Breaking the Silence, part 6: the final chapter…
I’ve had difficulty in writing this last part of my story. I’m not sure why. I don’t know if I need to justify the telling, or explain myself somehow. I guess because this IS the internet, I expect trolling and negative commentary. That can’t be the only reason. Gaslighting was part of my marriage to the Lawyer, so at times I don’t trust my memory as far as sequences of events. When I ended that marriage, I actively tried to forget my time in Louisiana. I broke off contact with anyone I knew down there, and didn’t talk much about it. I chucked the wedding album, and any photos he was in. I tried to erase his existence from my life.
It was late summer/early fall 1995 in Louisiana when we first arrived. We found a small apartment in a suburb of New Orleans. Things were exciting-new state, new town, new cultures to explore…and the FOOD!!! The food was divine. Gumbo, red beans and rice, po’ boys, etouffee, beignets…not to mention the crawfish! I liked to eat-I still do-and I try most foods at least once. We budgeted our money carefully so that we could afford to dine out about once a week or every two weeks. My new husband also enjoyed the various foods we tried, but he seemed surprised at the amount of food I could eat. If you recall, there was some discussion of my weight before we were married. I was still fairly active, but not athletic by any means. I had taken up running, and I joined a gym. It wasn’t enough for the Lawyer.
Maybe women didn’t have healthy, NORMAL appetites in his world. I honestly don’t know. I never thought I ate all THAT much, but he did. He watched what I ate and how much I ate, always commenting if he felt I consumed too much food. He had me get on the scale to make sure I wasn’t gaining any weight. I never really thought about my weight before this time in my life. I’d always been on the small side, and ate whatever I wanted for the most part. And those monthly weight fluctuations that most women have? He felt that I should be “in control” of that and my weight should never change. He went shopping with me to make sure my clothing size didn’t change. One memorable holiday with his family, I was happily digging in to a second helping of the feast. In front of his entire extended family, he grabbed my plate away from me and said, “I don’t want to see you put another THING in your mouth until breakfast tomorrow!” I was humiliated, but his family, ostensibly used to this behavior, continued as though nothing had happened. He discussed my “weight problem” with his friends, in front of me. The purpose of this, he explained, was to “shame” me into compliance. He monitored my exercise habits and diet so he could “help” me reach the goal weight he set for me. He would point out women he thought were in shape; another effort to “help” me. He continually held me to an impossible standard for weight and fitness; idealizing women who were athletes and telling me if I wanted to, I could look like them. Towards the end of the marriage, he installed locks on the pantry so I could not eat unless he was home. I’ve mentioned that I was already small to average in build. After our brief marriage, I was sickly thin and pale; a literal shadow of the young woman I’d been before.
As far as clothing, he had opinions about what I should wear; or more accurately, what a WIFE should wear. Part of his desire to go clothes shopping with me stemmed from wanting to make sure I bought “appropriate” clothing, he said. I accepted this because I was a new Christian, and I knew that my college club wear was not appropriate for work or church. Apparently, in his eyes, it wasn’t even proper club or “going-out” attire. This lesson was driven home one evening as we prepared to attend an art show with several of my coworkers. After saying nothing at home when I asked for his opinion of my outfit, he tried to humiliate me in front of my coworkers. He stated he would consider “any reasonable offer” for someone to take me off his hands for the evening. One of my coworkers finally asked him what he meant, and the Lawyer said I looked “like a hooker.”
“A hooker with a wedding ring??” asked my coworker, incredulously. “You CAN’T be serious, dude! She’s dressed just like everyone else.” I laughed along with the group, but I saw the anger and embarrassment on the Lawyer’s face. When we got home, he said that my coworkers should mind their own business. I reminded him that he was the one who all but offered me up to the highest bidder. He glowered at me, and reminded me who the head of the household was, and if I wanted to be a “true Christian,” I would respect him and not allow my coworkers to disrespect him either. This would be the last time we went out with my coworkers, or really anyone I befriended in Louisiana. The outfit I’d worn that evening was taken outside to the dumpster.
