Was This Domestic Violence?

Our dream-trip to Holland, with all its ups and downs became one of those few memories I looked back to and felt better and hopeful when things were falling apart in my life.

May of 1990 was one of those times, when I felt like a mouse trapped in a maze, knocking at all doors and none was opening, and the oxygen was less and less and I couldn’t breathe anymore, yet I couldn’t find a way out! I was doomed to wait for my own death patiently, in the maze of life I so foolishly chose thinking it was the Garden of Paradise! As all adult children of alcoholics, I felt the load of the world on my shoulders. Even when those I loved and trusted did something wrong, it wasn’t their fault, it was always mine. I must have done something to trigger the rage, the beatings, the insanity! Yes, without a shadow of a doubt, it was always my fault! Had I only learned to please my husband, to keep my mouth shut… but even silence was interpreted… I was definitely hopeless in my attempts to please, I just didn’t know how!

It was May 22, 1990 and I had just signed up for courses at the Medical Mission Sisters’ Center for Human Integration to learn foot reflexology, with the hope that Sister Mary, as a result of me being good enough, will then invite to me become a student in their renowned BASIC Massage therapy training school. I had paid for my trainings with my last saved money. I was broke and financially dependent on my husband.

Beside always being fascinated by how the body heals, by the mysteries of the Universe and  how, we, as individual human beings could make the world a better place, I must confess,  I also had a hidden, personal reason to want to enter the profession of the healing arts…

At the beginning of 1990 I started experienced sharp pain in my right ovary and the gynecologist assured me it was just a cyst, meaning it was filled with fluid and most likely it will absorb. However, she decided they will “keep an eye” on it, just in case… it could be a tumor, but chances were slim…

Every month I went for check ups, as the pain and discomfort increased, every months, as  the “cyst” became larger and larger, until my doctor had to admit it was a tumor which needed removed.  She suggested laparoscopy, but I was so afraid I’d die, that I went for a second opinion to a famous doctor at Jefferson Hospital. After performing a thorough pelvic exam,  his opinion was the tumor “felt borderline,” meaning that until it was taken out and pathology performed, nobody could tell for sure whether it was benign or cancerous. Given the specifics, he did not recommend a laparoscopy because if anything went wrong and the tumor was punctured, if it were cancerous, the cancer would  spread… What he suggested, was  major surgery and carefully removing not only the tumor, but my whole right ovary.  He gave me the name of an oncological surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania and it was up to me to decide what I wanted to do with my life, a decision even harder to make, given the fact that I had two small children.

Kevin listen to my dilemmas and shrugged his shoulders.

“I am not a doctor, do whatever the doctors tell you.”

He was distant again, the glimpse of the man I married and whom I saw for a few days before our trip to Holland had disappeared again!

I felt so dependent on him. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t earning money and I was sick and in pain and trying to smile and keep up with the motherly and wifely duties expected of me, but it was clear I wasn’t doing a good job because Kevin acted more and more aggravated and distant.

I was mortified I might lose him to another woman. He started going out again after work, the pattern from before we married was repeating itself! I was jealous and helpless! Often  I called him at work, generally about an hour before he was supposed to leave for the day, so that I could time cooking and having the food fresh and hot on the table when he arrived. Secretly, I hoped he would be attracted by the promised marital bliss and not go out after work with people and in places I felt threatened our marriage.

That fateful afternoon, I called  around 5:00 PM and the receptionist, a woman I didn’t know, first probed whether I was his wife, because as far as she knew he was single!  She assured me, he left at Noon and never returned..

“If you were his wife, as you claim, you should know where your husband is!” She said and hang up.

Six o’clock arrived but not my husband. The children wanted to play house, but I felt we might not have one for long. Where was he? Why didn’t he let me know he was going to be late?

I was pacing back and force thinking… what to do?

At about 8:30 the door unlocked and Kevin appeared in the doorway. He looked pale and wasn’t smiling.

I reasonable wife would have probably just say “hello honey, welcome home.” The ideal wife, would have taken his coat and brought his slippers and pulled out the chair for him to sit and served the overdone meal apologizing it was slightly burned… yes this is what a normal wife would have probably done, but I didn’t! Instead, I asked:

“Where have you been? I called your office and the receptionist told me you left after Noon…”

That was all I managed to say. He threw his briefcase and screaming banged his head on the walls several times.

“Stop! Stop, you are bleeding!” I managed to say. “I am sorry I called, I…”

“Don’t ever call my office! It’s none of your business where I am! You are checking on me…”

He broke his glasses and smashed an antique chair , a present from his mother.  He pinned me to the wall and punched holes in the wall with his fists and feet. He screamed insults against our children, me and the entire world who didn’t understand him.

Then, suddenly, he stopped, let go of me, and dashed out the door!

There was silence. He was gone! Did I dream? I looked around at the broken things, the holes in the wall in the shape of my body… no, it really happened…and now what?

“Eva, Natalie, where are you sweethearts? Don’t be scared. Daddy was just a little upset…”

From a closet, the girls, holding the dogs in their arms, stepped out cautiously:

“Is he gone?”

