Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Waiting To Breathe

Not only is October Breast Cancer Awareness Month (I hope to get to Erie on Saturday to sign up for the study - you should sign up too) but it also is a month more near and dear to my own heart.  October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  

This month is very meaningful to me since I made several mistakes in my life that lead me to the trap of domestic violence.  A trap that, to this day, I can't seem to escape. Those that know me, know I have been married three times.  Each marriage involved some form of domestic abuse.  

My first marriage was to my on-again off-again high school sweetheart. We had met when I was twelve and he was all I ever wanted so I was ready to be part of his life when he decided to settle down.  Unfortunately, that didn't mean faithfulness on his part.  He was the mildest with his "abuse". So much so that I didn't even realize it was happening until his Mom told me. She was a volunteer for the local domestic violence agency and spotted his tactic of minimizing, denying and blaming, or "Gaslighting" as she called it (from the Ingrid Bergman movie of that name).  We were married for seven years until he moved in with his girlfriend and never looked back. He left me to raise our almost four year old son while he helped raise her children from previous relationships as his own. 

His Mom and sister helped me escape the girlfriend's threats against my son and I moved back to our hometown with the contents of four suitcases, he got everything else.  I had to begin again with no college degree (he always seemed amused by my major switching through two years of college). It was a long drop from wife of an Air Force Captain to struggling to survive. 

Then to husband number two.  This is when the abuse ran the full gamut of the chart.  My childhood friend fixed me up with her brother-in-law (later to tell me she thought I could fix him).  I planned to date him for a while just to rebuild my self-esteem. I didn't want to be in a long-term relationship so soon. Soon after we began dating, the abuse began. It started with my four year old son. When I would protect him I would be punished. I was told exactly how I would be killed if I left. This continued for years. My son and I were abused, I had bones broken, I gave birth to an extremely early son after a session of abuse. I gave birth to five children in six years as I was being kept barefoot and pregnant, literally. Even though I was giving him babies whenever he wanted, he still had two other children during this time as well as countless affairs. My family and friends disappeared and even turned on me as he lied to them about me. I was forced to give him my child support check, even the money from the sale of my childhood home. All while not being given enough money to keep the bills paid. We lived as paupers despite his good paying job.  I was not someone worth listening to or even deserving of being alive. When he finally let me drive, my cars had tires burst, engines catch fire, and brake lines cut - he was a mechanic.  It took me seven years before I became strong enough to begin planning my escape and another two years to get out. 

I ran to an older family friend. Someone I had known my entire life. Soon after he let the children and I move into his home, his intentions became clear. I was to be a volunteer doing the office work and many other jobs in the county animal shelter that he had built behind our home while my kids were to help keep the shelter clean. Although we lived together he was in no way tied to me.  I lived there while he continued his womanizing.  As the lies continued from him, I lost my position as president and secretary of the PTOs in school. I was still able to volunteer for Girl Scouts and youth soccer but even Boy Scouts booted me out after 10 years of involvement. People in my own church looked down on me.  I couldn't get a paying job because he was my reference. I was afraid to go into town out of fear of being insulted by strangers. I put my foot down and told the kids that school and extra-curricular activities came first before working in the shelter.  Soon afterward my children's father began calling CPS on me, repeatedly. Then he took me to court for custody of my kids. His attorney was the former attorney of my live-in's ex-wife.  After lasting for months, he decided to settle on the day of the trial.  

By then I had no one. I was alone in my small rural county with just my kids while living with a man who wanted nothing to do with me except as a worker. Our Board didn't like the look of us living under the same roof so I agreed to marry him so he could keep his job. I had no where else to go. When he lost his job anyway because of his womanizing interfering with his job, he had to sell his house on Humane Society property to the shelter. 

I decided we would move somewhere that my son with Asperger's Syndrome could get an education. Number three became ill and was hospitalized for months while I worked and ran the household. He blamed me for the loss of his job, for his illness, for making him leave our former county.  He told me he hated me and "wouldn't stop until he saw me childless and alone living on the streets of Erie".  He moved to a retirement home, cut me off financially and we lost contact. 

I fell in love. 

Number three wrote my Sweetheart a letter telling him how terrible I am and making demands of me. I didn't respond by his deadline. The day of the deadline CPS and the police began visiting. The children's father went after me again for custody of our teens and tween.  His attorney was the same one as before and my attorney felt he was being paid for by number three.  I learned from CPS why our oldest daughter hadn't spoken to him in seven years.  The police kept coming over to check on the kids. The battle dragged on.  

Number one resurfaced and began writing letters to my Sweetheart, to the local District Attorney, to the local police. Telling them I was crazy, I shouldn't be allowed to be near the children he never met, yet he still wanted no contact with our now-adult son. He kept writing my Sweetheart telling him to dump me. Spreading more lies. 

Number three's adult daughter sent me an email telling me to leave her father alone. 

Number three sued me in Pennsylvania, where you don't get an attorney if you can't afford one. He told the kids' father he wants to have me arrested.

I was asked why they all would be connected.  I do know that number two was always in contact with the wife of number one during our marriage and that she had also contacted number three over the years.  She is heavily involved with "helping" those who are abused, while number three was our county cruelty investigator who worked alongside the local domestic violence agency (which gave him access to the vulnerable women he preyed upon) until I told them of his physical assault of me.  It looked to many people as if the three of them had an assigned "job" in number three's threat against me.

None of them want me happy.

I went to court for trial on Tuesday. After a year and a half of our lives were wasted, number two decided to settle in the custody battle.

The children have all gotten older since the battle began.  Our oldest is six hours away in college, our son with Asperger's is almost eighteen, our cheerleader is almost seventeen and refuses to speak to her father.  That leaves the youngest boys (fifteen, next month and twelve).  The end settlement was only about them.

Many years ago, during the first custody battle, I was sitting in the courtroom and noticed the artwork from local students on the wall.  They would hang the winners' artwork there after the pieces were returned from judging at Potsdam University.  While listening to the lawyers argue I looked around. On the wall three feet away from me, at eye level, was this piece of artwork.  It belonged to India - my daughter. She had earned a blue ribbon in crayon. She was in sixth grade.  When I saw it I looked at the judge and he was smiling at me. I had known him for years, I often wondered if he placed it there. Throughout the months that I was in his courtroom I would look at the artwork for strength.

When the second battle began, I pulled her portfolio out of the back of my closet and hung this piece on my bedroom wall so that I could once again look at it for strength ... it's still there.

I was told by my attorney to keep my mouth shut on what was going on but now that it's over, I can finally speak out.

Hopefully those men will leave me alone now.  Hopefully they will let me live my life in peace.
It's quiet right now.

I'm waiting for the next shoe to drop. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow ! And that's just in a "nutshell" .. I hope You find peace, and although we're miles apart, I will always Love You and be by your side, first chance we get ...


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