A Place For Us
“Don’t give up, ‘cuz you have friends. Don’t give up, you’re not the only one. Don’t give up, ‘cuz somewhere there’s a place, there’s a place where we belong. Rest your head. You worry too much. It’s gonna’ be alright. When times get rough, you can fall back on us. Don’t give up. Please. Don’t give up.”
— Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, Don’t Give Up
When I think back on that day, I recall the rainbow socks of the woman in the recovery chair next to me.
They were those socks that have all the individual toes, and they were vivid enough to rouse me out of the anesthesia.
A nurse gave me cookies and ginger ale, and brought my clothes to me in a little plastic basket. Pink sweater. Black pants. Bra. Underpants. An extra sanitary pad.
My legs were shaky as I walked back out to the waiting room. He was there. He brought me to my apartment, where I climbed into bed, still drowsy. He put a chicken salad sandwich and sleeve of Chips Ahoy on a plate for me. Then he left, mumbling some excuse about having drills that weekend.
Before I met Sergeant Richard Cole, I was a free spirit who wore tye dye and patchouli. I laughed at everything, had a dancer’s body, and natural good looks. I had just graduated from college and worked as a secretary. It wasn’t my long-term plan to be a secretary forever, but it was a good job with benefits, and it enabled me to have my own apartment, and to feed myself and my dog.
In the beginning, it was fun that Dick and I were so different. He was charming, educated, handsome, and genteel– all the things a girl would look for. He had that quasi-Southern accent acquired by military personnel. We joked about being a hippie and a soldier, how at our wedding we would have alternating soldiers and flower girls as I walked down the aisle.
Dick took me out to eat, and once we went ice skating. I borrowed his sweaters and loved his smell. He was strong, thick, and muscular from playing hockey.
Within about a month of our hooking up, things changed. It started with his disgust at my patchouli perfume. He forbid me from wearing it. At first this didn’t seem like such a big deal, and I complied.
Then he started expressing a desire to see me in plainer clothes. Jeans, khaki, and bland tee-shirts replaced my festive wardrobe.
Independence and Autonomy had been my middle names, but there was a small part of me that was also an eager-people-pleaser. He tapped into that facet of my personality, and before I knew it, my appearance changed to suit his whims.
On the occasions I spoke up, or rebelled against his desires, he abruptly left my apartment, or kicked me out of his. The rejection was foreign to me and made me panic. I’d grown up loved, supported, and treated with respect, so being treated as though I was disgusting and disgraceful frightened and confused me.
It also felt like a challenge to prove my lovability to him, and girlfriend loved a challenge. But it grew demoralizing and depressing before long.
None of it made sense.
A pattern began. He would get jealous or angry about something and would leave me. He was suspicious of my friends, and accused me of sleeping with my exes. Once he accused me of fooling around with his own brother because I embraced him at a family gathering, simply to be polite. Desperate not to be alone, I would call and beg his forgiveness, promise change and accommodation.
Every time he returned felt like a victory, but it was also confusing. Because I felt a deep sense of shame at the way I was allowing myself to be treated, I told no one. And because it grew harder to hide my relationship’s flaws, I began to withdraw from my friends and family.
The beginning of our relationship had been enchanting. I wondered why things had grown so dark, and what I could do to get back to that sweet spot.
Our first physical fight happened late one night. He was jealous I’d gone out clubbing with friends. He called and wormed his way over to my apartment, saying how much he loved and missed me. I let him in and arguing ensued. He followed me into the bathroom and pushed me down into my bathtub. He left my apartment and went back to his. I drove to find him and we spent the night making up.
We spent the next morning in the hospital, as I had broken a finger falling into my tub. He stayed with me the entire time in the ER as they X-rayed and taped my finger. We made a joke out of it and he took me out to lunch.
His beat downs were usually more psychological than physical. He told me I was fat and out of shape, although I was underweight and fit from a lifetime of ballet.
He complained about spending money if I ordered anything to eat when we went out to a restaurant, but if I didn’t eat he became angry I was being “difficult”.
If I accidentally bumped into him while we were walking down the street, he cursed me out for not being able to walk properly.
