Look at that word. Absorb it; think about what the definition is. Merriam Webster, Collins, Oxford; use whichever you wish. Then, think about what the word means to you.
Are they two different things? If they are, then maybe you will be able to understand what I’m going to write here today.
I’m ambivalent about that word. If one takes it too seriously, one can become the very definition and be consumed by it. All it takes is too much dwelling, not enough examining, and too much isolation. I have, on many occasions in my life, been an isolationist and a runner. I will simultaneously sink down and away from reality (i.e. humans, sunlight, conversations, responsibilities) and run as far away as I can from the problem – or truth – that has caused me to isolate. There is a vast, dark chasm for me to run into, where I will stumble and fall in that inky darkness, making myself bleed and bruising myself, as I seek to escape what sent me in there in the first place.
I’m no dummy, despite my very real concern that I have not yet figured out how to not do dumb things. At 52, I really should have harnessed that beast and caged him. Spontaneous reactions are sort of a problem for me, and they are usually very bad and very consequential.
Running is my go-to spontaneous reaction. I’ve perfected it from a very young age; it saved me on more than one occasion and so obviously, I decided to use it indiscriminately. Enter the consequences of using it as a sort of crutch.
But here it is, in the warm, Fall-tinged light of today: I am a victim.
And yet, I am not.
I have related here that my marriage to The Husband is not my first. It is the only marriage I wish to acknowledge, embrace, claim, and celebrate. That makes things difficult, because my children are the fruits of a previous, first marriage to a very bad man. In trying to disavow myself from that first marriage, I have to edit lots of things out. Think of it as a sort of Photoshopped past; only me and my kids remain. Unfortunately, there are things that cannot be cropped out. Things he did to us. Each one of us.
When I say “bad man” I do not just mean that he was just a garden-variety asshole. I mean that he was – is – evil.
That’s Webster’s definition. If you’re religious, you probably think of it in terms of your Book of Outrageous Fairytales. That’s okay; it can apply and I won’t hold that against you. He isn’t evil in a supernatural way, either; he doesn’t wear a striped sweater and a fedora and chase me in my nightmares, slashing me to bits. Oh, he is in them, but I wish it was in that way, because I can fight that. The way he is actually in them leaves residual effects of anger, helplessness, and frustration that I have to see him at all, in any form. I feel like I need to immediately shower when I open my eyes; I feel soiled and achy and the stench of his presence – even facetiously – takes hours to wear off.
The things he did to me were not physical. I was not a battered wife in the sense that he used his fists. He saved that abuse for others. I wish, every day, that he had hit me. Maybe then he wouldn’t have done any of the things he did to others. Certainly, I put myself between him and the intended victims on numerous occasions, essentially volunteering myself as tribute. He never took the bait. And I couldn’t always be there to stop him. And that, right there, will be a dagger in my heart until the day I die.
No, my abuse was emotional, mental. Its residual effects will never totally be gone, and that pisses me off. It’s like he gets to keep hurting me; his power over me is still tangible.
It is in the way that, 20 years later, I still feel guilty if I am having a good time.
It is in the way that I still feel like I need to ask permission to do things with friends.
It is in the fact that I am still amazed that I have friends, and that they actually want anything to do with me.
It is in the way that I feel I need to account for my time spent on my own interests, as if I was being too selfish.
It is in the sadness I feel when I realize that all those years when I could have been creating and writing in the little bit of spare time I alotted myself, when not being a mother, are gone.
It is in the way I react when someone I love gets angry, or cross with me. The cold sweat washes over me and then the crimson heat of shame and I know that I have only two options: run (retreat) or do anything that I can to repair things and to make them like me again. It is anyone’s guess what option I’ll choose. It is a rare occasion when I will react the way I truly want to, with a dismissive “How about you fuck off?” When that happens, the fear accompanies it. The fear that they will actually fuck off.
It is in the way that I still find it hard to shut the bathroom door when I have to go, because we never had doors in that life, so that he could see us no matter where we were in the house.
It is in the way that I still feel the internal need to account for every moment of my day, in case I should be quizzed.
It is in the way that I have to recall every moment that he hurt someone else and that I was too weak to stop him.
These are but a few after-effects of being married to a narcissistic sociopath who controlled everything. I have worked hard to quash a lot of them lest they overtake my life. I vacillate between wonder and dismay at The Husband’s encouragement that I be independent. He allows me to be myself. That he doesn’t see it that way – as allowing me – is still sometimes a puzzle to me. In our earlier years together, I was massively damaged. I sought to have control because I had been told, by “educated people with my best interests in mind”, that I deserved that. I both wanted/rejected being a cohesive, 50-50 couple because while I knew that was the goal, I couldn’t help but be afraid that I would again be disappeared. That he was much more passive than I had experienced was both a blessing and a curse. Yes, I needed to find me in our life together, but I also needed some direction, some validation, and to be cared for even when I resisted the gesture. I might have been able to handle the last year or so had he taken a slightly heavier hand with me and redirected me as far away from the past as he could.
There are others’ stories to tell; they are not mine. I am a character in each one, so what I can say about them is that each story tells a tale about just how evil my former husband is. He has done unforgivable, unspeakable, irredeemable things.
He still does them. Others have come after me and mine; another wife, girlfriends; more children for him to break, to damage, to savage and to twist into his own image of deplorable behavior. He is unrepentant and lays waste to everything he touches. He will continue until he is stopped. I should have found a way to stop him years ago; that is my sin, and my penance is to see the damage caused by the pain he inflicted. I have, however, banded together with others he has wounded; we may bleed, but we are not victims.
Recently, a very bad thing happened to someone within the family because of his influence. The rest of us were momentarily reeling, but now, all we want is for there to be a resolution; justice and healing. Many hours have been spent with authorities, both law enforcement and investigators into incidents both recent and past. It is necessary and it is exhausting.
My go-to reaction to adversity has been necessary over the past couple of weeks. I’ve spent time dredging up the past and it has left me tired and feverish with self-revulsion. I cannot revisit the days, long ago, when people were urging me to take the path away from him, because to have done that would have been to never have known the honor of creating and loving five of the absolute best humans in the world. As much as I wish I could sand him out of the woodwork of my life and paint over those memories, I cannot.
What I can do is always be better. I can be loving and supportive. I can be a member of the squad that ensures that the people in this scenario who need help receive it, and the people in this scenario who deserve punishment receive that. I can continue to keep working on the parts of me that he broke; and by fix, I mean actually mend and heal, not jerry-rig with tape and Elmer’s Glue. He is a master at such things; nothing ever got fixed the right way when it was broken in our lives then because he insisted he “knew how to do that” and would come up with a temporary bandaid that always, always fell off. I will not allow my life to become a bad metaphor for that time.
It is time for him to become a teeny, tiny footnote in a life lived on my own terms.
I’m gonna need lots of help with that.
Tomorrow is going to be a sort of tricky day for me. I decided not to write a blog commemorating my mother’s passing because really…..what is there left to say?
She left us 7 years ago. There’s no changing that. I cried until I thought there could not possibly be a single tear left. Turns out that maybe I actually did go over the lifetime limit, because just look at me now, unable to conjure a single drop even while rewatching The Walking Dead and seeing my beloved Hershel die, once again, at the hands of the dastardly Governor.
So, there it is. I’ll always miss her, and the day isn’t going to be less reflective or painful if I dedicate a missive to her memory. I’m still a bit put-off, given the discovery of her letter a few weeks ago. Yeah, I’ll be “off” tomorrow. But life is for the living, and I have plenty of that to do.