“Why do abused women stay?” one might ask.
Walk into my past with me and try to understand one of the reasons I stayed with a violent husband for fifteen years. I became brainwashed that I was too stupid to support four children on my own.
He warned me that he would get me fired from my job by telling them the “truth” about me. When he was not yelling at me, I tried to think of anything about me that would get me fired. I couldn’t think of anything, but I was afraid he could make something up that they might believe.
He told me daily I was stupid. He shamed me because at 19-years-old, I didn’t locate the correct city building to pay utilities. He ridiculed me because I couldn’t use a potato peeler as quickly as his sister. He humiliated me in front of friends for wasting college and becoming a teacher. He believed I should have chosen a career that would provide us more money. I resented all of this, but as time passed, I began to believe him, and I lost confidence in myself.
I worked very hard to get through college with a baby. Our son was born after 18 months of marriage, and I had just turned 20. My parents gladly watched him while I went to class, but my husband soon found a reason to move us away from my support. Pregnant again in my third year of school, I miscarried a girl at four months. His abuse did not cause the miscarriage, but afterward, he blamed me for my inability to carry his child correctly. Tears rained as I blamed myself for the loss, and with his scoffing, I felt worse. I wanted children, so the pregnancies were my choice; however, each pregnancy and birth gave him more power and control over me.
My student teaching semester of college arrived, and I was pregnant again. I completed housework and mommy work before I started schoolwork each evening because his offensive language in front of our son was intolerable if the house was not clean. His insults turned to jabs and pushes, and soon he had his hands at my throat. I graduated eight months pregnant, and I was proud to have accomplished getting my degree. He threw a large party for me and bragged that his college graduate wife was awesome. Somehow, I thought it was real and believed for a while that life would now get better. I wasn’t able to secure a job in our small military town, though. There were too many military wives with certification and lots of experience. Also, our baby girl arrived a month after I received my B.S.E.D. Each interview I had showcased a bulging pregnant belly or a post-partum nursing mom. No principal wanted an inexperienced, new mom when they could have a veteran, middle-aged teacher who would not need sick days. My husband degraded me daily for my inability to make money.
After two years of subbing for ridiculously low pay in our small town, I gave birth to our third child, a boy. I presented the idea of moving back to my home city and working there until I could secure a full-time job. I would stay at my parents’ home and substitute for two-and-a-half times the pay I received here. Secretly, I planned my exit from our eight-year marriage. He was full of meanness, but he agreed. Our baby was 7-months-old when the kids and I moved.
I worked hard at substitute teaching and saved money so I could try to rent a little place, but if I didn’t get hired full time, I wouldn’t get summer income, nor insurance. As my days subbing got longer and no job was offered, I spiraled into depression. It reinforced my already low self-worth and validated his prophecy that I was too stupid to take care of myself, let alone three children.
The one thing I had that I had earned with hard work and skill was teaching, and I truly enjoyed it. My kids wore second-hand clothes and ate reduced-price lunch at school, but I was going to stay with it until I was hired full-time. Although I believed I was pathetic, I loved teaching and felt a passion for it. I made up my mind to try to leave him. I would save money and stand on my own two feet.
As he noticed my resolve, he quit his job and moved into my parents’ home with me. Unemployed, and sponging off my parents, he verbally beat me down again. Once again, I was sure I would not succeed on my own. When I did land a job, we moved into a house, and his harsh insults resumed. He sold insurance and cursed my job, the lowest paying job and hardly a profession, for anyone could babysit kids all day. The violence started again, and I gave up trying to leave. I knew my abuser best. He had total control over me. My fear of failure reaffirmed that there was no way out.
Mother’s Day fifteen years into our marriage, my husband assaulted me, and I called 911. A male and female partnership came, and my husband assaulted the female police officer while she questioned him in front of the house. They arrested him and put him in the police car screaming that he would kill me when he got out. The male officer told me to get my children and head to the women’s shelter.
A rusted bathtub with a permanent ring around it stood on four claws while a single mirrored door threatened to fall off the dirty medicine cabinet. There were no locks on any of the rooms where we would sleep.
The awkwardness of sharing a small bathroom with another family of six never bothered my thoughts. I had no idea how I would watch my four children while I completed assigned chores in the kitchen, but I didn’t stress about it. Participation in mandatory adult group meetings was required. The children stayed at the shelter with strangers, but I was not upset about that either. I felt safe here. The children seemed calm and they played happily, too. For a couple of days, we absorbed the peace and it was enough.
My mind was a black hole sucking in everything the director showed me but refusing to allow any emotion out. Numbness enveloped me as I succumbed to the new feeling of safety.
Those who haven’t suffered at the hands of the one they love ask “Why didn’t you leave the first time? Why did you stay so long?”
It is extremely difficult for a person to leave a domestic violence situation. In the beginning, violent partners seduce their victims. They put forth their best behavior and convince you that they will give you the world because they love you. Slowly they begin to control you a bit here and before long, they hurt you. It is emotional at first. They act hurt themselves and convince you that it is your fault and that you hurt them deeply. You begin to doubt yourself. The first time they physically hurt you, you are so confused that you believe you deserve it.
My reason for staying with my abuser was because of fear that he would indeed do all the horrible things he threatened to do if I left.
Once before our fourth child was born, I decided to leave in the middle of the night during a violent argument. He fell asleep finally and I decided to sneak out. I had a stash of packed things for my children and me. He heard me waking the children, and he jumped up and fired questions at me. I couldn’t believe he was awake because he had been snoring soundly, and I thought I was safe. He woke up the kids and forced them into our 5-year-old daughter’s room with himself and his guns. He had threatened to kill us all if I ever tried to leave. I couldn’t leave without my kids. Talking to him through the door only incited more angry threats. After promising not to leave and begging to see the children, I sat outside the door trying to keep him from hearing me cry. I finally fell asleep on the floor in front of the locked bedroom door.
The next day he assured me that I was indeed a bad mother. Accusations and threats flew from his mouth. He told me he was leaving the house to get a lawyer, and he would get custody of the children. He would prove I was an abusive, neglectful mother and I would not have visitation with the kids. He claimed that if I tried to leave him or divorce him, he would take the children deep into Mexico and I would never see them again. That day was a win for him. It wasn’t until four years later that I finally left.
It isn’t a picnic after a victim leaves, either. One night, six months after I divorced him, a child exchange in a parking lot turned serious. I had moved out-of-state. I left my home to run away from his stalking. After yet another hearing, he had convinced the judge that he had reformed, and he was granted his visitation back. I was ordered to meet him halfway, a four-hour drive for each of us once a month, to switch the kids. I couldn’t leave until after work on Fridays. By the time I arrived at the meeting spot, a Burger King in a big city, it was usually dark and I was terrified.
My parents had come to visit and they volunteered to meet him on their way home to exchange the children. He had supposedly been getting counseling and seemed to act better. My mother was 69-years-old, and she suffered from lupus. She could barely walk. She and my dad had said their good-byes to the children in the parking lot at BK, and they were walking back to their car. Dad had hurried ahead so he could open the door for her when my ex gunned his car and attempted to run her down. My dad ran back and pushed her out-of-the-way just in time. The kids’ dad sped off in his car as if nothing had happened. The children were severely traumatized and didn’t want to go with him again.
I couldn’t believe it when my father called me. I worried all weekend. I still did not comprehend the type of person he was. Only a cold-blooded killer would do that. Although I was deathly afraid of him, I was still in denial that my former spouse acted criminally.