In the Beginning (novella w.i.p.)

In the Beginning of A Marriage by Mary E. Latela August, 2016

I’m Going to Fix this Marriage if it Kills Me; And how it almost did

I suppose I should have been skeptical that a fairly nice looking man wanted to spend more and more time with me. … First he wrote me a note, identifying himself as a friend of C & MJ, mutual friends, suggesting we get together some time. Then he totally deleted the note from his consciousness, and tried to make small talk. Some people should avoid making small talk.

Why did I call his house that day in December, 1971? I was lonely… there! And a teenager – his sister. I later realized, answered the phone and passed it to him. Why did I not realize that he was trying to piece together who I was while trying to seem interested? My name did not ring a bell. I almost felt like I had to feed him clues, but no, that would have been too desperate-sounding.  I was not desperate. I was alone. I was working hard. I wanted like crazy to move out of my parents’ place. And that place was packed…. All four of us kids – aged twenty-five down to fifteen – and mom and dad in a three BR, one bath ranch house which had been fine when we were in middle school but which was bursting at the seams these days.

A blind date! Aye! Our encounter gave new meaning to that hackneyed term. I did not know him, and he did not know me. So we planned to spend a day in Boston together, a snowy day at that, walking the Freedom Trail, in public. What could be less dangerous? It was like falling off a cliff, hanging on, then realizing that the rescuer didn’t care if you fell into the hot oil and drowned.

My wardrobe was spare … and I hadn’t gotten around to purchasing gloves or boots. I didn’t need them yet for my quick runs from the car to the school where I was teaching. I should have worn boots that day. I should have worn gloves that day. Heck, there we were in downtown Boston, near Filene’s basement, and we didn’t think to stop in so I could warm my hands and feet up a little.  Oh, he had thick leather gloves and his big leather shoes needed nothing to keep him from enjoying the refreshing walk through ever-increasing snowfall.

Did we eat? I suppose so, but it was not memorable. Did we drink hot coffee to thwart the frigid temps? We did not. He did not offer, and I – silly me back then – did not say, “Hey, let’s get some coffee before my tongue freezes up!”

Oh, I almost forgot that he was forty five minutes late coming to get me in the morning. He said he had stopped to chat with his father in the kitchen at home, and time flew away. I wondered what kind of father would delay a grown son from a date with a lovely girl – on a snowy day – in New England. I learned … his father had no idea where his son was going, didn’t ask. His father would have given me his silk-wool blend scarf if he’d known.

The arrangement was that I would cook him supper after the trek. I had pre-cooked the lasagna so I could warm it quickly in my oven. We sat and talked. I am nearly certain he would have skipped the lasagna, because he said it was very good, but he would have complimented it even if it hadn’t been tasty. Why oh why?

When he left, he was sure to explain that he hardly came up my way, that he was much too busy with school, but maybe he would call me if he decided to have a get-together after the New Year.

After he left, I sat in a hot bath, took my mug of tea into the bedroom, and watched TV until very late. I left no time for post-game analysis.

We met again when my nephew was baptized, then went out for supper.

I need to tell you a story that saved my life. I am not exaggerating, and I really feel sad telling the narrative, but I need to make this a part of the hopes and dashed dreams I had when I married this intelligent man who had trouble giving love, and a penchant for using violence and threats to get what he wanted..

The story that saved me was entitled “The Burning Bed.” (published 1/1/1980) by Faith McNulty, about Francine Hughes, a battered wife, who killed her husband after he made her burn her secretarial books with which she was trying to get a job so she could earn money and have a job. He didn’t want her to be more educated than he was.

The morning after the trial ended in which Francine Hughes was found not guilty, she was the guest on the Phil Donahue talk show, originating from Chicago. Donahue took on difficult topics, had guests with sad, terrible, or victorious stories. Members of the audience, mostly wives and mothers from the Midwest, asked questions and reacted. I watched every day I could.

When I turned on the TV that morning, after my husband had left for work and the children were playing, I sat very close and watched and listened to the horrifying story. It was the first time I had seen an actual TV report about an abusive marriage.

Francine Hughes looked dazed. Her face, even on our black and white TV,  was haunting.  She was so pale you had to wonder whether she would faint. She was coherent, but she spoke barely above a whisper.  The jury, after hearing her recount her story, had decided she was not guilty.

After a long, long history of her husband’s cruel abuse, Francine had finally set his bed afire when he finally fell asleep after a rampage in which he destroyed many of Francie’s things. What causes her to “snap” was his demand that she burn the textbooks she had purchased and hid from him, in order to take classes, to have job skills in order to get a job and leave him.

My marriage was another story of abuse, learned helplessness, fear for my life and for my children. I knew by that time that I was not alone, after I read a small item in the local newspaper about a hotline in my town where you could talk to someone if you were being abused.

What shocked me most about the Donahue show  was the reaction of some of the women in the audience. They were judgmental. They chastised Ms. Hughes for not being a good, submissive wife. They condemned her for killing her husband, quoted Scripture, the Ten Commandments, etc. They yelled her, called her a coward. She simply listened.

Donahue stepped in and said, “I don’t believe what I am hearing. My audience, mostly women who are smart, caring, and knowledgeable, have heard this horrible story.  And you see her here, obviously the victim of horrifying abuse. Don’t you have any compassion?”

Francine Hughes’ story was turned into a book by Frances McNulty(1980), and later into a movie with Farrah Fawcett, entitled, The Burning Bed. The entire episode was a wake-up call for our culture, a confirmation of the reality of spousal abuse, the depth to which an abuser would sink, the destruction of the victim’s self-worth, and sometimes breakdown or death at his hands.

From that day onward, I knew that I could not wait to be rescued from my own situation. I had to end the abuse. As much as I regretted ending the marriage, I was already sure that I could be killed by my husband. It took some time; I made some false starts, but finally I restarted my life without him. Unfortunately, he illegally kept the children from seeing me. Some years later the younger daughter returned to live with me. The others are still away, on their own somewhere in the Midwest. It still hurts, but I have gone beyond survival into a place of relative peace and hope.

KIDNAPPING, ML March 26, 2011

Is it a kidnapping if no one died?

Is it a kidnapping if I walked in, stupidly, and he pushed me the rest of the way?

Is it a kidnapping if when it was finally safe to leave, I had burned all my bridges and had nowhere else to go?

Is it a kidnapping if you go to Disneyworld with your kids? And to Busch Gardens? And to Sea World?

If you’ve been separated for a year and not slept together and he rapes you, does that mean the divorce is off because you had a sexual encounter?

If your heart is tugging at you, as you take in the scents of your children, and listen to their voices and want them so, and you know that you cannot leave, because he has trapped you, is it wrong to feel afraid and not yell?

Is it kidnapping if he’s already stolen your body and soul, heart and mind?

If he locks the door and blocks the way, and you really cannot get out, do you have a choice?

And if he keeps you there week after week,

And if the police come and you don’t scream out,

And your brother drives up and you are restrained from calling out?

Is it a kidnapping?

Was it a crime? Yes, it was, and there was no justice and there was no resolution, and I still am hesitant to talk about it because at some level I still feel like a fool. I had let my hyper vigilant guard down for a few seconds, less than a minute, and it seemed that all the progress dissolved and the darkness enveloped me again and would not let go.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was about 7:30 on a dark winter evening, there in Northeast Connecticut. I pulled my car into the driveway in front of the house where he lived with our children, prepared to say goodnight to my beloved little ones after our Wednesday night supper visit. We were busy, talking excitedly, at the same time becoming a little quiet as the return to separate lives was imminent. Goodbye! Hello! When will I see you again?

I turned off the ignition and my heart thumped. My estranged husband in his Saab dream car pulled in behind me, with only a few inches to spare. “Been to the Laundromat. Help me get this stuff inside.” Without a thought, I dragged one of the duffel bags, leftover from the Air Force days, into the doorway. And before I could stop to think, he pushed me roughly into the open front entrance of the rented house, closed and locked the door behind me.

“I have to go.”

“No, you are staying!”

He took me into the spare bedroom, demanded that I hand him my shirt and slacks, and tossed me a robe, the robe which I had made for him back when I’d had hopes, velvet blue and deep red. It dawned on me that I was a hostage, perhaps. Phones were all unplugged. This was before cellphones. No computer – my technologically advanced guy was opposed to having one in the home. There was no point in yelling – scaring the children, and the house was far enough from the street that no one would hear – or even care.

I had my own apartment two miles away, and everything I owned was there. What had happened is my fault. I thought I had passed the point of danger. I did not have people to check on me. We’d been apart for almost exactly a year – should have realized that he, too, kept track of anniversaries, and would want what was his, no matter what. No, he would need to have the person he thought he owned – his wife, whom he’d turned from a shy, educated, intelligent girl into a voiceless woman with no one who really had any power to help her.

My family were fed up. Too many times, I had gone back – a victim of my own need to be near my children and to pray for a miracle. It was a broken record, until I finally saw the lawyer and filed the papers, and I waited upstairs with the kids as the sheriff served the paper and he made lengthy conversation with them about how a mistake had been made, then finally left and they left, and we pushed chairs against the doors, and I sat up all night waiting.

My role as the “different one” – the identified patient in a very dysfunctional family – was set in stone. I was accepted as the sick one, the depressed one, the one who picked the wrong guy and was stuck with him, with his over-inflated ego, the guy no one liked, but whom no one would confront.

After a full year of separation, several court appearances, a lawyer who was kind but influenced by big men who used big words to warn you to back off, we were no closer to our no-fault 90 day divorce than the night he was removed. He wanted to countersue for a legal annulment, which was his right as a citizen but which did not fit with our having born and raised three children.

The next day came and the children were on winter break so they were home from school. The week passed, very slowly, as he pulled me back into his bed, and I resorted to “mentally departing” during the unpleasantness, then dealing with yet another migraine. That’s when I started to think of myself as a polite time bomb – only implosion would be permitted, the ulcer, the migraines, the depression.

It sounds corny, perhaps, but I have to say it. I am an orphan. Yes, it’s true that my mother’s dementia is running its course, and she is in the final stages, graciously offered hospice care in the nursing home where she has resided/existed for the past seven and a half years.

In the past few days I have awakened to the reality that I have been an orphan for a long time. Mother was not there for me; father was definitely not there for me. There was no unconditional love, and no, I wasn’t especially needy or anything.

WRITING

He pretended to be a strong Catholic, but he was not. He was abusive, mean, violent, etc.  The only comfort for me was that while taking care of our children, which I truly enjoyed, I was able to resurrect my passion for writing, and working in secret, and very hard, I was published regularly for my self-help, “inspirational books.” When, one day feeling discouraged about the writing game, I decided that everything I write would be with the intention of help others. In addition, life changed… not overnight, but within two years, my first book was published and thirteen more have followed.

