Once upon a time, I believed that my worth could only be measured by another’s words, that one man held me in the palm of his hand by choice, and that the only way to flee his grasp was suicide. After trying everything else and still finding that I was worthless without him, I set out on my mission of desperation: I married him. I committed emotional suicide, I decided it was (WE were) do or die, I decided that his words owned me, his words that screamed in my ears everyday that no one else could ever love me were either right, or I was dead meat. I didn’t want to die alone, and by logic, I was not allowed to die without him.
The Universe bound us doubly by blessing us with our only son, my true love, my sun, moon, and stars. He is the reason I awoke from the deathly slumber which I had sworn my mortal life to never awake from. I loved him as he swelled in my womb. He was the love poem I always wished I could write (I named him Lord Byron, but don’t tell him that). But how could I? There was no love but mine for him, as his father merely destroyed everyone around him. I was his whipping girl, his property, his prize of war. Trying only to love and for once, not to be rejected.
I will never forget the moment when my son watched on with tear-filled eyes as daddy pinned mommy against the door, hand to the throat, for trying to leave him. “I will destroy you,” daddy said. It was far from the first, but I was bound to make it his last. It was the turning point in our lives. It was the way Byron and I locked eyes in a stare that spoke of what is to come if we stayed; it was suicide. It was then that the weight of my choice came crashing down hard upon us.
In hindsight, I wished I had scooped my son up at the first sign of quiet and headed for the shelter, but again I chose the hard way. I fought my jobless husband to keep the apartment as we discussed divorce, but he would not budge. We lived together still for months after the split, but whether or not we were “trying to work it out” depended directly on his mood, who he was sleeping with at the time, and how many hours straight I had worked while our son was elsewhere and he did nothing but eat, sleep, make messes, and watch TV. I lived in the bedroom and he lived on the couch (unless he demanded sex) until he took a trip out of state, funded by Unemployment.
That’s when we moved out of town, got our own apartment, and got our routine and lives back to normal. But as all good things come to an end, daddy came home after two months away, and ruined everything. I filed for divorce, I petitioned the courts for emergency custody, and I begged my lawyer to understand. Nothing worked. No one listened. He took my son and kept him for days against my wishes, touting himself for it, and only returning him when he saw fit. He tortured my heart, he embittered my son, and he almost won.
Joint custody sounded like the inner ring of hell, but it’s all this empty justice system had to offer us at the time. Forced down my throat and told to swallow like a good girl, more like it. Nothing new here, patriarchy. Even with piles of evidence of abuse, I was silenced and forced to live in fear for myself, and especially for my son who had to spend time with a monster who I could not control and could not predict and could not protect him from. I was told to wait and watch for sure signs of abuse. Solid evidence. Never mind my son’s deteriorating behavior and self-worth and obvious signs of mental and emotional torment, fear and anger. I needed proof.
It came to me less than a year and a half later. I will spare the details, but know that in time the courts failed us again. I was forced into mediation with a narcissistic, abusive man facing criminal battery and child endangerment charges. I was bullied into dropping my order of protection. I was forced to sit back and take it as they recuperated his visitation rights. I was shattered when they offered a plea bargain that let him off the hook with a slap on the wrist and a promise not to do it again.
He did it again. This time much worse. But finally, this time the right professionals caught on. The worst part of trying to escape him was not escaping him. For years we have fought to keep him away. His fate for now still rests in the ever-lethargic criminal court system and his parental rights hang by a thread. I have an order of protection that will last beyond his last day of freedom before he serves his sentence. I have a child distraught and torn by what his father has done, and a lifetime of hurt for where we’ve been and what we’ve suffered through. But I have my son, and we are finally free together. We fear less, we love more, and we count our blessings and make the most of every day.
Follow Jessica’s story here: In Potentia.
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