My psyche has been playing horrible tricks on me this year courtesy of some traumatic nightmares. Generally I don’t have traditional nightmares, but the way my subconscious is working through stuff this year has been particularly frightening… mostly because it conjures up all these previously unexamined emotions. This started with the nightmare I recounted in my blog The Endless Storm. Now another just woke me up out of another drug induced stupor dealing with this endless flu.
I feel I must purge it in order to move past it. So it’s gonna be an ugly blog today.
Essentially my dream was that Dan was still alive and had brought me a gun with which to shoot him. He also had a shotgun, and of course the weapon I had was only a bb gun (which, incidentally – I’ve never fired any type of weapon at all), but he told me that I was going to have to shoot him or he’d shoot me.
And I knew he would. So when he aimed the shotgun at me I unloaded all rounds right in the middle of his chest. I went inside the little trailer I happened to be staying in and called 9-1-1 to report that I had shot my husband. I could see from the windows he was not dead, merely wounded, and of course now I feared for my life. I locked every door and stayed away from all outside walls as I hid in a tiny shower, hearing him case all around the trailer and taunting me.
I just knew at any moment he’d instinctively know where I was hiding and shoot me dead through the woefully insufficient walls.
There were bullet holes in the windows and another woman with a gun I knew I had to rely upon to keep me safe until the cops came.
That’s when I woke up – confused at which part of this dream disturbed me most. That I could so easily try to kill a man I have missed almost every day since he died 7 years ago, or that I still felt haunted by a seemingly inescapable fear that the person I loved could be the person who ultimately killed me.
As I touched on very briefly in Holding Out for a Hero, my first husband Dan had several untreated mental illnesses when we met. It led to many years of living in silent shame as the victim of domestic violence that I had previously sworn (at the grand ol’ age of 16) would never happen to me.
I think most women think this way, but yet statistics show that one in every four women will experience abuse in their lifetime. Even more sadly it does amount to silent shame that, when someone finally throws back the fear of judgment and condemnation to talk about it you find even your closest friends had suffered at the hands of previous husbands and lovers in larger numbers than you even knew. No one wants to talk about it because we’re so afraid we’re going to be blamed for our own circumstances.
After all that’s what we do, so we expect it from other people.
It’s our fault if we stay, yet leaving is the scariest prospect of all. (Statistics also show that the first six months after leaving an abusive spouse can be the most dangerous, as the likelihood that they’ll come looking for you and hurt you are higher.)
So how does it happen? How does a seemingly strong woman end up willingly staying with someone who is so dangerous?
I wish it was all black and white but unfortunately it’s not. With Dan and me, it was actually very complicated.
Dan was a very complicated person. He had these two extremes that made it quite difficult for me to hate him completely or love him completely. I met him when I was 17 and had a serious case of hero worship; he was much older (by ten years) and of course since I was fatherless I didn’t mind his being the one “in control”.
Mostly because I sensed in many ways he needed me to be in control; that he was so emotionally stunted it would require all my strength to pull him up out of the pits in which he found himself.
And God knows that was all I wanted to do. I needed to save him as much as I needed someone to save me. Plus I loved him… he was unlike anyone I’d ever met before (or since).
On one hand he was probably the most generous person I ever met. It wasn’t uncommon for him to give his very last dime to another person – even a stranger – if they needed it. He was the kind of person who would run three blocks to my mother’s convenience store to check on her if a car backfired. He’d walk her to her car on the ice and snow and he was the ultimate gentleman to me by opening all the doors, paying for all the expenses (when he was working) and essentially becoming someone I knew would always be there if I ever needed him. I felt truly safe when I was with him, I knew that he’d lay down his life for me.
He also shared his deepest feelings with me regarding his own abusive past, and I could see that he was as wounded as I was (maybe even more so) and so I took it upon myself to give him what he had always been lacking. Loving him gave my life purpose.
And that was who he was the first many months of our friendship. He didn’t start out mean (they rarely ever do), and by the time I saw the first indicator he could be violent I was already significantly emotionally invested.
My young cousins used to come over to his house quite a bit with me, and they loved him as much as I did. One particular night we were all kind of roughhousing and my oldest cousin (who I think was probably 13 or so at the time) ended up getting hurt. So I stood up to Dan and told him that was not going to fly. At the time I was 18 with a hair trigger temper that would put me up in anyone’s face, and this night was no exception.
So we stood there practically nose to nose and I was screaming in his face. He towered over me at about 6′ of solid muscle but I didn’t care. Finally he pushed me down onto the couch behind me, to which I sprang back up again even madder than before. He pushed me back down, and again I sprang back up. The third time he pushed me down I grabbed his arm and took him down with me, but instead of going onto the couch he actually went right through the plate glass window behind the couch.
Dan would later revel in telling this story to the kids, saying their mama threw him out of a window. They totally believed the story, even though he had decidedly embellished my role in these events. It wasn’t like I became the Incredible Hulk and lifted him up and threw him, it was just the simple law of physics that state once a body is in motion, it stays in motion.
The window just stopped the motion.
He also left out what followed, probably because he blacked it out and didn’t remember. This was typical for these abusive episodes.
After he went through the window, something snapped. He came back as a maniac who basically put me in a head lock and threatened to break my neck. For a few terrifying moments I really thought he was going to do what he said. The kids around us were pleading for him to stop and after what seemed like minutes he finally relented, pushed me away and stormed out of the house.
A little known fact about me, when I get scared I get mad. The longer I sat there in abject terror, the angrier I got. I finally marched into the kitchen, grabbed a knife from the drawer and sought him out where he sat in total remorse on the front stoop of the house. I threw the knife down at his feet and told him to finish the f*cking job if he was going to do it.
(It should also go without saying I get stupid when I get mad…)
After the heat of the moment died down, things went back to the way they were. Sort of. The incident left me feeling a little more wary of what he might be capable of, but it was difficult for me to reconcile these two Dans in my head. I loved one, feared the other, and over the next year or so he did everything he could to protect me (even from myself) and to reassure me that was just an errant experience left over from his many years of abuse.
I had triggered his fight for survival, albeit accidentally.
We ended up moving to Los Angeles in spring of 1989. We only had $200 to our name but my sister lived there, and I figured she’d help us out by giving us a place to stay while we got on our feet. Unfortunately I was immediately informed that we were on our own. She didn’t want to put us up because she feared we’d stay and take advantage of her, and essentially left us to our own devices, basically telling us where we could go for welfare.
Turns out since I quit my job to go to California I wasn’t eligible for immediate general aid like temporary shelter, but Dan on the other hand was. He was given a hotel room in downtown Los Angeles. I already knew better than to ask my sister if I could stay with her, so that left me with only one alternative… I had to sleep in the car.
There was no way that Dan would have ever slept in that room while I slept in the car, so instead he gave it up and we both stayed in the car. He’d work day labor during the week while I went to school, and on the weekends we shared a hotel room. This went on for several months.
These new circumstances would prove stressful, and more of his negative behavior would make itself known in increasing ways. This was especially true after I got pregnant with Timothy. The good still outweighed the bad, and he had certainly proven to me he was willing to sacrifice as much for me as I was for him. For the first time in a long time I felt loved. After two years of unrequited pining, there wasn’t any chance at all I was going to give up on the relationship.
Plus I really had no where to go.
My mother ultimately came to our rescue and moved out from Texas to California. We all ended up in Fresno in a two bedroom apartment. Dan and I were going to get married, and he even enrolled in a trucking school. Things looked up, for a while. But once Tim was born the stress ultimately would drive us back to Texas where I’d begin to see the total transformation.