So, there I was. It was 5am, still dark, but stifling hot. The Mississippi Delta heat is unwavering. Hoot owls, random insects and random rodents can be heard echoing through the isolated stillness of the Mississippi Delta. Drenched in a mixture of sweat and bug spray, wading through the garden in my water boots, I went back to picking my squash. After moving back to the Delta, I quickly learned that the earlier you got in the garden, the better off you’d be. At this rate, I would have enough for the Farmer’s Market by 10am. If I smiled just right and had enough squash, I could make enough gas money for the week. I was in complete survival mode. I wasn’t thinking. I felt no emotions. I was just going through the motions to get from Point A to Point B, just putting one step in front of the other without any idea of my destination.
Less than a year before, I was living on the Gulf Coast, working as a corporate manager importing and exporting steel. So, how did I get here? How did I go from making upwards of 50k, living in a coveted neighborhood and living my best life to being homeless, jobless, and carless with 2 kids in tow? It’s a long, twenty year old story.
Twenty years. At that point, I had spent over half my life in such a chaotic, toxic relationship with “D”. We got together right before my 18th birthday. Immediately we were submerged in a deep, intense relationship. I was his only focus. He was my only focus. Every emotion was to the extreme. When we had a good day, he would just repeat, “I love you” over and over again. Nothing else would be spoken. When it was a bad day, it was the worse day. There was never a happy medium. That was my life for 20 years.
Things would happen. Drugs would pop up. I would get mad and take a stand. He would get mad and take a hit. The hit would either be a verbal below-the-belt; a slap across the face, a shove into the wall, or just choking me to silence. I would wind up feeling stupid for trying to take a stand, sometimes weak for being put down, and always mad at myself for just going back to normal as if nothing ever happened.
There would be times when I just wouldn’t waste my time or energy to try to fight. I moved into my own room. I went back to school. I volunteered as Girl Scout Leader. I volunteered as “Dugout Mom”. I started running. I took Zumba classes on Saturday mornings. I even tried out for Roller Derby. I did anything and everything I could to ignore the elephant in the room.
Other times, I would sit on the couch, fuming, waiting for him to come home. I would practice what I was going to say over and over again. I would pump myself up like a fighter heading into the ring. Essentially, I was a fighter heading into the ring. I knew what was going to happen. I knew what the end result would be. But, I couldn’t help myself. I wanted more. I deserved more. I would get so tired of keeping silent. I had to let it out, no matter the consequences. And, just as expected, he would come in the door, drunk, high or both. I would go in on him. He would go in on me. He would pass out in the bedroom. I would wind up on the floor, nursing a black eye, pulling myself together.
I would leave…. often. But there was always a reason to go back. The kids had a school function. I couldn’t leave such a great job. He was going to rehab. I missed him. There was always a reason to go back. Each time I walked back into that door, though, the weight on my shoulders got heavier and heavier. But, I guess that’s how it goes. When you have a cross to bear, the weight gets heavier over time. “D” was my cross to bear. When I went back the third time, I made a conscious decision that he would be my cross. I would have to stick it out til the end. I had made my bed and I would lie in it. Hell, I would die in it if it came to that.
But, as the years passed, I watched the kids grow and develop aspirations. They had dreams. They had goals. My dreams may have be long-dead and gone. But their dreams were just blossoming. I would look at “D” coming in, telling the same lies he had practiced for years and years now. It had gotten to the point that I knew what he was going to do before he even did it. There was no hope for change. There was no hope for me. But there was hope for the kids. You could see it in their eyes. And I knew that if we stayed with “D”, he would kill all those dreams too.
It took months of planning and strategizing. At times, I felt like such a horrible person for deceiving my husband. But I knew there was no other way we would escape. I knew that I had to try to save him one more time before I left; otherwise I would never be able to forgive myself if he were to die. I begged and cried and promised him, swore to him that I would never leave his side if he just went to rehab for 30 days. I looked my husband in the eye, unflinching, and promised him my undying devotion. But in the back of my mind, I knew he would never complete the 30 days stint; and I knew we would never be together again. I had no other choice. He had been my captor for most of my life. I had to stick to the plan to escape; to help my children escape.
