I lived for 21 years with a man who terrorized me; physically, mentally, emotionally. In the beginning, before we were married, he wasn’t like that. He wooed me and pretended he liked me the way I was. I was younger than him and part of the generation of women who believed they were in charge of their own lives.
After we were married, his real intentions became plain. He was to be in charge of me. I would have no friends he didn’t approve of. I would do things his way. I would change my attitude or pay the price.
At first, I thought we could go to counseling and work things out. We went once. Then I thought I would just continue to stand up to him and eventually, he would see that he couldn’t change me. In answer, I had hot water thrown in my face, a wet rag shoved in my mouth while he grabbed me by the neck, a wine glass broken over my head, my head slammed into the wall. He tore the clothes off my body, threatened to kill my cat, woke me up in the middle of the night to throw me out of bed and just when I would finally fall asleep on the couch, wake me up again and beg me to come back to bed. He called me a disaster, whore and worse.
His furies were like a squall at sea. Everything could be perfectly tranquil and suddenly all hell would break loose. I never saw them coming. It was becoming an impossible situation. I even went to a lawyer to find out what asking for a divorce would mean.
One evening, we were home having a glass of wine,enjoying the fire. The mood was good, so I thought it might be good time to talk abut how unhappy I was and how I wanted to be like we used to be. Things went south very quickly. He said maybe we should just call it quits but that if I left, I would leave with nothing. I argued back that if we were going to split, I just wanted what I had brought to the marriage – some personal things and $12,000. He screamed at me that nothing was mine, it was all his. I would leave with nothing.
I don’t remember much other detail, except that for the next four hours he screamed at me, threatened me, threatened my family, grabbed me, pushed me. The expression on his face, the way his eyes had a burning, glassy look terrified me. I was sobbing, exhausted, like a rag doll in his hands. He demanded over and over that I admit that nothing was mine. In between sobs I kept repeating that it wasn’t true.
I ended up on my knees in front of the fire. My blouse was torn, my makeup smeared, my hair a tangled mess. He shoved a piece of paper and a pen at me. “Write”, he said. “Write that you have nothing, that everything is mine. Write.”
I couldn’t fight anymore. I was so tired. I took the pen and wrote what he asked. I handed the paper back to him. He read what I wrote and smiled. Then he tore the paper into pieces and threw it into the fire. “Let’s go to bed”, he said and went into the bedroom.
I knelt there, stunned. He just wanted to prove to me that he was, after all, in charge. I was a conquered land.
I knew at that moment, this would only end with the death of one of us.