Ten years ago I was stuck. Sometimes life closes in on you like that. I had one wonderful toddler who brought me happiness, and one terrible husband who kept the misery factor in our home as high as he could.
It hadn’t been that long since I had other sources of satisfaction in my life. I have a degree and I had a great corporate job at a nationwide clothing retailer, until the national anxiety and recession after 9/11. I was one of hundreds of people laid off. It wasn’t a devastating blow. We still had my husband’s job to pay the bills, but he made less than I did and tightening the belt made it more difficult for me and my baby bear to enjoy our time together at the Columbus Zoo, Chuck E. Cheese, traveling to see family. No job also meant I was at home far more often. I couldn’t afford that magnificent preschool my baby bear was in, and worse still we had to endure Mr. Bear’s erratic abuses.
I say “Mr. Bear” because he was never a Papa, despite his always reminding me about that one time he changed a diaper. He was pretty into himself. On his good days he was self-centered and verbally abusive. On his bad days he was threatening and psychotic. For him anything was good enough reason to berate me. He blamed me for my job ending, for money getting tighter. He’d blame me for bad weather if it gave him something to fight about. Selfish was his default condition and if I complained he’d smile and say, “Well, I’m an a-hole. That’s my personality. Deal with it!”
I’d growl back, of course. I wasn’t going to be a bear skin rug for him or anyone else. But he loved the fighting and manipulation and the paranoia that was growing in me. He’d tell me all the ways he thought about killing me — guns, baseball bats, other physical abuse. He said if I left he’d find me and kill me or that he would take my baby and disappear. Funny how he never had an interest in the child unless he needed a means of manipulation. I undoubtedly had the case for a restraining order but, like gun control laws, they don’t work against people who ignore the law in the first place.
It seems ridiculous now, but I stayed. Fear is a powerful motivator — fear of the uncertainty that comes from being a single mother, that I’d have to admit some very bad choices to myself and others, that he’d actually follow through on his uglier threats. Finally, mercifully, he left, claiming he was on the verge of being a “famous rock star,” if that tells you anything about his maturity level. For years I’d lay awake at night with irrational fears about night noises and checking the locks for the eighth time.
The story has a happy ending. I remarried and moved away. We’re happy and have more children, but I’ll never forget how badly that guy got in my head. Now I worry about my childrens’ safety and all the other women anywhere who don’t have to live that nightmare. And whenever I can, I share this message with people: Free yourself! Learn the options you have for empowering yourself. My daughters will never live like that.
And heaven help my sons if I ever catch them acting like that!