For Better or Worse

 

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

The pregnancy was a surprise, and no one but us knew on our wedding day. But it would be okay, we told ourselves – we loved each other and we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, baby or not. We were committed to making it work. We refused to ever use the “D-word” – because it wasn’t an option. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, we would stick it out together.

It had been two years since we met, before anything ever happened. The first time you call the police and they show up at your door, he says it was just a misunderstanding. That it was just an accident, you were arguing, and things got out of hand. There’s a male officer who says, “My wife and I argued a lot too when our first child was born. It’s hard.” And he asks your husband’s time away, because this happens to everyone. It’s normal.

Nothing happens again for months, and the good times far outnumber the bad. Even with an infant, you always make time for date nights. You tell yourself that being shoved that one time was just a fluke. You shouldn’t have overreacted and called the cops.

He’s not like the husbands you see in the movies or read about in the news – he doesn’t come home and get drunk, belligerent, and yell or hit you when he’s under the influence. He would never lie to you or cheat on you. And besides, all that really matters is that he would never lay a hand on his child, because he’s not like those other men who abuse their partners and then become abusive fathers, too.

Not to mention, you’re educated, you contribute an income, and abuse just isn’t something that happens to women like you. At least, that’s what you convince yourself, even if the statistics say otherwise.

Until one day he shoves you again mid-argument, and you nearly fall over from the force. There’s only one reason you don’t slam into the table behind you: your almost one-year-old is in your arms, and you would do anything to protect her. He says that it’s your fault that it happened; that you pushed him to the point where he lost control of his emotions. You call the cops again, but they (two male officers again) threaten to arrest both of you this time and take away your baby if you can’t “work things out and grow up.”

You get a house together, hoping that moving on – physically and emotionally – will improve things. Sometimes you argue, but most of the time things are fine. Having a better and bigger place gives you something to look forward to – decorating and rearranging furniture and buying new things. The newness of it all makes you feel as if everything is starting fresh, and the past is all behind you.

Except when you can’t escape it. During another argument, you try to leave the house with your now-toddler. The cops always said to just take some time apart, to walk away from the situation before it escalates. You know that calling them won’t help – they won’t believe you, they’ll downplay what’s happened, they’ll take his side because you’re “emotionally unstable” and he’s calm and collected. But he refuses to move his car and let you leave, and the more you cry, the less he seems to care…

Later that weekend, his mother asks you what happened to the front of your car. Did a tree branch fall on it? You just smile and say politely, “It’s fine; don’t worry about it!” The first of many lies you’ll tell to preserve your image.

Because there’s no easy way to explain the truth. That you screamed and cried and begged him to let you leave, while your daughter sat in the back, buckled in her car seat, watching it all unfold. That a minor tap to his car’s front bumper led him to take a snow shovel and beat your car’s hood until it was permanently deformed.

That this time, you drove off before the cops showed up, because you were too scared to stay. That you stayed away for hours, biding time at the store and then the parking lot, sitting in the backseat while she ate and slept in her car seat, because you had nowhere else to go.

A few weeks later, another lie. Your foot was accidentally stepped on, and that’s why you have a broken bone. Even though a toe doesn’t break that easily, his family believes you. Or, at least, they stop asking questions, which is all that matters, because he’s sitting right next to you.

Before then, you never had bruises or broken bones, no physical proof that you were being hurt. He’s always said he would never lay a hand on a woman, and that he’s never hit you. Being stomped on as he tries to take the baby away from you isn’t the same as hitting you, right? You screamed out in pain and told him to move, that it was hurting you, that you could feel the bone breaking in your foot. He tells you that you’re making it up, even as you’re on the floor, crying as he carries her out of the kitchen in his arms, telling her that you’re crazy.

You start believing it, twisting the facts to paint a prettier picture of your marriage and your family. You tell different lies to different sets of people, and it gets harder to keep track of them all. Every argument always ends the same way – he says he’ll never leave, and that this house is as much his and it is yours. It’s not his fault that you’re out of your mind and overly sensitive.

He says he doesn’t need to change, and you can’t change him. You’re the problem.

A year goes by. Things get better, mostly because you both make a concerted effort to avoid conflict and escalations of arguments. Partly because you tired of fighting, but partly because, underneath it all, the love is still there. Your daughter is old enough to understand everything around her, and you both vow to be better.

But you’re always wondering, in the back of your mind, whether there will be another trigger. Whether the next time will be even worse. Whether you really are the problem.

People will often tell you to “just get out and leave” or ask you why someone so smart and capable would choose to stay. But the reality is that abuse isn’t always clear-cut, relationships are complex, and every situation is different. There’s so much at stake – the love you have for each other, the life you’ve worked so hard to build together, the family and friends who were witnesses to the commitment you made on your wedding day.

For better or for worse, we still believe in making it work.

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