I’m finally coming to terms with it. The number of men I’ve slept with over the last 30+ years… And I realize how foolish I was then, and now. Foolish for so many reasons, not the least of which being promiscuity. The word promiscuous sounds so elegant, and I am anything BUT. This is not to say I am ashamed or feel cheap. Moreover, I feel humbled and sort of cheated…out of love.
Sex was never about LOVE for me. Not at first anyways. I learned at an early age that I was desirable. Unfortunately for me, I translated that desire into something physical instead of into something more powerful or meaningful. I found a certain novelty in playing cat and mouse with a boy who would eventually say anything I wanted to hear until I finally gave him what he craved from me. And he could never give me what I wanted in return… and we’re not just talking about an orgasm here.
It took me years to figure out that giving away the milk was the surest way to being stuck with the cow. The more I gave away, the more I wondered what I was doing wrong. It never occurred to me to appreciate what I had to offer. I was always trying to please someone else…never myself. And when YOU aren’t trying to please yourself, why would you expect someone to do it for you?!
I think I was 23 years old before I had my first orgasm WITH a man. That means I spent nearly a decade tolerating sex for the benefit of someone else. Simply to feel the desire of a man who could never return my affection.
Well, I had a few pleasurable romances and longer lasting relationships, but I always managed to sabotage them in one way or another. Missing out on the game of cat and mouse, the game of desire, the need to feel wanted … instead of being content with feeling needed, loved and respected. Yeah, I fucked up… a lot. More on that later.
The Road to Self Destruction
Only a true victim blames everyone else around them for their own mistakes. Sometimes I look back and think, “sure, if my dad had been around more I might not have spent my adolescent years searching for the approval of a man”. But I think it was more about trying to keep up with what I assumed was the standard set in front of me.
My parents split up when I was about seven. Even when they were together, they were not exactly the model of a happy or healthy couple. So, the models I observed were kids my own age, experimenting in ways that I would never approve of in my own children.
After I gave myself away initially for lust, it became easier and easier to do it again for the WRONG reasons. Hence, I suppose this is where the term “easy” comes from? Eh? I found a way to please men… and I used it, for better or worse. Odd that when someone showed a genuine interest in ME, I didn’t know how to accept it and would invariably push them away. I only knew how to play cat and mouse… I never learned how to play house.
The game did get out of hand from time to time and I found myself like a mouse looking for cheese in a trap. I suppose some people would say I got what I deserved. You can’t expect a guy to take “no” for an answer from a girl who said “yes” to him last week. And more than once, I pretended to be passed out or too intoxicated to participate… sort of like playing dead. Let me be the first to tell you, this method does not work. Running away doesn’t always work either… sometimes, you have to make a deal with the Devil and just pray for it to be over.
Faith and Friendship
I never really was much for prayer. Though I was baptized as a Catholic, my parents didn’t take us to church. I found my way there with friends and other people. I even joined a Protestant church choir… because all of my friends were doing it. It didn’t make any difference to me what church I sang in. I just wanted to sing… and to be a part of something special.
By the time I got into college, I had become a bit of an agnostic. I minored in Philosophy and devoured theology, ethics and intellectual virtue. Hey, if I thought I could have made a living teaching it or writing it, I would have become the next Jean Paul Sartre. That would have required chain smoking and talking with a French accent, and while there was a certain appeal to it… I opted to change my major from writing to Phys Ed. Because… why not?!
I left college less agnostic and more atheist. No, not because of Nietzsche, but because I had no faith in anything at that point. My rationale being that I had endured my own personal failures and triumphs without any deity for 23 years, and praying never did much for me anyway. Please don’t assume that I am writing about how I found God and it changed my life… But, I did eventually start to pray a little bit.
I joined the army after I graduated from college. I needed a job and it was a good way to pay back my student loans. Plus, getting into graduate school with my grades was pretty much out of the question, but at least I had the opportunity to further my education through the military… and the idea of taking care of hunky GI’s all day was more than marginally appealing to me. So I said, “Fuck it” and I signed up.
