Story of my Life: Part the Fourth

Posted: April 25, 2008 in Drama, Headspace, Journal, Memory Lane

(Read previous installments: part one, part two, part three.)

The drive across the country is kind of a blur to me, now. The night we left, my in-laws followed us to the Maine border to make sure the truck would hold up okay. We (and by “we” I mean my ex) were driving a fifteen year old 1/2 ton Chevy with over 100,000 miles on it. My ex and his father had built a plywood box to affix over the bed, into which we stuffed just as much of our belongings as we could. And then we attached a tow dolly behind the truck to tow our car, which was also stuffed full of more crap. Trust me when I tell you that we had a LOT of expectations for that poor old truck to fulfill.

We stopped at a Burger King along the turnpike at the New Hampshire border and the four of us had a meal and said our goodbyes. Then it was my ex and me, on the road for six days straight. He drove, I navigated. I kept track of how many miles we were driving because the gas gauge was broken (and the speedometer, actually, but we could hardly get up to speed in the truck so getting pulled over was REALLY not an issue). We only stayed in a hotel twice – once in Memphis and once in Albuquerque. The rest of the time we got what sleep we could in rest stops along the way. We had five hundred dollars to our name and had to save every cent we could. We were down to splitting fast food meals and washing up in rest stop bathrooms.

We got a flat in New Mexico and had to offload a lot of our belongings out of the truck just so we could get the thing jacked up. The brakes gave out on the way down the mountains from Flagstaff into Phoenix on the final day of our trip, and my ex had to use the ol’ downshift technique to slow us. He told me to keep an eye out for runaway truck pull-offs.

Good times.

We pulled off the highway in what turned out to be the worst neighborhood in Phoenix, so we could call my ex’s sister (who had moved to Arizona the year before) from a payphone (it was 1993 and who had cell phones, yet?) and get directions to her apartment. She was all, “You guys are WHERE?!? Get the heck out of there!”

Once we finally arrived I think we slept for two days straight. We did some tentative exploring around, but I absolutely refused to drive the car on Arizona streets. Coming from my own little back woods experience, the six lane surface streets of Arizona scared me to death.

I started applying to temp agencies, and got a job as a secretary at a flooring company nearby. My ex, his sister and I decided to continue living together, so we moved from the one-bedroom to a two-bedroom apartment in the same complex. Things weren’t so bad, with all of us living together. We split the cleaning and the bills, the grocery shopping and the cooking. My ex wasn’t particularly interested in going to the Tempe Kingdom Hall, so we stopped going to meetings. We didn’t quit being Witnesses, per say, we just kind of stopped going to the congregation. My sister-in-law stopped cajoling us to go after a couple of months. We stopped feeling guilty about it a few months after that.

About six months after we moved to Arizona, my ex’s sister started long-distance dating a man from a Kingdom Hall in Maryland. They “courted” and they married. Once they were married, he moved to Arizona and it was the four of us living in the 700sf two-bedroom apartment. Things were getting a little cramped. And testy.

My ex finally got a stable job programming for a company in Tempe, and we started thinking about getting our own house. I had changed jobs by then, and had a permanent position as a purchasing assistant for a general contractor on the AcronymCo campus. Assumable mortgages were still around at that time, and we found a little 1400sf two bedroom house that we could manage on our own. We moved in on July 19th 1994, one day shy of my 20th birthday.

Now, up until this point my ex had kept his crazy side pretty much at bay. It was always easier on me when we were around other people, and living with his sister and her new husband kept things on a somewhat normal level. Plus we had moved away from the old judgmental congregation and my family, two trigger points that got my ex into his “moods”. He still talked the same talk, about his grandiose dreams and status as a superior human being, but he was better enough to live with that it actually seemed to be an improvement. So I more or less ignored aspects of his personality and behavior that would otherwise cause question in favor of this somewhat amenable version of my ex.

Oh, the hars.

Moving into the new house took almost all of the spare money we had. Once all the paperwork was signed and everything was finalized, we had a couple of thousand dollars left with which to furnish our empty home. We had our bed and a computer desk to our name. No couches, no kitchen table, no decor of any kind. On a weekend day, two weeks after moving into our new house, I was contemplating how we could furnish our house for two thousand dollars. I answered a knock at the front door, and opened it to find a stranger standing there, his arms loaded with a box full of scrap computer parts. A woman was right behind him, similarly loaded. And behind her was my ex, also carrying a box of junk.

He had bought out a garage sale being held by a neighbor down the street. Bought the WHOLE THING, for the two thousand remaining dollars we had. Boxes and boxes of junk motherboards, disk drives, memory chips, and similar detritus. The couple’s garage had been full from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. The man (prompted by his wife) was holding a garage sale hoping to get rid of SOME of it (and we all know how garage sales usually go). He must have thought my ex was a gift from God, handing him two thousand dollars for a garage full of junk.