During the separation and after the divorce, I was really isolated as my ex-husband kept the children away from me, the children whom I had cared for night and day since their birth, whom I had taught, had listened to, whom I still cherish.  I tried for the third time to do graduate school, working on a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry, which was a great program in developing counseling skills.

This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

The miracle of the grandchildren is an unexpected joy, and I love them so. I also realize that life is constantly changing and it’s better to focus on today than to worry about tomorrow. If only I could tone down the past, I would be calmer, more myself, less that frightened girl whose life I used to live.

During my convent years, my chronic depression, left untreated, melted into despair, and caused much distress as well as the accusation that I must be stuck on myself. Never was it considered that I was a survivor of a most horrible childhood, which still affects me even now.

How does a family react to a member who has claimed to be a victim of sexual abuse? The R.C. Church has gone through a long period of denial – which rubbed off on parents, insisting that abusers are rare, that victims are mentally unstable. If a parent is the perpetrator and the child is the victim what recourse has she (or he)? First, there is lack of life experience (in other words, the abuse starts so early in life that he child doesn’t understand or cannot resist.)  Second, sometimes the other parent is a Bystander, who is aware of abuse, but says nothing, does nothing, to help.

THE SECRET

Our home was too small for the six of us. In the girls’ bedroom, there were three twin-size Sealy Posturepedic mattresses on box-springs, a couple of old walnut bureaus, and enough room to hop in and out of bed. A matching desk was crammed in, but you couldn’t sit there and study. My bed was by the doorway, which was always left open. My brother had his own closet-size bedroom, but we three girls were crunched into one bedroom.

There was no privacy. So how was Dad able to come into my bed nearly every night, plop on top of me, and do his thing? One night I awoke to his man-frame on top of me, his hands invading, I started kicking, which was not unusual, as I was a very mobile sleeper, and he woke up, grunted, and went back to their room.

One morning, this craziness was interrupted. I was still in my pajamas, getting ready for school, and on the way to the bathroom, Mom looked at me, and asked, sotto voce: “Did your father sleep with you last night?” And I nodded my head, yes. She turned and went on with her day. The wound he had carved into my soul was opened wide when she admitted that she knew. She was very moody–I never knew what to expect from her–yelling, smiling, silence, noise. This time, there was absolutely no screaming. She did not walk back into their bedroom, close the door, and hit him with a lamp. She didn’t strike me, or hug me and promise to do something. She did not walk out the front door.

He had two brothers and two brothers-in-law, who were trained to protect their sisters and daughters, something about being Italian, I was told. She didn’t pick up the phone and call any of these men, who would have dealt with him in unmentionable ways. She did not tell Grandpa. She said nothing. Though I was wishing, hoping, and praying that surely she would do something, she did nothing

She knew and she did nothing. So I said nothing. Mom was certainly not a warm and tender mother. She responded with silence when I asked for help. There were accusations … the “doesn’t fit in with our life style… refusing visits, etc. Whatever magical thing, answer, apology, I was waiting for never came, never will… Living with the uncertainty  as been permanently replaced by the knowledge that my parents were not really parenting.

The beginnings of my “need to please” obsession came from, at least partially, not knowing what my mother wanted, how she would react to anything, to any choice  made… would she be furious, would she not care …. Or would there be some safe, in-between place. I do not ever remember full-blown joy over anything!

 

 

KIDNAPPING

ML March 26, 2011

Is it a kidnapping if no one died?

Is it a kidnapping if I walked in, stupidly, and he pushed me the rest of the way?

Is it a kidnapping if when it was finally safe to leave, I had burned all my bridges and had nowhere else to go?

Is it a kidnapping if you go to Disneyworld with your kids? And to Busch Gardens? And to Sea World?

If you’ve been separated for a year and not slept together and he rapes you, does that mean the divorce is off because you had a sexual encounter?

If your heart is tugging at you, as you take in the scents of your children, and listen to their voices and want them so, and you know that you cannot leave, because he has trapped you, is it wrong to feel afraid and not yell?

Is it kidnapping if he’s already stolen your body and soul, heart and mind?

If he locks the door and blocks the way, and you really cannot get out,

do you have a choice?

And if he keeps you there week after week,

And if the police come and you don’t scream out,

And your brother drives up and you are restrained from calling out?

Is it a kidnapping?

Was it a crime? Yes, it was, and there was no justice and there was no resolution, and I still am hesitant to talk about it because at some level I still feel like a fool. I had let my hyper vigilant guard down for a few seconds, less than a minute, and it seemed that all the progress dissolved and the darkness enveloped me again and would not let go.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was about 7:30 on a dark winter evening, there in Northeast Connecticut. I pulled my car into the driveway in front of the house where he lived with our children, prepared to say goodnight to my beloved little ones after our Wednesday night supper visit. We were busy, talking excitedly, at the same time becoming a little quiet as the return to separate lives was imminent. Goodbye! Hello! When will I see you again?

I turned off the ignition and my heart thumped. My estranged husband in his Saab dream car pulled in behind me, with only a few inches to spare. “Been to the Laundromat. Help me get this stuff inside.” Without a thought, I dragged one of the duffel bags, leftover from the Air Force days, into the doorway. And before I could stop to think, he pushed me roughly into the open front entrance of the rented house, closed and locked the door behind me.

“I have to go.”

“No, you are staying!”

He took me into the spare bedroom, demanded that I hand him my shirt and slacks, and tossed me a robe, the robe which I had made for him back when I’d had hopes, velvet blue and deep red. It dawned on me that I was a hostage, perhaps. Phones were all unplugged. This was before cellphones. No computer – my technologically advanced guy was opposed to having one in the home. There was no point in yelling – scaring the children, and the house was far enough from the street that no one would hear – or even care.

I had my own apartment two miles away, and everything I owned was there. What had happened is my fault. I thought I had passed the point of danger. I did not have people to check on me. We’d been apart for almost exactly a year – should have realized that he, too, kept track of anniversaries, and would want what was his, no matter what. No, he would need to have the person he thought he owned – his wife, whom he’d turned from a shy, educated, intelligent girl into a voiceless woman with no one who really had any power to help her.

My family were fed up. Too many times, I had gone back – a victim of my own need to be near my children and to pray for a miracle. It was a broken record, until I finally saw the lawyer and filed the papers, and I waited upstairs with the kids as the sheriff served the paper and he made lengthy conversation with them about how a mistake had been made, then finally left and they left, and we pushed chairs against the doors, and I sat up all night waiting.

My role as the “different one” – the identified patient in a very dysfunctional family – was set in stone. I was accepted as the sick one, the depressed one, the one who picked the wrong guy and was stuck with him, with his over-inflated ego, the guy no one liked, but whom no one would confront.

After a full year of separation, several court appearances, a lawyer who was kind but influenced by big men who used big words to warn you to back off, we were no closer to our no-fault 90 day divorce than the night he was removed. He wanted to countersue for a legal annulment, which was his right as a citizen but which did not fit with our having born and raised three children.

The next day came and the children were on winter break so they were home from school. The week passed, very slowly, as he pulled me back into his bed, and I resorted to “mentally departing” during the unpleasantness, then dealing with yet another migraine. That’s when I started to think of myself as a polite time bomb – only implosion would be permitted, the ulcer, the migraines, the depression.

It sounds corny, perhaps, but I have to say it. I am an orphan. Yes, it’s true that my mother’s dementia is running its course, and she is in the final stages, graciously offered hospice care in the nursing home where she has resided/existed for the past seven and a half years.

In the past few days I have awakened to the reality that I have been an orphan for a long time. Mother was not there for me; father was definitely not there for me. There was no unconditional love, and no, I wasn’t especially needy or anything.

 

 

 

 

TO LEONARD

January 19, 2016

To Leonard:

So, Caroline told me that she saw a post on Google linked to findagrave.com, announcing your death as of August 5, 2014.  This was a shock, of course, because we all know we will not live forever, but when someone in our family circle dies, we hope that we will know about that right away.

I suppose you and Mike & Nancy made some decisions about this … how would I know?

Mike, who seems to be doing well with his businesses, didn’t want to communicate over Twitter.. ok. So we have certainly remained interested in what has been happening with all of you, but our resources have come from google and an occasional post from your colleges. I am pleased to hear about Mike’s work, and his dedication to women in education and STEM classes.

I understand that Nancy is quite the experienced runner, and this is good, too.

You ended up in the Twin Cities, a lovely place to live, if a bit frigid in the winter.

I wonder if you ever thought about the gift you squandered when you refused to accept me as truly your wife and the mother of the children.  I suspect not. I did love you so much.

I meant every word or our wedding vows. I assumed that you did, too.

Yet, your actions, even on the wedding day, were so off-putting that I was afraid I had made a terrible mistake.

Where do I begin in a conversation which is simply my writing my thoughts to one who is no longer around? I am assuming that I will write what I need to say. Period.  There is no follow-up. There is nor further discussion.

You did hurt me terribly, and you caused the children and me great unhappiness. I thought perhaps you were not mature enough to understand marriage, or that your parents and their squabbling had infected you, or something like that.

I DO believe in change, and I did – wrongly – believe that if I figured out how to make you happy, we would stay married, and give and receive the love we each yearned for.

You were despicable. You harmed me emotionally and spiritually. You damaged my spine so badly that I have pain nearly every day. I don’t know if your punching me in the face caused my vision problems but who knows.

I am relieved that I don’t have to deal with you anymore …. Instead there is so much that is incomplete.

 

 

CODA

WRITING

He claimed to be a strong Catholic, but he was not. He was abusive, mean, violent, etc.  The only comfort for me was that while taking care of our children, which I truly enjoyed, I was able to resurrect my passion for writing, and working in secret, and very hard, I was published regularly for my self-help, “inspirational books.” When, one day feeling discouraged about the writing game, I decided that everything I write would be with the intention of help others. In addition, life changed… not overnight, but within two years, my first book was published and thirteen more have followed.

During the separation and after the divorce, I was really isolated as my ex-husband kept the children away from me, the children whom I had cared for night and day since their birth, whom I had taught, had listened to, whom I still cherish.  I tried for the third time to do graduate school, working on a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry, which was a great program in developing counseling skills.

 

This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

The miracle of the grandchildren is an unexpected joy, and I love them so. I also realize that life is constantly changing and it’s better to focus on today than to worry about tomorrow. If only I could tone down the past, I would be calmer, more myself, less that frightened girl whose life I used to live.

During my convent years, my chronic depression, left untreated, melted into despair, and caused much distress as well as the accusation that I must be stuck on myself. Never was it considered that I was a survivor of a most horrible childhood, which still affects me even now.

How does a family react to a member who has claimed to be a victim of sexual abuse? The R.C. Church has gone through a long period of denial – which rubbed off on parents, insisting that abusers are rare, that victims are mentally unstable. If a parent is the perpetrator and the child is the victim what recourse has she (or he)? First, there is lack of life experience (in other words, the abuse starts so early in life that he child doesn’t understand or cannot resist.)  Second, sometimes the other parent is a Bystander, who is aware of abuse, but says nothing, does nothing, to help.