Despite the fact that he’d lived on his own before we got married, the Lawyer felt it was my responsibility to take care of the majority of the house chores. It didn’t matter that I worked two jobs, and more hours per week than he did. He said that his mother made sure he knew “the basics” of cooking and cleaning so he could help his future wife “as a gift” once he got married. He was horrified to learn that my mother hadn’t taught me about cooking or caring for a home. He tried to teach me to cook, but declared me a lost cause when I didn’t know that chicken wasn’t supposed to be pink when fully cooked. He didn’t care for the way I cleaned. I either cleaned too much, or not enough, or simply cleaned things “the wrong way.” He didn’t like the way I did dishes, my dusting left too much dust behind, and he always managed to find streaks on the glass when I was finished.
In fact, not much escaped his critical eye. The one thing he seemed to like was my voracious reading habit. This was eventually turned against me, however; with him saying I spent too much time reading and not enough cleaning. Interestingly, when I put down the books and picked up a mop, he said I spent too much of my free time cleaning and not enough “bettering my mind” by reading. In time, I learned that nothing I did pleased him. No matter what I was doing, in his mind, I should have been doing something else.
Early in 1996, the Lawyer learned that he hadn’t gotten into law school. He blamed me. He said that he’d been unable to study as much as he needed because I couldn’t keep the house clean, so he had to clean instead of study for the LSAT. I reminded him that I was working two part time jobs that added up to almost 60 hours a week. He still felt I should be the primary caretaker of the home. For the remainder of our brief marriage, he reminded me how I kept him from law school…and didn’t hesitate in telling others the same.
Although the Lawyer initially pushed my involvement in the church, I grew to love my church family. I sang in the choir, and began working with teens in what was known as “drama ministry.” I felt good about what I was doing, and I was happy. Once I was down to a single full-time job, I began choir rehearsal for an upcoming show. The Lawyer felt that performing in a church show was sacrilege. I stood my ground, and he went to the head pastor…and succeeded in having me removed from the choir. I was crushed, because I’d managed to make a few friends at church, and this alienated them. The Lawyer forbade me from performing on a stage. No more choir, no drama ministry, not even karaoke. I’d spent the better part of my life involved in theater; without it, there was a hole in my life.
I missed my friends from home terribly. The Lawyer knew this, yet purposely withheld messages from them. His excuse was that they would not explicitly say they were calling for me, and would spend a few polite minutes talking to him when they called. They assumed he would tell me they called, but he didn’t. He threw away letters and cards I received. He monitored all communication, even hacking into my email. We eventually shared one email address that I used, and he had his own private email address.
Punishment for disobeying the Lawyer was not physical. It was mental and emotional. I was often reminded I was a burden to him; financially, spiritually, mentally. Financially, because I apparently incurred expenses he wasn’t used to having. Spiritually…I don’t know. Maybe he felt he had to “keep me in line” or something. Mentally, the Lawyer saw me as less than him. He reminded me that in the five years I’d taken to finish my BA, he’d earned two BSs. He refused to consider further education for me, deeming it a waste. Regardless, there were penalties for going against him. One of his favorites was to deny me hugs, kisses, and even conversation. He would lock me out of the bedroom, or refuse to sleep in bed with me. He was the only person I knew in Louisiana; if he refused to speak with me, I wouldn’t talk to another human being from the time I left work until I arrived back at work the next morning. He would “ground” me from the television or computer; password-protecting them so that I couldn’t use them when he wasn’t around.
I began spending long hours at work, sometimes going in on a Saturday just to get away from the Lawyer. Sometimes I would sit in my empty office and cry until I couldn’t cry anymore. I was lonely, and the one person who was supposed to love me obviously didn’t. It was during these quiet Saturdays that I came to realize this truth: the man I’d married so hastily did not love me; not in any way I could recognize. He wanted to control me, to own me, and make me into someone or something I was not. I was homesick, and I realized I’d made a mistake in marrying this man. I had no idea how to extricate myself. I had no money of my own, no freedom, and no real friends in Louisiana.
