To honor a request made for this story (because a survivor mom thought it might help domestic violence victims sitting on the edge of whether to stay or go) I give you the following:
I was living in Virginia http://co.stafford.va.us/ and had left him twice before. I had threatened “Get help or we’re done” too many times to count, but I really meant it this time. After three days of silence between us, I was heartened to find an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) brochure for counseling services while vacuuming my son’s room where he had been sleeping for the past few nights. Thinking this might be the turn that would save our marriage, my heart sank when I read what appeared to be a rehearsed script in his own handwriting on the inside of the brochure: “My wife is having an adolescent-like response to…” – I couldn’t read anymore. My skin chilled and I placed the brochure back exactly where I had found it lying on the floor. Realizing that this was not going to end well unless I did something, I picked up the phone and called my father in California – “I think I need to take you up on those plane tickets” I said.
The last time I had left him, I was really in no position to do so: a few months months pregnant with a two and a half year-old running around, I was a full-time stay-at-home mom with no paycheck and no savings; as a matter-of-fact, I had a job interview lined up that morning in Fredericksburg but had to cancel because I couldn’t go in there with a bruise darkening at the corner of my right eyebrow. I had to go across the street to let my neighbor, Gladys, know that she didn’t need to watch my daughter since I was canceling the interview and I remember her gasp when she opened the door and saw my face.
I had said, “Get help or we’re done” then too and after staying with my hanai parents in upstate New York for two weeks, he actually went to see a counselor once I came back – I was actually the one that pulled the plug on that “therapeutic intervention” because I thought the therapist was absolutely INsane.
First session the guy wanted to meet with my husband alone. Ok, fine, that makes sense, right? The second session, however, the therapist wanted to see me by myself. “May-be he’s thinking Marriage Counseling?” I thought, so I went but the entire time I sat with him, all he tried and wanted to do was get my consent to call the police on my husband for domestic violence! This guy was so passionate about reporting him that he actually scared me AND he literally argued (therapists aren’t supposed to argue with their clients) against all my reasons for not wanting to call the police: a police report could harm my husband’s career; it could hinder employment opportunities in the future; how would I support and raise a toddler and a newborn if he went to jail then lost his job over it? (And don’t forget Gladys – “What would the neighbors think?” was one of my concerns.)
I went home and told my husband NOT to see that therapist any further because he was completely unprofessional so far as I was concerned – we went to him for help and all he wanted to do was see my husband arrested for DV? I didn’t say DV and this guy only met us once – how the heck would he know anything? In my mind, this therapist was dangerous – he only wanted me to betray my husband and see him put in jail. What was his problem? Turned out to be the same “problem” the next therapist had…
By 1999, I was thoroughly (and clinically) depressed and depressed as in suicidal depressed. I was failing as a wife, as a homemaker and as a mother – I did everything wrong and couldn’t do even the smallest things right – whether that was folding shirts, washing dishes or purchasing the correct luncheon meat (sliced NOT shaved!!!)
How did I know for a fact that I was so flawed and such a disaster? Cause my husband told me so. At my worst I felt that ANY person on the planet would be a better mother to my kids; my children are my beautiful gifts from God and here I was, ruining their lives and my husband’s just because I was me – I didn’t deserve them and they didn’t deserve me. So, after a failed suicide attempt (I couldn’t pull myself together and stop crying long enough to get through the handgun clearance) back in front of a counselor I went.
This counselor, Ruth Parzen, really pissed me off. I tried to tell her what a failure I was and what I needed to fix about myself in order to be a good wife and mother (and my husband also told her so we were quite specific and clear!) but all she would do is tell me that I was a victim of domestic violence and needed a Safety Plan. No matter what I’d come in with, Ruth would always bring it back to domestic violence, my need to leave and creating a Safety Plan – and she would make the most heinous predictions – like telling me that it was “only a matter of time” before my husband “would start on” our children. I recall smiling at that prediction because I told her how critically wrong she was: I was the problem, not the children; he loved them, he didn’t love me – besides, so long as I was around, I could take whatever he could dish out but he’d NEVER EVER harm the kids – I would’ve staked my life on it (and good thing I didn’t because it would’ve been a bet I would soon lose big time!)
It was June 25, 2000 – the day I saw what Ruth and that other therapist saw – and I only saw it because the target of his abusive cruelty that day was not me, it was my daughter. It was surreal – like someone tossing aside a thick, black curtain to reveal an ugly, unfolding tragedy that I was helpless to stop or intervene in; this tragedy was an existence that I had helped to create and now my beautiful, precious daughter was going to pay the price for my short-sighted poor decisions. Up until that moment, I had been so preoccupied and worried about all “the bad guys out there” in the world who might infiltrate our home and harm our children but the danger wasn’t “out there” – it was already in the house.
DV victims often leave for good once they see the effects of the abuse on their children or when their children have been directly threatened or harmed and while I knew I had to go, I didn’t realize at the time that it would be for good.
It was a bright and beautiful summer morning on June 30, 2000 when I told the kids – then aged two and five – to kiss their father good-bye as he left for work and the minute his car went up the road, I sprang into action throwing one suitcase for the three of us and one box of food together. I called a taxi to take us to the airport and looked out the back window to watch my house fade from view as we drove away – I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d ever see it and had I known I’d be leaving for good, I would’ve taken all the things that had meaning to me because I did not know that my husband would subsequently destroy, throw and give away all the things that had meaning to the kids and me (despite multiple court orders that would instruct him not to do so).
So as you might have noticed, today is the anniversary of the first day of the rest of my life. By December 2000, I had no choice but to apply for a restraining order against my then estranged husband who was threatening to put me “in a mental institution for so long” that I’d “never see the kids again”. The Pu’uhonua http://www.pacthawaii.org/puuhonua.html worker looked me in the eye saying, “Tell us what’s going on and we’ll keep you and your children safe”. (She meant well and I think she truly believed in what she was telling me when she said it.) In reply I said “If I even hint at what’s going on, he’ll be relentlessly insane and I’ll never know another day of peace in my life”. Unfortunately, she was wrong and I was right.
The only way to prevent a fate similar to mine is to prevent domestic violence; once you are in it, it’s too late – education and awareness are key. Learn about DV, learn about the signs and if you see something, say something – lives literally depend upon it.