Eventually, several friends suggested I apply to seminary, and I was accepted. I wish I had told those people off. I decided to apply to Yale University and was accepted. I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree, and plenty of experience working in the inner city. I was qualified to be a church pastor and counselor. Of course, during my studies, I read about the shabby way the people treated the Prophets like Jeremiah and Amos, who wanted them to shut up or be killed. That was serving the Lord.  Actually, I was able to mesh that Biblical info with my life, which was certainly not a joyful jaunt on the way to “wholeness.”

I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me. We just learned that ex-husband has died.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill his prey victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak “the word of the Lord.” This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who wrote Women who Run with the Wolves, tells a fable about the stork. Sometimes the stork, so excited to be carrying a girl-child, accidentally drops her too soon or a little too late, and as a result, she grows up feeling as if she doesn’t really belong to this family. Estes calls this the “misplaced zygote theory.” I used to be a misplaced little girl. This must have been the wrong family, wrong mother who very quickly couldn’t stand me, who made me wear my hair very short like a boy, who hurt me in so many ways. Surely, I was not supposed to have this father, who took away my innocence, and who forced me to learn to “go away”/dissociate to survive my childhood.

It was a long, hard trip through the early years. The only place where I could be myself was in school. Yes, I am bright, but I was also a good little girl, a teacher’s dream.  I could get some of the calmness of school days when I read at home, especially in the summer, or when I sat with Grandma on her porch, listened to her, and learned to crochet. Through all these many years, I went from place to place, trying desperately to find a “home.” I didn’t know that you cannot erase the beginning, start over, re-form your parents, become a lovely, self-assured young woman….  without a great deal of pain and perseverance. I did persevere, except for the periods of despair, which were crippling. Even after I married – to the wrong man, quelle surprise! – I knew it was the wrong bus stop, and I had dropped into the wrong house with the wrong spouse.

And through the marriage and the long divorce, I kept looking for rescue, which never came. One day, dazed with depression, confused about where to turn, wanting to give up  – I had a turning point.  I finally realized that I must search inside myself to find myself, to be my true self. I never knew until then that I had a right to be happy.

Now, I still wonder why I am where I am. Well, of course, my vision is a challenge, and I cannot drive. For five years after I moved here, I could not write, could not bring myself to put words on paper. My daughter lives nearby, and the time with the grandchildren is precious, but I am on the edge of that family unit. When the boys come and have a sleepover it is wonderful, but my daughter still remembers the painful times when we were with her father and her siblings.  It is a mixture of sadness and joy.

I am blessed with several wonderful “girl friends” and we are so close, even though many miles separate us. My writing career has been successful, but there is so much more I have to say. I have stories to tell, but unless I find someone who wants to hear them, I fear they will be lost.  I realize that many 30-somethings ignore the parental input, but time goes by too quickly to count on some distance tomorrow to fill in the blanks. I am pretty content; I really enjoy teaching and counseling. I do feel alone and still deal with “the depression.” Of course, I go to book club, knitting, some churchy events, go for coffee at Starbucks.  I have the challenging gift of empathy, so I feel very deeply, and have to take care not to be swallowed up in someone else’s drama.

For tomorrow, I plan to deepen my contemplative side, not knowing how many more winters I have, or how many more birthdays. I fear that I will never again have a spouse, a partner to love and who loves me truly. I yearn for that, have had that kind of love before, but the prospects don’t look promising. Moreover, I surely do not want to be rejected one more time. I am afraid of dying, especially of dying a painful death. My daughter will not take care of me if I become frail. So I hope I can learn how to live each day as fully as possible and, when the time comes to “move on,” the passing will be bittersweet. I hope that at least one person who cares will be there. I hope that my chronic pain will not prevent me from spending my time with people I love and who care about me, that I will be able to travel a bit, and keep teaching as long as I can stand/see/talk, and writing as long as my mind is strong.

I’m thankful that I developed the perseverance and the oomph to complete my grad school, and for the good feeling of being an ordained minister – not with a great deal of power and authority, but with a voice that is clear and true, and a strong empathy and listening ear. I’m grateful that I am still teaching and that the challenges and joys keep coming.  I’m grateful for my students who teach me more and more.

I’m thankful when the grandkids yell to me, “Love you, Nana!” I am so thankful that I have wonderful photos of the grandchildren, including the latest school pictures. I am grateful that the sunrise and the sunset come, filling me with joy, and the bursting of colors. It love the wind and the rain and the snow, though I appreciate a hot cup of tea after being out in the weather. I am so thankful for music, and if there are not violins in heaven, I will protest. I am thankful for so much, for joy, for tears, for a comforting hug – give one, take one.

I’m happy to be able to use my hands ~ to play the piano, to write (but not so much with pen and paper as with computer ), to crochet and knit, to be nearly finished with a purple and variegated warm blanket for my friend. I’m happy to be able to tie pretty bows, and braid hair, and fix the table with flowers. I am particularly glad to know exactly where the Christmas tree stand is, for when the tree comes. I wish for all the people whose life intersects mine – even for a few moments – joy and peace, courage and stamina, love and good friends with whom to share it all!

I’m thankful that my daughter is in my life, and I love her dearly, and her husband, and the four beautiful grandchildren. I’m thankful for Michael and Nancy, wherever they are. I’m thankful for my sisters and my brother, for my cousins, and for the sweet memory of all my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. My brother has been a wonderful support to me over the years, from testifying at the divorce to regular phone visits and a very loving attitude.

 

ACHING HEART, WISE HEART

Reflection by Mary E. Latela, January 10, 2016

 

There are several people who were once very important to me, but they are missing from my life now. Every once in a while, I google them. No, it’s not snooping or talking. I call it checking in.  Even though we’ve been apart for many years, there is still some kind of soul-level connection, which I really don’t understand.

We learned last week that my ex-husband has died, not recently either, over a year ago. In all honesty, my initial reaction was, who will have sympathy for me? In other words, I was aware, very aware, that this loss was loneliness come to call again. And who would care? We said our “goodbyes” in court many years ago. I never would have allowed him to hurt me again. And now I am hurting, and it’s not my fault. And even though I am holding together, the hollowness hurts so badly.

Jack Kornfield, that wonderful Buddhist teacher, does not say we should quash or deny the aching heart. He writes: “The first thing you need to do when you’ve suffered loss or betrayal is to find a way to regain your wise heart so that you can let it hold the aching of your heart.”

Where is my wise heart? After feeling numb, then feeling “out of it” for a time, I have found it! I think it is the very same heart which was so wounded that I thought I wouldn’t survive, but I did survive. The Wise Heart is the heart which was so empty that I thought I’d never love any one again, and I do love. My wise heart has loosened my need for security and allowed me to experience – with less fear – the ebb and flow of life – the ups and downs, the highs and lows. Even when the dark night is sad, we can be sure that in the dawn, the light will be different. Our breath, which may be stressed, will be easier. I am waking up – not to the awfulness of life, but to the awe with which life swirls around, lifts us up, and sets us down, right side up.

Quotation from Jack Kornfield: https://www.jackkornfield.com/zen-aching-heart/

 

 

 

Mary Latela

ORPHAN

 

I never knew what it meant to be an orphan until middle school. Then some new classmates joined us in the huge Junior High School,  where my mother and aunts and uncles had come, where everyone from my part of town attended, as well as kids from new neighborhoods.

 

One of my new friends, Bonnie, told us that she was from the Children’s Home.

She did not have a father and mother. And as we got to know her,  it became clear that while most of us went home to Mom and Dad, or Grandma and Grandpa,

some children did not.

 

Yes, life in the Children’s Home was okay. The house parents loved the kids. There was a community of caring adults and children very much in need of caring. Bonnie was a really pleasant person… unlike most of us, she was Protestant, but she was still really nice. Questions started to form about these “others” we’d learned about in Catechism

who were “outside the fold,” another expression we did not understand. That’s another whole story.

 

I remember feeling afraid. What if there were no Mom and Dad? Heaven knows, our life at home was chaotic and noisy and well- unique- But the thought of having no one there to be OUR parents truly worried me. Besides, I know now, that people in the community used to take care of the orphans – by taking them in, and raising them.

My wonderful Aunt Florence told me that orphans did not go away somewhere when she was growing up.  A boy in the neighborhood lost his mother, and Mrs. Mauro –

Aunt Florence’s mother – was asked if they could take in another child.

Without hesitation, she agreed.  Aunt Florence said she never knew until she was an adult that her brother Charlie came from another mother. He was simply her big brother. There were twenty children in that family – yes, twenty – and Charlie was one of them.

 

In these May Gospels Jesus is portrayed as being deeply reluctant to leave his followers behind. He loves them. He will miss them. He will always be with them, but not in the same way he has been. He will take care of them as best he can. He wants to reassure them, yet he cannot deny the pain of separation from which they will suffer – and by implication from which he too will suffer.

 

He promises them that they will not be alone, he will send another to be their inspiration and guide, the advocate, the guardian, the spirit of truth. We can recognize that the Spirit of God will always be with the followers of Jesus. The Spirit’s invisible but powerful presence will be with them. This message was intended primarily for the early Christians who believed in Jesus but who lamented for his absence. It is also intended for us.

 

We are not alone. No matter how bad things might seem, Jesus is still with us. My challenge – and I know that of my clergy colleagues everywhere – Is how to integrate this promise of Jesus with the reality around us. There has been so much loss… near and far. In Joplin, our neighbors are pulling together lives which have been shattered by loss. In Oklahoma, Kansas, and other places people face loss and uncertainty. And our hearts were pulled toward Fargo, ND, where the folks were preparing for yet another record-breaking storm. And I couldn’t help but go back to what that was like for us, In the 1996 winter and following spring – fifteen blizzards, followed by what came to be called the 500 year floods.

 

Back then I wrote: The ravages of the winter, the blizzards and the floods…these have accumulated over a period of time. And even the sudden overturning of the expectation of the folks up and down the Red River Valley, that they would win the fight, was something we could not control.

 

So, we may be in the period of thinking, well, we survived. But is survival enough when so many have lost so much? Many people are reaching out to help, and for now, attention is focused on today’s survivors, as it was on the devastated Katrina aftermath, and Japan’s triple whammy – earthquake, tsunami, nuclear catastrophe.

 

The attention wears off quickly from CNN as another huge event takes over the front page. And people will be left behind to rebuild – for some, rebuild homes and businesses, for the rest of us, rebuild our lives.

 

And we may be wondering why our Lord seems to be so hard to grasp. Don’t we feel a little like orphans? Despite the temptation to think of this as some kind of punishment, This is not a test of faith. We are not weak in faith and trust. We say that we hope – sometimes we hope against hope – when the outcomes seems far away and bleak. The assault on our communities, on our families, on our children is REAL.