None of it was working. NONE of it. My ex bought it ALL with the thought that he could use this stuff to build his own computers, build experiments and devices. FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST, I STILL GET PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS. My ex vetoed my protests, ignored my tears. The three of them walked back and forth, between our house and theirs, for HOURS, transferring all of the junk from their garage to my living room, my dining room, all the available closets, and the spare bedroom. I wish I had thought to take a picture of it, just once, so I could post it here. Boxes and boxes, bags and bags, with little paths in between the piles to walk among.

This was just one example in the MYRIAD that I have to choose from, that my thoughts and feelings and opinions had absolutely no value according to my ex.

I know I’m blocking out a lot of details, or maybe enough time has passed that they’re happily blurred. Our day to day life details are somewhat hazy – they involved us leaving in the morning, driving to his place of work so I could drop him off, me going to work, then going back and picking him up at the end of the day. I would cook dinner; he would mess around with the computer or his books or the MOUNTAIN OF CRAP that he bought. I would listen to music or escape into a novel, he would periodically lecture me about how I was rotting my brain and becoming more stupid with every piece of fiction I read. Lights were always out by 8:00, and we still didn’t own television. Not because we just hadn’t purchased one yet, but because my husband dictated that we would never own one. Some weekends we would visit with his sister and her husband, but mostly the expectation was for me to provide my ex with food and drink while he worked on his “projects”.

Going out for entertainment was a rarity, since my ex didn’t like spending money on anything. His idea of going out would be to see a movie at the dollar theater and go to Taco Bell for one soft taco each and a small soda to share. I am SO not kidding.

It all looks very benign written here, but I felt neglected and lonely and stifled. All I wanted was a normal life and a normal relationship, and a husband and home that I could be proud of. I wanted to be able to express my thoughts and opinions, I wanted to have goals and ambitions, and I wanted to NOT be belittled because of them.

Our sex life isn’t even worth mentioning. I’ll just say technique was lacking, and satisfaction was extremely one-sided. The side that WASN’T mine. There were occasions of border-line abuse, since for some reason he really got off on humiliation and submission. Mine.

He liked it when I cried.

ANYWAY. Not talking about that. Lalalalalalala…

I started to establish tentative friendships with the people I worked with. But I couldn’t invite them over to the house for dinner… because, well, you know why. “Hello, sit amongst this computer junk yard! Would you like some risotto? Mind your feet and don’t step on the processors!” We lived a very solitary life and I rarely observed my ex against the foil of other, more normal personalities and behaviors. My ex forbade me from going anywhere at all without him, unless it was to work or to the grocery store. He would listen on another line if I received any phone calls. He discouraged friendships of any kind, and had none of his own. If I expressed a desire or opinion that was contrary to his own, well… it’s hard to explain. He would kind of menace me until I came back into line.

It was the classic isolationist methodology of an abuser. So easy to see, now.

You might ask, as some folks who already know the full story have, why on Earth I put up with this behavior. Why I allowed myself to be in such a miserable relationship. All I can say is that I was young, I was naive, I was isolated from my friends and family, and I had absolutely no confidence in myself. I can’t even explain the mental manipulation my ex was capable of. He could make the most outrageous things seem reasonable, with ME cast as the unreasonable party. He could take the most wrong thing he was guilty of, and spin it so that I was the one that was wrong. He had this ability to make me feel small, unworthy, ugly, insignificant, and stupid. And then he’d confirm these feelings I had by saying them out-loud, as facts.

Gradually, though… oh, so gradually, I began to think of myself in a different light. I was growing up, I was doing well at work, and I was gaining confidence. I had friends at work that I could talk to. My inherent personality finally started to kick back in, now that it was just my ex I faced, and not the brainwashing barrage of nonsense from his family and the entire Witness congregation. Even my frequent telephone calls with my mother-in-law, in which I would STILL tell her how he was and what was happening, and how she would STILL tell me it was my Christian duty to submit to him, began to have less influence over me. I began, internally and to myself at first, to express my own outrage and anger at his treatment of me. I began to think that perhaps I wasn’t the foolish little piece of shit he said I was. I began to listen to that little feeling I had, which knew that the level of his psychosis was greater than I had previously admitted to myself.

I began to see what other people saw. I began to be able to compare him with normal, socialized people. How he’d say very little at what few social gatherings we did attend. He’d sit in the corner with his “observations”. He’d barely speak when directly addressed, and when he did it would be with a superior air. I would watch people exchange, “What the FUCK?” glances with one another, behind his back.

