NINETEEN AND TWICE-MARRIED, I had become a woman lost. There was no me to be found anywhere inside. Like an obedient puppy, I did what I was told to do. Whipped by life, I had become unable to make even the simplest decision on my own. For example, if I was driving and came to a stop sign, and wasn’t sure which way to turn, I would cover my face and sob while my car sat in the middle of the intersection. All of my previous coping mechanisms had failed me. Hope had failed me. I had failed me.
For six long years, I remained in this impotent state, blindly abiding by my husband’s every word. Then, a single incident pushed me into a direction of pure defiance. Just like the rebellious part of me that started a field fire at age seven or the self-hatred-and-rage-filled sexual acting out.
The following story is an example of how passive-aggressive my behaviors could be. It also became a profound defining moment for me.
The car horn honked lightly in my driveway. My neighbor, Carol, was taking me Christmas shopping. I could think of nothing else all day for weeks since I had planned this day. Rarely permitted to leave the house, I was filled with excitement. The house was immaculate; my three babies were spic and span and quietly tucked away in their beds for the night. Pot roast and potato smells wafted through the house while my husband’s dinner warmed in the oven. I had made him an extra-special meal in exchange for allowing me to go out for the evening. Of course, he was late coming home this particular evening. Already nervously anticipating a problem, I explained to him that all he had to do was pull his dinner from the oven. I had to run hearing Carol’s horn honk louder this time.
I grabbed my purse saying “Ok, gotta run now.” Out of the corner of my eye I thought I noticed an intimidating expression beginning to change the contour of his face. I held my breath, too afraid to look, hoping to escape before his deluge of angry accusations and/or criticisms poured forth from his mouth.
“Dawn, there are some toys under the playpen.” Oh God, I thought, not now, please just this once, not now. “I will pick them up when I get home, Carol is waiting.” Having been through enough of these scenes with my husband of six years, my stomach began to hurt, and my shoulders were up to my ears with apprehension. “You will pick up those toys now or you won’t go,” he said.
All of a sudden, I was overcome with a feeling of such determination that I did not recognize myself. I walked to the couch, sat down, and, folding my arms, I looked him directly in the eye. He said, “Look at you, sitting there acting like a two-year-old instead of doing what you are supposed to do.” I got up and waved Carol on without me. She knew enough of the situation to have guessed what had just happened. I sat back on the couch, waiting for his torrent of controlled, strategic insults.
For the first time since I had married this man, I was dauntless. It’s not that I wasn’t afraid—he had hit me before—but by God, this time I was going down fighting. It was as if a dam of potency broke within me, filling every fiber of my being with bravery. I remember thinking, Go ahead and break my arms if you must, but I will not pick up those toys. After what seemed like an eternity, I stood up and walked to the door. He slowly walked toward me, dramatically taking my purse and pulling out the thirty dollars of Christmas money and my house keys.
“Now, if you walk out that door, you will never see your kids again.” I kept walking. I walked a few miles to a bar and got drunk. I rarely drank since marrying Bill. Four days later, I filed for divorce. Free again to drink without accountability, I drank as often as I could, even lacing my milk with scotch to soothe my gut-wrenching ulcer.
That night I eventually made my way to my friend Marie’s house to spend the night. Her husband called to tell my husband that I was okay and there for the night since it was three o’clock in the morning by the time they arrived home from a party. My husband said, “Kick her out, do not let her stay there.” Guy begged my husband to be reasonable, but he insisted that I be thrown out. I stayed for the weekend. Guy was never forgiven for his betrayal.
Marie wanted me to go back with my husband for the sake of the children. She knew that I had no way to support myself and the children, and was only capable of getting a minimum-wage job. She also told me that she would stand by me in whatever choice I made. On Monday I went before a judge, who ordered me back into the house and my husband out. Thus began my odyssey to become self-supporting. I am grateful to Marie, who was my champion then and during the previous two years.