Nine years ago this week — it seems an eternity ago — I was sleeping next to my husband in my parents’ house on a Texas border island, at the end of the most miserable Christmas I have ever spent.
Seven months earlier, my husband and I had sold our house in Virginia, had sold most of the furniture in it, and had embarked on what I had earnestly hoped would be a new life. He was a professional whose practice had failed, a functioning alcoholic who refused to acknowledge it, and an abuser whose abuse had emerged on the day we were returning from our honeymoon and had grown in spite and fury, and by leaps and bounds, intermittently, in the two years since.
At first, I had loved my life with him. He had children from a previous marriage, who came to live with us, and who I adored. He had a Victorian (real) house, with sloping hardwood floors and fireplaces and a beautiful garden ~ all of which I loved. And we (of course) had a house full of animals ~ Madison, Jane the Cat (adopted), a box turtle (found in the yard), three tanks of tropical fish, two hamsters, a guinea pig and a lovely canary, who had wandered into the house, on foot, one night, much to my delight. I had loved the rhythm of our early days, even as they had left me exhausted ~ I worked full-time, commuted an hour each way, cooked dinner, did the laundry, supervised homework, read stories, was the soccer team Mom and the homeroom Mom ~ I went for it all, hook, line and sinker.
But on quiet nights in our beautiful living room, holding the small sweet-smelling children in my lap, as I read a story in front of the fireplace, I was so deliriously happy. My mother’s brief encounter with DES while pregnant with me had rendered me unable to carry babies, and I had always wanted a family.
But all of this ~ the house and the children and the professional practice, as it turned out, were lures. After we were married, I saw that my husband, who had “borrowed” $20,000 from me to pay for his custody battle with his ex-wife, did not really care for his children. Whether he wanted them as trophies, or as a means to punish his ex-wife, I do not know. What I do know is that after they came to live with us, and after we were married and it was clear that I would be taking care of them, he basically lost interest.
What he gained interest in was wearing me down. It began on the night we came home from our honeymoon. We flew into a distant airport, and rather than getting a taxi, he insisted that I carry my suitcase up a flight of stairs to a train and then to another train and then to a subway and then, finally, to a cab. When I had suggested at the airport that a cab might be easier, and that I wanted to get home to the children, and that it was, after all, the end of our honeymoon and that I was wearing heels, he told me I was a “whiny bitch” and said that he hoped that wasn’t a portent of things to come. A piece of my heart shaved off then and there.
In the ensuing year, the verbal abuse became more frequent, as did his drinking, as did the financial problems caused by the failure of his practice. On my 40th birthday, he hired a limousine to take me and my best friend and her husband to a fancy restaurant for dinner. He was rude and insulting to them, and, as I later found out, had charged the whole thing to one of my credit cards. It took me months to pay off the bill.
I began looking for a less expensive house; he rejected all of them. The bills piled up; but nothing stopped his spending. So when the day came that we had to refinance, as a result of the terms of his divorce agreement from his ex-wife, all the equity got eaten up by his bills from ski vacations and other extravagent and unnecessary over-spending; and the terms of the new mortgage were horrifying. It was clear to me that there was no way we could pay what we had agreed to pay, which was approximately 70 percent of our combined net incomes.
And so, over his objections (this was all my fault, it seemed), we put the house on the market and planned a move. He told me that he had a terrific job offer in Texas; he told his patients (one of whom turned out to be the best friend of my sister-in-law’s cousin, so it got back to me) that he had married “an heiress” and would never have to work again. This was news to me.
But this was apparently was he planned to do. Once in Texas, he insisted on buying another house, although the money we had left over from the sale of everything and the sale of the house could have kept us going for a year or more. None of that mattered. He had to have a house. The night we moved into it, he screamed at me for hours ~ I was the ruination of his life, the person who had dragged him to this hell-hole, the root of all evil. I won’t use the words he used, because they are words I would never use. And he said all of them in front of the children.
He never had any intention of working, as it turned out, although he disappeared for hours at a time saying he was doing exactly that. All the money from all the sales ran out in October. I began substitute teaching for $75.00 a day. And my dear parents, with increasing reluctance, paid all the bills.
In November, my car broke down, and I had to call my parents to get a credit card number so that I could get back home. Later that month, my husband, while drunk, attempted to get my stepson in the car with him, and when I attempted to get my stepson out of the car (terrified that he would be killed or injured), my husband slammed the car door on my hand. When I brought my stepson back into the house, my husband waited until he had entered and then slammed the door in my face. That night, he threw things at me in our bedroom, and when I retreated to a sofa upstairs to get some sleep, dragged me back down the stairs.
Two weeks before Christmas, we moved into my parents’ house and put the house we had bought on the market. Had we not had my parents to rely upon, had my parents not been there, I do not know what we would have done.
I cannot look at the pictures from that Christmas, although I have seen them. My husband then was making wild promises about what turned out to be non-existent jobs back where we had come from; I was both terrified of him and terrified of moving to a place where I would be alone with him. In every picture, everyone (save my husband) looks drawn and scared. He looks smug.
On the day after Christmas, he left in my car. He dropped his children off at the airport, to fly home to see their mother (on tickets my parents paid for). He drove back to Virginia. His calls to me on the road were menacing.
I stayed behind. I packed up the Christmas ornaments. I packed up the rest of our household belongings, which my dear parents volunteered to pay to move. At the airport, when I finally had to leave, I threw up.
Six months later, after the required residency, I filed for divorce. A week before the time was up, my husband forced me into a car when he was drunk and nearly killed me. When we got home that night, he threatened to kill himself, and pulled knives from the kitchen drawer; he followed me around the house with the knives, screaming, until he passed out. I hid all the car keys and secreted myself in the basement with Madison. At 3 am, he came lurching down the stairs, demanding that I, as his wife, accompany him to bed.
I left, with armed protection (paid for by my parents), the next day.
This is hard to write. I am a lawyer, for heaven’s sake. I was a lawyer when all of this happened. I went to the best schools, all paid for by adoring and well-to-do parents. I have had a very privileged life. But evil can happen even in privileged lives. When it does, though, there are privileged ways (as I had, thank goodness) to escape. I am alive and sane because I had resources when I needed them. I am so ashamed of the mess I got myself into. I am writing this because, although I am ashamed, I want other people caught in the web of abuse to know that it doesn’t matter where you come from or how much education you have or what you do for a living ~ you can still be caught by an abuser. And if you are, you need to get out. I was so lucky to get out. I am so grateful to have gotten out. I am so blessed to be here, tonight, in a nice home with my Mom and my Madison, and with all of you.
Please consider a gift to Pretty Bird Woman House for those who do not have the privileged means to escape that I did.