 

It’s not surprising: if we are discouraged and a little neglected. If we  are tired of this endless winter-spring-summer transition, If we are angry, confused, frustrated, worried. If we feel as if we have cannot face another death. We are all dealing with loss, That loss is different for each of us to be sure, but that grieving is real. The good news is that grieving isn’t stagnant… it  moves along, it moves to  a better place, somewhere down the road.

 

Many people find that this stack of blocks which has tumbled sets them back mentally and emotionally to an earlier time when they felt similar pain. For some, this may be  WWII, or Vietnam. For others, a more personal trauma is relived, The death  of a spouse or other loved one, The loss of a precious relationship. We may be feeling again some old grief,  which we thought had healed, but which is reopened by the present stress. This happens.

 

The question is how to deal with this sense of being vulnerable or helpless, or even “orphaned.” What heals wounds? Well, we know that time does. And I think we realize that admitting that we are dealing with a crisis, and figuring what we are feeling and thinking…that helps…And telling the story, and telling the story, and telling the story… And perhaps crying or shouting.

 

During this Easter season, – which continues, by the way – we have been considering how the disciples of Jesus dealt with his leaving them, and with coming to know him in a new way. We can certainly imagine that they reached back into their memories for times when Jesus was there to heal them, to take away their fears, to stop the winds and the waters, to calm the storm.

 

Remembering Jesus now certainly doesn’t erase whatever we struggle with. Remembering Jesus may very well help us in our healing process, and every healing is a process. I attended a workshop for clergy after the North Dakota experience, and a Red Cross disaster counselor asked the group, “How many of you have been affected by the floods?” And only a few hands went up.

 

“Wrong Answer!” said the worker. “You have all been affected ……” I do think, that when there is a disaster, we see more clearly than usual how we are all connected, how we are all brothers and sisters, children of the One God. When someone else suffers, we suffer, too. When someone else rejoices, we rejoice with them.

 

As our hearts continue to go out to those who seem to have it worse than we do… let’s not neglect our own pain, which is real… not magnify it, of course, but acknowledge it, and deal with it in a healthy manner. Actually, Jesus’ words meant to comfort his friends extend directly to us.

 

Rosemary Radford Reuther is a theologian, feminist philosopher, grounded in reality, filled with hope, and showing others how to be empowered with the spirit.

She says there are two things the church must do. One is to pass on the tradition from one generation to another. We might say this is like King Arthur’s song: “Ask ev’ry person if they’ve heard the story, and tell it loud and clear if they have not.”

Tell the story of Jesus to your children and your children’s children.

 

But that’s not all, says Reuther. There is a second thing the church must do. Be open to the winds of the Spirit by which the tradition comes alive in each generation. That is different than Camelot, deeper than memory. This is our hope – our hope against hope – for the future…And for each day. http://day1.org/936-i_will_not_leave_you_orphaned

 

 

 

A BLESSING

 

May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence. May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses. May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon. May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path. May the flame of anger free you from falsity. May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you. May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul. May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention. May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul. May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

~ John O’Donohue ~

 

(Anam Cara)

 

MY WEDDING DAY

On the wedding day, I did look lovely. But the party was hardly over when I awoke to reality. We were stopping at the apartment to change for the honeymoon when L demanded that I take off my wedding corsage. “What the heck?”  “Take it off. I don’t want everyone to know we were just married.

Before two weeks were over, I realized with the most awful emptiness that I had just made the worst mistake of my life. I had made a few, but this was the worst, and I am still living with the implications of that decision.

We met through “mutual friends” …. He was good-looking and very buttoned-up. All had to be just right…. Except for his habitual lateness. After awhile he told me he had been engaged before and she broke it off, calling him a “sex fiend.” I had never heard the word applied to anyone I knew. He was obsessed with sex, the cheating kind, like withdrawal, which was not in the manual for the rhythm method. He said he wanted to wait two years before having a baby, but he did nothing to prevent that from happening.

As any honest person will admit, the rhythm method is a pretty good way to get pregnant. And I did, within a couple of months of the wedding. When I realized I’d missed two periods, I went in for a test and it was positive. He said nothing at first, but I could tell from his clenched jaw that he was livid! What had I done wrong? I saw the doctor and she simply prescribed pre-natal vitamins. He threw me onto our king-sized bed and punched me hard, even in those places where a pregnant woman should not be harmed. Then he walked into the other room. For weeks, he taunted me with,  “You can’t count!” “It’s your fault!” “You messed up my plans!”

He told me about the first “girl” he’d been engaged to, and she even worked in the laboratory. When I saw her there one day, I could not believe she was the shrew he had described. She was quietly working her way through the stacks, trying to find the research for her own doctorate. She was pretty, blond, serious. L reminded me that she was not involved in real “research,” that she had sold out and become a writer for ACS periodical. She lived in D.C., and he knew it well.

So this was the “good man” I had married. The pregnancy was a huge inconvenience for him, and he never stopped his sarcastic remarks. I realized through the months that he was not ready to be a husband, or even to be a friend. He was a boy yet, and his family treated him like royalty one moment and like trash in the next moment.

Then I had a night of severe pain, nearly miscarried, went to the E.R., and was order to rest in bed for a few weeks. Eventually, my body settled, but my mind was ready to explode. What had caused this reaction?

During my fifth month, I decided to walk to the public library, just around the corner from our apartment. I borrowed as many books as I could carry – all on motherhood and babies. Returning home, I tossed my coat onto a chair. Then with some pillows to prop me up, I reclined on the gold shag rug with the books by my side. I selected one on childbirth and began to read, losing myself in the interesting narrative. At about page 80 or 90, I stopped in midsentence, and placed my hands on my slightly rounded abdomen. At that moment, I had an experience that was almost otherworldly. I thought, I have a baby insider me. Our baby is growing within me. I distinctly recall thinking this a strange sensation. Physically, I had felt pregnant from the beginning. There was never any question in my mind that a little one was within me. Why did this experience suddenly seem so real? No doubt, reading the book had brought home the fact that I would soon deliver this child. On the other hand, perhaps it was knowing that the little one was “showing.” I don’t know.

On the other hand, I had to give up my teaching job because of dizziness and nausea. I was extremely sleepy, which was to be expected, but my husband kept pushing me to be more active, not to take time to just rest.

The books about babies in the 1970s were a celebration of a new way of looking at the bond between mother and baby. Women were forgoing anesthesia to really “feel the experience.” With my back problems, I had nearly constant pain, and the deliveries were a strain. It was said that nursing baby was the way to go, so I tried, but what I had not anticipated was extreme tension after the births. I actually developed post-partum psychosis after the first birth. I knew I needed professional help.

When April 24, 1973 dawned it was lovely, and I wished I could just go back to bed. Yes, I had an epidural, but the birth was complicated. At a certain point, the nurse said, “Get the father out of here!” which was frightening to me, but a kindly resident said, “Everything will be fine,” and I wanted to believe him. The doctor was cursing, there was the sound of a vacuum, hoses, and pliers were used to pull him out. The cord was wrapped around his throat, but fortunately, once it was pulled away, he was breathing well and crying. The effect of this trauma was a birth defect: – his eye muscles were affected, and he needed to have surgery to correct that. Otherwise, he was beautiful – blue eyes which stayed blue, a little fuzz on his head, very sleepy, smooth baby skin, beautiful.

Two days after we brought our son home from the hospital, my husband went back to work and I was home alone with the baby for the first time. As soon as I heard the old sedan grumbling down the driveway, I felt very strange.

The tiny little boy was asleep with that quiet, peaceful baby sleep, complete with grins and grimaces. I went into the bathroom, showered, enjoying the suds and warm water. Then I tiptoed into the bedroom to see him again. I dressed quickly, pulling out each dresser drawer silently so as not to disturb him, yet wishing at the same time that he would awaken so I could hold him and talk to him again.

I pulled on soft slippers and went into the kitchen to do the breakfast dishes. More than once, I peeked at the little guy in the crib. When my chores ere finished. I put on a pot of coffee and went in again. I looked at him, and all the responsibility I felt for him suddenly weighed down on me, and I started to cry.

This is our baby. I am his mother. He needs me for everything – to burse him, to bathe him, to love him. I felt so unworthy, so inadequate. Tears spilled down my cheeks.

That first day alone with my son, I could hear him stirring as I finished my cup of coffee. His little baby cry beckoned me. Somehow, when he was awake and I knew he needed me, I felt stronger. In being busy with him, I felt able. This must be how all good mothers do it – just keep on mothering, minute by minute, day by day.

Even now, I sometimes worry about being a good enough mom. When I was tired or if the children were sick, I became frightened, wondering if I could handle all the challenges – most of them unplanned – that accompany caring for children. Fatigue seems to intensify those normal, human fears. The responsibilities are weighty, to be sure, but I believed – and still believe – that we are not alone in this world… we are all connected.

I did not know I was one of many mothers who were suffering abuse from the father of their child. One day I read an article in the paper about a place where you could call and someone would listen to your story.  The attitude at the time was that the only way to stop abuse was to leave.

I remember the exact day, the precise hour, when I realized that no matter what I did to try to make him happy, he was perfectly able and quite likely to kill me. N was a week old. We had the son and first daughter and I was happy that they were well. We sat down to a rather simple supper. He started to complain … this wasn’t done … how had I spent my time that day? Did I get any work done? “What? I have been taking care of our children all day!”

He stood up, went around behind me and dragged me through the living room into that little hallway outside the bedroom door, and he threw me onto the rug, and pressed his arm across my throat, really pressed. He was choking me. I knew that he had learned to kill in the military, but this was not supposed to be war. I did not pass out, I suppose because I was resisting him, but I was terrified down to my bones.

And that was the way I survived. When I was a victim of violence, I felt like I was slowly dying, not just my body, but also my soul. My sense of myself as a person was diminished by punches, chokeholds, blackened eyes, permanently damaged vertebrae. If you are lying on the ground and cannot move …. What do you do? You keep still, but your mind works. At first, you are desperate, you see death approaching. You feel like the big prison doors are clanging shut forever. You lack oxygen, you begin to panic ….

In addition, if you survive, if someone helps you up, or if you scrunch and crawl, inch by inch, you might pull yourself into a kneeling position. However, you cannot pray. You do not feel anything. You dare not explore the feelings, which are under your skin, in your gut, because you sense that one tear would melt you away.

Then I heard a story that saved my life. P. 164

The story that saved me was entitled “The Burning Bed.” (published 1/1/1980) by Faith McNulty, about Francine Hughes, a battered wife, who killed her husband after he made her burn her secretarial books with which she was trying to get a job so she could earn money and have a job. He didn’t want her to be more educated than he was.

