“I want to come home.”
These are the words my daughter, DQ, spoke to me a month after she moved out of my house to live with her father. They were the words I had hoped to hear from her every day since she left, and yet, they felt so sad as she said them out loud. As her mother, I wanted to scoop her up and tell her of course she could come home. But both of us knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. After all, I still had to convince her dad this was a good idea.
“I feel like I’m giving in too soon,” she confided in me, citing the rule both her father and I had come up with that dictated she would have to live in her dad’s house until the end of the school year, at least. But after she described the drastic differences her life over there had been from her life in my home, I told her it was okay and we would figure this out.
A whole other lifetime ago, life was very different in our family. We didn’t have a lot of money, and things were really tight. When money is tight, so is patience, as well as everyday common decency. DQ’s father and I thought nothing of our verbal sparring matches we held way back then. There were some nights when we screamed at each other through to the early hours of the morning. Eventually, those screaming fights escalated into something more physical.
Abuse was not something that just popped up out of the blue back then. It had first appeared many years before, when we were first dating. The first time it happened, a guy I knew had looked at me suggestively when we were at a party. The guy had obviously been drinking too much, and likely wasn’t even seeing straight. But that one look sent the Ex over the edge, and he challenged him to a fight. Naturally, we were told to leave the party. But when I defended my friend to the Ex, he reached his hand up and came down hard on my leg next to him. He immediately apologized at his action, breaking into tears as he repeated, “I’m sorry,” over and over. I was so shocked over the action that I didn’t know what to do. And I was disgusted in myself as I reassured him that it was okay, placing all sympathy on him over what he had “accidentally” done to me, forgetting that I was the one who had been wronged. The next day, where he had hit me developed into the blackest bruise I had ever seen, taking up my entire thigh.
I often look back at that moment and wonder how things would have been different had I done what many women swear they would do – LEAVE AFTER THE FIRST HIT. It’s so easy to say. But trust me, the grooming from an abuser begins long before that first strike. First, the abuser chooses a girl who lacks self-esteem. In the beginning of that relationship, he puts her on a pedestal – telling her how pretty she is, how much of a better man he is with her, and spoils her with affection. Sometimes, the guy will come to her damaged, and let her help put the pieces together. For the Ex, he came to me only days after I met him to tell me that one of his friends had been killed. He was devastated, sharing real tears as I comforted him in his sadness.
“I’ve never met anyone who cares as much as you do,” he told me.
An abuser will also look for anything they can use to hold over their girlfriend, further chaining her to him. This opportunity didn’t take long to arise. When the Ex and I first started dating, I was also seeing someone else. The Ex wasn’t my boyfriend, and neither was this other guy. So I didn’t think anything of it on Valentine’s Day of that year when the Ex presented me with a rose earlier that afternoon, and I went on a date with the other guy that evening. Yet, at the same time, I knew it wouldn’t go over well with the Ex. Sure enough, the Ex found out and spent the next day screaming at me over the phone. As I tried to plead my case and apologize to him, he wouldn’t hear anything of it. I found myself on the defensive with him, trying to earn his forgiveness.
While the first hit was the beginning of the physical abuse, this should have been my first and last red flag that something was wrong. I had known the Ex for less than a week, and was trying to hold onto him over this mistake. But I felt horrible for hurting him. I had added to his pain so soon after his friend had died. I had betrayed him. I owed him.
He had his hooks in me.
Over the next couple years, I stopped attending many regular teen functions so I could be with him. I stopped hanging being around my friends because they couldn’t stand my boyfriend. I skipped my Senior Project Grad party because he told me he was going to go out and get drunk if I went. And the day after I graduated high school, I moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment with him. He was homeless at the time, so I felt like I had to just so he had a roof over his head.
We lived in this apartment for one year. That year was the worst year of my entire life. I have actually blocked out so much of that time. Every now and then, pieces of that year will come back to me in flashes, surprising me out of the blue. Abuse does that – it creates holes in your memory. I heard that this happens with young children when there is abuse in the home, affecting their growing brains in those first 5 years of life so that they develop issues later in life. I often wonder if this is why the Taz is the way he is, if it’s because he spent those first several years of his life tuning out his dad beating up his mom.
In that hellish year, I gave up college in favor of working full time. He worked sporadically, usually losing his job because he was stealing from the register or he mouthed off to the boss. I faithfully kept my job, handing my paycheck over to him so that he could pay the bills. We had no car, and never had money to pay for even a simple bus ride. So I walked three miles to work, and three miles back. We also had no money for food. I lived on a Top Raman diet and got down to 98 pounds.