Doing my own thing and paving my own path had always been the way I’d done things. I rarely heeded advice from others. If I had an idea of my own and it sounded good, I was damn sure I was going to go through with it. So when my friends tried to talk me out of joining up, I laughed at them.
Basic training was a breeze. I was an athlete in high school and played intramural sports and worked out in college so I could endure the physical stuff. I pledged a sorority in college too, so dealing with the “hazing” and mental anguish was something I was accustomed to. I knew how to dish it out AND how to take it.
Physical therapy school in the military was practically a refresher of everything I had learned as an undergraduate and I mastered all of the new concepts, modalities and skill sets easily. I also mastered the art of fraternizing with the males… the ones I wasn’t allowed to speak with or look at during basic training. It was like being at fat camp and being deprived of cake… and then, being escorted into a huge arena filled with dessert! Boom! More cake please!
I had a few flings… some more serious than others… I recall two marriage proposals from two different guys in six months… but who’s counting? But the best “relationships” I had were with my three best pals. Three guys… none of whom I had any romantic interaction with. They were respectful, funny and smart as HELL! Gracie, Butts and McQueen… they were my boys! They treated me like one of the guys… and never once tried to get into my pants. I was my best self when I was with these guys. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
One day, while we were all in class, I found myself in a theological debate with a classmate. We were having the “theory of evolution vs. creationism” argument and I wasn’t fairing well… my opponent was a Minister. And me, just a Philosophy minor with no real knowledge or understanding of faith.
About a week later, McQueen handed me a book. It was a bible; a New International Bible (NIV)…not that I had ever bothered to read the OLD one. You see, Gracie, Butts and McQueen were all southern boys and they had faith. We didn’t talk about it much. McQueen told me that if I ever found myself lost, I should just open up the book and read from a Psalm. “You don’t have to look at is as God or Jesus”, he said, “Just think of it as spiritual guidance”. It sounded harmless enough.
I learned a lot from those three during our short time at school at Fort Sam Houston, Tx. They taught me about faith and respect. They taught me about self-worth and forgiveness. They also taught me about friendship. But I didn’t learn those lessons fully until years later.
The first time I found myself praying with McQueen’s bible, I realized I had sunk further from myself than I ever wanted to be. Butts told me one time that in order to find faith you have to lose yourself first. Oh, I lost myself alright… and I was desperately clawing my way back to reality.
I met Mark when I arrived at my first duty station in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He was married and I was just getting over an on-again/off-again, but more OFF than on, relationship. Mark fawned over me to the point that it made me almost uncomfortable.
He and I had the same group of friends. Naturally, I was the token girl. There really was something about being a female in the military. Not only were we a sexual minority, we were drastically overrated and coveted. A woman who might typically be a “5” at home could easily be elevated to “9” or “10” status on a military base.
I’d like to think I was slightly above average to begin with, but add in points for being a college graduate amongst a group of enlisted men…. add some personal hygiene and a decent hair cut and … WHAM! Not very hard to get a date. And… an easy target for stalkers.
Despite my rejection, Mark persisted. He and I had 24-hour duty together one night and he serenaded me with his guitar. Fuck guys and their friggen guitars! Damnit it he was good! He said everything, EVERYTHING I wanted to hear. He was unhappy in his marriage, scorned, jaded and desperately looking for the love of his life. He absolutely believed that I was THAT person. He even made me believe it… for a little while.
It was a whirlwind romance…three months into our new relationship and I was pregnant. And NOT by accident! This man told me he wanted me to have his children. He even threw away my birth control pills and pledged his love for me for eternity. Cue the cheesy violins and love songs… I was in deep!
It wasn’t until a few months into my pregnancy that I started to notice things changing between us. He would blame it on my hormones or simply just on my being “too sensitive”. I called upon my best pledge mates from college, Deb and Heather, for their opinions on the matter. “Get out NOW!”, they pleaded with me. You see, they knew then what I didn’t know… he was already showing signs of a cycle of abuse that I was completely blind to.
Is it Me?
