This post comes from my friend, Kristin, who is going through a really tough time at the moment and can’t post it on her own blog.
It’s hard to tell where it started. Perhaps it was the night I stood in the kitchen. The kids were in bed, he was down in the basement doing god knows what, lifting weights probably. I was alone. I was angry. My body was trembling. And that is when the thought entered my mind. That I could take a glass, one of his glasses, a Guinness glass, and throw it against the wall and it would feel very good. I had bought him a set at Target last year. They were large, over-sized drinking glasses. I stood for a moment and tasted this thought. I had never thrown anything against a wall, never broken anything before. I didn’t think highly of people who did these sorts of things. But wouldn’t it feel good?
It wasn’t just that he had been reading my private emails. It wasn’t just the elaborate lie he had made up to cover up the fact that he had been reading them. Nor was it the lie upon lie upon lie before that. No. It was the eight years of stifling every sharp-edged truth that rose up in my heart lest it disrupt the precarious balance of his emotions and tilt him into a slide. A slide into what? I didn’t want to find out what. I lived in fear of that what.
In the end I picked up the glass and walked to the stairwell and in one easy motion chucked it against the wall where it smashed into a thousand, glorious splinters.
A glass thrown against a wall in an empty room. Immature, perhaps. Fateful, it would turn out. But so clean and honest. I turned and walked quietly to my room. Did I know then that I had aroused the slumbering beast?
It’s funny how when tragedy falls we act so surprised, as if we never saw it coming. This was my very reaction three days later when I sat in my bathrobe filling out the witness statement as the police took photographs. I couldn’t believe any of it was actually happening. But looking back all the signs had been there. I had lived in fear of this moment for months. Years, really. I had gone so far as to pack bags and prepare a safe place for myself and the kids to stay after each legal meeting, just in case, knowing that he would be agitated by the discussions over child support and alimony. I woke often during the night, nervous and on edge. I felt trapped and afraid living in the same house as him during our divorce, waiting for my settlement so I could get out.
No one had ever laid a hand on me in anger before, ever. Not my father, not a boyfriend. No one. I had only seen my parents argue once in their 16-year marriage.
When I sat in the Victim’s Assistance office of the county courthouse, just before my husband was released from jail, I told my story calmly and with careful attention to detail. In truth, I was both exhausted and terrified. I never thought I would be sitting here. I was intelligent, well-educated. Wasn’t this something that happened to other people with different lives?
I told her about the phone call I received from jail. He wanted to make sure no one at his work found out lest he lose his job, was quick to point out that we both relied on his paycheck. He blamed me. Asked how I could do this to him. I didn’t do it, I said. Well, it was your fault for making me angry, he said. The victim’s advocate shook her head. Typical abuser response, she said, no accountability. She was the third person to tell me this.
I am still digesting these words. Abuser. Victim. I don’t like the way they sit in my gut.
I relayed my concern for my children, who seemed by turns angry and stunned. My daughter, 7, sitting alone at the kitchen table, staring off into the middle distance. My son, 5, full of turbulent emotion. By the close of the weekend they were yelling, hitting, kicking, crying. My daughter in the bathroom, my son on the outside, “I’m going to break down this door!” I tried to pull them apart, hold them, comfort them, isolate them from each other, scold them, talk to them, nothing worked, nothing. They were like two broken satellites hurtling through untempered black space. Lost.
* * * * *
I try to imagine what it was like for them, how this must have rocked the simple order of their world. What was it like through their eyes?
That morning they are watching a movie. I come downstairs and sit on the couch with them and I can tell right away he is angry. He immediately begins to pick a fight. He demands I apologize for the glass throwing incident three days before. I tell him I don’t want to argue. He persists, is clearly worked up. Please, not in front of the kids, I say. He walks to the kitchen and picks up a large ceramic artisan bowl my father bought for me before he died. It is my favorite bowl. Do you want me to throw this against the wall? He lifts it up and holds it precariously, tilting it from side to side. No, I answer. Apologize, he demands Please, I say again, not in front of the kids. The children are silent, their movie forgotten. They look back and forth between us. My heart beats fast. I avoid his eyes. They are like steel. He badgers, needles, provokes. I ignore. He disappears upstairs.
