People aren’t property.
This is not a story of domestic abuse. It’s a tale about empowerment and acceptance.
To understand, I have to go back, see how it started.
My parents divorced when I was five. I was sent to live with my mother, a woman who had me when she was too young and struggling with addiction. When I was young, I watched her struggle. I watched her succumb to the fists of her boyfriend, watched her apply makeup to her cheeks to camouflage the bruises he inflicted, listened to the lies she spewed to cover her shame.
I slipped and fell on the ice,” she’d say, as if I were clueless. I was eight, but I knew the difference between an accident and intentional harm.
He hurt her, and I hated him for it.
Eventually, mom left her boyfriend, but it didn’t stop her downward spiral. Her addiction with Quaaludes increased, she sought comfort in the arms of men who didn’t deserve her, and eventually I was sent to live with my father.
Dad was a good man. A loving and strict parent, a bachelor learning how to apply salve to my wounded heart. He worked long nights, and I was left to my own devices. As a teen, like mom, I sought attention in the arms of the opposite sex. I gave my body in exchange for love. But it wasn’t love I received, what I got was a temporary Band-Aid.
Bandages have to be removed when they get dirty.
In my twenties, I dated a decent guy. We parted ways on good terms. A year later, I met someone new. He was charming and handsome, and swept me off my feet. His name is not important, but his actions are forever seared in my memory.
I should’ve seen the signs, but I was young and naïve. The day I packed for California, it happened. He hit me. I was in shock, stunned, stood mouth agape, while my brain processed what had happened. It was hours before my flight, and there was no backing out. We were moving across state, and suddenly I worried I was in danger.
Memories of mom came back like a tidal wave. The way she cradled her head after she’d been beaten. The bruises she tried to conceal. The way she wore shame like a pair of well-worn dungarees. Would I be like her?
The months in California were a blessing and a curse. I earned my degree and felt empowered with the new friends I made. But secrets have a way of wending themselves into the light. Would my new friends see through my charade?
Abusers aren’t always idiots. This was an intelligent man. He’d been in the navy and was clever at disguise.
Abusers go through cycles. It starts with the honeymoon phase, where they’re soft and sensitive, supportive and kind. But abusers moods swing and shift. They become jealous, controlling, or verbally abusive. You tell yourself, it won’t happen again. You tell yourself it was a one-time thing. You convince yourself you’re not broken or damaged. I was educated, not a trashy a Jerry Springer contestant. It wouldn’t happen again.
But it did. What saved me was my friend.
You have to get rid of him,” he said. “He’s dangerous.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I don’t know how.”
“I’ll help you,” he promised.
And he did. But not in time.
One starry evening, my boyfriend pulled a knife on me. Looking back, I think he was scared. He must have sensed my lack of compassion. He must have seen how I’d grown. I didn’t need him. I had graduated and had positive role models. My boyfriend was a cockroach, and I was armed with bug repellant.
He cornered me in the kitchen and chose his weapon: A six inch knife I’d used on so many occasions to prepare meals to nourish the man who now was my enemy.
I don’t remember how I got away, all I remember from that night was pedaling through the Santa Monica streets on my mountain bike, gazing at the starry skies, feeling lonelier than I’d ever felt before.
I didn’t want to die.
I had to save myself.
The next day, I dialed a hotline for battered women. After attending a meeting, I bought a copy of a book they recommended: “The Battered Woman” by Lenore E. Walker
I sat cross-legged on my bedroom carpet and didn’t move until the last page was finished. Tears came down in torrents, but sadness was replaced with strength. I wanted my life back. With the help of my friends, I got rid of my boyfriend.
I realized something the night I escaped the knife: I’d been given a second chance. And second chances weren’t meant to be broken. I returned to Maryland, degree in hand, opportunity at my fingertips. I was single and eventually started dating. No more losers, I promised myself. Only the nice ones.
The nice ones bored me. I almost gave up but then met Mr. Right. We married, and for twenty years, I was happy. In 1999, I became pregnant.
Let it be a boy, I’d prayed. I couldn’t have a daughter. My mother hated me. She’d called me everything from “evil” to the Devil’s spawn—which doesn’t make sense if you let that sink in. I was terrified of making her mistakes.
Please, let it be a boy. My daughter was born in the year 2000. She was bright and pink-cheeked and smelled like honey. I was navigating unchartered waters. I’d never felt unconditional love on this level. Through my daughter, I found happiness. I learned what it’s like to be selfless. I matured.
My son was born in 2003. We were happy, the four of us, but deep in the back of my mind, I knew something was amiss. My husband was supportive, but something felt wrong.
In 2013, I asked for a divorce. Looking back, I see the mistake. My husband cherished me, but didn’t know all of me—the parts I kept secret. Times of darkness when I needed to go into my cave and not be the woman he placed on a pedestal.
My mistake was thinking my cave was a bad thing. As a writer, I later learned that others felt this way, too. That they, too, experienced attraction to the dark side. I wasn’t evil, I just wasn’t perfect.
Not a perfect wife.
Not a perfect mother.
Not a perfect lover.
But I played the part and hid behind the façade.
Secrets have a way of wending into the light.
It’s been fifteen months since my husband and I parted ways. We are on good terms and work hard to be good parents. My career is strong, my friends are creative, artsy individuals, and my lovers know the real me.
The imperfect me.
The empowered me.
I hug my children, hoping to protect them from an uncertain future. Deep down, I know they’ll be okay. They are loved and learned confidence at an early age. They will be okay.
Today, the stars make me smile.
I am no one’s property.
I am free.