I thought I was going crazy. I really did. And when you’re living 500 miles from home, pregnant, (with the child of a man who still hasn’t finalized his divorce from wife #1) and feeling vulnerable…who wouldn’t get a little hormonal and paranoid??!! Cue the Ozzy Osbourne music (Crazy Train!!).
They say that women in abusive relationships leave six to seven times before they finally leave for good. Sometimes they leave mentally… and sometimes, they never have a chance to leave at all. There are as many reasons to stay as there are to leave… and sometimes staying sounds better than leaving.
I didn’t want to be a single mother. I wanted my son to grow up with his father. After all, his father WANTED him to come into the world. His father ASKED for him. And I wanted to please him. I couldn’t win him over with desire anymore… somehow I had to make him LOVE me… but I didn’t know HOW.
Mark would tell me how much he loved me. But he had a strange way of showing it. It was like living with a man who had a split personality. Dr. Jekyll one minute and Mr. Hyde the next. I never knew which one was going to come home and which one I would wake up next to.
Notes to Myself
I started keeping a journal. I’d kept one on and off through college and found solace in writing down my feelings. Another of my best pledge mates from college, Patty, gave me a journal before I left for boot camp. She had written a handful of quotes and verses in it. Journaling my feelings was nothing new to me.
In an effort to keep my sanity, I began writing out events and arguments between Mark and myself. It was a way of validating the terrible things that were happening. Then, they became an outlet of anger. I would sometimes scribble words onto the pages so large and with such rage that they were almost indecipherable. FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING BASTARD!!!, I would write. Secretly, I hoped he would find my journal and read it. I wanted him to know how much he was hurting me… what a monster he was… how much I HATED him. No such luck.
In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing he never read them. I suspect he would have done more brutal things to me. Not that he beat the crap out of me with his fists… not at first anyways. He simply had a knack for never admitting he was wrong.
Mark was a man of belittling, berating and demeaning. He loved to taunt me until I would cry or blow up. Then, he would turn it back around on me… because, it was all in my head. I would ultimately beg for forgiveness, pick up the pieces of my shattered self-esteem and try to put them back together. And just when I had the last piece in place, he would rip it apart again.
On the outside, Mark was so charming and charismatic. Everyone LOVED him. He enjoyed showing me and my children off to his co-workers like we were his prizes. It became infuriating for me to watch him act one way in public and then torment us at home when there was no-one to witness.
And yet… how could I tell them??!! Who would believe me?? I didn’t have any bruises on the outside… but I was full of scars on the inside. This was before the time of the “information super highway” that we call the internet now. I was lost with nowhere to turn. And no way to define or identify the affliction that had taken hold of our marriage.
There was a time when I thought I made up the term “emotional abuse”. No, I just realized what it was before I knew it had a name. Oh, he had broken plenty of things around the house… in front of me… just enough to scare me. But he’d never hit ME…yet.
From Emotional to Physical
I never was a violent person. The first time I felt truly vulnerable and afraid was in those initial stages of pregnancy with our first child. Mark was out late… he never seemed to have time for me anymore. It was a difficult adjustment having gone from the top of his pedestal to rock bottom. I was waiting for him… as usual… with no way of knowing when or if he was returning home.
I started to panic… and I flew into a full blown temper tantrum. I shattered the mirror in the bathroom and stomped on his CDs! I immediately regretted it! I cleaned up every tiny shred of glass and put all of the CDs back exactly as I had found them. I was more afraid that he WOULD come home then.
I don’t know what came over me that night, but little outbursts like that would come back to haunt me again before all was said and done. The final tally, altogether after 5 years, was a smashed guitar, a favorite jacket with holes stabbed into it (no, he wasn’t wearing it at the time…but that would have made for a good story), one or more of his favorite Star Trek models stomped to death and one tray of Pillsbury biscuits.