I wait. I wait until I think he is in the shower and then I go upstairs to get some clothes for my son, who is still in his pajamas. But of course he is waiting for me.
What did they hear next? Probably nothing for a while, as I try to defuse the situation, talk him down as I retreat backwards into my room. And then? His yelling? Did he even yell? I don’t remember. The door to my room banging open, the pursuit, the crashing of fists through the bathroom door, my screams. His animal-like wail. By this time I can hear them crying downstairs. Then they see him run down the stairs and flee the house–the police had been called–crying, his fist bloodied. The 911 operator is telling me to repeat myself, slow down, breathe. This is when I hear them sobbing outside the splintered bathroom door. My son is clutching his blanket. I let them in, lock it again and hold them close until the police arrive.
* * * * *
Here are the facts:
• On Saturday August 14th, my husband was arrested and jailed for domestic violence.
• He was released on $1,500 bail the following Monday and given a 72-hour no contact order that applied to myself, the kids and our residence.
• I was urged by the Victim’s Assistance unit at the courthouse to file a restraining order to extend this.
• I was urged by my lawyer not to file a restraining order as this would interfere with our Collaborative Divorce case, which was fully negotiated and settled, but not yet drafted and signed by us.
• Instead, my lawyer filed a temporary order extending the no-contact order until our divorce is finalized. It allows me to remain in our current house until then and gives him limited contact with the kids. I am responsible for paying the mortgage and all household and child-related expenses and he has been ordered to start support payments. The support payments will not cover the expenses of the house.
• Two days after my husband was released I was out front doing yard work with my son when he said, “Is that Daddy?” I turned around to see a car identical to my husband’s driving by the house. We live on a dead-end street. It had driven by once, turned around at the cul-de-sac, and was driving by a second time.
• I was told by the Victim’s Assistance unit at the courthouse to immediately file a police report seeing as my husband had violated the no contact order.
• I was told by my lawyer not to file a police report as the police would again arrest my husband and then he might not sign the divorce agreement.
• I didn’t file a police report.
• Since the incident on the 14th I have had no direct communication with my husband other than the phone call from jail. I have been told through my lawyer that he wants financial restitution from me for the expenses incurred by him for having to hire a criminal attorney and pay for anger management classes, all of which he deems to be my fault. He is now refusing to sign the divorce agreement and instead asking for a reduction in alimony payments to compensate for this.
• I have incurred several thousand dollars in legal expenses getting a temporary order filed in lieu of a restraining order and otherwise dealing with the fallout of this incident.
• He has never apologized to me or expressed concern about the trauma experienced by the children on that morning.
* * * * *
I’m not sure I can properly convey the way violence can shift a world. I have a jar of compost scraps on the kitchen counter that is full. I need to empty it. The compost bin is at the far end of the backyard where the lawn meets a thick stand of trees. I won’t go empty it.
I’ve had a locksmith out to change the front and back locks and I’ve changed the code on the garage door. And still, at night, I don’t sleep. Every sound, every creak of the house settling, sets my heart to racing. The kids are in the next room and they feel so far away. I want them closer.
I used to think nothing of going out to the mailbox.
I have dealt with a lot of setbacks in my life. I have lost my parents. I have been through break-ups, left old lives behind, started over time and again. I have the drill down. I know how to catch my breath, get up and dust myself off, tuck my humor back in my pocket and head off down the road.
But this. This has quite knocked the wind out of my sails. Because this man is the father of my children and I can’t take their hands and walk off down the road without him. He will always be there. And just when I think I’ve turned a corner, he’s found a new way to break me, financially, emotionally, psychologically. And now the threat is physical.
My own blog has sat silent now for two weeks. I have so much inside me that I want to say but I’m afraid to say it because there is the silent threat of a backlash. Will he sign the divorce documents or not? If not, I stay in a house I can’t afford and we start over again with new lawyers, another 15k down the drain. Will he respect a piece of paper telling him to stay away? Or ignore it as he did earlier this week?
People ask me if I recognize him as the man I knew during our marriage. The truth is yes, I do. Only darker and more amplified. It’s myself I don’t recognize. I don’t know this woman who is paralyzed by fear and stunned into silence. I never dreamed mine would be the face of domestic violence.