I am so thankful that I have others that are willing to not only share their stories with me, but with you as well. Today’s Survivor has chosen to remain anonymous. It is something rarely talked about, but Men are often verbally abused, and physically abused. Their children are often used as tools against them. Thanks to the author for being our First “Sunday Survivor”.
Our relationship started off so well. We were a young married couple, no kids, both working and attending college. We had a promising future. We argued now and then as couples did and along the way I learned to compromise. Not every fight was worth fighting. And more and more I found myself giving ground just to avoid another one.
After a few years the thinking became automatic. Don’t do that. Do this. Your commentary is not needed. We got along like that.
One day when her car was in the shop, I had to pick my wife up from work. Her friend, our neighbor, came along so she had an excuse to get out of the house. Ten days later I awoke alone in a darkened hospital room.
I had no idea what happened or where I was. My only memories were brief, terrifying flashes seen through a morphine induced haze. The nurse gave me another shot and told me to go back to sleep.
I awoke the following morning to the doctor scraping a pen across the sole of my foot. Startled at my response, he proudly announced that I would probably be able to walk again, soon. I still had no idea where I was and asked for my wife, “Do you know her name?” He asked. I answered and he followed with, “And how many kids do you have?” I had no idea.
She didn’t get there until later that evening. She looked beaten and bruised. The faded brown impression of the car stereo on her thigh stood in contrast to her pale complexion. “We were in an accident. Some guy ran a light and we hit him head on,” she told me. “You weren’t wearing your seatbelt.”
I stayed in the hospital for the next three weeks, struggling through speech and physical therapy. She came to visit, most evenings. Between school and work, I didn’t begrudge her for it. We weren’t dead. Life goes on.
It was Mother’s Day before I was able to do anything close to walking. I supported myself against the back of the wheelchair as I made my way down to the gift shop to buy my mom a card. My wife was there with me, encouraging me as I made my way down the hall. Granted it was a Sunday, but I remember commenting to on how much I appreciated her being there. It was then that she told me that she dropped her classes and never went back to work after the accident. She had been home recuperating. After all, she was in an accident too.
Eventually I was able to go back to work, but not back to school. By the time the doctor released me, I had lost my funding and I had nearly lost my job. But my employer was patient and after a few months of vocational rehabilitation and counseling I was released back to my regular duties.
Meanwhile our seeking settlement for the accident wore on. Technically the vehicle that hit me was stolen, but the driver’s family that owned it refused to press charges. They were fighting their own insurance company and mine, witnesses were becoming less interested in being witnesses. And I was trying to get a handle on my new limitations and get back in school. Eventually I decided on a certificate from a technical college as the best way from point B to C.
It took awhile for the settlement came through. Our attorney’s receptionist said over the phone that they had a check, but that we should talk to our attorney before taking it. I agreed, but my wife started yelling when I told her that we had to wait.
Old habits die hard and it was still easier to fold than to fight. She had become vicious in the time since the accident. Her behavior was erratic and her attacks more personal. She blamed it on post-partum depression, but I had found methamphetamines stashed around the house. She admitted to it and promised to stop, for the kid.
The attorney called a day or two after we picked up the settlement asking if we had cashed it yet. She explained that she was going for a larger sum than we were given, one that would adequately compensate me for my new limitations. “Didn’t your wife tell you about this? We talked about it the other day,” the attorney asked asked. My wife had said nothing.
As the years wore on, we suffered our skirmishes. The money went fast. Expenses I was told, and I believe that for the most part. But her brother also needed a few thousand for an investment opportunity, her semi-estranged sister-in-law needed a car, her mom needed a down-payment for a new motor home. I don’t believe they ever paid us back.
Years had passed and I thought I was done with school before I made a Title VII claim against my employer. There had been several times that I would come home in the afternoon to a handful of unfamiliar faces sitting on my couch. She was a stay-at-home mom to our 4-year old while I worked and went to school. She had her own friends. The day I left my job was the day I walked in on them.
“Daddy!” she near screamed, running to the door. Our daughter exploded every time I came home. She will always be my little girl. The group of strangers and her brother snorting lines from my glass coffee table were less excited to see me. They left, fast.
My wife came walking out of the bedroom with another stranger in tow. Her first words were an angry, “What the…” before her expression went blank. The stranger walked straight passed me and out the door. If they left anything in the living room, I don’t think they stopped to collect it. Her brother never came back.
We talked through the night. I learned that to make ends meet she and her brother who’d been sleeping on my couch for the last year had been dealing drugs. She was emphatic that she had never cheated on me and that those people I had walked in on were customers. We agreed that she was done, that we would be moving soon and that she was not telling her new friends where. As I was still dealing with some therapy issues, she was livid when I later told her that I discussed the situation with my counselor. I was forbidden from ever discussing negative aspects of our relationship.
A heated argument started a few weeks later as we raced up the freeway in a rented moving truck. One comment led to another and I ended up demanding to be let out on the side of the road. She didn’t want to move. She didn’t want to leave her friends. I was being unreasonable. I got a ride home.
When I got back to our place it was empty. The truck was there but her car was gone. I hopped in mine and drove to her mother’s to see if she was there. I was met at the door by her family saying she didn’t want to see me. A small altercation later and I went home to pack.
I was met by a police officer when I got out of the car. He asked my identity and arrested me for assaulting my wife, her family and our child. Four people in all had made statements that I walked into her mother’s home and assaulted all of them. It was only by some sheer act of heroism that they were able to get me out of the house, I was told. Apparently I had also made it a regular practice to beat my wife and our daughter. That was also news to me.
The trial went on for just shy of a year. Almost immediately my arrest was used to justify a protective order and supervised visitation. I in turn took the opportunity to grow as a person. The Title VII dispute with my former employer ended in their bankruptcy and me being unemployable in what is by nature a closed profession. I went back to school.
I saw our daughter as often as I could. She would be dropped off to me while a third-person monitored our play. Frequently she would be dropped off by the soon-to-be-exes mom, but occasionally by a family friend, whom my daughter told me was mommy’s new boyfriend. This wasn’t nearly as startling as when I started seeing him around my school’s campus, once even dropping in to wave at me during a lecture.
Because of their relationship, the campus police told me that the new boyfriend was protected by the order against me. Additionally, since the campus was public property and the order was against me, they would be obliged to arrest me if they are ever called about the two of us being in contact. It was then that officers explained to me what a mutual protective order was.
I left early that day to stop at the District Court house while it was still open. I had been on the wrong end of the victim’s advocates office for too long and mine was not a welcome face. Unfortunately I needed to speak to them before the court would grant me any kind of protection. I pled my case to snide remarks about my abuse of the system before a supervisor intervened and granted my request.
At court, on a whim, I requested language be put in to include our daughter not be kept in the company of convicted sex offenders. My wife argued against it and it was the first time the court looked at her like she was crazy.
Her boyfriend’s visits to my school stopped, but he persisted in other places. The campus police knew to look for him so I imagine he never made it far. I’d see him walking past my house though, or conveniently spot him in the store while I shopped. The police said I could do nothing unless he did something. The domestic violence charges were still pending and I wasn’t allowed to carry a gun.
It was on another whim that one night that I plugged his name into the state’s sex offender registry and his face popped up. At no time in dealing with the police over him had they mentioned that he was not only a convicted sex offender, but that he had failed to report his whereabouts in some time. Of course I called the police and had him removed from my wife’s home where he had been living since our separation.
A few weeks later, my cell phone rang as I walked between classes. It was my wife begging me to bail her out if she went to jail. She and her brother had been pulled over, the officer was looking through the car and there was a chance that he might find something. I told her that she could expect no help from me, left early and went straight to the victim’s advocates office to see about getting my daughter.
It was the same person I spoke to before. The one that met my grievance with snide remarks. She was as displeased as ever to see me, and surprised when I told her that I was going to get my daughter. I told her about the substance abuse, the sex offender boyfriend, the stalking. She didn’t believe me until she made a few calls. She called the campus police that were looking out for the boyfriend, the city cops that removed him from the home and the jail where my wife was being held. She apologized with the suggestion that I should consider having my daughter examined to see if she had been molested by the sex offender boyfriend who had a conviction for forcible sodomy on a minor.
Based on what was learned, the wife’s restraining order was modified and I was immediately given full custody of our child.
My wife was released on her own recognizance the following day, but the damage to her case was done. I made sure that our daughter stayed in contact with and visited, but the damage was done there too. Our daughter felt betrayed and it took a while for her to behave normally towards her mom. She wouldn’t even speak to her for a few days. Just over a week later the wife invited us over for dinner so we could work things out.
