The turning point began in the fall of 2010. He had a training out west and was gone for about a week. During that time, I remember feeling like I could breathe, but I also felt extremely lonely. Sometime during that week I watched Eat, Pray, Love. I saw so much of myself in that movie. I was the girl who could never be alone, jumping from one relationship to the next, losing herself in whomever she loved. I saw myself in the lead character’s fears and sorrows, always searching for something more.
My heart ached for true love, to love myself, to find a higher power, to be able to be alone, to write, to create, to laugh, to live without fear. To truly live. I missed my life. I missed my friends and family. I missed who I used to be.
I wish I could say this was the week I woke up and realized what I needed to do, but it wasn’t. It was, however, the time I needed to be alone with my own thoughts and feelings. I began to remember how it felt to be free.
I remember having a few people over to our house for my son’s birthday party the third week of November. I served everyone cake, and then fixed myself a slice. My husband had been talking with a couple, and when he saw me with my plate, he said, “Are you sure you should be eating that?” and then puffed out his cheeks, laughed, and walked away.
I could feel my face flush red, and I put down the plate. The man my husband had been talking to said, “You know, you don’t have to put up with that.”
I kept my eyes to the ground, so no one could see the tears in them. I said, “Oh, he was just joking.”
The couple left not long after that.
(Side note: I became close to this couple, and they encouraged me as I sought to get out. I’m still grateful for them.)
After Thanksgiving, I had expressed that I wanted to go home and see my family. I mentioned that he didn’t have to go if he didn’t want to, but I would like to spend some time with them. (I had actually been contemplating going there and staying.) He thought about it for a minute and said, “How are you going to pay for that?” I shrugged my shoulders. I hadn’t worked since October, because he had convinced me to quit my job.
He gave a half-smile and said, “I’ll take you. I know you want to see your family, and I’m a good husband. So, I’ll take you.”
About a week or so later, I was sitting on the couch in the living room folding laundry. My back was to the dining room, and my son was sitting in there eating. My husband had asked him a question, and my son answered him, “Yeah.”
I heard him say “You address me as ‘Sir.’ Now, say ‘Yes sir’ to me.” My son didn’t say anything.
Again, he said “Say ‘Yes sir,’ boy.” No response.
“I told you to say yes sir!” Then I heard shuffling.
I turned to look behind me. He had grabbed my son by the throat and was picking him up out of the chair. I jumped up and yelled, “Let him go!”
He dropped him and said, “He was being disrespectful to me in MY house! I will not be disrespected, especially in MY HOUSE!”
I said, “That doesn’t mean you get to pick him up by his throat! He’s eight years old!” My son was sobbing, crumpled over in his seat. “Baby, go on to your room. I’ll be there in a minute.” He scurried away from the table and ran to his room.
My husband had been threatening me with divorce since the first week after we got married. Once again, the threats started. “That’s it! I’ve had it! I want a divorce! I have never been so blatantly disrespected! Do you know who I am? You and your son don’t deserve me!”
He went on about how my son and I hadn’t earned the sacrifices he had made, that we were lucky to have him to take care of us, and he was tired of not being appreciated. When I “talked back,” he grabbed me by arms arms, shoved me backwards, and I fell hard onto the floor. He said he’d had enough. He left and didn’t talk to us the rest of the day.
The next day we were sitting at the table eating. He looked at me and said, “You know what, I’m still going to take you home for Christmas. You know why? Because I’m a man of my word. I said I’d take you, so I’m going to take you.”
A couple of days before Christmas, we headed to Mississippi. During the nearly six hour drive to my parents’ home in Tupelo, he kept talking about how we would be lost without him, how he rescued us from a life of mediocrity, that I should want to stay married to him, because of how he provided for me and my son.
As we neared our destination, I realized we were passing the exit for Nettleton. “I used to live there, when I was married the first time,” I said thinking out loud.
“Where? Here?” he said. I nodded. Suddenly, he turned the wheel right unto a road heading into the town from the highway.
“Show me,” he said.
“Show you what?” I asked.
“Where you used to live. I want to see it,” he said.
I looked at him and wondered why on earth he wanted me to take him there. I protested, “I don’t know if I could even find it. It’s been such a long time since I’ve even been there.”
“Oh, yes you can. You know where it is. You remember. Now show me,” he said through a smug smile.
I looked around trying to figure out which way to turn. Things had changed since the many years I’d lived there, but somehow I found it. We pulled up to that small, white, rundown, two-bedroom shack with a black banged-up roof and overgrown yard—ragged like it had been neglected for years. It looked exactly the same as when I’d lived there.
He laughed mockingly and said, “This dump? This is where you lived? I really did save your life! If I hadn’t come along, you probably would’ve ended up in another place just like this with some other loser.” He laughed again.
I looked at him and shook my head, then turned to look at the house. Suddenly, it hit me. Ten years had passed since my first marriage ended, and I had somehow married the same man. The only difference in the two was my first husband had been a young punk kid with zero work ethic and a drug addiction. My now husband, however, had so much ambition, he loathed anyone who might get in his way, including his new wife and her kid who he had taken on in order to boost his own ego. We were a charity case to him, and he loved to hang that over our heads. Putting us in our place, either verbally or physically, was the penance we paid for being baggage for him. Both of these men made sure I thought I couldn’t make it on my own. Both of these men needed to wield power over me to build themselves up, and keep me subservient to their will. Both of these men lied about loving me.
How did this happen? How did I end up right where I began? These thoughts circled in my head as we headed to my parents’ house twenty miles away. He gloated the entire drive, casting glances at me as if he’d won.