using my can of aerosol hairspray and a lighter was not okay. I knew it wasn’t okay. It scared the shit out of me but I wouldn’t have called it domestic violence either.
Before the fireballs there were ugly arguments; screaming and yelling, throwing and breaking my cherished pottery I had bought when I worked at a Native American Indian art gallery.
The first time anything really nasty happened was month into our marriage. We were arguing and escalated quickly. I don’t even remember what we were arguing about. He was screaming in my face and backed me against the wall. I was crying and he backed away from me. As I brought my hand to wipe my eyes I noticed that I was bleeding. At some point in the argument the glass he he was holding had broke and cut my hand. In the midst of all the screaming and yelling, neither of us had noticed. It freaked me out. I stammered, “You cut me.” He apologized, very remorseful. I went into the bedroom and called my friend Ann. Ann helped to calm me down. When I said, “I have to leave.” She said I was over reacting, it was just an accident. I’m not sure if she said it but I heard, “It’s not like he hit you.”
I had seen plenty of that too. As a child, I witnessed my father brutally attack both my mother, then his girlfriend, then my first stepmother. After that I only heard about his violent attacks on his subsequent wives. He’d go through spurts of non-violence but it never fully took. He’s tried to change over the years. Sometimes I think he has changed but sometimes I think that is pure hope, after all he is my dad and I do love him.
I listened to Ann and stayed with Rob. The fights got worse and our good times decreased. We were both young. We spent quite a bit of time at dance clubs with our friends. I wasn’t a great wife. I drank quite a bit and flirted like mad. He got out of the Army and began working the night shift at Village Inn. I was in college and working part-time with teens in foster care and at the University. I partied as much as I worked and studied–it was a lot. We were a recipe for disaster.
When we fought, stuff got broken. My pottery was the first to go. One night he picked up a vase and threatened to break it. Instead of throwing it at the floor he threw it at me. I caught it. I then threw it on the floor shattering it. I did it. He didn’t break it, it was me. It was my fault my first pot shattered on our living room floor.
As the yelling and screaming escalated I said horrible things to him. Hateful awful things. I pushed back. When I’d get in his face he’d yell that I was just trying to get him to hit me but he wouldn’t do it.
He was right. Despite the yelling and screaming, the pushing, the hate-filled words, the broken pottery, the broken things in our marriage, I couldn’t leave. I had taken a vow. One that couldn’t be broken without a good reason–like adultery or physical abuse. If he hit me I could leave. I would leave, or so I thought.
It finally happened. One afternoon, I had one of the teens, J, with me as we dropped by my apartment to get something. To be honest, I don’t really remember what happened. I remember walking in, talking with her, and I think we woke him up. He came out of the bedroom cursing. I think he slapped me and then through the trash at me as I left. J was completely freaked out. I tried to calm her down. I was scared to death of what this was doing to her. I was also scared to death she’d tell someone and I’d lose my job. I was utterly and completely humiliated. Here I was, helping her to make better life choices, to learn to deal with the crap life had dealt her and my life was a total mess. As I dropped her off I promised that I’d be fine. I lied.
Not only had he hit me but he had hit me in front of “one of my kids.” That should have been it. In a sense it was what I had been waiting for; a good reason to leave. But I didn’t. I went home sobbing and begging for his forgiveness. He said he was sorry. He didn’t mean to. It wouldn’t happen again.
When J discovered that I hadn’t left him. That I wasn’t going to leave him, she was furious with me. She refused to talk with me for a long time. I did the “you don’t understand,” “it will never happen again” routine. She knew better than I did.
He didn’t hit me again. But the humiliation got worse. He’d come to the University and say horrible things to me in front of the people I worked with. Instead of leaving, I would hit the bars. I am ashamed to admit it, but I even went out on a few dates. Nothing ever happened beyond a good-night kiss but it was cheating and I knew it. Rob probably did too.
My friend, Ursula, found out about the dates and was furious with me. The one thing she did not tolerate was cheating. With her urging, I told Rob I wanted to separate. He moved into the second bedroom and we slept alone (mostly). We used the d-word and agreed that divorce would be best.
Then there was the plane tickets. We had bought tickets the month before so that we could fly back East and I could meet his family. He said he wasn’t going alone. I didn’t want to waste the money. I agreed to go home with him. He couldn’t bear the humiliation of telling his family they were right–this quickie wedding was a disaster. We put on the happy couple facade and went to New Jersey.
It was wonderful. I loved his family. Everything was fresh, we didn’t fight once. I loved being with him again. The arctic air between use melted away. We decided to make a go of this marriage. We returned to Colorado and considered moving to New Jersey. A month later, I discovered I was pregnant. This was going to be great.
Wrong. Absolutely wrong. Within six weeks, at Christmas, our marriage crashed down again. This time hard. I had stopped drinking and it seemed like he was drinking more. My friends still went to the bars for drinking and dancing. I continued to tag along, sans the drinking. One night when I thought Rob was at work, I ran into him at the bar. It wasn’t pretty. I left my friends and went home with him. He was furious with me. He called me all sorts of names and made all sorts of allegations. I understood them. I deserved it. I hadn’t been faithful before. He had reason to distrust me.
I stayed home more often. He didn’t. The fighting and yelling continued.
I think my mind began to see things a bit more clearly without the haze of booze. I didn’t want the yelling and screaming to be my daughter’s norm. This time I turned to Valerie, not Ann. She assured me that I was right. I needed to get out and now. “But I love him.”
A few months went by. We were back to sleeping in separate beds. It wasn’t quite an arctic chill anymore, more like roommates. We talked and went out to dinner. Occasionally we shared a bed. It didn’t feel so urgent to leave.
Until the night of the fire balls. I was scared to death. I was scared for myself, I was scared for my daughter still growing in my womb. Thankfully, I had good friends like Valerie who urged me to get out. They were scared of what would happen next. Luckily, some friends needed a new roommate. I moved in with them.
I wish I could say that was the end. But it wasn’t. I was pregnant with his child. I had witnessed my father’s brutality but I had also witnessed his love. I loved my dad and couldn’t imagine my daughter not having hers. So while we lived separately, we still went on the occasional date. We still talked. I still hoped that something would change. But it didn’t. When Merkin turned a year old and Rob failed to show up for her baptism and birthday. That’s when I gave up. That’s when I was done.
How sad is that? The end wasn’t really my decision. I wasn’t strong enough to say no and really mean it. I owe it him that he said no. I’m very grateful that he did. I have a wonderful life now. My daughter has never witnessed domestic violence (outside of the womb). I wish I could say it was thanks to me, but it was thanks to Rob walking away.