Fits and Starts

“When was the last time you didn’t have to worry about your ex acting out?”

“Oh, a few years. A while. Probably since the first time I called the cops.”

“How long exactly? When were you last able to be truly easy and relaxed without fearing something could go wrong? When you didn’t try to walk on eggshells, or realize you needed to.”

I fell silent, struggling to think of things I didn’t really want to admit. The embarrassing way I floundered when confronted by the first major incident of rage, when things broke and his anger at me found it’s way into a steak. I watched as he screamed at me, plunging the fork into the London Broil over, and over, and over.

I think we’d been married six months.

Terrified, I retreated to our bedroom. Closed the door. Shoved clothes baskets in front. I pushed open the closet slider, folded my legs, and rattled the rollers closed once again. Leaving me in a dark, protective, space. It didn’t last long.

“What is wrong with you?” He demanded, rolling the door open so hard it squealed in its tracks. Disgust echoed palpably in his voice.

That phrase emerged every time I reacted to his anger in fear, every time I walked away in search of something that might allow calm to return. Instead of us ever dealing with what caused his anger , all our efforts churned around why I couldn’t handle it, and why I was messed up, and how he was being perfectly normal. Why couldn’t I avoid making him upset in the first place?

As doors flew off hinges, and drawers out of desks. Dishes shattered on the cement patio. Laptops cracked over his knees. Alcohol was binged.

Slowly I learned how to manage myself better. I’d still shake, the trembles always came in the aftermath of a fight. But I learned not to cry. Learned that the only way to impact his behavior was to leave the situation and walk away. Sometimes I walked for hours. Other times I would return to find the house a mess from upturned buckets and baskets. Somehow, not being present for that turmoil made it easier.

I fought for boundaries. If he broke or threw something, I left. For a walk. For a drive.

I couldn’t go to family, because then “I would be lying and telling them stories to make them hate him.” It was wrong for me to ever leave. Wrong for me to not stay with him like a good wife. We found an uncomfortable balance, because I believed far too much that I was just as responsible as he was.

He never laid a hand on me. Not really. But somehow the threat felt like it was always present, just the same.

“Almost nine and a half years.” I murmured to the therapist.

“Then it’s no wonder that you don’t remember what normal feels like.”

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