In support of the effort every year in October to raise the world’s awareness of the epidemic of domestic violence throughout the world, regardless of class, education or culture, we are pleased to feature guest writers on the topic.
I was born the oldest of four children to two alcoholics who expressed emotion with slurred screaming and sure beatings.
It was not a well kept secret, but we lived in a small town in the 80s, when family violence was truly what they called a private, family matter.
My father taught me to love an abuser. He taught me the one who hits you is also your comforter. I grew to crave the affection and gentle ministrations of one who had brutalized me. Beatings become love. The care after a beatings become proof of love. The apologies and affection *must* be sincere. It’s your father, isn’t it? If you can’t trust your father, who can you trust? When the one who is supposed to protect you is the one who beats you, your entire concept of what love and protection mean get turned upside down, inside out, and backward.
Also, the impact of simply witnessing abuse between a child’s parents cannot be understated. My parents were locked in a passionate cycle of silly sweetness, rising tension, trigger and explosion, maiming violence, tender mending, silly sweetness, rising tension…you get it.
This is love, right?
This is how is played out in my life:
My live-in boyfriend had cheated on me. It was a public embarrassment — everyone knew. During the struggle that culminated in infidelity, he hit me for the first time and said horrible things to me. He came and went as he pleased. He was cold. Hostile. Brutal. Defiant. I was pleading, resentful, enraged and exposed.
My response to this emotional sinkhole?
Let’s get married.
And we did.
My marriage was to be a baptism. A sacred ceremony to save me from my sinking shame.
For me and my husband, marriage became proof to the world that we were indeed lovable and able to love. Normal. Acceptable. The actual ceremony took place — after just two days of planning — on Halloween.
Our tentative partnership was born from mutual need. Aren’t most? But our individual needs were more desperate and choking than most. Union didn’t ease the terror, but twisted it. We didn’t fill each other up. We went about bashing the vessels.
Not too long after the wedding, we were back where we began.
You cannot (I hope) imagine the verbal bludgeons that one person can use on another.
Fat. Disgusting. Loser. My mother is critically ill and he hopes she dies. My brother is in jail and he hopes he gets raped. My sister committed suicide and he’s glad. Physical violence ranges from kicks and punches to litter boxes dumped on my head and his ass wiped on my face. I am not joking.
This is my husband. He’s supposed to protect me. I am full of screams that don’t come. Sorrow and loss and rage and recrimination. I allow it. I’m still here. The shame from which this unholy union was born is the shame that keeps me here.
Here’s the kicker. No one suspects it. I’m a rising star in my industry. Strong-willed and outspoken. I’m an independent feminist. I kept my name. He is amiable and considerate. The picture of the liberal 30-something man. We appear united to all, while our home is a burning bunker.
To be fair, there have been splashes of sweetness. He is childlike sometimes, and I want to protect him. His vulnerability and need seem accessible then. I feel like I glimpse his humanity. I feel like I can reach him. But they’re only splashes.
Now I crave kindness. I long for loyalty. I dream of a steadfast man who will love me completely. Someone I can love without fear. That’s still what marriage means to me. But marriage won’t wash you clean, and it won’t save you. If you’re looking for salvation, look somewhere else.
This essay was written from the middle; literally and figuratively. I was in the middle of a waking nightmare of violence, and I was in the middle of my marriage. It would be four years before I would leave, with a two-year-old daughter in tow. The baby was to be another baptism, but after her birth, the beating and cheating did not stop. They escalated. I finally realized, while my head was being held – by the hair — to the floor next to her playpen while she shrieked, I had to go.
The cycle is perpetuated if you don’t leave. If you don’t leave, your girl learns to fall in love with violence, too.
My girl is now seven; strong, brave and independent. I am, sometimes, too. I wish I could say, however, that’s when the violence ended for me. I quickly got involved with a man who was soulful and kind, and could become brutal like sudden lightning strike ahead of a tornado. Those family patterns are difficult to break, aren’t they? They are as hard to break as it was for me to break up with him. That is to say, nearly impossible. Still, this new abuser is no longer my love.
This is as it should be, and as it will be, until I can learn in my heart what I know in my head. Love does not equal pain. Pain does not equal love. Love is not a hurting thing. Love is a loving thing.
Be patient with me…
Bonnie Petrie - News 92 FM (92.1)
Afternoon News Anchor - The Anchor Mom
Providing News & Views for Parents - Pea in the Podcast
Host/Writer/Producer - TheAnchorMom