I just finished reading Rage, by Julie Peters. My co-worker gave it to me, as Julie is a friend of a friend, in a way. I attempted to attend her book signing a couple weeks ago, but got so ridiculously, embarrassingly lost, I pretty much missed it. I entirely missed it.
Rage was a difficult read; however, seeing the internal attraction of a lesbian relationship, was interesting and somewhat enlightening, like a big “Oh. Ok.” But I kinda disliked the main character and her absolute desperation and neediness- though the psychological reasons were perfectly plausible. It was just really hard to follow her into this abusive, destructive relationship while the warning signs screaming and strobe-lighting all around her seem so blatantly obvious. I told my co-worker I wanted to slap her- in a Dear God, wake the hell up! sort of way.
But, it’s a young adult novel, and therefore the main character’s portrayal is necessary. I’ve certainly had several friends in high school that allowed or did whatever their boyfriends demanded or wanted, and I have a stepdaughter I worry about.
It struck a personal chord. A very personal chord.
It is disturbingly easy to sacrifice yourself and all you respect and cherish about yourself for the sake of someone else. All the excuses I had made for him- six plus years of excuses. He’s depressed. His dad just died. He’s upset. We just moved. Just had a baby. Left the state. He misses his kids. We just moved back. It’s just a phase. A mid-life crisis. I’m doing something wrong. If I allow this, if I do this, if I change this, if I move here, stop doing this, if I if I if I if I……then he’ll be happy again and it’ll all be fine. We can work through it.
Six years of derision, insults, accusations, embarrassment, fear. I never knew which personality I’d walk home to, or wake up to, or fall asleep beside. At his worst, I was too afraid to sleep. I’d wait until he left for work. Am I a cold-hearted bitch or the love of his life today? Am I sleeping with my boss, my boss’ husband? Is the new job with only female employees a front for prostitution, have I connived total strangers to cover for me, or no, I’m gay as I have to be having an affair with someone?
Is it safe to go to the grocery store, the flea market, a drive, anywhere, or is he going to walk up to complete unknowns again and start telling them how awful it is to be married to me, how I’ve made his life miserable and how no man should ever get married and endure the suffering he has- after which he’ll come running back to me, absolutely beaming, and wrap his arms around me, suddenly affectionate as though he’d told them something completely different.
On my way out the door to go to work- on the days he was too angry to remind me not to bring anyone home later- he’d tell my boys how I’d prefer to be at work rather than spend time with them.
Everything was a threat to him. Putting on makeup. Fixing my hair. Changing my radio station. Understanding and using a computer. Reading a book. Writing a book. Playing with my boys. Talking to co-workers. Hiking with friends. Volunteering at a reptile rescue- especially if I wore camouflage pants and tattered converses……Needing and then buying clothes. There was never any rhyme or reason to it.
I wished that he would hit me. That’s easy to acknowledge as unacceptable. Easy to explain: I left because he hit me. Everyone would understand that. How do you explain, I left because my inner voice told me to? I left because he says mean hurtful things? I remember standing in my Wisconsin house holding my infant second son and knowing I shouldn’t follow him back here, that things were going to get bad, but not having anywhere to go, not having any reason to rationalize my instincts, not having anyone who’d assist me. And it did get bad. It got very, un-anticipatedly bad. How do you explain emotional warfare?
And I was raised in that.
I was so absolutely determined not to uphold the statement that all women marry their fathers- for good or bad. I was raised in that, and yet it took me six years to go, OMG, this is emotional abuse. That’s what’s wrong. It’s not a phase, not a mid-life crisis, and it has absolutely nothing to do with me. I can’t fix it, it’ll never stop, and it’s never going to get any better.
It was my book, which was my sanity and escape, that finally set off the ‘enough’ decision. I was writing about my character’s love interest and suddenly sat back and wondered, given the (good) way I see and portray men and how a true relationship works, why am I living this way? Why am I condemning myself to this?
For a few weeks after I told him I wanted a divorce, I use to sit at the top of the stairs after he went to bed, terrified he would do something to the kids because his mental state was always so scrambled, and even more so then. We went out for ice cream once. As we all had to live together, and for the sake of the boys, I was trying to prove we could do it civilly. And he aimed the van straight at a light pole- well, aimed it so the passenger side, where I was sitting, would have made a fatal collision- when I said that there was absolutely no way I was giving him another chance. He swerved at the last moment, and I never got in the car with him again. Though he then totaled two cars with the boys inside and was furious with me that I was more concerned about them than him.
I lost so much weight in those months. His hostility amplified and I became so depressed. I had no support system, no one to help me through it and encourage me. He went through the house and removed any picture that had me in it (there wasn’t many, as he would never take a picture of me). He told me I ruined his life and he wished he’d never married me, then beg and plead for me to give him another chance because he loved me so much. Then threaten me that if I left him, I’d be alone forever because no one would treat me as good as he did. Then tell me it’s all his fault and he accepts full responsibility, and not to worry because he explained everything to my stepchildren (his kids). Who now no longer talk to me.
That hurts so much, because I’d tried to leave him early on, but the thought of not having them in my life, of them not caring, kept me from doing so.
In a couple weeks, it’ll be my one year anniversary of freedom, and it’s been a year of deep, self-inflicted psychotherapy. I was horrified to realize how much I’d sacrificed, how much of myself I’d chipped away- the parts of me I was the most proud of . It’s been an entirely different emotional warfare- trying to piece myself back together. The one thing I didn’t want was to be stuck in the single mother trap- the two jobs and the lack of time. The one thing that continues to hammer away at me every time I drop the kids off at school and pick them up late at night, six days a week, is him telling them how I’d rather be at work than with them. If I die, if something happens to me today, is that the only thing they’ll remember? Who’s around to tell them different?
I’ve started dating again and it’s so, so hard. I want to run away from the attempt, just close up and say it’s not worth it, afraid of what I’ll get myself into. The same? Worse? My history’s not so good. My father. I dated once in high school, until it quickly became a controlling/obsessive/soon-to-be abusive situation. Then nothing till I met my ex. I am so scared that I’ll find that I’m doomed to this. Everyone around me is in a supportive, loving relationship, but what if I never know what it’s like. If I am only allowed to write about it.
A year without him and I’m still on guard. He’s been on his good personality lately, but it never lasts. It always, always cycles. The accusations still come out at the tiniest thing. He can’t accuse me of cheating anymore (though I wish to all things holy that I was the type of person who could cheat, as it would have made those hellish years so much more tolerable). But I’m still accused of being part of a conspiracy to ‘get him’, to take his kids away, to rob him of all his money, and other such things.
I closed Rage and set it down and this all just started pouring out. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to put it all into words and it was so, so difficult to relive and remember. I debated whether or not to blog it. Maybe it’s therapy. Maybe it’s a step forward and up. I sat in the dark and cried. I worried about who’d read it and what they’d think of me.
It’s 3:36am and I need to get up for work in a couple hours.
This is how you know a book is good. You may not like the characters, the story, but if it makes you think, then it’s done its job. It it prevents someone from falling into that trap you’re warning about, then it’s even saved a life.