The morning after the trial ended in which Francine Hughes was found not guilty, she was the guest on the Phil Donahue talk show, originating from Chicago. Donahue took on difficult topics, had guests with sad, terrible, or victorious stories. Members of the audience, mostly wives and mothers from the Midwest, asked questions and reacted. I watched every day I could.

When I turned on the TV that morning, after my husband had left for work and the children were playing, I sat very close and watched and listened to the horrifying story. It was the first time I had seen an actual TV report about an abusive marriage.

Francine Hughes looked dazed. Her face, even on our black and white TV,  was haunting.  She was so pale you had to wonder whether she would faint. She was coherent, but she spoke barely above a whisper.  The jury, after hearing her recount her story, had decided she was not guilty.

After a long, long history of her husband’s cruel abuse, Francine had finally set his bed afire when he finally fell asleep after a rampage in which he destroyed many of Francie’s things. What causes her to “snap” was his demand that she burn the textbooks she had purchased and hid from him, in order to take classes, to have job skills in order to get a job and leave him.

My marriage was another story of abuse, learned helplessness, fear for my life and for my children. I knew by that time that I was not alone, after I read a small item in the local newspaper about a hotline in my town where you could talk to someone if you were being abused.

What shocked me most about the Donahue show was the reaction of some of the women in the audience. They were judgmental. They chastised Ms. Hughes for not being a good, submissive wife. They condemned her for killing her husband, quoted Scripture, the Ten Commandments, etc. They yelled her, called her a coward. She simply listened.

Donahue stepped in and said, “I don’t believe what I am hearing. My audience, mostly women who are smart, caring, and knowledgeable, have heard this horrible story.  And you see her here, obviously the victim of horrifying abuse. Don’t you have any compassion?”

Francine Hughes’ story was turned into a book by Frances McNulty(1980), and later into a movie with Farrah Fawcett, entitled, The Burning Bed.

The entire episode was a wake-up call for our culture, a confirmation of the reality of spousal abuse, the depth to which an abuser would sink, the destruction of the victim’s self-worth, and sometimes breakdown or death at his hands.

During the divorcing years, time stood still, then ran away.

 

 

 

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill their prey   victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak words of comfort to others.

Does non-violence work in his violent world? I have to say it does ….and I have to think this way because the alternative is to concede that there is so solution. If violence takes over, even the gentle are harmed, even the children and those children of tomorrow who might someday come into the world… may never live. This surely seems like a path to extinction.

There is a theory blowing around that the reason men kill crowds of women or children or anyone, is that they have something wrong with their masculinity. They are hyper-masculine. Leaving that sociological debate alone for now, I say that basically, there is something very wrong with a world in which we analyze, theorize, speculate about why children are dead, why women are raped, focusing on the actor of the violence. Yet, we do not come together to stop senseless killing, stop people from believing that they have the “freedom” to protect themselves with guns, knives, whenever they feel they night be killed. And they feel this way every night, every time they pass through a certain neighborhood, every time they  hear a noise in the night.

From that day onward, I knew that I could not wait to be rescued from my own situation. I had to end the abuse. As much as I regretted ending the marriage, I was already sure that I could be killed by my husband. It took some time; I made some false starts, but finally I restarted my life without him. Unfortunately, the divorce proceedings went on for two years, with many interruptions. Following the decision for joint legal custody, he kept the children from seeing me for quite a long time, which was contempt of court, but not really enforceable.

Media attention to some public perps has focused, it seems to me, on the frailty of the abuser, or his sinfulness. Doesn’t everyone know forgiveness is not free – you need to repent and “sin no more.” I shudder to think how children react during this period of inquiry, when they are scared; the assaults are somewhat predictable; and they believe they are to blame, and that there is no one who loves them enough to help.

Decades after a courageous survivor confronts those who committed or permitted the violations, they may be left off of the Thanksgiving invitation because their penchant for honesty is a bit intimidating. This is “the tip of the iceberg,” is it not?  I am open to discussion about this most critical area of family care. I condemn the victimization of children and mothers by sick people who have little incentive to change.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill his prey victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak “the word of the Lord.”

Lenore Walker wrote one of the first no holds barred books on domestic violence. She did make some controversial statements but basically, she told the victim she was not to blame for his violence. This was in the 1970s when people were taking another look at rape, when the victim was not automatically assumed to have provoked the violation.

Laura Davis, who now teaches writing and facilitates empowerment retreats teamed with Ellen Bass to write a manual to examine and tell the stories of women who had been sexually abused early in life and who were trying to heal, a very steep climb.

 

When I am tempted to chastise myself for marrying this sad man, I have to recall that I was young, innocent, and truly believed that if I was sincere in my love for him, that his words were the truth, that he loved me too. He wanted to be affectionate. He also wanted to run the show, to dominate all the conversations, to avoid many topics.

There was the Kidnapping. ML March 26, 2011

Is it a kidnapping if no one died?

Is it a kidnapping if I walked in, stupidly, and he pushed me the rest of the way?

Is it a kidnapping if when it was finally safe to leave, I had burned all my bridges and had nowhere else to go?

Is it a kidnapping if you go to Disneyworld with your kids? And to Busch Gardens? And to Sea World?

If you’ve been separated for a year and not slept together and he rapes you, does that mean the divorce is off because you had a sexual encounter?

If your heart is tugging at you, as you take in the scents of your children, and listen to their voices and want them so, and you know that you cannot leave, because he has trapped you, is it wrong to feel afraid and not yell?

Is it kidnapping if he’s already stolen your body and soul, heart and mind?

If he locks the door and blocks the way, and you really cannot get out,

do you have a choice?

And if he keeps you there week after week,

And if the police come and you don’t scream out,

And your brother drives up and you are restrained from calling out?

Is it a kidnapping?

Was it a crime? Yes, it was, and there was no justice and there was no resolution, and I still am hesitant to talk about it because at some level I still feel like a fool. I had let my hyper vigilant guard down for a few seconds, less than a minute, and it seemed that all the progress dissolved and the darkness enveloped me again and would not let go.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was about 7:30 on a dark winter evening, there in Northeast Connecticut. I pulled my car into the driveway in front of the house where he lived with our children, prepared to say goodnight to my beloved little ones after our Wednesday night supper visit. We were busy, talking excitedly, at the same time becoming a little quiet as the return to separate lives was imminent. Goodbye! Hello! When will I see you again?

I turned off the ignition and my heart thumped. My estranged husband in his Saab dream car pulled in behind me, with only a few inches to spare. “Been to the Laundromat. Help me get this stuff inside.” Without a thought, I dragged one of the duffel bags, leftover from the Air Force days, into the doorway. And before I could stop to think, he pushed me roughly into the open front entrance of the rented house, closed and locked the door behind me.

“I have to go.”

“No, you are staying!”

He took me into the spare bedroom, demanded that I hand him my shirt and slacks, and tossed me a robe, the robe which I had made for him back when I’d had hopes, velvet blue and deep red. It dawned on me that I was a hostage, perhaps. Phones were all unplugged. This was before cellphones. No computer – my technologically advanced guy was opposed to having one in the home. There was no point in yelling – scaring the children, and the house was far enough from the street that no one would hear – or even care.

I had my own apartment two miles away, and everything I owned was there. What had happened is my fault. I thought I had passed the point of danger. I did not have people to check on me. We’d been apart for almost exactly a year – should have realized that he, too, kept track of anniversaries, and would want what was his, no matter what. No, he would need to have the person he thought he owned – his wife, whom he’d turned from a shy, educated, intelligent girl into a voiceless woman with no one who really had any power to help her.

My family were fed up. Too many times, I had gone back – a victim of my own need to be near my children and to pray for a miracle. It was a broken record, until I finally saw the lawyer and filed the papers, and I waited upstairs with the kids as the sheriff served the paper and he made lengthy conversation with them about how a mistake had been made, then finally left and they left, and we pushed chairs against the doors, and I sat up all night waiting.

My role as the “different one” – the identified patient in a very dysfunctional family – was set in stone. I was accepted as the sick one, the depressed one, the one who picked the wrong guy and was stuck with him, with his over-inflated ego, the guy no one liked, but whom no one would confront.

After a full year of separation, several court appearances, a lawyer who was kind but influenced by big men who used big words to warn you to back off, we were no closer to our no-fault 90 day divorce than the night he was removed. He wanted to countersue for a legal annulment, which was his right as a citizen but which did not fit with our having born and raised three children.

The next day came and the children were on winter break so they were home from school. The week passed, very slowly, as he pulled me back into his bed, and I resorted to “mentally departing” during the unpleasantness, then dealing with yet another migraine. That’s when I started to think of myself as a polite time bomb – only implosion would be permitted, the ulcer, the migraines, the depression.

It sounds corny, perhaps, but I have to say it. I am an orphan. Yes, it’s true that my mother’s dementia is running its course, and she is in the final stages, graciously offered hospice care in the nursing home where she has resided/existed for the past seven and a half years.

In the past few days I have awakened to the reality that I have been an orphan for a long time. Mother was not there for me; father was definitely not there for me. There was no unconditional love, and no, I wasn’t especially needy or anything.

 

On my uncle’s 65th bday, there was a huge picnic planned. Of course I wanted to attend. I awakor that morning to pounding on my door. Half – asleep, I looked out carefully, and it was Dino, pushing the door in, pushing me into the bedroom. “The restraining order!”

“You’re not getting a dicovrs. The kids love living with me!”

With facial bruises, including a black eye, I called police. The office took way too long to fill our his report and when he finally left, I asked when he would be apprehending D. He said he had to interview him, listen to his side o fthe story and see if there was any substance to the complaint. He would let me know if he needed to talk to me again. Home invatson! Assault! Intimidation!

When I went over to Pete and Rose’s, I wore my sunglasses. My brother asked to see my face. He nodded. He had witnessed the bruises; he later testified about that.

 

 

 

 

 

WEDDING DAY

 

On the wedding day, I did look lovely. All the relatives came. The message of the day was based on a reading on trusting God. But the party was hardly over when I awoke to reality. We were stopping at the apartment to change for the honeymoon when L demanded that I take off my wedding corsage. “What the heck?”  “Take it off. I don’t want everyone to know we were just married. During our time away, he was focused on my shortfalls as a navigator. I reminded him that since I had never traveled, that was expecting too much.

After we returned, we got back to unpacking gifts and organizing the apartment. Before a month was over, I realized with the most awful emptiness that I had just made the worst mistake of my life. I had made a few, but this was the worst, and I am still living with the implications of that decision.

We met through “mutual friends” …. He was good-looking and very buttoned-up. For him, everyone else had to be just right…. Then again, he was habitually late. After a while he told me he had been engaged before and she broke it off, calling him a “sex fiend.” I had never heard the word applied to anyone I knew. He really was obsessed with sex, the cheating kind, the unwanted advances, withdrawal, which was not in the manual for the rhythm method.

