Saturday, May 1, 2010

It's All My Fault

I like to watch Grey’s Anatomy. I get frustrated with it because it doesn’t have enough new episodes. This weeks episode was new to me. Grey’s Anatomy is a sophisticated prime time soap opera. One of the lead characters, Dr. McSteamy aka Mark Sloan has an 18-year-old pregnant daughter named Sloan suddenly come into his life. For good drama, in spite of this being a first pregnancy, she has an emergency delivery of her son in his apartment.

One of the main themes for the rest of the show is that she is still a child. At 18, she is still a child herself and too young to care for her infant son. It wouldn’t be fair to her child to keep him. Ultimately, the son is handed over to strangers who are more ready for this responsibility. It was sad. I disagree. She should have kept her child.

That episode made me wonder. I wonder if anyone thought that about me when they bought wedding presents for me in 1968. Times were different one might argue. Nevertheless, I was a child. I had no business being married. I thought I was in love. Maybe I was? I know without any doubt that ultimately I love him because he was able to inflict such great pain. Love is like that, the more you love the more vulnerable you are to pain.

It’s hard to explain the emotional abuse. I suppose I was an easy target. It usually works that way. Someone insecure finds an even more insecure person to control and manipulate. He seemed so secure to me. He seemed to know what he wanted. He had a certain charm about him with his slightly baby face. In church, people liked him. To this day, I still wonder when I interact with people from that long past, what are they really thinking. His persona was strong and perhaps lasting.

Alvin was such a nice young man. He always carried a big Bible. He believed in holiness standards. He insisted I start growing my hair. All pants were forbidden along with make-up. We couldn’t have a television. I dutifully complied. Some older woman gave me some hand-me-down shirtwaist dresses. This was my new 16-year-old look.

A year before I sported tights with a short cute dress that barely covered my butt. Maybe that extreme was not the best either. Several years before in Brooklyn, I was removed from the usherette staff at the church because I insisted on rolling my skirt too short. I was always getting in trouble for sneaking around and wearing make-up. I suppose it was all part of the persona of a rebel that I was crafting. It worked.

Now here I was far from the streets of Brooklyn, living in a small camper trying to play house with a man who belittled and derided me constantly. Nothing was good enough for him. He had to have the best clothes while anything was fine for me. He worked, he had money. I kept his house, I had none. 

He had dreams of being a great carpenter. From what I understand he did succeed in that dream. Friday being payday, he was always late. It wasn’t a bar that lured him. He was too holy for that. It was new clothes at the finest men’s shop in Columbia or new tools at the hardware store. He always had to have the best. Food for our table was optional. After a shower, we'd scurry to young people's meeting at the church. Still children, we still belonged to the youth group.

I don’t remember the order of the first two physical abuse episodes. All abuse seems to start out subtly. Like Mr. Thompsen grooming me with candy, an abuser never shows their true colors quickly. First, they pick you. How thrilled I was to be picked. First by Mr. Thompsen and his candy treats. Now by Alvin and his offers of love and respectability.  They pick you because you are insecure and starved for love and attention. They make you feel as if they are your savior. They are the one who will make your life better.  You'll do anything to please them; control is very easy.

In your desire to please and feel significance, you believe that you really are inadequate. The problem is you. If only you could do things better you would be loved and appreciated. If you could just perform well, your abuser will love you more.

Add God to this mix and you have a perfect recipe for abuse. I wanted more than anything to please God. I also wanted to atone for all my supposed sins of my youth. I didn’t really have that many but I felt guilty. Works-based righteousness will do that to you. My husband, now the head of the house and the one to whom I was to submit to told me I was lacking, severely lacking.

The first slap across the face left me stunned. I cried for hours. My neighbors heard me and stayed up. Perhaps afraid to come to my aid, they were alarmed. They heard the slap as our living room was but a few feet from their bedroom. It was summer and the windows were open. They heard me cry. Eventually, I knocked on their door. They were awake and dressed. Later the wife shared they were up because they were concerned.

Eventually I apologized to him for what I had done wrong that resulted in being hit. Begging for forgiveness, I was granted another chance to be a good wife. At night in bed, he would punch my pregnant swelling breasts. He said it reminded him of bread rising from yeast and he thought it was fun to punch it down. 

No one knew. I told no one. I was the person who needed to change. I was the one who needed to atone for my sins. If only I were a better wife. It's all my fault.


  1. Joyce, your explanation of abusers is right on. It's so sad though that nobody seemed to understand what was happening right underneath their noses.

  2. My youngest daughter frequently experienced this kind of abuse when she was first married too. With our help, we got her out of that situation quickly.

    We were fortunate to drop by to visit one evening and walked in on the husband beating her up. Needless to say I beat the living daylights out of him that evening which required a hospital stay for him. Although I was arrested for assualt and battery against the husband, the charges was dropped in my favor. We financed her attorney fees for her divorce.

    No woman should ever stay in an abusive relationship in a marriage. It will never change. Better get out while you can or before you are killed.

    I have talked to both of my daughters about abusive relationships and they both know I am here to prevent this.

    As I can recall back then, this issue was something that was brushed under the rug as the norm and the blame was put on the wife in most cases.

  3. Oh Joyce, I am so sorry. It really does seem that abusers see "VICTIM" tatooed on some people. Or maybe they just keep trying until they find someone they can groom for the role.

    One summer a young couple lived next door to us, and we heard him abusing her (first them loudly arguing, which woke us up, and then him hitting her). The police drove up as we were going to the phone - the (extremely courageous) single mom in the other side of their duplex had already called them. I remember wondering what we could do to help the girl, but we never had more than a nodding acquaintance. (And, I knew nothing whatsoever at that point about the cycle of abuse.) I wonder where she is now.


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