It was dramatic. It was emotional. It was raw and scary. But it was real. It was the only way. I no longer cared about being thought of as the “bad guy”. I knew that I could break his heart. I had to break off all ties to him, emotional and physical. I had gotten so tired and beatdown by “D”, my corporate job, and crushed dreams, that I was unfeeling. There were no more real tears. There wasn’t much of a heart left. My only goal was to get the kids out of here and finally choose the kids over the addict.
So, with 2 kids, 1 cat, 1 dog, and a carload of clothes, I came back home. I had no job, no home, no money because I spent my last paycheck to send “D” to rehab. And I had no idea what the hell I was going to do. But I knew this had to happen.
I had to get to this point. I had to get this low. As long as there was an ounce of hope with “D” I would’ve never been able to leave. It had to get to the lowest point ever in order for me to find the strength to leave. So, I just threw my hands up at the universe and began to float.
Where ever the wind blew me, that’s where I went. Whatever opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it. I tried it all. I had to. I had two children to take care of. My dad let us stay with him rent free for the summer; and gave me his garden to tend. Until I found a stable job, whatever money I could earn off his crops, I could keep. Each morning I would wake up before dawn, pick as much as I could, and try to be the first at the Farmer’s Market. Whatever money I earned went towards fuel to get me from job interview to job interview. I would job hunt during the day; and teach fitness classes at night.
And what happened to “D”? Well, after 10 days in rehab, he left and called me, demanding that we come back. We had been evicted from our home. Neither one of us had a job at that point. He was angry and blamed me for “running”. Calmly I just replied, “You didn’t keep your end of the deal. We aren’t coming back.” Of course this made him even angrier. He wouldn’t give us any of the kids’ bedroom furniture. He would call and cuss all three of us like dogs. Then he would call and apologize and cry about how he just wanted his family back; the same old routine he had used for years. He admitted himself in the hospital for undiagnosed stomach pains; another one of his favorite ploys for sympathy and manipulation. I was able to correctly predict every move he was going to make. And each time I did, I grew a little stronger.
It took me three jobs, three written divorce drafts and three years before he finally signed the papers. All of this was at my expense. But he finally did it. I met him on the side of the road, gave him a warm embrace, and handed him the divorce papers and an ink pen. I had 5 other pens in my purse for backup. He looked at me a minute; and I think he finally realized that he had lost the war. He signed the papers; and I’ve never seen him since. He never really wanted to speak to or see the kids. He said they abandoned him too. He never apologized for the years of abuse. He never said “Thank You” for paying for his rehab. He has never acknowledged the 20 years of devotion I gave him. But I guess I never really expected him to do so.
It’s been six years since I packed up and left. Six years of rebuilding a whole new life for us. And, I must say, this life bears absolutely no resemblance to the one we left behind. I have a totally different career. I started dating an old silly friend of mine; and now we are married. We have a rule of no yelling at each other. We are best friends and really like to help each other out. It’s a real partnership. He’s very sensitive and so patient; and pretty perfect.
About twice a year, I get a random email from “D” asking me how things are, promising to send the kids money. But he never does. I never even tell the kids. I learned years ago to not get their hopes up about their father. Since he realized that I finally had him figured out; and that he no longer scares me, “D” has pretty much dropped off the planet. That’s how all bullies are though.
Leaving “D” was the hardest, most exhausting thing I’ve ever done; and I’ve birth two kids! But I can’t even imagine living the way I once did now. Sometimes I get so frustrated with myself for staying as long as I did. Starting over with nothing after 20 years has been the most bitter pill to swallow, but it’s been the most rewarding too. The first half of my life was lived on “D’s” terms. The next half will be solely on mine. He may have my past, but he can’t touch our futures. The dreams he once killed and buried in the back yard are resurrecting stronger and brighter.
On almost any day of the week, my neighbors can hear Fleetwood Mac blaring out the windows while I’m cooking dinner for my family. I love to fill my house with good music and good food. It is unapologetically loud and obnoxious when my favorite lyric of my favorite Fleetwood Mac song is playing, “Been down one time. Been down two times. Never going back again.”