As many honest people will admit, the rhythm method is a way to get pregnant. And I did, within a couple of months of the wedding. When I realized I’d missed two periods, I went in for a test and it was positive. He said nothing at first, but I grew frightened of his increasing anger. He spent the next months reminding me, “You can’t count!” “It’s your fault!” “You messed up my plans!”

He was livid! What had I done wrong? I saw the doctor and was prescribed pre-natal vitamins. He threw me onto our king-sized bed and punched me hard. He tried to choke me. Then he walked into the other room. For weeks, he taunted me with, “I thought you could count!”

Then I had a night of severe pain, a visit to the E.R., and orders from the doctor to rest in bed for a few weeks. Eventually, my body settled, but my mind was ready to explode. What had caused this reaction?

The pregnancy was a huge inconvenience for the father, and he never stopped his sarcastic remarks. I think he was not ready to be a husband, or even to be a friend. He was a boy yet, and his family treated him like royalty one moment and like trash in the next moment. I also had to give up my teaching job because of dizziness and nausea. I was extremely sleepy, which was to be expected, but my husband kept pushing me to be more active, not to take time to just rest.

The books about babies in the 1970s were a celebration of a new way of looking at the bond between mother and baby. Women were forging anesthesia to really “feel the experience.” With my back problems, I had nearly constant pain, and the deliveries were a strain. It was said that nursing baby was the way to go, so I tried, but what I had not planned on was extreme tension after the births. I actually developed post-partum psychosis after the birth of our son. I knew I needed professional help.

We had the gift of two daughters as well, and the pregnancies went well. I tried to be the best wife possible, but that is never the way to fix a broken marriage. As his occasional outbursts became more intense, I did fear for my life, but I was also angry. I deserved to live. He was not going to kill me.

I remember the exact day, the precise hour, when I realized that no matter what I did to try to make him happy, he was perfectly able and quite likely to kill me. Nancy was only a week old; I was recovering from delivering her. We had the son and first daughter and I was happy that they were well. We sat down to a rather simple supper. He started to complain … this wasn’t done … how had I spent my time that day? Did I get any work done? “What? I have been taking care of our children all day!”

He stood up, went around behind me and dragged me through the living room into that little hallway outside the bedroom door, and he threw me onto the rug, and pressed his arm across my throat, really pressed. He was choking me. I knew that he had learned to kill in the military, but this was not supposed to be war. I did not pass out, I suppose because I was resisting him, but I was terrified down to my bones.

And that became the way I lived. When I was a victim of violence, I felt like I was slowly dying, not just my body, but also my soul. My sense of myself as a person was diminished by punches, chokeholds, blackened eyes, permanently damaged vertebrae. If you are lying on the ground and cannot move …. What do you do? You keep still …. But your mind works, what happens? At first, you are desperate … you see death approaching …. You feel like the big prison doors are clanging shut forever …. You lack oxygen …. You begin to panic ….

In addition, if you survive, if someone helps you up, or if you scrunch and crawl, inch by inch, you might pull yourself into a kneeling position. However, you cannot pray. You do not feel anything. You dare not explore the feelings, which are under your skin, in your gut, because you sense that one tear would melt you away.

 

My body was hurt badly during those years. After Michael’s birth, my tail bone had been was broken; the following week, husband kicked me hard in the butt. He choked, hit, raped, kept me away from my relatives. My back, which has been problematic since my teen years was damaged badly by being slammed on the concrete floors in our apartment. I have a deteriorating spinal condition, several damaged and bulging discs, and for good measure from waist to neck, frozen spine. Many times I had black eyes, and I wonder if that had anything to do with my difficulties with vision in the past decade. I cannot lift more than 10 pounds. Pain is, well, chronic.  I have PTSD, probably from my childhood, when I lost time on several occasions, and my marriage which I remember in vivid detail until a major depressive episode in the late 1980s.

 

I was beginning to read and hear that the only way to stop this was to leave, so said the experts. But leaving him meant living out a drama played in which he focusd on trying to convince everyone that I was mentally unstable and he would do anything to fix out lives. It was a lie which was repeated frequently. The man could not keep a job, and every two years or so, I would be typing out his resume, and he would spend a year finding another job about which he would complain from day one.

I needed help, but my husband  prevented me. For months I was in depression. When his abuse became physical, I felt painted into a corner. I didn’t know where to turn…. I did not know there was any way to turn for help. One day I called the women’s center in town, and a lovely woman let me talk. After a while, she said they always tried to get a woman and her children safe. I took the children away to my parents’ home.  He arrived there tried fiercely to keep me away from my family.

He told me plainly that if I ever left, the children would stay with him and I would not see them again. The trauma of this first threat to my family – the children not being with me – frightened me deeply. This was not the first nor the last time I tried to leave him.

*********************

Then I heard a story that saved my life.

The story that saved me was entitled “The Burning Bed.” (published 1/1/1980) by Faith McNulty, about Francine Hughes, a battered wife, who killed her husband after he made her burn her secretarial books with which she was trying to get a job so she could earn money and have a job. He didn’t want her to be more educated than he was.

The morning after the trial ended in which Francine Hughes was found not guilty, she was the guest on the Phil Donahue talk show, originating from Chicago. Donahue took on difficult topics, had guests with sad, terrible, or victorious stories. Members of the audience, mostly wives and mothers from the Midwest, asked questions and reacted. I watched every day I could.

When I turned on the TV that morning, after my husband had left for work and the children were playing, I sat very close and watched and listened to the horrifying story. It was the first time I had seen an actual TV report about an abusive marriage.

Francine Hughes looked dazed. Her face, even on our black and white TV,  was haunting.  She was so pale you had to wonder whether she would faint. She was coherent, but she spoke barely above a whisper.  The jury, after hearing her recount her story, had decided she was not guilty.

After a long, long history of her husband’s cruel abuse, Francine had finally set his bed afire when he finally fell asleep after a rampage in which he destroyed many of Francie’s things. What causes her to “snap” was his demand that she burn the textbooks she had purchased and hid from him, in order to take classes, to have job skills in order to get a job and leave him.

My marriage was another story of abuse, learned helplessness, fear for my life and for my children. I knew by that time that I was not alone, after I read a small item in the local newspaper about a hotline in my town where you could talk to someone if you were being abused.

What shocked me most about the Donahue show was the reaction of some of the women in the audience. They were judgmental. They chastised Ms. Hughes for not being a good, submissive wife. They condemned her for killing her husband, quoted Scripture, the Ten Commandments, etc. They yelled her, called her a coward. She simply listened.

Donahue stepped in and said, “I don’t believe what I am hearing. My audience, mostly women who are smart, caring, and knowledgeable, have heard this horrible story.  And you see her here, obviously the victim of horrifying abuse. Don’t you have any compassion?”

Francine Hughes’ story was turned into a book by Frances McNulty(1980), and later into a movie with Farrah Fawcett, entitled, The Burning Bed.The entire episode was a wake-up call for our culture, a confirmation of the reality of spousal abuse, the depth to which an abuser would sink, the destruction of the victim’s self-worth, and sometimes breakdown or death at his hands.

From that day onward, I knew that I could not wait to be rescued from my own situation. I had to end the abuse. As much as I regretted ending the marriage, I was already sure that I could be killed by my husband. It took some time; I made some false starts, but finally I restarted my life without him. Unfortunately, he illegally kept the children from seeing me. Some years later the younger daughter returned to live with me. The others are still away, on their own somewhere in the Midwest. It still hurts, but I have gone beyond survival into a place of relative peace and hope.

 

Eventually, several friends suggested I apply to seminary, and I was accepted. I wish I had told those people off. I decided to apply to Yale University and was accepted. I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree, and plenty of experience working in the inner city. I was qualified to be a church pastor and counselor. Of course, during my studies, I read about the shabby way the people treated the Prophets like Jeremiah and Amos, who wanted them to shut up or be killed. That was serving the Lord.  Actually, I was able to mesh that Biblical info with my life, which was certainly not a joyful jaunt on the way to “wholeness.”

I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me. We just learned that ex-husband has died.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill his prey victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak “the word of the Lord.” This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who wrote Women who Run with the Wolves, tells a fable about the stork. Sometimes the stork, so excited to be carrying a girl-child, accidentally drops her too soon or a little too late, and as a result, she grows up feeling as if she doesn’t really belong to this family. Estes calls this the “misplaced zygote theory.” I used to be a misplaced little girl. This must have been the wrong family, wrong mother who very quickly couldn’t stand me, who made me wear my hair very short like a boy, who hurt me in so many ways. Surely, I was not supposed to have this father, who took away my innocence, and who forced me to learn to “go away”/dissociate to survive my childhood.

It was a long, hard trip through the early years. The only place where I could be myself was in school. Yes, I am bright, but I was also a good little girl, a teacher’s dream.  I could get some of the calmness of school days when I read at home, especially in the summer, or when I sat with Grandma on her porch, listened to her, and learned to crochet. Through all these many years, I went from place to place, trying desperately to find a “home.” I didn’t know that you cannot erase the beginning, start over, re-form your parents, become a lovely, self-assured young woman….  without a great deal of pain and perseverance. I did persevere, except for the periods of despair, which were crippling. Even after I married – to the wrong man, quelle surprise! – I knew it was the wrong bus stop, and I had dropped into the wrong house with the wrong spouse.

And through the marriage and the long divorce, I kept looking for rescue, which never came. One day, dazed with depression, confused about where to turn, wanting to give up  – I had a turning point.  I finally realized that I must search inside myself to find myself, to be my true self. I never knew until then that I had a right to be happy.

Now, I am much older, and I still wonder why I am where I am. Well, of course, my vision is a challenge, and I cannot drive. For five years after I moved here, I could not write, could not bring myself to put words on paper. My daughter lives nearby, and the time with the grandchildren is precious, but I am on the edge of that family unit. When the boys come and have a sleepover it is wonderful, but my daughter still remembers the painful times when we were with her father and her siblings.  It is a mixture of sadness and joy.

I am blessed with several wonderful “girl friends” and we are so close, even though many miles separate us. My writing career has been successful, but there is so much more I have to say. I have stories to tell, but unless I find someone who wants to hear them, I fear they will be lost.  I realize that many 30-somethings ignore the parental input, but time goes by too quickly to count on some distance tomorrow to fill in the blanks. I am pretty content; I really enjoy teaching and counseling. I do feel alone and still deal with “the depression.” Of course, I go to book club, knitting, some churchy events, go for coffee at Starbucks.  I have the challenging gift of empathy, so I feel very deeply, and have to take care not to be swallowed up in someone else’s drama.

