TRIGGER WARNING: Family violence.
Confession: I’m a runner.
I don’t mean the kind that wakes up in the morning, laces up and hits the pavement a la Rocky. I mean the kind that runs when things get messy. I’ve been a runner my entire life.
We moved a lot. My mom, my two younger sisters and I. Mom was married to an abusive drug addict. She quickly realized her mistake, but state law said she couldn’t get a divorce unless her husband gave her permission. So for 8 years after her separation, we ran. We hid, slept in cars, stayed with friends and family members. Until the court ordered her to give him visitation rights. The man who put my mom in the hospital multiple times, had the right to make us stay in one place or she’d lose her youngest child.
When he wasn’t in prison for manslaughter or drug charges, he was breaking into our home, pawning what he could, and leaving destruction in his wake. He often stole her paycheck, went on week long coke and alcohol binges, returning when he needed money or got out of prison. His only saving grace was that he didn’t hit us kids often, his own daughter, never. But we saw, oh we saw everything he ever did to her.
By six, I could call 911 like a champ. I learned to press record on the tape deck so we could prove what happened. By nine I was an expert at lying to social workers. When you’re the son of the small town police chief, incidents just disappear. Southern manners dictates looking the other way. The worst part was when people did called 911, the police never showed up to help.
The divorce law finally changed in 98. Mom’s divorce was granted the same day. But the damage was done. I don’t have a wall built up. I have a damn Iron Man suit protecting me. You can not hurt me. I am bulletproof. Fire away. Fire away.
Violence in a relationship became status quo. I never trusted any person I was with. I waited for the other shoe to drop. Even when I was married to the gentlest man for 6 years, I waited for him to hurt me. I waited for the betrayal, the anger, the pain. When it never happened, I felt like something was missing. I asked for a divorce. I ran.
Yes, I know this is not normal.
After moving so much, I learned to blend in, to not be noticed. I made surface friends, but I didn’t let them in. In my family we don’t share secrets and shame. It’s not their business. They don’t understand. Keep your mouth shut and your head down. Get in, do what you need to do, get out. When things get too close to real honesty, find a new friend. If you don’t trust anyone, they can’t hurt you. When things get messy, move.
I’ve moved 36 times. I’ve been in 15 different schools, 6 different colleges. I’ve lived in 5 different states. Big cities, small ones, on farms, in tents. I’ve lived on mountains, in valleys where the sky stretches so far you think you can see heaven, next to rivers, next to oceans. My home is where I am. Who I am is who is most convenient for you. My identity, my core, has been buried so deep even I don’t know the full truth of it.
When people get too close to me, I run. When I start loving something or someone, I leave before it can be taken away from me. Everything I hold dearest to me can be packed into 2 large suitcases. I break promises, and I break hearts. I leave them hating me so they can never know the truth, that I almost let them love me. I can’t let myself believe them.
Except this time.
This relationship I bought furniture.
This time I got a dog.
This time I started taking my writing seriously. Took my job seriously, started thinking about a career in nursing. Dreaming of one place to call home, a farm with animals and children to grow up on it. Have the childhood I never had. A future husband I could trust, confide in, tell my fears to, and know they would be safe with him. I got engaged. I moved in. And it was great. It was perfect and wonderful.
Until it wasn’t.
Until he slammed me against the wall by the neck in a fit of rage. His face bright red and twisted into a snarl I knew so well. The other shoe had finally dropped. The breath I had been holding for so long exhaled. I knew this kind of love. Here’s my most secrets of secrets. I was relieved. I found my normal.
At first I rationalized it. I spilled a glass of tea on his mother’s couch. She had just died. His father died in his arms mere months ago. As time went by, I found out the extent of his own childhood abuse, being locked away because he was deaf, his family not allowing him to finish school, go to church, socialize with others, leave the house. He was trapped. Uneducated and unable to stand on his own feet. I thought I could save him. My heart was broken for him.
My wonderful future became a life of walking on eggshells. I looked for a way out, but there was none. Despite working full-time, I was broke. I had no car. No savings left. I couldn’t make it on my own. I looked to my family but they were all hurting too. How do I tell my aunt with stage four cancer I was being hurt. How did I tell my parents, who both suffered heart attacks recently, that the man they had come to adopt as their own was hitting me. So I kept it inside.
I’m not going to describe it. You’ve heard it before. Sometimes I defended myself. Mostly I took it. I felt that I deserved it. For my divorce, my promiscuity, my drinking, my failures, my wanting more than I deserved. My fucked up pride swelled with every punch. I was stronger than him. I was bulletproof. I’ve been hit before. You. Can’t. Hurt. Me.
I should have left then. But I didn’t. I compartmentalized it. Every stiffness, every bruise, every scratch. I didn’t cower. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. This was my mess. I wouldn’t burden others with it. I would fix this myself. I continued planning a wedding. I continued smiling. Joking. Enjoying things when they were good.
He controlled every move I made. I stopped talking to friends. I stopped going out. I worked at a job two blocks from my house. Every second of my day was accounted for. Every text read. Every phone call described in detail. Every post and comment on Facebook vetted. Every picture of any male friend deleted. Everything I had from my marriage destroyed. He was jealous of my past so he tried to erase it. I thought I could deal with it. I was wrong. I was so wrong.
I gained weight. I stopped writing, stopped working out, stopped painting. I stopped trying to be smart. I dropped out of school. Anything that I was better at than him. The tiniest thing would set him off. He told me I was ugly, fat, lazy and he that wanted fuck other girls. I wished he would. I became celibate, claiming I was saving it for marriage, but in reality I could no longer be intimate with a man who handled fear by hurting me. His saving grace never once forced this issue.
We moved to a bigger place. The neighbors were noticing. He became more calm, the new medication was working. We hadn’t fought in months. We were going to church, I thought maybe we were past it. I thought I could relax. Then it stopped. His phone went off one day. I looked. He’d been talking to other women. Explicitly through pictures and texts. I wasn’t mad. Or hurt. Or betrayed. I knew then that I no longer loved him in any capacity. I also knew that I didn’t deserve this. Any of this.
I worked 60 hours a week on overnights to avoid being home. He slept on the couch. We were talking less and less. I wasn’t cooking for him. I wasn’t hugging and kissing him. It was no longer that I might leave him. It was when.
He noticed. He started acting erratically. He got into altercations and screaming matches with other people. The eggshells started breaking louder. This time it was worse.
He punched me in the face repeatedly while I was laying on the couch, in the bathtub, on the toilet, even sleeping. Just breathing made him upset. He would wake me up in the middle of the night. The dishes weren’t done. He needed more money. What did I say to that man in the street three weeks ago. I barely slept. He drove too fast to scare me. He would hit me while driving, swerving in other lanes, barely missing cars. Finally he came at me with a knife. He threatened to kill himself, to kill me.
“You can’t hurt me” became “You’re going to kill me.”
I broke off our engagement. I was done.
He doesn’t deserve the atrocities of prison. He deserves the mental healthcare he’s always been denied. He is abusive because he was abused. His mind has become a horrific cycle of fear, depression, anxiety, pain, and worry that led to anger. His sister finally told me he’s been this way his entire life, since he was a baby. I cannot fix whats always been broken. How come no one tried before?
So there you have it. My deepest of deeps. My darkest of darks. My shame laid out in front of you. I am a statistic. Another casualty in the cycle of abuse.
I am not bulletproof. Every piece of armor has been beaten out of me. I am not titanium. I am flesh and soul. And I deserve better. One day I will find that person to share the dream I hold in my heart. Of a home, children and someone good. Until then I’ll keep running. Until I find what I’ve been running towards.
Song referenced in this blog post: