Today I found out that my ex-husband died. Not recently, he passed in April of 2011. My ex was abusive, an addict, violent and likely had undiagnosed mental illness. Despite all of this, I loved him. I loved him for a lot of years, from the time I was 17 to 25. And, I suppose there’s a part of me that still does. What should have been the best years of my young adulthood were filled with fights, him yelling...me cowering in a corner, many broken things, unwarranted accusations, financial stress because of all the jobs he quit and the binges that would follow. There was isolation, manipulation, paranoia, degrading words, body shaming and threats. Through all of this, I put myself through college, climbed the retail management ladder and no one had a clue what my home life was like.
There are some good memories that I can recall. But most of them involved getting high and escaping reality. Even in these fun times I couldn't really relax. At least, not after the first time it went bad. The details are fuzzy but what I can recall is a skateboard smashing a large mirror in our two story garage apartment in the Old Northeast. I had never experienced anything like this. My childhood, in contrast to his was very quiet and peaceful. My parents never even had an argument that I can recall, despite getting a divorce when I was a teen. My ex-husband taught me what rage looks like. There was mirror glass everywhere. I wanted to run, far away from him. But instinct told me that the safest thing to do was calm him down and get his drunk ass to sleep. A few hours later, I had to go to work. I tiptoed out over the broken mirror shards and got my first run at pretending to the world that my life was just fine. Unfortunately, this was just the first of many broken things in my life. None of my picture frames had glass in them. He smashed them all. Every apartment we moved out of, I feared not getting our security deposit back because of the holes he had punched in the walls. I got good at patching things up. It became my norm.
"I tiptoed out over the broken mirror shards and got my first run at pretending to the world that my life was just fine. "
In our 7 years together he never actually laid a hand on me, he never tried to hurt me physically. Until, the last night when I finally left. The beginning of our end started when I finally agreed upon my mother's urging to see a therapist. My mom knew things weren't right. I was pretty good at hiding things from her but in the last year we were together, he began isolating me first from friends and then from certain family members. My sister had enough one day and told him off. After that, he forbade me to see her. I accommodated him for awhile because it kept the peace. But when he told me he didn't want me seeing my mom, it shook me. My mom was the only one I had left to lean on. My therapist listened to the stories of my tumultuous marriage and then took a paper out of her file cabinet to show me. It was the domestic abuse wheel. It shows the many signs of a verbally abusive relationship. She handed me a pen asked me to mark the things that I had experienced. I was shocked when I reflected upon my completed wheel. I had never heard of verbal abuse before but I had certainly been living it.
I went home and hid that paper somewhere safe, taking it out from time to time to give me strength. I knew what I needed to do. I had to get out. The next few months were the hardest. I made one last plea with him to save our marriage. An ultimatum to stop drinking. He agreed to try but of course, it didn't last.
I see now the scared little boy who had no power over his reality as a child. He witnessed his mother's abuse and rape at a very young age. He too was abused by his mother's boyfriends and beaten by his stepfather. I know that the way he treated me was his way of trying to find his power. He was constantly grasping for control. At this point I became very aware that I didn't want to have children with him. I couldn't count on him to be a good father. I would not bring a child into this violent marriage. Yet, I desperately wanted to be a mother. I knew I had to leave and start a new life. It was a terrifying thought. I had been conditioned by him to feel worthless. He told me many times that he would kill himself if I ever left. It took every bit of courage that I could gather to make that choice, not knowing if he would follow through, not knowing what was on the other side of all this for me.
I came home from work one night, it was dark in the house. I found him in the living room with several candles lit and pictures of me and us strewn all over the coffee table. He was drunk. Completely wasted. He was crying and told me that he knew I was going to leave him. He knew this because I had told him that I would if he drank again. He quickly went from crying and pleading with me to stay into a fit of anger and rage. I went into my office to get the "go bag" that I had packed, just in case. He pinned me against the wall in our hallway, yelling at me, inches away from my face. He said he knew that I would betray him. He said he knew I never loved him and that I was a liar because I had promised not to leave him. I did promise not to leave him, many times in our years together because it was the only way to get him to calm down. He called me a lot names, ranting and raging until I was once again, I sobbing mess, cowering in a ball on the floor. He walked away to get another beer, a classic Colt 45. I managed to grab my bag and try to leave. He saw me with my backpack on and said something like, "Oh, you think you're leaving?" and proceeded to throw a full quart of beer at my head. I ducked just in time and it smashed the window that was at least 10 feet behind me. The force that was required to cause that window to break is frightening. I shudder to think about what would have happened if it had hit me. I darted out the front door and he took one last jab at me by shoving me down the stairs. I tripped, scraped my knees a bit but recovered quickly. He was yelling something at me as I got in the car about killing himself and my cats and setting the house on fire. I hesitated briefly, but in that moment I decided that my life was more important than his, my cats, the house and all of my possessions, rolled up in one. I took my power back. This is where my healing began.
I got in my car, drove away and never looked back. I called 911 as soon as I got to my mom's. The operator made me feel bad for leaving the house saying that I was, "an awful far way from home". I was only 10 minutes away. I was the victim yet I was made to feel like I had just fled the scene of a crime. They actually asked me to go back to the house. I was in shock. I told them I was fearful for my life and too scared to go back to the house. Then they told me something about being in a different precinct than my house so, if I didn't want to go back there I had to meet the police nearby. My mom drove me to the Circle K down the street from my house. The cop that interviewed me was nice. But it became clear at some point that since I left, it was going to be difficult to get back in the house. If I had called 911 from the house and stayed, I could have had him removed (at least for the night) and I would have retained a lot more legal power over the house and even my own belongings. I honestly didn't care at the time. I didn't want to be in that house. I wouldn't be able to rest knowing that he'd be back at some point, angrier than ever. I got word that the officers questioning my husband determined that he was not a threat to himself, so they let him be. Apparently, it's not a crime to throw a quart of beer at someone's head, as long as you miss.
"Apparently, it's not a crime to throw a quart of beer at someone's head, as long as you miss."
The next few weeks were rough. I stayed at my mom's house and I could hear his van driving slowly down her street every evening, sometimes multiple times per night. I wondered if I was paranoid. But I'd peek out the blinds, yep, it was him. There were lots of phone calls from multiple numbers both at home and at work that I avoided. A few angry voicemails were left. I went back to the house twice to get a few belongings. I went when I hoped he'd be at work and all went well but it was terrifying. After the second time, I got a letter from his attorney. He was filing for divorce and there was a court order preventing me from removing anything else from the house. Oh, and he was was seeking alimony too. I was livid. Any part of me that was still scared of him faded away. Any part of me that felt bad for him or wanted to help him vanished. I got my own attorney and prepared to fight for what was mine.
I learned more life lessons about how the legal system is not set up to protect victims of domestic abuse. We listed the house for sale and all communication had to go through our attorneys. In order to get the upper hand in the long run, I paid 100% of the mortgage payments until the house sold. Although, I quickly shut off the utilities which were all in my name. It took almost a year to sell. It's no wonder considering the condition that him and his new roommate kept it. The realtor told me horror stories and expressed her frustration with the large dog he had acquired that prevented her from showing it most days. The house eventually sold, I ended up getting a large majority of the settlement and no, I didn't pay a penny of alimony.
I had a little money from the sale of the house so I took a few months off and did a whole lotta nothing. Well, I did find new love during this time. I connected with my now husband, Joran who I had met at one of his concerts a few months before I left my ex. Joran was the lead singer of a band called The Gita. Besides being incredibly talented and pretty darn hot, Joran made me instantly safe and happy. When I was with him I felt like I could stop looking over my shoulder. When I was with him, I felt heard, witnessed and celebrated. With him I learned to have fun without fear of it all turning into a bad situation. And in his bed, I could finally sleep for the first time in years. I moved in with him quickly and began a whole new life...with a 23 year old rock star who had clearly been living the bachelor lifestyle for some time.
"When I was with him, felt heard, witnessed and celebrated. With him I learned to have fun without fear of it all turning into a bad situation. And in his bed, I could finally sleep for the first time in years."
I was scared of course. I was worried that I would get hurt. I questioned whether I was wasting my time with him. Young musicians don't have the best reputation for being excellent husband material. And there was no question about it. I was 25, my clock was ticking and I was looking for the father of my children. Could he be the one? It turns out that we were meant to be. It took some patience on my part but Joran proved to be exactly the man I hoped he would be. At the time of this writing, we have been together for more than 17 years and have two beautiful children. It's an amazing life that we have created and I'm forever grateful to Joran for holding me up through my most difficult times. I came to him practically shattered, but he did not judge. He just held space for me while I cocooned and emerged into my new self.
After we closed on the house that my ex-husband and I owned together, I never saw him again. I thought that I would. I anticipated some kind of dramatic exchange for years. I would run these scenarios in my mind. Something like, I'd run into him at a gas station, he'd be buying beer, likely already drunk. He'd look at me with disgust, call me a bitch and a bunch of other awful things, spit at my feet and walk away. I'd stand there frozen until he left and then I'd drive away and run home to safety, into the arms of my love. I guess the mind is always trying to prepare you for the worst. But the worst never happened. I got to live my life in peace.
Still, I wondered what he was up to from time to time. I wondered if he'd ever change. I wondered if he found another woman to abuse. I wanted to know if he ever had children. I hoped that one day he'd get help and make a better life for himself. But really, I just expected to see his mugshot one day on the local news. A few times I did an internet search, nothing really came up that I didn't already know. Years went by and once I became a mother, I stopped wondering about him so much. Joran and I even bought a house in St. Pete, not far from where my ex and I used to live. It was nice to feel comfortable in the city that I used to love. This was another healing step in reclaiming my power. I didn't care anymore about a chance encounter.
About two weeks ago someone on Facebook posted something about looking up court records on a person that they knew. It triggered thoughts of my ex and brought back my curiosity. I immediately googled him which produced an obituary which I wasn't sure about but the age and name were correct. I then looked up his name in the city court records and that's when it was confirmed. His mother had settled his estate in 2011. That record showed bills from SunStar emergency services and radiology. The obituary said that he died at Bayfront Hospital but did not list the cause. I dived deeper in the court records associated with his name. It was all there. Years of citations, misdemeanors and felonies. In the few years leading up to 2011 he had charges of panhandling, open container citations, public drunkenness, loitering, assault and breaking and entering. I then took it one step further and searched for mugshots. I saw his face for the first time since the closing of our house in 2000. After years of wondering what he was doing with his life and what impact my leaving had on him, my suspicions were confirmed. It was not good. I can't say for sure, but based on the charges that his records revealed I wonder if he was homeless. It appears that some type of accident led to his death, maybe drunk driving? Or maybe he mouthed off to the wrong person and got beat up and left in a ditch? Either of these scenarios are completely plausible. But I'll probably never know what really happened. I wish it could have been different for him. I really do.
After my investigative work turned up this news, I felt dizzy and overwhelmed. Cold and alone. Like I was inside some kind of weird void. I immediately called Joran to talk it through. I spent the rest of the day taking lots of deep breaths, pacing around and allowing a flood of memories to flash by. It hit me, he's gone. I realized that even though I eventually stopped looking over my shoulder, I've been holding the abuse in my body all of this time. I had to get it out.
So that's why I write. I've read that healing begins when someone feels heard. I've been heard and held by some amazing people in my life, including Joran. But I've never shared publicly about the darkness that I survived. I knew that was the next step. My wish is that my story helps someone out there who is struggling with domestic abuse. I know how hopeless and impossible it can feel when you are in it, but there’s always a way out.
" I know how hopeless and impossible it can feel when you are in it, but there’s always a way out."
Even in the deepest darkness, there is always a way. Please reach out for help. Know that you can start over. It will be hard but it is absolutely possible. You're strong enough and you are worth it. But, be careful. Be smart. Make a plan, know where you can go if it gets critically dangerous. Look for your local resources and advocates like CASA. If family or a friend can help you get out, let them. Nothing but your own life (and the lives of your children, if you have any) matters. Walk away, start new and never look back. Make a choice right now to stand in your power and never let anyone mistreat you ever again. You can do this. I believe in you.
Please share with someone who needs to hear this story. But share carefully. People in abusive relationships can be put in dangerous situations if their abuser discovers that they are seeking help.