I have friends on Facebook who share their relationship details candidly — every fight, every cruel word. I know all their drama. It always seemed tacky to me. I could never. So many of my family and my fiancé’s family look at my page. It would be embarrassing to air out dirty laundry like that.
Based on social media, you’d think we’re great. You can follow our relationship through our photos and my posts from our early dating days of bar-hopping, through my pregnancy and our son’s birth, to our sweet spring photo shoot at the park. We look so happy. We smile. Everything is blooming, just like I wanted. The baby, our beautiful baby, smiles between us. The sun had finally come out, and we look so happy.
But we aren’t.
Our relationship, by all outward appearances, is normal and sweet and sunny. We go to family gatherings, hang out with friends, and joke and laugh. We play with our cute baby. He goes to work, now I go to work, and we have dinner most nights together.
He is angry. He doesn’t hit me. I’ve been hit. I grew up being hit. I know abuse, I think. Abuse is being afraid all the time, isn’t it? Abuse is being a quiet mouse because you’re afraid of making a sound because someone will drag you by your hair and smack you and choke you and scream in your face. Abuse is being told you’re stupid and believing it’s all your fault, that you ruin everything, and if you were better, this wouldn’t happen.
I know abuse.
He is nice for some weeks at a time. Long enough for me to believe that he is kind to me. He works hard for us, after all. He leaves every morning to help us pay our bills, doesn’t he? He doesn’t beat me. Isn’t that good enough?
But he is angry.
And he doesn’t mind being angry.
“Please don’t swear at me” was the mantra of my pregnancy.
“Please don’t talk to me like that” — my recurring plea. I do my best not to make it worse. And he doesn’t hit me. He doesn’t lay a finger. He doesn’t even call me a bitch. So it’s not abuse.
He says that this is who he is. He’s in the Army, so this is how he talks to people. He swears and belittles. “Can’t you figure it out? Jesus Christ, it’s not rocket science,” he says, echoing the inner voice that already tells me I’m stupid — my mother’s lasting gift. Always.
I have a heart-to-heart with him, again. I tell him how he hurts me. He makes an effort for some time. I let myself forget that this is who he is comfortable being. He is better, for now. But he doesn’t stay better.
He gets angry and he swears at me, and I wonder if this is how other men treat their partners. My gut tells me it is not. My childhood tells me this is normal. My baby looks to us and learns, and my heart breaks.
One last time. It all happens again — the swearing at me and talking down to me. And I break. I take the ring off my finger. I silently call off the wedding. I bid my quiet goodbye to the wedding dress that my aunt is altering for me. I stop myself, every minute, from making the usual excuses.
I don’t want this to be my life. I fight it, but tears come. I don’t want to be a single mother. I don’t want my son to have a broken home. I had a beautiful vision of a happy family for my son. We had dinner together and happy holidays and birthdays. I wrench it all out of me, all of those beautiful hopes for us, and I cry for those memories I wanted to make. I wanted this so badly — this happy life. I chose wrong though.
I imagine someone else’s little girl living my life, and my heart breaks for her, listening to those words I hear. I don’t hear them every day, maybe not every week, but they always come back, no matter the promises. I imagine them coming from my son’s lips, my son breaking someone’s sweet girl because that’s what his father believed was normal.
I’m terrified. I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t know how I can afford to support us, but I have to. I will put us through counseling first, but I don’t have high hopes. I’m in a horrible limbo, living in the home where we started to build that dream I wanted for us, and kissing it goodbye moment by moment, barely holding on to it.
He is sitting on the couch, watching his favorite show. He is not angry, not now. He wants to be a good father and a good partner, and maybe he will be again for a few more days or weeks, but by now, I know it will end again.
I didn’t have a choice once as a child, and a choice was all I wanted then. I have one now, and I didn’t know it would be so hard. I didn’t know I could want to stay in the storm, for the lie.
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