The funny thing about having kids with a man you have grown to dislike is you start making all kinds of excuses for him. You plaster on the smile, you take on one more errand, one more responsibility, eat another dinner alone because he can’t be bothered to adjust his work schedule – and you stuff the resentment down deep so no one will ever know just how appalled, crushed and scared you are. And you hope you’re faking it well enough so no one can see the nasty, messy inside of your badly crafted marriage.
I feel sad for myself when I think back to those years. Who ever deserves to be treated like I was? True, I was not physically beaten; I did not sport bruises that had to be covered up with makeup or long sleeves. And that fact alone lulled me into inertia for many years. Also, my ex couldn’t have been more pleasant to the people on the outside of our marriage – something I since learned is common among abusers. He was the guy who made the rounds at parties, trying to meet all the new people and chat them up. He instantly snapped on his “well, hello there!” facade for my parents, even though he just got done berating me privately for something not 5 minutes earlier. He was a highly intelligent man who loved to talk, and parties and dinners out with friends were the perfect opportunity for him to tell people how much he knew about even the most obscure of topics. He liked to wow with his intelligence and I have to admit, he wowed me too, in the early days. His brains were what I was most attracted to when we first met. I could ask him anything about any topic, and he knew the answer or at least knew enough about it to have a conversation. I was definitely NOT his intellectual equal but I liked that the man I was with was smarter than me. I felt protected by that intelligence somehow. And if there is any one thing I miss about him, it’s how smart he was. If only that intelligence could have helped him be a nicer person.
When the kids – we had two together – were small, his explosive anger changed its aim from me to them. He could not be bothered with the minutiae that came with babies. He never changed a diaper, never got up in the night to quiet them, never took them to doctor appointments. He could not stand to hear them cry in the car or in a restaurant and would become agitated and angry to the point that he would want to either turn the car around or pull up the stakes at whatever dining establishment we had chosen and make a hasty exit. He took to going out alone in those years, leaving me with the children on weekend evenings or afternoons while he engaged in his favorite hobby – seeing movies alone. When I would ask him to please stay home, he would say “it’s Friday night – I’m not going to stare at the four walls.” So I stopped pushing for any family time and learned that being alone with the kids was much better than a ranting husband hanging around. I came to enjoy the peace and quiet of just the three of us.
My long-held dream of being a stay-at-home-mom was to remain only a dream, thanks to his getting fired from two jobs during our marriage. And also due to his obsession with money that had him convinced we were always one paycheck away from living under the highway overpass. Since I had the steady government job, I got three months off for each child, then back to work I went, a sleep-deprived and deeply depressed mom who had the sole responsibility of dropping off and picking up the children from my mother-in-law’s house. This added 30 minutes onto an already 40 minute commute.
Looking back on those years, I truly wonder how I did it. What kept me going? I must have been numb … and so focused on taking care of my kids, I did what I had to do. He always told me what a great job I had, how we needed my job for the health benefits and how quitting was simply not an option.
So, like a pack mule who adjusts itself to bear the heavy load, I took on the weight of keeping a house and a family going. I plodded forward with my blinders securely fastened on … until, inevitably enough, things started to crack.