“Yes,” he left…

Tears were streaming from my children’s eyes:

“Where did he go, Mom, what if he never comes back??”

They were right, where did he go, disheveled, with no coat on, no glasses…bleeding… what if he killed himself, what if he went to a Pub and drank! A few years before, I banned alcohol from our home, given our families history of substance abuse… what if the substances were winning him over, destroying the safety of our home… or the illusion of it!

Almost 10:00 P.M. now, and he was still not home.

Whom should I call? We had no family, I had no family! No mother, sister, brother, not even an aunt or an uncle! But I did have friends and desperate and confused I called my friend and neighbor, Tara.

I always  subscribed to the saying “God gives you your relatives, but you chose your friends.”

I am a living example that I survived because of  the support my friends  offered unconditionally and  sadly, despite of relatives.

I told Tara what happened and at 10:00 P.M. without me suggesting she came over, she just said:

“I’ll be there in five minutes.”

…and she did! That’s what real friends do, they don’t talk much, as words are cheap. Real friends just do!

We called the Police even if he didn’t disappear for more than 24 hours because I was concerned about his life. He behaved irrational.

The Policemen came quickly and he was empathetic, he wrote a report. He assured us they will be on the look out for someone of that description…even if 24 hours didn’t pass.

The Policeman left. Tara cleaned the pieces of  broken glass and made me tea. She explained something to my girls… I wouldn’t know what could she have possibly told them, but they stopped sobbing.

It was now almost mid-night. The girls fell asleep on the couch, watching television. Tara had to leave…

The dogs stopped shaking and I sipped the calming tea. I was alone again. I was afraid…

Oh, why did I make that  fuss over nothing! Afterall, what had happened  was not as bad as what I remembered from my childhood, when my mother emerged from fights with my father with black and blue eyes and broken bones. Oh no, it was even better than the times when in rages of jealousy, my first husband  in Romania  strangled me and punched me in my eye. Of course,  we washed our dirty clothes in the family, it was no one’s business! The following day, at college, I had to wear a turtle-neck and when people asked me what was wrong with my eye, I conveniently made-up a story about trying to grab a book from a high shelf and the book fell on my eye. Imagine that! Such bad luck, it could have blinded me! Lies, lies were part of the game, and I had experience playing this game of hidden fears, pain and deceipt. No, this time it wasn’t nearly as bad as what I was used to. After all, he didn’t slap or hit me! Only the walls around my body. Yes, I could see the shape of my body on the wall!

I called a hot-line for domestic violence and told my story. The woman listened and told me it was a matter of time before the walls or the chairs became us.

“He will hit you,” She assured me. It was a matter of time! I had to leave. To take my children and go to a relative… I had no relatives! To a shelter, anywhere, but where he was!

I hang up. What did she know? There were all exagerations, he would never touch us! …and where was I going to go with my two small children, our pets and not earning money and expecting a major surgery? I felt trapped and didn’t want, could not afford to see the truth! Regrets followed…

I was definitely foolish! Why did I even call  Tara and the Police. I had to wisen up and understand once and for all this was life and the old, Romanian saying about what makes a good husbands was true, based on the wisdom of centuries of our people: “A good husband doesn’t beat you, doesn’t drink excessively and doesn’t chase other women”…  at least you don’t know about it!

At about 4:00 A.M. Kevin came back home. I was waiting sitting on the couch in the living room.

He didn’t say a word and I didn’t either. He walked passed me in silence and went upstairs to our bedroom.

I heard noises… mild noises.  I assumed he undressed and slipped under the covers of our conjugal bed. Confusion… Was he expecting me to follow him, to silently kiss him,  as if nothing happened, perhaps make love… may be yes, may be no.

I wasn’t sure. What if when I kissed him I triggered anger?

I slept on the couch, cuddled with the dogs.

The following  morning, without a word, he showered, got dress and left for work. Silence became a way of life!

I never called his office again to ask where he was and the food which  was made with a piece of my soul  in it  started to be more and more overcooked. At times, burned, but he didn’t seem to care. He rarely ate at home any more!

The girls got used to tiptoe, afraid something they might do would suddenly trigger their daddy  to break everything and leave the house. They, like me, started to question what did we do wrong to trigger such violence in a good man, in their beloved daddy? We must have been really, really bad! Our solution was to become invisible and safe.

He never appologized and we never spoke about what happened that evening in 1990, but the weekend after he smashed everything in our living room, he spent hours fixing everything. That episode was the first in many to follow and our living room was destroyed and silently repaired for many times in the years to come. We got used to it, such was life!  I safely assumed all families had such secrets, but that’s why they were called secrets. No one was supposed to know!

The walls were patched and painted. The glass was replaced, the chair glued…

our hearts, our children’s and mine were in shambles!

What would it take to glue our heart back together, to make them whole again, to make us trust again? Much later in life, I learned that it was possible to “break the cycle of violence,” and awareness was a first step. Courage was the next!

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