Mark was more outward with his violent outbursts. He liked breaking things IN FRONT OF ME and the kids. A smashed door, a broken chair, a hole in the wall, a flying remote control, ripping phone cords out of the wall with such force they could not be used again… screaming, yelling, chasing me around with a knife, chasing the kids around like Jack Torrence.. you know, run of the mill terrifying stuff.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
I had as many reasons to stay as I had to leave…TWO. Their names were Avery and Devin and they were my world. I took an early discharge from the military to be a stay-at-home mom while Mark stayed on active duty and took a part-time job. Once again, this was HIS idea. He loved the idea of telling everyone that he was sacrificing so much for his wife and children. Such a Martyr. Not that I didn’t love being with my children, but I craved adult interaction and intellectual stimulation.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t allowed to have money. No cash or even my name on a joint checking account. No way! He would hand me cash to go to the grocery store along with a list of all of the items I was to buy. Try calculating the cost of every item you put into a grocery cart, knowing you probably won’t have enough by the time you get to the register, with a toddler and baby in tow. And you’d better pray you got everything on that list and you bring back the change with the receipt… or else.
I never went anywhere without my children… EVER. I took them for a walk every day with the stroller I’d saved up my allowance to buy. Yes.. I finally convinced him to give me an allowance. I saved up for two months until I had $200; enough to buy a double baby jogger. And I walked the wheels off of that thing… TWICE! Fortunately for me, the warranty covered the wheels and the frame. And since I was content with my new toy, I clearly had no need for anymore allowance, so that ended THAT.
My neighbors would tease me when I took the car to the commissary twice a month for groceries. “Whoa, he let you DRIVE??!!”, they’d say. Once, I even was allowed to attend a Tupperware party, ALONE. Mark stayed at the house with the kids and I walked four doors down to the neighbor’s house (we all lived in the same townhouse unit). I actually started having a good time, until HE came to retrieve me.
I had been gone for almost an hour and a half and the kids were getting fussy. If they didn’t act like perfect little angels, it was my fault. The fact that my son didn’t know the full alphabet by the time he was three years old was also my fault. I mean…. what the HELL was I doing all day??!!
The kids and I had a routine. We would often sleep until eight in the morning (which infuriated Mark) and then have breakfast. Then playtime, snacks, more play time, lunch and naps. I would pick the toys, put them away and organize them, mop and do laundry and watch a soap opera (because, what he hell else is on during NAP TIME??) and do it all over again after they woke up. My day was perfect with my kids.
I would dread the moment when the clock would strike “ten minutes to Mark coming home o’clock”. I would get knots in my stomach. What hadn’t I done that I would get in trouble for today? Did I fold the laundry just right? Did I put away all of the dirty dishes? Were the kids spotless and in a good mood? It didn’t matter… he would always find SOMETHING.
You might be wondering how the hell the title of this blog fits into the whole story. Well, if you haven’t already figured it out… Mark was abusive. I know, SHOCKER, right??!! It’s so subtle, not at all like the movies you see where the perpetrator is easy to spot and everybody hates him anyways. Yeah, not like that at ALL. In fact, it’s often the person you would least expect. But there are warning signs… signs that I missed entirely.
The whole swooning me and sweeping me off my feet thing… the “snow job” (rhymes with blow job, right?) is a good indicator. At least, that’s what I learned in my domestic violence support group. More on THAT later too. The pedestal followed by the sudden DROP to the bottom…without warning, cause or provocation. Just, WHAM… sucks to be you! That’s another flag.
If that didn’t cue me in, the chiding, belittling and degradation should have been a warning. But… easily explained away by, “You’re just too sensitive” or “It’s all in your head”… you know, “it’s not ME, it’s YOU”. And not to make excuses here but, all of my closest friends and family were hundreds of miles away… and we didn’t exactly have text messaging or Facebook back then.
Then there was the sex… yes, I had learned to finally enjoy sex in my twenties. And, while his was a bit smaller than average (and here, I am being KIND), he still managed to get the job done. But it did become rougher as time went on. At first I thought it was because he was smaller and looking for leverage (he would be the first one to say I may have been “roomier” than average, but I’ve seen more than my share of penises and HIS is definitely in the lowest percentile…statistically speaking). Then, he pulled my hair so hard that I had a welt on the back of my head. Had he grabbed a smaller handful, he would easily have pulled a chunk of my hair out, roots and all. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly interested in being intimate with him much after that.