For tomorrow, I plan to deepen my contemplative side, not knowing how many more winters I have, or how many more birthdays. I fear that I will never again have a spouse, a partner to love and who loves me truly. I yearn for that, have had that kind of love before, but the prospects don’t look promising. Moreover, I surely do not want to be rejected one more time. I am afraid of dying, especially of dying a painful death. My daughter will not take care of me if I become frail. So I hope I can learn how to live each day as fully as possible and, when the time comes to “move on,” the passing will be bittersweet. I hope that at least one person who cares will be there. I hope that my chronic pain will not prevent me from spending my time with people I love and who care about me, that I will be able to travel a bit, and keep teaching as long as I can stand/see/talk, and writing as long as my mind is strong.

I’m thankful that I developed the perseverance and the oomph to complete my grad school, and for the good feeling of being an ordained minister – not with a great deal of power and authority, but with a voice that is clear and true, and a strong empathy and listening ear. I’m grateful that I am still teaching and that the challenges and joys keep coming.  I’m grateful for my students who teach me more and more.

I’m thankful when the grandkids yell to me, “Love you, Nana!” I am so thankful that I have wonderful photos of the grandchildren, including the latest school pictures. I am grateful that the sunrise and the sunset come, filling me with joy, and the bursting of colors. It love the wind and the rain and the snow, though I appreciate a hot cup of tea after being out in the weather. I am so thankful for music, and if there are not violins in heaven, I will protest. I am thankful for so much, for joy, for tears, for a comforting hug – give one, take one.

I’m happy to be able to use my hands ~ to play the piano, to write (but not so much with pen and paper as with computer ), to crochet and knit, to be nearly finished with a purple and variegated warm blanket for my friend. I’m happy to be able to tie pretty bows, and braid hair, and fix the table with flowers. I am particularly glad to know exactly where the Christmas tree stand is, for when the tree comes. I wish for all the people whose life intersects mine – even for a few moments – joy and peace, courage and stamina, love and good friends with whom to share it all!

I’m thankful that my daughter is in my life, and I love her dearly, and her husband, and the four beautiful grandchildren. I’m thankful for Michael and Nancy, wherever they are. I’m thankful for my sisters and my brother, for my cousins, and for the sweet memory of all my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. My brother has been a wonderful support to me over the years, from testifying at the divorce to regular phone visits and a very loving attitude.

ORDINATION TO MINISTRY

ORDINATION TO MINISTRY

I was ordained as Pastor and Teacher on Sunday October 30th 1994 at Battell Chapel at Yale. My Committee on Ministry knew much of my story, and treated me like some amazing survivor. They obviously didn’t remember that people can eat you up, especially church people bent on power abuse, and even pastors who richly give of their care and support, preach from the head and heart, and sit with the dying.

In every one of my calls, I accepted with hope and confidence, gave generously, deep expanded by understanding of the people who want the church to be in their own names, and also able to sit with the dying and their families. I was pushed more than once from a church or institution job, usually because of “politics.” I kept trying until I could feel burnout starting to wear me down.

I wish I had left the church and kept walking, but that’s a very hard move. I tread very lightly now in religious circles and refuse to get involved in intense, egotistical committee work.

 

On the wedding day, I did look lovely. But the party was hardly over when I awoke to reality. We were stopping at the apartment to change for the honeymoon when L demanded that I take off my wedding corsage. “What the heck?”  “Take it off. I don’t want everyone to know we were just married.

Before two weeks were over, I realized with the most awful emptiness that I had just made the worst mistake of my life. I had made a few, but this was the worst, and I am still living with the implications of that decision.

We met through “mutual friends” …. He was good-looking and very buttoned-up. All had to be just right…. Except for his habitual lateness. After awhile he told me he had been engaged before and she broke it off, calling him a “sex fiend.” I had never heard the word applied to anyone I knew. He was obsessed with sex, the cheating kind, like withdrawal, which was not in the manual for the rhythm method. He said he wanted to wait two years before having a baby, but he did nothing to prevent that from happening.

As any honest person will admit, the rhythm method is a pretty good way to get pregnant. And I did, within a couple of months of the wedding. When I realized I’d missed two periods, I went in for a test and it was positive. He said nothing at first, but I could tell from his clenched jaw that he was livid! What had I done wrong? I saw the doctor and she simply prescribed pre-natal vitamins. He threw me onto our king-sized bed and punched me hard, even in those places where a pregnant woman should not be harmed. Then he walked into the other room. For weeks, he taunted me with,  “You can’t count!” “It’s your fault!” “You messed up my plans!”

So this was the “good man” I had married. The pregnancy was a huge inconvenience for him, and he never stopped his sarcastic remarks. I realized through the months that he was not ready to be a husband, or even to be a friend. He was a boy yet, and his family treated him like royalty one moment and like trash in the next moment.

Then I had a night of severe pain, nearly miscarried, went to the E.R., and was order to rest in bed for a few weeks. Eventually, my body settled, but my mind was ready to explode. What had caused this reaction?

During my fifth month, I decided to walk to the public library, just around the corner from our apartment. I borrowed as many books as I could carry – all on motherhood and babies. Returning home, I tossed my coat onto a chair. Then with some pillows to prop me up, I reclined on the gold shag rug with the books by my side. I selected one on childbirth and began to read, losing myself in the interesting narrative. At about page 80 or 90, I stopped in midsentence, and placed my hands on my slightly rounded abdomen. At that moment, I had an experience that was almost otherworldly. I thought, I have a baby insider me. Our baby is growing within me. I distinctly recall thinking this a strange sensation. Physically, I had felt pregnant from the beginning. There was never any question in my mind that a little one was within me. Why did this experience suddenly seem so real? No doubt, reading the book had brought home the fact that I would soon deliver this child. On the other hand, perhaps it was knowing that the little one was “showing.” I don’t know.

On the other hand, I had to give up my teaching job because of dizziness and nausea. I was extremely sleepy, which was to be expected, but my husband kept pushing me to be more active, not to take time to just rest.

The books about babies in the 1970s were a celebration of a new way of looking at the bond between mother and baby. Women were forgoing anesthesia to really “feel the experience.” With my back problems, I had nearly constant pain, and the deliveries were a strain. It was said that nursing baby was the way to go, so I tried, but what I had not anticipated was extreme tension after the births. I actually developed post-partum psychosis after the first birth. I knew I needed professional help.

When April 24, 1974 dawned it was lovely, and I wished I could just go back to bed. Yes, I had an epidural, but the birth was complicated. At a certain point, the nurse said, “Get the father out of here!” which was frightening to me, but a kindly resident said, “Everything will be fine,” and I wanted to believe him. The doctor was cursing, there was the sound of a vacuum, hoses, and pliers were used to pull him out. The cord was wrapped around his throat, but fortunately, once it was pulled away, he was breathing well and crying. The effect of this trauma was a birth defect: – his eye muscles were affected, and he needed to have surgery to correct that. Otherwise, he was beautiful – blue eyes which stayed blue, a little fuzz on his head, very sleepy, smooth baby skin, beautiful.

Two days after we brought our son home from the hospital, my husband went back to work and I was home alone with the baby for the first time. As soon as I heard the old sedan grumbling down the driveway, I felt very strange.

The tiny little boy was asleep with that quiet, peaceful baby sleep, complete with grins and grimaces. I went into the bathroom, showered, enjoying the suds and warm water. Then I tiptoed into the bedroom to see him again. I dressed quickly, pulling out each dresser drawer silently so as not to disturb him, yet wishing at the same time that he would awaken so I could hold him and talk to him again.

I pulled on soft slippers and went into the kitchen to do the breakfast dishes. More than once, I peeked at the little guy in the crib. When my chores ere finished. I put on a pot of coffee and went in again. I looked at him, and all the responsibility I felt for him suddenly weighed down on me, and I started to cry.

This is our baby. I am his mother. He needs me for everything – to burse him, to bathe him, to love him. I felt so unworthy, so inadequate. Tears spilled down my cheeks.

That first day alone with my son, I could hear him stirring as I finished my cup of coffee. His little baby cry beckoned me. Somehow, when he was awake and I knew he needed me, I felt stronger. In being busy with him, I felt able. This must be how all good mothers do it – just keep on mothering, minute by minute, day by day.

Even now, I sometimes worry about being a good enough mom. When I was tired or if the children were sick, I became frightened, wondering if I could handle all the challenges – most of them unplanned – that accompany caring for children. Fatigue seems to intensify those normal, human fears. The responsibilities are weighty, to be sure, but I believed – and still believe – that we are not alone in this world… we are all connected.

I did not know I was one of many mothers who were suffering abuse from the father of their child. One day I read an article in the paper about a place where you could call and someone would listen to your story.  The attitude at the time was that the only way to stop abuse was to leave.

The first time I left with the children, we took the train and were met at Penn Station by my parents and also by HUB, who had flown over. He promised – promised  my parents he would get a job in CT. He never admitted any abuse. And he deflected any question about that. He said, sadly(?) that I was stressed. I was homesick. I needed family…. In other words, this crazy escape came from my crazy mind. The truth was that the man could not keep a job, and every two years or so, I would be typing out his resume, and he would spend a year finding another job about which he would complain from day one. 

I remember the exact day, the precise hour, when I realized that no matter what I did to try to make him happy, he was perfectly able and quite likely to kill me. N was a week old. We had the son and first daughter and I was happy that they were well. We sat down to a rather simple supper. He started to complain … this wasn’t done … how had I spent my time that day? Did I get any work done? “What? I have been taking care of our children all day!”

He stood up, went around behind me and dragged me through the living room into that little hallway outside the bedroom door, and he threw me onto the rug, and pressed his arm across my throat, really pressed. He was choking me. I knew that he had learned to kill in the military, but this was not supposed to be war. I did not pass out, I suppose because I was resisting him, but I was terrified down to my bones.

And that was the way I survived. When I was a victim of violence, I felt like I was slowly dying, not just my body, but also my soul. My sense of myself as a person was diminished by punches, chokeholds, blackened eyes, permanently damaged vertebrae. If you are lying on the ground and cannot move …. What do you do? You keep still, but your mind works. At first, you are desperate, you see death approaching. You feel like the big prison doors are clanging shut forever. You lack oxygen, you begin to panic ….

In addition, if you survive, if someone helps you up, or if you scrunch and crawl, inch by inch, you might pull yourself into a kneeling position. However, you cannot pray. You do not feel anything. You dare not explore the feelings, which are under your skin, in your gut, because you sense that one tear would melt you away.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill their prey   victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak words of comfort to others.

Does non-violence work in his violent world? I have to say it does ….and I have to think this way because the alternative is to concede that there is so solution. If violence takes over, even the gentle are harmed, even the children and those children of tomorrow who might someday come into the world… may never live. This surely seems like a path to extinction.

There is a theory blowing around that the reason men kill crowds of women or children or anyone, is that they have something wrong with their masculinity. They are hyper-masculine. Leaving that sociological debate alone for now, I say that basically, there is something very wrong with a world in which we analyze, theorize, speculate about why children are dead, why women are raped, focusing on the actor of the violence. Yet, we do not come together to stop senseless killing, stop people from believing that they have the “freedom” to protect themselves with guns, knives, whenever they feel they night be killed. And they feel this way every night, every time they pass through a certain neighborhood, every time they  hear a noise in the night.

