“Quietly turning the backdoor key
Stepping outside she is free.” – “She’s Leaving Home” John Lennon & Paul McCartney
The other day my mother asked if my ex ever hit me. No, I replied. We wondered, she continued. His temper had gotten so bad, we thought he might… It hearkened back to another conversation we had where she asked why I hadn’t left sooner. Other people asked me why I hadn’t left sooner but it wasn’t until Sunday night that I really had a chance to think about it. The simple part of the answer was run where?
When we were out West I could have, in theory, gone to my parents, but there were several problems. First, how was I supposed to get there? I’d been out of work for a long period of time and had no money. How was I supposed to get myself, and later a cat, across state lines? Then I would have had to go back and do all of those administrative things: remove him from my bank account, get my cell phone number back, find health insurance. Second, if I had been unable to get work where my parents lived, which was a real possibility, I would have gone into bankruptcy trying to get work. Finally, I hadn’t been asked. When things got bad between my sister and her first husband, my father took her aside and told her to come home. In my case, no such conversation occurred. When his third postdoc brought us back east my situation was less precarious. I got a job within three months of arriving and I knew my sister and brother-in-law would take us in if I needed to run. Having been in that situation herself, she told me that they always had a bedroom for me. I would have been out in the country, safe but isolated. I bided my time and then I left.
The other reason why I stayed is more complex. What I didn’t tell my mother was that I stayed because it was what I knew. I had become inured to his psychological and emotional abuse because it was similar to the psychological and emotional abuse I’d suffered at the hands of my parents. And much like when I was a child, I kept thinking that if I did everything right things would change. The fault in my childlike logic was that of all his problems, I could only try and fix one-the baby. I did my best with as many of our shared problems as I could and things did change. His temper got worse, the physical tics were more dramatic. His regard for me nearly vanished in private. In public it was all about saving face, something all too familiar to me. His disapproval was palpable, the criticism constant. Nothing I did was right. He set me up for failure. I was the convenient target for his random outbursts. Then he would say that I shouldn’t let his depression affect me. The kindnesses he extended became more the carrot for the stick than genuine affection.
The other night I had dinner with friends. One of them, in particular, asked me the tough questions I know he’s been meaning to ask for a long time. Did my upbringing, particularly the strict gender roles in the culture in which I was raised, influence my decision to stay for as long as I did? Was he ever physically violent? Were you ever afraid of him? How long was he on his best behaviour with you? Do you think the cause of the change is organic? Do you really think you can be friends? Does he know what friendship is? So I asked him some in return.Is someone who admits to being ’emotionally unavailable’ capable of love? When he posted the article on ’emotional infidelity’ on Facebook what he admitting something about himself or was he accusing me of something? I didn’t tell him that while we were still married my ex was texting a friend about their relationship-a relationship they didn’t have.
I know I’m not blameless. I withdrew emotionally and physically from him long before we actually separated. What I know now, however, is that I wasn’t emotionally unfaithful. He was.