The People Next Door

I read the local paper on the train in the morning.  Today, buried in the middle of the first section, was a story about a man from Greenwich who savagely beat his wife with a baseball bat.  She was found unconscious, lying in a pool of blood, in an upstairs walk-in closet.  As I read the article, my heart began to pound and tears crept down my cheeks. I had to fight the urge to get up and run.  It was PTSD.

For twenty-one years, I was married to a man who threatened to kill or harm me on a regular basis.  I knew he meant it because I had, on different occasions, my head slammed into a wall,  a glass broken over my head, bruises on my chest, my glasses broken on my face and other things of that nature.  Nothing was ever serious enough to require medical attention.  It was just enough to let me know he meant business. Most of it was psychological terrorism.  He promised to throw my cat out the window, to lock me naked out of the apartment, to smash everything I owned, to see me in my coffin.  He told me I was a disaster and that is why God didn’t give me any children.  I remember one night early in our marriage when we were arguing and he told me nothing was mine, it was all his.  I insisted that wasn’t true; that I had brought a certain amount of  equity to the marriage. He kept at me for hours until I wound up in tears on the floor.  He had me sign a piece of paper that said everything was his, nothing was mine. After I signed it, he read it then tore it up and threw it in the fire.  The argument was over and I realized at that moment that he had the power.

How do I explain that to people?  How do I explain that an intelligent, educated, talented woman allowed someone to do that to her?  “Why didn’t you leave?”  “I would never put up with that.”  “How could you marry a man like that?”

Well you never know until you are in that situation, do you?  That wasn’t the man I married. The man I married told me he loved me more than anything in the world and couldn’t live without me.  He treated me like a queen.  He did everything for me.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized that he did everything for me to keep control and to deride me for not doing anything. It’s a Catch 22, isn’t it?

His anger and rage came slowly.  One day he smashed a vase.  Another day he smashed the answering machine because it had too many messages on it from my friends.  But then he would turn around and be so sorry and tell me he only got mad because he loved me so much.  And then one day it was me he smashed. But by then I was so convinced that I had done something to deserve it because I knew how much he loved me and someone who loves you would only hurt you if you did something awful. Right?

I began to believe that I could control his rages (and that’s what they were, rages; his whole face would distort and I could see his brain shut down, the “Monsters from the Id” would take over).  I thought that I just had to act a certain way or say certain things or be quiet at certain times and he would stay the sweet, loving man I married.

But I never knew when they were coming.  It kept me in a heightened sensory state, always on alert for signs that the anger was building.  We’d be at dinner, having a pleasant conversation and suddenly he would get very quiet.  I’d look up and see his face starting to change and know the tsunami was about to hit.  I’d spend days later trying to think what I could have done differently to have stopped it.  That’s the irony,  I was trying to control the uncontrolable.

And keep in mind, this was all happening in private or someplace where no one knew us.  In front of family and friends, he was a prince.  Everyone thought he doted on me, he wouldn’t let me lift a finger.  How lucky I was to have such an attentive husband.  How could I tell them otherwise?  No one would believe that when we were alone he called me whore and  woke me up in the middle of the night to yell at me and throw me out of bed and then when I was settled on the couch and falling asleep, wake me up again and apologize and beg me to come back to bed.  I know because I tried to tell my mother and aunt what was going on and they thought I was exaggerating.  How do you fight that when you are already broken down?

And yet, when he was dying with colon cancer, I took care of him day and night.  And when he died, I was lost.  I went into a deep depression.  For all that happened between us, I did still love him.  I should have hated him.  But he wasn’t a monster all the time. I guess it’s human nature to be ever hopeful for the best and in the long run, to remember the the better parts of a life. Or maybe I was just mourning the life I deserved and never had.

He’s been dead thirteen years now.  It was several years before I understood that I was abused, before I could speak openly about it, before I understood that there was no shame on me.  It was a therapist that I went to for help with my depression who first explained to me that as someone who experienced domestic abuse, I suffered from a form of PSTD.  And it’s true.  I am married to a wonderful man now.  But I still don’t find it funny when he tries to scare me by jumping out of the dark.  And I don’t like to be held down or wrestled with even in fun. Or grabbed from behind.  And I know he doesn’t understand why I get upset when he yells at the Giants for making a stupid play. But I can’t stand yelling or anger, even silly fan anger, from someone I love.

But why did this story today get to me?  I’ve heard or read about plenty of men who have killed their wives or girlfriends and it doesn’t make me cry and shake. Was it because this was an upper-class, educated, professional couple who no one would ever think this would happen to? Maybe. Maybe it was the baseball bat.  Usually it’s a gun and that’s cold and only takes one shot.  A bat is up close and personal.  And ugly.  And shows someone is really pissed off. Or maybe it was because when the police got there, Michael De Maio was very calm and when they asked what happened, he freely admitted bashing his wife’s head in. “I lost it”, he said.  “I just lost it.”

For a long time I believed that was how I would die.  He would just get so angry and pick up a hammer or knife or frying pan or whatever was handy and he would just “lose it”. I guess Diane De Maio wasn’t lucky enough to have her husband die before she did.

The house where Michael DiMaio allegedly smashed his wife's head in

The house where Michael DiMaio allegedly smashed his wife’s head in

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