I’ve never really found the appeal of S&M personally. I’ve had guys try to spank me… Ummmm… no thank you! I had one guy ask me to call him “Daddy”… yeah, not so much. I’ve had my had shoved onto a penis to hard that I nearly gagged… haven’t we all? I’ve even had a few guys who like to do it in the pooper… Mmmm… not my favorite. I mean, I’ll do it for the pleasure of my partner, but its not my GO TO. And, it’s definitely NOT for MY pleasure. None of these rank anywhere close to having your hair pulled so hard that you think your scalp is being ripped off.
So, was he just into S&M? Not that I am aware of… but his first wife and I never really hit it off so I never had a chance to ask her. And his third wife… well, she and I haven’t spoken since just a few weeks after his funeral and I didn’t get the impression that she wanted to share those details with me in between the “fucking bitches” and “Evil cunts” that she was hurling at me.
No, I didn’t kill him. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have. Again, a story for later. Suffice it to say that he killed himself. But… he blamed ME for it. Yup… he even wrote me a letter:
“Dear R****, Congratulations, you finally got your wish…” Does it even matter what he wrote after that??? Not to me it doesn’t.
I finally found the courage to leave him with not a penny to my name and my two children in the back of the car. We drove 500 miles home where we found refuge with my sister until I could get back on my feet. I remarried and so did he. We would sometimes go months or years without hearing from him. And it was always my fault.
He waited until the kids were old enough to understand what he was doing, 13 and 15 years old, and young enough to have it render irreparable damage; then he put a bullet through his own chest. He had threatened suicide on many occasions… before we were married, WHILE we were married and even after we divorced. He even attempted it once… right in front of myself and our son. It wasn’t long after he attempted it that I took the kids and we fled for home.
The geographical distance between us didn’t stop him from continuing to torment us. I assumed it would be like exorcising a demon… you know, once you cross over water, it can’t follow you. It doesn’t work like that with abusive men. At least a demonic possession would have explained his irrational behavior.
There are too many horrifying stories and the purpose of this blog is not to exorcize those demons. It’s a simple truth without the gory details. It’s about recognizing past mistakes and overcoming adversity. It’s about coming to terms with my own demons and understanding how I allowed myself to become vulnerable prey for a man who loved to hate me and hated to love me. But, I think he did love me once… I know he did.
Most of us discover who we are during our adolescence. I didn’t know I was supposed to be developing my sense of self when I was a teenager; therefore, I spent most of my twenties and thirties growing up. And I’m still learning. I guess you could say I’m a little slow on the uptake.
Now, in my forties, I’ve realized that the only way to push forward is to go back and forgive. The “Our Father” even says, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (I’m not going to cite my source here because I’m certain the source is fairly common knowledge). So I seek forgiveness from myself and for myself. And, I have even found a way to forgive the man who inflicted immeasurable pain onto myself and my children (and my extended family…and friends, etc).
If I had one more chance to speak to him, I would say two things:
I’m sorry and thank you.
I’m sorry because I know that I probably hurt you in ways that I wasn’t aware of. I’m sorry for not forgiving you sooner. My forgiveness may have saved you from your inevitable demise… and instead, your guilt weighed too heavily on you and you chose the path of no return.
I’m sorry you never had the chance to watch your daughter perform in her gymnastics meets. I’m sorry you never got to see her or your son attend their first proms. I’m sorry you never had the chance to see them graduate from high school or attend college. I’m sorry that you missed out on seeing two invincible teenagers grow up and become amazing young adults.
Thank you…because, without the struggle, we would not be where we are today. In the most existential way possible, we have come to appreciate LIFE and love and family. Sometimes, you need to lose yourself to truly find out who you are. And if you hadn’t been part of the reason we lost ourselves, we never would have looked for something better.
Thank you for helping us to build strength in the face of adversity. Thank you for teaching us how to find a way to persevere. Perhaps your final act was the ultimate act of martyrdom in that, you knew we would push ourselves harder after you were gone.
Whatever the reason, whether it was noble or selfish, I forgive you and I hope you can forgive me. And… I thank you… I’m not a better person in spite of you, I am a better person because of you.