For this Blogging for Books, write a blog entry (2,000 words or less, please) about a time when you took a risk in your life on someone or something - a new romance, a new career, a new home, etc. Were you successful beyond your wildest dreams - or did you crash and burn?
It was Friday December 29, 2001. I remember the day not only because it was the day I took the biggest risk of my entire life, but also because it was my youngest child’s third birthday.
In fact, until I found pictures of us celebrating his birthday earlier that week, for years, I didn’t think I had done anything to celebrate my Tommy’s birthday that year, and despite everything I had done on his behalf that day, I felt oddly negligent and depressed about it.
That morning, my husband Mark took our seven-year-old son Sam, my oldest son, and drove to visit family in Ohio. I stood at the glass door and waved to them, trying hard not to panic or burst into tears: I knew that while they were gone, I was going to be moving myself and the other two children out. And I knew that if my husband found out, he might leave my son in Ohio, and I might have a hard time getting him back.
The Friday before, I had driven 90 miles to see a therapist because I was terribly depressed, and terribly angry at my husband for nine years of shitty behavior.
I walked into the therapist’s office and started talking, and talked as fast as I could for twenty minutes, until she stopped me gently.
“You are being emotionally abused,” she told me.
It is one thing to hear it from your best friends. It is another entirely to hear it from a therapist, whom you have hoped for months to hear it from, but at the same time, dreaded hearing it from. She gave me some literature to read, and told me that she wanted me to call Victim Support Services.
I was horrified.
She explained, “We generally don’t encourage marriage counseling. Emotional abuse almost always results eventually in physical abuse. We always recommend that the woman leave.”
I resisted. The wives of college professors did not call Women’s shelters. We certainly did not go and live in them.
She said that she would work with me to gain my independence.I went home and read the materials and saw my husband and my marriage there. I called my best friend from my basement and said, “I don’t know what is going to happen,” regarding leaving my husband.
She said, “I do. I just don’t know when.”
On Christmas Eve, I wore a knee-length brown, velour skirt for church. Mark did not like it. It was too short. I raised my chin a little and told him that I was going to wear it anyway.
At the grocery store later, I wanted to buy a bottle of wine to have with dinner, and we were told it was too early on a Sunday. Mark made a remark about, “Your liquor,” and I said, “Since when do you not drink alcohol?”
I never talked back to him. Ever. But I was behaving with the recklessness of someone who has nothing left to lose.
That night, I took Sam to Children’s Mass with me, and when I got home and had put the children to bed, I asked Mark if he wanted to come downstairs and watch a video. He was sitting on the couch outlining a textbook in yellow. It was Christmas Eve. It was Christmas break. He said he had reading to do.
The next morning, the children wanted to get out of bed, and he told them they had to wait, so they cried in their beds. He tossed a little wrapped pendant at me saying, “I guess I can’t get away with not getting you a present this year.”
I took five baths that day because I was sweating so much. And in my second bath, as I stared at my toes in the tub, I decided that I was going to leave. And what was more, I was not going to wait for months of therapy to do it: Mark was going out of town, and so when was there going to be a better time to do it? I had tried in August to get him to move out. No good. In November, I told him I was going to take the kids and find an apartment because I needed a separation. He told me maybe we should voluntarily check me into a mental hospital so I could “think things over.” That scared me so badly that I didn’t leave.
I finally insisted on therapy, though, and he found my therapist for me, out of town because, “You can’t tell people what an asshole I am.”
For the first time in our marriage, I was allowed to drive 90 miles away by myself.
On the day after Christmas, I went into town on the pretext of getting groceries, went to a friend’s house and burst into tears on her porch. “I have to use your phone. I have to call Victim Support Services.”
The woman on the line asked me, “So, you’ll be wanting a divorce then?” I had not even gone beyond the idea of getting out and physically away. I said, “Yes,” before I even thought it.
I asked her, “Is it illegal for me to move my children out of the house with me?”
No. It was not. But I had to make sure he didn’t know what I was doing so he wouldn’t cancel his trip to stop me. And I had to make sure that he did not find out and hide Sam in Ohio. “Nice, nice nice,” she told me.
I contacted my friend Rachel, who agreed to come down from a state away to help me. Victim Support Services told me not to take any communal property, and to think about the shelter.
Rachel said, “Fuck that. Take everything.”
I couldn’t think about the shelter. Not with three kids. That was just too awful, too foreign, too much.
Rachel offered to come down and help me find a place to live.
I was in my last semester of graduate school. I earned $888 a month. I didn’t know what I was qualified for or how I would live or where or whether I would get one dime from my husband. But I was leaving, I was focused, and I just didn’t allow myself to think about how it would be possible: I was simply going to do it.
That week, I applied on-line for new credit cards, looking behind me at the computer desk, hunched over nervously, my fingers ice cold and little deadweights on the keys. I kissed my husband goodbye, and had sex with him one last time before he left so he wouldn’t suspect anything.
I hurt the entire next day.
I packed Sam’s bags and as he drove up the road with Mark, I prayed, “Please don’t ever let me do anything so stupid ever again.”
I did not know that I would find a place to live later that day. I did not know that the most amazing team of people from my department would come to help me move with mini-vans and trucks.
I did not know that people would volunteer to stay with my younger children, and that two people would volunteer to ride out to the country with me at dusk to get my oldest child back.
I did not know that Rachel and her daughters would come and live with us and share baby sitting and expenses.
I didn’t know that I would be able to live on what I took from my joint savings account and my meager salary until I got my student loan check.
I didn’t know that in three months, I would meet the love of my life.
I did not know that I would not get any child support for more than a year. I did not know that I would be in court fighting for custody of my children for three days.
I did not know that I would be accused of lesbianism, pot-smoking, and child abuse, publicly, to my children's teachers, to my students at the university, to the community at large.
I did not know that I would win custody and child support eventually.
All I knew was that my oldest child was suddenly gone, and that I had four days to turn my entire life upside down and try to put it back together.
And then I closed the front door, went to the computer, and wrote Rachel an e-mail as we had arranged for me to do when he left. I wanted to start packing, and the e-mail I sent her had two words in it.