Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away
~Mick Jagger/Keith Richards
The last time she saw him was when he called her a bitch. It was a dark, late winter evening. She was upstairs, still in her work clothes, installing a new thermostat in her bedroom. Then the doorbell rang. Who could that be?, she wondered. She called out, “Who is it?” as she descended the stairs. Turning on the back light, she saw his profile as she looked out the window.
“What do you want?”, she asked, standing by the kitchen window. “Is Peter home?” he asked. It was their son’s 21st birthday and he was out celebrating with friends. They had already had a surprise party at home the previous Saturday (in fact the mud room door and kitchen were still decorated) so the actual birthday night was a quiet one. She replied that he was not.
“But I have a present for him,” he said.
“Leave it in the back hall,” she said. He grew enraged, tossed it in and loudly spoke his epithet as he left.
She had not realized that she was holding her breath for the entire encounter. She listened for his truck’s departure and quickly called her girlfriend (who offered to come over). Her son had not seen or spoken to his father in over two years. He had grown tired of his ill-treatment after living under his roof for most of his teens and arrived back home on a black February night-his car full of his life.
Since then, family life had resumed a harmonious and healthy rhythm. She and her two children had come to an understanding of the various forms of emotional abuse experienced under her former spouse and their father. They no longer saw themselves as victims. It was as if he did not exist. And because he did not exist, it was as if the abuse had never happened. And because the abuse never happened, it was as if their past life with him had happened to other people.
This is the place at which you eventually arrive with time, help and healing. Emotional and verbal abuse is hard to put a finger on. The former is an invisible fortress built over time by the one in control. The verbal abuse helps fill in the cracks to keep it hidden. Eventually, you become relegated to a cage with your role in the relationship strictly enforced. Through the eyes of the abuser, nothing is ever done right. This includes every aspect of your life and your very being- your career, housework, driving, raising the children, your identity. You never look quite right either. Something is always wrong with your body. Even when pregnant, the snide comments slip out so you are made to feel fat and unattractive. So, no matter how hard she worked to please and keep the peace, he was never satisfied. Any “mistake” was met with either a derogatory remark or stony silence for days. Any attempt to break free of that role and speak her truth was met with “punishment”. The abuse only worsened and became more and more obvious. She eventually learned that her part was simple. Keep her mouth shut and her legs open. Ironically, her wish was not for the relationship to end-only for the abuse to stop.
The implacable mistreatment continues even when the relationship ends. In standing and fighting for the needs of herself and her sons, she was met with false charges of neglect and abuse. He attempted to take away her shelter twice. His goal was to make her “Scratch, Crawl and Suffer.” These words from his mouth only made her more willing to never back down. Each meeting with him during this process was like taking a bath in dirty water. It took days to purge herself of the emotional hangover he wrought.
The abuse had a trickle down effect as it was meted out in various ways on the children. Eventually, they too, separated themselves from him. Self-protection took precedence over the appearance of a normal father-child relationship.
Any contact with the abuser is risky and fraught with anxiety. Even with the absence of physical violence, danger can still be present. Sometimes an unexpected sighting of that person can lead to a physiological reaction. The heart assumes a rapid pace, the mouth becomes arid and the hands become unsteady. The mind races as it seeks a way out.
The universe has a special way of taking care of those of us who choose to move forward. We acknowledge what happened, seek help and eventually forgive. But we never forget. Instead, we embrace life with a renewed sense of optimism, spreading positive energy and good karma to everyone we see.