So, WordPress has this really cool Daily Prompt feature and today’s prompt just happens to tie into one of the central ideas behind this blog’s name.
Once upon a time, I was a suburban wife. If you asked any of “our” friends, I had it all. Kids, husband, home ownership, middle class income, the freedom to be a stay-at-home-mom. “Our” friends would have told you this because that was the image we projected. To “our” friends, his version of my life was the only perspective they had. It was the only one that mattered.
Becoming a stay-at-home-mom was his idea when it happened. That’s not to say that I hadn’t considered it or wanted it previously, especially when I was stressed out by trying to balance family and work, it was just that I had never pursued it and never would have on my own. Then, it happened. I was staring down one of those situations that we in the sandwich generation tend to face. Work sucked. I was trying to manage parenthood, a parental emergency, a shitty job, and the expectations of a husband who was always there to tell me which ball I was dropping. When he suggested that I stay home for a while until I could get everything else into balance, I saw it as an opportunity. A chance to catch my breath and get my life back together. I left my career and my connection to the outside world.
Over time, he systemically eliminated my friends and my family from my life. His friends became “our” friends. His family was “our” family. I didn’t need the others. They weren’t really good for me. Slowly, I became an extension of him. I stopped being me and became his wife. Nothing of my own. Nothing on my own. I was his wife. Nothing more. What more could I want to be anyway? I was his wife and the mother of his children.
As the years passed, most of me faded into oblivion. I learned to anticipate his moods – and to take corrective measures to prevent the consequences of those moods. I learned that it was my fault if we made it to the consequence stage. I learned to recognize when he was going to refuse to listen to anything I said. I learned to not stop talking anyway. There were consequences if he realized that I had stopped talking because he was ignoring me. It was my fault anyway, if I had anything to say that was worthy of his attention, he would have been paying some. And now I was making him look bad.
I lost my voice. I talked about what he wanted to talk about and said the things he wanted to hear. Sometimes, I’d forget and express my own thoughts. Sometimes, I might even get away with it. Other times, there were consequences that snapped me back into line. Words came out of my mouth, but I was just a vessel. It was not my voice you heard.
We ended up in marital counseling. It was grueling. The counselor kept trying to force me to speak unscripted, either unaware of or without regard to the consequences. He would be “supportive” when we were in the office. Please speak up. Please don’t hide your true self from me. That’s what’s wrong with our marriage. You won’t talk to me. Then we would leave and I would be alone with him. The supportive husband I had just met in the safe room disappeared and the domineering husband I had known for years returned. And he was angry.
And he stayed angry.
And the counselor wanted me to find my voice. To speak up for myself.
And he got angrier.
Unsurprisingly, we divorced. I uncoupled. I separated myself from him. I am no longer an extension of him; I am my own. For his part, well, things are a little weird. He hasn’t let me go. I mean, he hates me, he hates my fucking guts, but he still can’t let me go. And he still can’t let me be heard. He has told all of “our” friends what a monster I am. Since the divorce, he has had a series of failed relationships. Some with women the exact opposite of me. Those don’t tend to last very long. The ones that drag out seem to be with women who are like me, only “better.” Women who are silent not just out of fear, but out of fear, belief in rigid gender roles, and religious adherence to female submission. Women who are the me he wanted me to be, physically, mentally. psychically. Women who are not going to leave no matter what he does.
In the years that I’ve been on my own, my voice and I have reconnected. We’ve gotten to know each other again. It’s still not natural for me to speak up or speak out, but I make the effort now. Even when I’m afraid. I’ve spent a lot of years afraid; it’s not easy to unlearn. But I make the effort. Sometimes I stand there while the injustice of a situation eats at me and a person tries to intimidate me. And I think about what I am accepting by remaining silent. Then I choose to speak up. I make the choice to stand up for myself. It’s not easy and sometimes it feels like it takes an eternity, but I do it. And I survive each and every time.
I survived years of his abuse. I survived his vindictiveness. I survived his cruelty. I survived his hatred. I survived his love.
I survived the first time I broke the silence. And I will survive it over and over again until I can speak freely. I’m the only one stopping me right now.