 

 

From that day onward, I knew that I could not wait to be rescued from my own situation. I had to end the abuse. As much as I regretted ending the marriage, I was already sure that I could be killed by my husband. It took some time; I made some false starts, but finally I restarted my life without him. Unfortunately, the divorce proceedings went on for two years, with many interruptions. Following the decision for joint legal custody, he kept the children from seeing me for quite a long time, which was contempt of court, but not really enforceable.

There is still pain, but I have moved into a place of relative peace and hope, which is like a new beginning. Some excellent and powerful stories about help that is not offered to victims of sexual abuse in big churches and other institutions. Check out, for example, a recent set of articles at HuffPost.

Let’s get more intimate. How does a family react to a member who has stated that he or she has been sexually abused? Answers vary, of course. The R.C. Church has gone through a long period of denial – which rubbed off on parents, that insists abusers are rare, that victims are mentally unstable, that priests should be forgiven, etc. If a parent is the perpetrator and the child is the victim what recourse has she (or he)? First, there is lack of life experience  (in other words, the abuse starts so early in life that he child doesn’t understand or cannot resist.)  Second, sometimes the other parent is a Bystander, who is aware of abuse, but says nothing, does nothing, to help.

Media attention to some public perps has focused, it seems to me, on the frailty of the abuser, or his sinfulness. Doesn’t everyone know forgiveness is not free – you need to repent and “sin no more.” I shudder to think how children react during this period of inquiry, when they are scared; the assaults are somewhat predictable; and they believe they are to blame, and that there is no one who loves them enough to help.

Decades after a courageous survivor confronts those who committed or permitted the violations, they may be left off of the Thanksgiving invitation because their penchant for honesty is a bit intimidating. This is “the tip of the iceberg,” is it not?  I am open to discussion about this most critical area of family care. I condemn the victimization of children and mothers by sick people who have little incentive to change.

Bottom line, I decided to apply to seminary, and was accepted. I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree, and plenty of experience working in the inner city. I was qualified to be a church pastor and counselor. Of course, during my studies, I read about the shabby way the people treated the Prophets like Jeremiah and Amos, who wanted them to shut up or be killed. That was serving the Lord.  Actually, I was able to mesh that Biblical info with my life, which was certainly not a joyful jaunt on the way to “wholeness.”

I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me.

When we see others being harmed, we wish we could stop the violence, but we know … yes we know, that this scene will happen again and again … and either the perpetrator will kill his prey victim, or the victim will shrink away. A child whose personhood has been damaged will not rise to the podium and claim to speak “the word of the Lord.”

There is a theory blowing around that the reason men kill crowds of women or children or anyone, is that they have something wrong with their masculinity. They are hyper-masculine. Leaving that sociological debate alone for now, I say that basically, there is something very wrong with a world in which we analyze, theorize, speculate about why children are dead, why women are raped, focusing on the actor of the violence. Yet, we do not come together to stop senseless killing, stop people from believing that they have the “freedom” to protect themselves with guns, knives, whenever they feel they night be killed. And they feel this way every night, every time they pass through a certain neighborhood, every time they hear a noise in the night.

Lenore Walker wrote one of the first no holds barred books on domestic violence. She did make some controversial statements but basically, she told the victim she was not to blame for his violence. This was in the 1970s when people were taking another look at rape, when the victim was not automatically assumed to have provoked the violation.

 

 

Laura Davis, who now teaches writing and facilitates empowerment retreats teamed with Ellen Bass to write a manual to examine and tell the stories of women who had been sexually abused early in life and who were trying to heal, a very steep climb.

 

 

Then I heard a story that saved my life.

The story that saved me was entitled “The Burning Bed.” (published 1/1/1980) by Faith McNulty, about Francine Hughes, a battered wife, who killed her husband after he made her burn her secretarial books with which she was trying to get a job so she could earn money and have a job. He didn’t want her to be more educated than he was.

The morning after the trial ended in which Francine Hughes was found not guilty, she was the guest on the Phil Donahue talk show, originating from Chicago. Donahue took on difficult topics, had guests with sad, terrible, or victorious stories. Members of the audience, mostly wives and mothers from the Midwest, asked questions and reacted. I watched every day I could.

When I turned on the TV that morning, after my husband had left for work and the children were playing, I sat very close and watched and listened to the horrifying story. It was the first time I had seen an actual TV report about an abusive marriage.

Francine Hughes looked dazed. Her face, even on our black and white TV,  was haunting.  She was so pale you had to wonder whether she would faint. She was coherent, but she spoke barely above a whisper.  The jury, after hearing her recount her story, had decided she was not guilty.

After a long, long history of her husband’s cruel abuse, Francine had finally set his bed afire when he finally fell asleep after a rampage in which he destroyed many of Francie’s things. What causes her to “snap” was his demand that she burn the textbooks she had purchased and hid from him, in order to take classes, to have job skills in order to get a job and leave him.

My marriage was another story of abuse, learned helplessness, fear for my life and for my children. I knew by that time that I was not alone, after I read a small item in the local newspaper about a hotline in my town where you could talk to someone if you were being abused.

What shocked me most about the Donahue show  was the reaction of some of the women in the audience. They were judgmental. They chastised Ms. Hughes for not being a good, submissive wife. They condemned her for killing her husband, quoted Scripture, the Ten Commandments, etc. They yelled her, called her a coward. She simply listened.

Donahue stepped in and said, “I don’t believe what I am hearing. My audience, mostly women who are smart, caring, and knowledgeable, have heard this horrible story.  And you see her here, obviously the victim of horrifying abuse. Don’t you have any compassion?”

Francine Hughes’ story was turned into a book by Frances McNulty(1980), and later into a movie with Farrah Fawcett, entitled, The Burning Bed.The entire episode was a wake-up call for our culture, a confirmation of the reality of spousal abuse, the depth to which an abuser would sink, the destruction of the victim’s self-worth, and sometimes breakdown or death at his hands.

From that day onward, I knew that I could not wait to be rescued from my own situation. I had to end the abuse. As much as I regretted ending the marriage, I was already sure that I could be killed by my husband. It took some time; I made some false starts, but finally I restarted my life without him. Unfortunately, he illegally kept the children from seeing me. Some years later the younger daughter returned to live with me. The others are still away, on their own somewhere in the Midwest. It still hurts, but I have gone beyond survival into a place of relative peace and hope.

He introduced himself as a strong Catholic, but he was not. He was abusive, mean, violent, etc.  The only comfort for me was that while taking care of our children, which I truly enjoyed, I was able to resurrect my passion for writing, and working in secret, and very hard, I was published regularly for my self-help, “inspirational books.” When, one day feeling discouraged about the writing game, I decided that everything I write would be with the intention of help others. In addition, life changed… not overnight, but within two years, my first book was published and thirteen more have followed.

During the separation and after the divorce, I was really isolated as my ex-husband kept the children away from me.  I tried for the third time to do graduate school, working on a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry, which was a great program in developing counseling skills.

Bottom line, I decided to apply to seminary, and was accepted. I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree, and plenty of experience working in the inner city. I was qualified to be a church pastor and counselor. Of course, during my studies, I read about the shabby way the people treated the Prophets like Jeremiah and Amos, who wanted them to shut up or be killed. That was serving the Lord.  Actually, I was able to mesh that Biblical info with my life, which was certainly not a joyful jaunt on the way to “wholeness.”

I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me.

 

I don’t think God is anything like I imagined, if there at all. I don’t think we are sinful, guilty creatures. That is rubbish! I teach; I serve as a counselor, particularly for other clergy who are learning the importance of self – care.

This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally.

The miracle of the grandchildren is an unexpected joy, and I love them so. I also realize that life is constantly changing and it’s better to focus on today than to worry about tomorrow. If only I could tone down the past, I would be calmer, more myself, less that frightened girl whose life I used to live.

During my convent years, my chronic depression, left untreated, melted into despair, and caused much distress as well as the accusation that I must be stuck on myself. Never was it considered that I was a survivor of a most horrible childhood, which still affects me even now.

 

UNCLE CARL’S SICKNESS & DEATH, AUNT ROSE, MOM, LATER  YEARS

Aunt Rose was exhausted from taking care of her son, taking care of Pete, taking care of her mother. She wanted Mary to help, but Mary refused … “we had our turn.” This was no logical reason. Both daughters wore themselves out serve the others …. Pain and discomfort were everyday visitors. They lived a block and a half apart, but they did not speak.

Their brother was not expected to – nor did he – help, not until later years when, divorced, he moved into grandma’s spare bedroom and took care of her when she work during the night. His time was his own, and they didn’t ask. He had a problem with alcohol … like so many of the sons of his neighbors, but he was such a sweet man that much was forgiven … at least from the perspective of his beloved nieces.

There was a period of time when I wondered about Mom and Rose, whether their time spent together tending to Carl would bring them together, but that time was tinged with resentment as well. Uncle was diagnosed with brain cancer, and after spending eight months in pain at the V.A., where he tried to keep up his spirits and where they all loved him, he was near the end. Ironically, he had remarried and they were SO happy. So he had a spouse to walk that part of his journey with him.

One day in May, he died. His daughters were broken-hearted. His nieces were as well. Rose had been unable to deal with her sadness at his impending death, and her own husband did not seem to care. Her uncle’s wife gave her a photo of smiling Uncle, taken at a wedding, which she kept with her other treasures.

It was a typical bad news phone call.

On Friday afternoon in early May, Dad called. He said, “What a beautiful day it is. [Pause]

“Uncle Carl  died this morning.”

Oh, no!

I was ironing; we were preparing for a short trip to a conference. Le decided we would not attend. We would stay with my parents while he was away.

I cried and cried. Carl had been my first sitter. He was loving and kind, and respectful. He had the most beautiful smile. He had a sadness, too, because his wife divorced him. They came to visit at the convent and he talked to me. I told him not to blame himself. Just take care of the girls, keep that job, and keep in touch. He was very nervous and ashamed. It was the first time anyone in the large family had ever had a divorce, so that was very sad, and very hard on everyone. WE were given no details. Carl took care of his daughters after work. Lorraine had her mother to help her with the children. And in public, they were friendly toward one another.

At Carl’s funeral, Grandma was still upset with Lorraine whom she blamed for breaking up the marriage, and the families stayed away from each other. Lorraine sat in the row in front of ours in church, and the daughters clung to her and cried.

 

About @LatelaMary

Author of 14 self-help books, five still available: Prepare Him Room, Ten Steps to Peace, Healing the Abusive Family, Moments for Mothers. Breaking the Boxes: critique of institutions vs. individuals. Work-in-progress: Memoir (Sorting out Secrets)
This entry was posted in abuse, blind date, domestic violence, faith and religion, family, mystory and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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