My original sense of loyalty that would automatically defend him, in voice and mind, when others would call his behavior and treatment of me into question, popped up less and less. People would ask me, in private, why I let him speak to me the way I did. They would observe the way he was with me… oh, say if I reached to hold his hand, he would hit it away. If I laughed too much or talked too much, if I started enjoying myself, he would reel me in with a “Laura, you’re embarrassing. Behave yourself.” People would get angry with him for me, on my behalf, but the fallout I suffered when my ex and I were back home was enough for me to ask them, “Please, just don’t say anything to him.”

I didn’t have an answer for them, as to why I let this happen. I didn’t have an answer for myself, and I knew there was so much more beneath the surface, that my ex’s “public face” didn’t let them see. Finally I began to feel ashamed about his behavior, his personality, who he WAS, and the fact that I was married to him. I was tired of having to explain away why we couldn’t go out and meet other people for dinner, or go to the movies. Why I couldn’t leave the house except to go to and from work. Why my husband didn’t like me taking calls at home. Why, essentially, I couldn’t have any friends. I was tired of excusing his behavior to other people, when I could no longer excuse it to myself.

I was sick of not being my own person. I was tired of having every thought and every action and every moment of every day dictated by him. I finally knew FOR MYSELF that I was smart, and good, and had opinions and thoughts that were worthy of expression. I finally realized FOR MYSELF that I should be able to pursue things that interested me – reading, journaling, photography, even going back to school – all things previously forbidden. I finally understood how very NOT NORMAL my life and his behavior was. I was tired of letting him talk to me the way he did, letting him belittle me the way he did.

I decided it was time that he realized his “little wifey”, whom he thought he would “bring up right”, was going off in an unanticipated direction.

So. Thus the seeds of my ultimate rebellion were slowly beginning to germinate. But the path I was about to take was fraught with more drama than I had ever experienced before in my life.

To be continued…

  1. Rai says:

    When I first started reading your journal/blog/whatnot, I was still married to my ex. I remember the stories you would tell and they mirrored my own marriage so closely…and you found Calvin and were happy and things got so much better…reading this reminds me of the hope I had, that maybe I would find the strength to walk out and find my happiness like you did.

  2. Jayne says:

    I’ve read that abusers are good brainwashers. They’ll chip away at their victim in small ways to begin with, gradually upping the ante, until to outsiders their behaviour would seem outrageous, whist their victim is in fact locked into the situation, their self-esteem destroyed. I’m wondering if your lack of money and his liking for throwing away your savings on fripperies and nonsense may actually have saved your sanity. It meant that your salary was required to keep house and home together, and of course that constant contact with other people helped you realise that the situation you were living in just wasn’t right. Whatever the reason, it does my heart good to know that this story has a happy ending.

  3. Megan says:

    I like how you leave us with suspenseful foreshadowing, as if we might be disinterested otherwise! (Not a chance.)

  4. Laura says:

    Rai – I’m glad you have your own “survival” story that has a happy ending!

    Jayne – For the last 18 months of our marriage I was the only person bringing in income, and I know that was part of the reason I was able to start gaining confidence. I knew I was the only person keeping us afloat. Hard to be convinced you’re worthless when you’re the sole breadwinner!

    Megan – Heh. I think that last line of the last installment was a little cheese, though. I can’t help but throw in a dramatic “Dun dun DUUUNNN…” in my head whenever I read it.

  5. Dawn says:

    Girl, the whole Isolation thing is giving me flashbacks to Marriage #1. He tried to do the same thing! Glad we both managed to thwart that shit.

    I remember you telling me a little bit about this years ago – I’ve been waiting for the crap computer parts to make their entrance (and their exit)!

  6. […] My God, how it makes my heart thump to think of going home to STAY. It’s a special kind of hell for a country girl craving greenery and proximity to the ocean to be stuck living in the baked asphalt nightmare that is Phoenix, Arizona. I’ve imagined it… imagined how Calvin and I would leave here with our belongings packed in a moving truck, making the opposite and complementary drive to the one I took nearly fifteen-holy-fuck-years ago. […]

  7. […] if you’d like to read the whole sordid tale, here’s part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, and epilogue. Keep in mind I was still using nom-de-nets back […]

  8. Oregon Sunshine says:


    I can relate, except for the JW part. My first boyfriend was very much like your ex. I was young and naive, we weren’t married and my mother didn’t know what was going on as we were usually at his house with his parents, who turned a blind eye to everything, to the verbal, physical and sexual abuse, the isolation and essentially the “breaking” of me. I became a shell of a person with him. And then, one day, I was a bit stronger. I found inner strength, made friends, met The Marine (my ex, before he was a Marine) and grew a spine. Only to repeat most of the past all over again a couple years later when The Marine and I married, and again later in another relationship a couple years after my divorce. THAT was my breaking point. And never again! I sure hope you didn’t repeat my mistakes over and over. Now to read the rest of the story!

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