When Escape is the Only Option
I just finished watching the popular Netflix series "Maid," which follows the path of a young woman and her daughter escaping an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship. I put off watching this series for a long while as I knew it would be hard for me and would trigger old memories.
I've been married twice. The first time was to a man eight years my senior, the first man who'd ever really paid attention to me. Such a cliche. But I didn't know any differently. I think I was 19 years old when I met him. I was in that relationship for seven years. To this day I can barely speak his name.
He was an angry narcissist who tried isolating me from my friends and family. He manipulated me in countless ways, telling me no one would want me if I left him, I'd be alone. And I believed him.
He spent or gambled away all our money and drove us into debt. I used to have yard sales just to have gas money to get to work. The house was perilously close to foreclosure. And yet, if I expressed any concern about these things, he would explode in anger at me, like it was all my fault. I used to think I needed him financially, but then I thought, what more did I have to lose?
I started realizing a few years in that I couldn't be with this person the rest of my life. What got me really thinking that is when he started talking about having a baby. No way that was going to happen. I also felt a light had shown on me when I enrolled in college at the age of 26. A whole new world was opening for me and he was completely threatened by that, demanding to know why I needed to go college and ranting about it constantly.
I put off leaving him because I was scared of his reaction, and with good reason.
Once I told him I wasn't happy, he accused me of having an affair. He physically pushed me. He punched the windshield of my car, shattering it. When I told the repairman this was the result of a husband that didn't want to go, he said, "you'd be surprised how often this happens."
I had to call the cops when he said he took all the pills in the medicine cabinet and drove off. I didn't know if that was true but I felt someone needed to know. The officer was kind and gentle and asked me if I was okay. For the first time, I thought, "I don't think I am."
In his most outrageous attempt to keep me, he declared he had cancer and how could I leave him when he could be facing possible death? When I called his doctor to ask about treatment, the doctor said, "what are you talking about?" The depth of his manipulation was unbelievable.
Finally, he threatened my parents, saying, "you know, your parents are home all day alone. Anything could happen." That set off something inside me. I got right up in his face and said through gritted teeth that if he ever dared hurt someone in my family, I'd kill him. And I meant it.
In the end, he took cash, my wedding rings and a vehicle and went back to Alabama, where his family lived. He continued to call and write for months, pleading to get together again. Today, I wouldn't know him if I fell over him. I have no idea whether he's alive or dead, and don't care.
Looking back, I think, "who was that girl?" People who know me now cannot believe I was ever in a relationship like that. I scarcely believe it myself. I didn't know I had abused woman syndrome until I took a psychology course and learned of the condition. I nearly burst into tears in class when I realized "that's me." I flinched for years afterward when people raised their voice to me.
But this part of my life, like all the others, made me into the woman I am today. We are all products of our past experiences, after all. I don't put up with angry people anymore. I have finely tuned instincts that can sense a manipulator and bullshitter a mile away. I am a strong woman with a strong personality. Anyone who doesn't like that can fuck off.
The me of today looks back with wonder at the life I lived, and how far I've come. I put myself through college with creative financing and by working three jobs. I was so broke at one point that I had $5 with which to buy laundry detergent and food for the week. The dollar store was my best friend. And ramen noodles.
People look at these abusive relationships and ask, "why didn't she just leave?" Because I feared for my life. Simple as that. You cannot possibly understand someone's life unless you've walked beside them and lived through it with them.
I encourage everyone to watch the series. It chronicles the red tape of social programs, the desperation of having no one to help, no one to call, and the determination that can propel someone from the direst of circumstances to a life made of dreams.