We sat in the living room talking after dinner. It was almost like old times and everything seemed normal. From my place on the couch I watched our kid play with her makeup under the bathroom sink in the half-bathroom under the stairs. At one point my wife though asked her to let her use the bathroom. She was in there awhile.
When she came out, I noticed the toilet didn’t flush. I stopped my daughter from going back in as her mother came out saying I needed to use the bathroom too.
I looked frantically, knowing that something was in there and that I only had minutes to find it. Nothing under the cover on the back of the tank. Nothing in the medicine cabinet. And that fast I was out of places to look. Then I got down and looked in the cabinet where my daughter kept her play makeup. There on a lip, above the door was a small bag. Inside was a warm, glass pipe and a small plastic bag with a white powdery residue. I called 911.
Walking out of the bathroom, because I’m a triumphant ass, I held the pipe at eye level in one hand looking at her while holding my phone to my ear in the other. I told the operator when she tried to take the phone from me and the operator assured me that police were on their way.
It quickly came out that there were protective orders between us when the police arrived. The soon-to-be-ex was frantic, but after the confusion subsided, officers apologized for having to arrest me. They admired that I was willing to get arrested in order to protect my child. My wife was ultimately charged with two felony possession charge along with a misdemeanor paraphernalia.
About a month later I found myself attending my next court date on the original domestic violence charges. When I saw the prosecutor I told him that he was going to make it all go away. Like the rest, he doubted me. I explained to him that his dragging the trial out for so long – because it was the prosecutor’s office who asked for continuance after continuance – that he had done well enough to trample my right to a speedy trial. Granted I had never before been in such a position, but now was the time to close that chapter. I just wanted to put it behind me.
I had kept track of the witnesses through the course of events, which wasn’t that hard. I followed them through police blotters, court calendars and online inmate rosters. The brother and semi-estranged sister-in-law had been in jail almost since the first incident and the mother had moved to Michigan for the summer in her motor home. Of her other friends that had been listed earlier to the prosecutor as potential character witnesses, many of them were also in jail. I explained this to the prosecutor, his face flustered and he hurriedly left the office. About 20 minutes later he was back. And he apologized.
“We’ve drug this out for some time, I don’t think we can just make it all go away,” the prosecutor said to me.
“I understand that,” I said. “In all rights I should have involved the police on that day. How does disorderly conduct sound?”
The prosecutor explained everything to the judge. The arrests, the environment, my child, my willingness to be arrested to protect my child from the local drug culture. And the judge apologized for his allowing his court room to be a tool of abuse against me.
I was declared innocent on the original charges and the negotiated charge was dropped. When asked if I would like to pursue charges against my wife, I declined. My life had been a nightmare and I just wanted it all to be over with. For her arrest though, she was sentenced to 6-months in county jail and completed three years of probation before taking a plea in abeyance that expunged her record.
In the many years since, I extended shared custody with my now ex after she completed her sentence and so long as she remains drug free. I even dropped the child support order so as not to create any undue burden on her as she rebuilt her life. She never paid anyway. I also completed college and got a good job.
Life is good now, but I can never really say that I escaped abuse. It’s always there. It colors my relationships. It limits how I interact with people. I get anxious in situations and tend to keep people at an arm’s length. I know what it is, but I’m safe in here.
A few years ago I ran into the ex-wife’s friend that was in the car accident with us. She told me what happened and why she disappeared afterwards. When we picked up my wife, she was upset at seeing us together. There were accusations of an affair followed by silence and the promise to talk about it when we got home. We never made it to that conversation. As I slowed at a yellow light, my wife told me to just take it. So I did, probably because I didn’t want the fight. The person across the intersection saw me slow for the stop and proceeded with a left turn from the lane across from us. My sudden acceleration launched us right into his path.
At my most recent job, the day I started happened to be the same day that my ex-wife’s former best friend started at the same company. The orientation meeting was awkward. We smiled and made our greetings, but kept it distant. Over time we started talking, and she commented on how coherent I seem to be before expressing her surprise that I was able to get the job I have. Just like the ex had told the police, she told our friends that I was never quite right after the accident. This made it easier for them to believe I had become some abusive asshole when we split up.
The lingering effects of that relationship will always be there.
I have had therapy since the divorce, but it was the same that I had almost since after the accident. It did help me resolve a lot of issues, but some will never be resolved. And I’m okay with that.
I am okay.