I’ve seen a lot of stories over the years about how women who are getting beaten up by their husbands put makeup on to hide the bruises. But it’s easy to tell what’s happened to them because no amount of makeup can hide the emotional abuse. I know this from experience, as I am a battered spouse myself. For three years, I endured a lifetime’s worth of emotional abuse in a marriage that I now realize was false from the start.
I married a girl who was originally from the Bay Area in 2003. She told me that she had been treated like garbage by most of the men she’d previously been with. I have a soft spot for people who have been kicked around, having been picked on in middle school. For a time, it couldn’t have been better. But gradually, she started showing her true colors. While she passed herself as an uber-devout charismatic Christian, every other word when she got angry was an F-bomb. It took a long time–several days at times–to calm her down. And whenever I made a mistake, more often than not she would scream, yell and curse at me.
She was also very controlling. It started fairly early on, when she made me tear up an envelope because it didn’t include both of our names on the return address. She also critiqued how much I spent on her for her birthday and for Christmas. Some of my friends have since told me her insistence that I call her on my way to and from work–something that started when we were dating each other–was also evidence that she was controlling. I didn’t see it at the time, though–I thought she was just being loving and missed hearing me. Just a month before we got married, my mom told my then-fiancee over the phone that married life would take some adjusting for me. Her reply? “Darrell loves me–he’ll do what I tell him.” I later found out that she went as far as going on Yahoo and writing on her profile, “Hands off my husband,” or words to that effect–something that raised quite a few eyebrows among my friends.
For the first year-plus, I stuck with it. Part of it was that I wanted to try to make things work, and part of it was that I thought some of the things that were going on–like calling her on my way home–were part of married life. But then, in early December 2004, she refused to let Rent-a-Center come in to get a washer-dryer combo after losing my city job caused us to fall behind on payments. Rather than risk the police being called, I had to abandon plans to drop by my dad’s house and run back home. I thought long and hard about it, and decided that as much as I wanted to stay, her anger problems were too much. I planned to leave quietly after the first of the year, and decided to secretly let my aunts and uncles know when we went to a get-together for Christmas. But as luck would have it, on Christmas Eve she had to go to the ER and ended up in the hospital for over a week. I couldn’t bring myself to leave her–after all, what kind of guy would leave his wife in the hospital?
Over the next year and a half, there were several occasions where my gut told me I should probably get out–but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, since I was afraid I’d get blamed for our marriage going south.? The impression I’ve always gotten is that when a marriage fails, the man gets blamed. Another part was that in the back of my mind, I was doing something wrong, and I was the one who needed to fix things so they’d be better. My parents could see the toll it was taking on me–they both told me that they didn’t like how Christine was talking to me, and my mom told me several times that I was always welcome to move back in with her. Some of my friends could tell as well. One friend whom I consider a big sister has been in abusive relationships before, and told me after I finally got out that she could tell I wasn’t happy and was at my wit’s end.
Sandwiched between those was one instance where I resolved myself to leave, but was derailed by bad luck. One day in the spring of 2006, I came home from work early after catching the flu. When my ex came in from church and saw me home, rather than express concern she wrung her hands that I might get fired. After seeing something that callous, I decided to get out. But before I could call my mom or dad to let them know, we found out that the reason repairs hadn’t been made to a building at our apartment complex after a December fire. It turned out the landlord and owner were lowballing contractors left and right. I could not in good conscience just walk out and leave her in potentially unsafe conditions, so we moved somewhere else.
The breaking point came that summer, when her oldest son came east to move back in with his mother. He and his younger brother and sister had been taken from their mother in 1999, after their youngest brother was beaten to death by one of his uncles while staying with him. But boy, did he have a temper. He hadn’t gotten his anger management meds refilled before threatened to beat me up several times when he felt I wasn’t treating his mother right. Eventually, when it became apparent that she either couldn’t or wouldn’t stop this, I decided I had to get out for my safety.
On the day before I finally left her, the daughter of one of my ex’s friends, who was temporarily staying with us, gave me a savage beating after my ex lied that I hadn’t been willing to move west with her. In truth, she’d said in 2003 that she considered Charlotte her home; indeed, she had even changed the clock on her computer to Eastern Time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so powerless; even without my personal stance that I would never, ever, EVER hit a woman, I knew that she was trying to goad me into hitting her so I’d get blamed for hitting a 15-year-old girl. The next day, after a day of being yelled at, beaten and kicked, my ex’s son finally made good on his threats and punched me in the head several times. They then browbeat me into letting my ex “borrow” my car as a condition of letting me leave. Unfortunately, the police couldn’t help me because in North Carolina, cars are community property–even though I’d bought that car in 2001, two years before I married her. Having mislaid my set of keys, I had to get another set from the dealer so I could get my car back the next day.
Later, I found out that my ex had gotten on my Yahoo Messenger account and used it to send horribly obscene messages to several of my friends before scrambling the password for it and my accounts on MSN and Myspace. I lost at least four of my friends as a result of this. I also discovered that before I could shut down our debit cards, she had run my bank account negative. My bank credited my account, thanks to the fraud protection I had on my check card.? initially told me I had to press charges against her in order for the credit to be permanent. But when I called the police, I was told that bank accounts are community property–even when the spouse’s name isn’t on the account. ?The fraud protection specialist handing my case at the bank was flabbergasted–your spouse isn’t allowed to get any information about your account unless his or her name is on it. ?Under the circumstances, they didn’t claw back the money.
As it turned out, the worst abuse I was to suffer at my ex’s hands was yet to come, even though I’d left her. More to come in Part 2 …