I rationalized the Lawyer’s treatment of me for the longest time…until I defied him one day by installing (gasp) AOL on our computer so that I could use Instant Messenger and chat in real time with family and friends from home. He went ballistic. I tried to lie my way out of punishment by telling him I thought that the program was running from the disc. Interestingly, he’d told me just the previous week that I was “too dumb and ignorant” to understand how the computer worked. I therefore argued that he couldn’t say one week that I was too dumb to understand the computer, and then the next week say I was “too smart” to think that I hadn’t installed a program on the computer. (Truth: I knew a hell of a lot more about computers than he did. I knew I installed AOL on that computer. My argument/defense was more to prove a point.) We went back and forth for some time, and I finally blurted out that I knew he didn’t love me and I asked him why he married me if he didn’t love me.
His silence after my question said more than his response. “You’re right,” he said. “I don’t love you NOW. What I love is the potential you have to be the person you should be.”
My heart shattered and fell to the floor. Although I suspected this, to hear it verbalized was awful. I sobbed. He rolled his eyes. I walked outside to get some air…and he locked me out. He cracked the door to give me car keys and my purse, and told me I could return the next morning when my ‘histrionics’ were over.
There were several more scenes like this before I left. Most hurtful was when he tried to keep me from attending my grandmother’s funeral in NJ. His argument that we couldn’t afford a plane ticket fell flat when a family friend gave us tickets. The Lawyer attempted to use passive-aggressive tactics to keep us from making the flight; to no avail. Failing this, he managed to sell, mar, or outright destroy several items she left me.
The night I had to call the police finally gave me the shove I needed. After a protracted row, the Lawyer locked me in the bedroom, moving a dresser against the door so there was no way I could get out. I tried to get past him when he later returned to the room. He shoved me so hard that he bruised a kidney, leaving me urinating blood for days. I got up to try again to get past him. He threw a book at me (a hardback Robert Jordan book, for my reading aficionados), and then broke one of my grandmother’s antique candy dishes over my head. I managed to get out of the room and call 911.
I thought the HTPD of NJ circa 1993-4 was a joke, but the NOLAPD circa 1998 was an entire stand up routine. These good old boys refused to allow me to press charges, refused to complete a report, and one insisted on hugging me because “I gotta daughter ‘bout your age, shugah.” They did agree to remove him from the house for the night.
Disheveled, in pain, bleeding, and dressed in my robe and pajamas, I knocked on my neighbors’ door. These neighbors happened to be coworkers. Taking in my appearance, they invited me inside. I told them what had happened that evening, and that I only wanted someone to be aware in case things escalated. I stood outside my body and watched myself tell this story…and finally admitted to myself I had endured enough.
I called my father the next day, and asked if I could please come home temporarily to get back on my feet. After hearing only a small portion of what happened, he said he’d heard enough and told me to come back to their house.
I filed the necessary paperwork for divorce in Louisiana, stayed the two weeks required by law after filing, and literally fled back to NJ. I wasn’t expecting a loving welcome, but I was hoping for some peace until I could get back on my feet and into my own apartment. The eight months I stayed with my parents were anything but peaceful. My mother was not happy with the situation, and did not hesitate to tell me so. She demanded to know what happened, but then told me she heard enough after I relayed one or two incidents. She often said how nice it was to have a lawyer in the family, and would then catch herself with a side glance at me; correcting her statement to say, “well it WOULD HAVE been nice to have a lawyer in the family, but…” My mother continued to speak to the Lawyer on the phone long after the divorce was final. Any trust I had in my family was destroyed by her actions. My mother harangued me constantly about the hours I kept (I was a waitress and would not get home until after the bars closed at 2 AM), the friends I saw, and how it was an embarrassment to have her grown divorced daughter at their house. “What must the neighbors and our friends think?” she would muse, out loud, while giving me the side eye. I saved as much as I could while contributing to household expenses. I came home one evening about six or seven months after coming home to NJ to find my mother waiting up for me. Beer in one hand, whiskey bottle and shot glass in the other, she reminded me that my staying in her house was contingent on me “working things out” with my now-ex husband.
I took my credit card, what little money I had, and found an apartment. Even though I wasn’t ready, I moved out of my parents’ house. I needed their support emotionally and mentally, and I wasn’t getting it. Fine. I was already reeling from the trauma I’d lived through; I didn’t need any more bad feelings heaped on top of it. I would go it alone. At least I was alive.