He, on the other hand, was living high on the hog. Somehow he made friends with money. He would come home with new clothes his friends would apparently buy him (as he told me). Sometimes he’d be gone for several days at a time, and I’d have no idea where he was because he’d ignore me when I paged him (those were the days of pagers). When he came back, he’d always have some excuse as to why he was gone – he was helping a friend in need, he was trying to secure a job, he was stranded and couldn’t make it home.
We would get into awful fights over everything. He would choke me, hit me, use his body to push me against a wall. He would lunge at me, and I would instinctively fight back before he even threw the first hit, giving him the open to beat the shit out of me. One time he hit me in the nose causing me to cry out in pain next to an open window. That time, the cops were called. I lied to them, saying it was nothing. They knew I was lying. But in those days, they couldn’t do anything unless the victim pressed charges. Now it’s better because the police can press charges even when the victim doesn’t. But if I pressed charges, two things would happen – he would come back and hurt me, and even scarier to me, he would break up with me.
One of these instances of abuse caused me to hold an empty beer bottle above my head as if I were going to bash it against his head. He had just finished saying something so incredibly mean to me, I couldn’t think of anything else to do. He took the bottle, threw me on the ground, and proceeded to kick me all over my body. Then he left, and I was left alone to cry in the middle of my living room floor. The bruises remained on my body for a week, and I covered them with turtlenecks and long sleeves. But when I involuntarily winced upon being hugged by my sister, my family knew something was up.
Eventually, I worked up the courage to leave. Or rather, we were being kicked out because the rent wasn’t being paid. But I moved out and was back in my parents’ home knowing that I would soon be breaking up with the Ex.
That’s when I discovered I was pregnant.
Long story long, we stayed together, and the abuse stopped – for a while. But once we were married and had a couple of kids, it all started back up again. I don’t know what started it – the stress over lacking funds, the fact that we had just lost our third child to stillbirth, the needs of the kids we did have, the depression that was threatening both of us… All I know is that soon we were screaming at each other, he was drinking more, I was being accused of cheating on him, and the hitting began again. Another year of that, and I finally said enough was enough and moved out – for good.
So when DQ asked to move in with her father, the past was the biggest memory that made me want to say no. What if she made him angry? Would he hit her? If he could hit someone he claimed to love romantically, what would stop him from hitting his own daughter?
This was also on the memories of all those closest to us. When I decided to let DQ go, I had to answer to multiple people who thought I had gone off my rocker. But something told me that I needed to let her go. He was her dad. In all the years she had visited him, nothing had ever gone awry. I needed to trust that it would be okay.
I mention all of the abuse and our past life together because it’s relevant. I have slowly moved past this reality. It took some time, but I am no longer that girl who feels responsible for picking up the pieces. Being a punching bag is no longer normal. Even being called a mean name is not normal.
But I don’t believe the Ex has moved past this reality. I have spent the past couple of years being nice about him, not talking about the abuse – especially here – because he or the kids might read it. I pretend to the public that we had a normal divorce and get along now for the benefit for the kids. And truthfully, we do get along for the kids’ sake. I have forgiven him for all those years of torture, and even own my own part of the puzzle for the times I messed up, as well as when I allowed the abuse to continue by not walking away. But I have also forgiven myself for not walking away, because abuse is so much darker than the black and white of it. Walking away sometimes just doesn’t feel like an option.
In case you were wondering, he never did hit her. He never abused her. They hardly even fought. But life in his home was very different. The depression was still very thick in the air there. Her dad was suffering from it, and spent all his time either working or in his room watching TV. DQ was left to her own devices 90% of the time. There was no food, and she relied on the free breakfast and lunch program at school. In the evenings, she would have to make her own dinner. Often it was frozen pizza or the like.
But more than that, the Ex and his girlfriend were continuing the cycle of screaming matches at night that would last well into the early morning. DQ would lie awake at night as they screamed at each other. And there’s reason to believe that her father was still abusive.
There were other reasons, too, why DQ needed to leave. But those were the biggest. And somehow we needed to convince her father that she needed to move home. We blamed her depression, which was true, and how she was homesick, also true. We failed to mention that we knew anything about the abuse. And last weekend DQ came home with me.
“What happened? “ the counselor asked DQ when we re-enrolled her into school the following Monday. Neither of us wanted to talk about it. DQ looked at me for help, and I stepped in.
“It just wasn’t what she expected,” I explained.
“Not much greener on the other side,” the counselor chuckled.
She has no idea.
I am trying to figure out how to write an article for the newspaper on the fact that DQ came home, and why. I want to give hope to parents who have children that want to try moving out – that they may just come back when they’ve discovered the “grass isn’t greener on the other side”. I still don’t know what to write. I can’t write all this. But I needed to include the truth somewhere. So here it is.
This is why.