May 20th, 1978, at just shortly after 7:00pm, I married my high school sweetheart beneath the maple tree in our backyard. It was a beautiful May evening, warm and sunny. The wedding was very simple. Two yellow potted mums sat on either side of where the preacher stood in front of the tree trunk. My dad, dressed in his one and only brown suit, walked me across the porch, down the steps, and handed me over to the groom, quite eagerly it seemed to me.
The ceremony was short. A bird pooped on his aunt’s head in the middle of it. I thought everyone was laughing at us, that the dress I had sewn myself must have been coming apart at the seams or my tomato red sunburn from the day before was causing too much of a glow. But it was soon over and I wouldn’t find out about the bird until much later. I thought I would live happily ever after from that day forward. That was my plan, anyway. That was the fairy tale.
The trouble began just a few hours later, after the reception. We couldn’t go on a honeymoon because we were both unable to take time off work, so we spent our first night together at the Uptowner Inn. He was upset with me. He said I stayed at the reception too long. I said it was the only wedding reception I would ever have. He said he was hot, I should have known. And the next time he tells me he wants to leave, I’d better leave. I’d better get things straight right then and there. I spent my wedding night crying. Things weren’t going the way I had planned. This wasn’t the fairy tale I had imagined.
And so it went for the next eleven years. His drinking was non stop. At times there were drugs, but I’m not certain how long or at what frequency it happened. The control, the anger, the abuse all escalated. There were holes in the walls of our mobile home. Plates of food had been thrown against the kitchen wall because he didn’t like what was served. Dishes broken. Glasses thrown and broken. I was constantly walking on eggshells, never knowing what I might say or do that would set him off on one of his temper tantrums. He kept a loaded pistol beneath his side of the bed. It was a not so subtle threat. There was absolutely nothing I could do right. He would hurt me in any way he could. My punishments were frequent. For weeks he would give me the silent treatment, until he wanted sex, and then he was all loving again. He reeked of beer and barbeque pork rinds. The night before my brother died, he tried to kick me out of the house because I hadn’t been home from the hospital to do the dishes. I was too tired to go and begged to stay until morning. By morning, Joey had passed away. He bought me a new TV to make me feel better. I was being a bitch because I was crying all the time. And then my dad died, and it was all about how hard it was on him. Somehow, that was all my fault, too.
It was a secret life I kept to myself. First of all, who would believe me? He was a good guy. He’d never do anything like that. And if he did, it had to be that I drove him to it. The pain ran deep inside me and what little self esteem I had was no longer existent. Then one night around 2:00am when I was home alone and he was out drinking or with his girlfriend, I was crying and screaming into my pillow, asking God what I should do, praying like a woman who had nothing else to lose, God answered my prayers. I still remember this intense calm that came over me, inside me. It was overwhelming. My tears stopped. I felt God’s presence in every fiber of my being, and He told me it was time to go, that I could do it. He would be with me through it all. He did not want me to live a life of fear and pain.
When I filed for divorce the next morning, I cried the entire time I was speaking to the attorney. I asked if he could make it happen quick, and since it was uncontested, it did happen pretty quick. But then I had to tell my family, and it wasn’t easy. My mother even told me things would have been different if I had stayed at home instead of working, if I had taken better care of him. If I had raised a family. If I had been a good wife. He was supposed to have told his mother and family about the divorce, but didn’t, and his mother had to read about it in the newspaper.
I moved to a little one bedroom apartment with my cat, Tuffy, on July 1st, 1989, two weeks after I had filed for the divorce. I couldn’t get into the apartment I had leased before then. He had ran over Tuffy with his truck a few weeks earlier when he came home drunk. Tuff survived, got patched up, and I promised him a better life. At that point, he had already beaten a dog I had owned, killed a kitten, and now he was going after my Tuffy. I didn’t care if he killed me, I was leaving and Tuff was going with me. It meant selling my horse, but I finally had the strength to get out of there, and it had to be done. The night of July 4th, I could see some of the fireworks in Parkersburg from outside my apartment. It seemed a bright light, a sign of a better future. Later, when Martina McBride came out with the song Independence Day, I would think of that night.
My soon-to-be Ex found where I was living and showed up at the apartment to try to rape me. I screamed. There were workers outside the apartment, so he left. It was odd, because he had been cheating on me for a long time, yet he didn’t want to let me go completely, he still wanted that control. I still couldn’t do anything right. He would call me on the phone and complain that people were spreading rumors about him, that he was a drunk. I told him the rumors weren’t started by me, I hadn’t told anyone anything. But he was certain it was all my fault. In his mind, even the rain was my fault. August 10th, 1989, the divorce was final. I was free.
Now, I’d like to say the healing was quick and easy and all things wonderful within weeks. That would be a lie. I spent decades trying to get over the pain and damage the marriage had caused me. There are parts of that life that will forever haunt me. But I kept going, finished night classes at college, and kept putting one foot in front of the other. A year after the divorce, I bought a house. It was something I had always dreamed of. It didn’t happen in the way I had planned, but it happened the way God planned. And I did it on my own. He again found me and showed up on my doorstep a handful of times. It’s one of the reasons I do not answer my door today when someone knocks.
Today is my EX-Wedding anniversary. I have chosen to celebrate this day with joy, because I want to. I’m doing what I want to. I’ve worked today, which I enjoy. I purchased a couple beautiful magazines to look at when I get home, and that’s a guilty pleasure I have not done in years. He always hated when I read or looked like I was enjoying myself. So I bought myself a bottle of nail polish, too. OPI Cajun Shrimp, because I love polishing my nails. And I’m going to pick up a Garden Patch pizza from Napoli’s on the way home, because I love it. And I’m going to celebrate my life of freedom from the pain and abuse by spending it with my little dog, Maggie, and my Jonnie Katt, because I love them dearly and I know they love me. They love me unconditionally. Sure as anything, I believe that’s why God placed pets into my life, because they can love unconditionally, like humans cannot.
I did not intend this post to be what it is. I was going to make some light hearted attempt at showing how I don’t need anyone and I can celebrate this day without any pain or memories. That’s not quite true, and it seems my story needed to be told today. But this I know is true, I have survived, and I will continue to survive, because I put my trust in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And that is how I get from one day to the next. It is how I can celebrate this day with JOY!
If you are a survivor, or if you know of someone who needs to read this story, please share it.