My sweet dog was terrified of him. Her fear should have been a huge clue for me to get the fuck out while I still could. She hated being bathed, but would crawl, quivering, into the shower with me rather than be left alone with him. She would not eat or drink when he was around. I brushed this uncharacteristic behavior off as her just being cute and clingy.
There was a day Dick took my dog out for a walk while I was at work. He let her off her leash and lost her in the woods. I came home from work that night to find her gone, and went outside to scream for her until my voice was raw.
I remember him shrugging his shoulders and smiling as he tried to convince me to leave, that she was gone, nothing could be done. But eventually she came to me and leapt into my arms. I cried for joy at finding her. Outraged, he refused to talk to me for the rest of the night because he was jealous of the affection I showed my pet. I had not dared express how angry and hurt I was with him for losing my best friend.
Of course there was physical shit too. He loved to reach over and grab the tender, sensitive flesh right above my knees while driving in his jeep. When I yelped in pain, he would say, “Oh shut up. You’re too sensitive. You never let me touch you.”
But I did let him touch me.
All the time. He refused to use protection, so I went to my doctor to go on the pill. I waited for my period so I could start the cycle of birth control.
It never came.
At that point, we’d been dating for about six weeks. That was how quickly everything happened, how quickly my loneliness got the better of me and tricked me into thinking I needed to become someone else, how quickly my sense of self was depleted and drained.
It is a fact domestic abuse can escalate during pregnancy, and in my case, I was part of this statistic. Dick swept me into an unpredictable storm during those two weeks. At times he was loving and attentive, but would quickly turn on me.
He allowed me to fantasize about having the baby, but all the time planted seeds to convince me to terminate. He said I’d be a horrible mother. He said he wouldn’t take care of us. He threatened to take the baby and never let me see it again. When I went to lunch with a friend for support, he accused me of cheating on him. His jealousy and rage were menacing.
I began finding weapons in his apartment. Once, when hanging my clothes in his closet for work the next day, I looked up and found a grenade. Just sitting there.
A fucking grenade.
When I asked him about it, he laughed at me and said, “Oh, it’s just a concussion grenade, Sweetie. It won’t actually blow anything up. It’ll just make a really loud noise and shake the house, rendering anyone unconscious.”
Part of me felt like I was watching someone else in a bad, horror film. I was cringing and yelling at the screen, “Get out of the house! Get out of there!”
But I stayed.
One morning, after sleeping at his apartment, I got up to shower in his windowless bathroom. My dog came into the bathroom with me, and sat outside the shower stall, cowering as I washed.
Without warning, Dick snuck into the bathroom, turned off the lights so it was pitch dark, and dumped a bowl of ice water over me. Shocked, I screamed and swore. He reached into the shower and dragged me out by my hair, which was still lathered with shampoo.
“Don’t you ever swear in my house! Get the fuck out!” he bellowed, shoving me towards the door. He wouldn’t let me rinse the rest of the soap off my body. I dressed and escaped with my dog as quickly as I could.
That day I went to a local museum. There were busloads of children on school trips, merrily meandering the exhibits. As I walked through the hallways, I allowed myself to fantasize about my baby, about what he or she would be like. I imagined myself taking a small human to a museum and felt suspended in an amber delirium of love.
I knew I would never stop feeling that love.
I also knew I could not have that baby.
It felt like concussion grenades were going off constantly in my head, deafening and disorienting me with fear, desperation, and hopelessness.
I agreed, against every instinct and moral fiber of my being, to terminate the pregnancy.
Dick was delighted.
“I’ll stay by you,” he said kindly. “You’ll see. This will be a fresh start for us. It will be great, and there can always be other babies.”
I cried the entire time.
I cried walking through the grocery store. I cried on my way to work. I cried when he drove me to the doctor for the consultation. “Stop sniveling,” he snarled.
I cried while I waited in the clinic with a group of women who had all been through it before. They joked and tried to say things to comfort me. Out of fear, I vomited and was led by a nurse to a room where I waited by myself.
I was still crying and shaking when another nurse led me into the room and told me to lie down on a low table.
She looked at me and asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I replied that I had to. I didn’t have a choice. “Then you need to stop crying,” she said sternly. “The doctor will make you come back another day if he comes in here and you are like this.”
There will be some, I know, who turn away in disgust at this point in my story. I understand, because for months, even years, after that chilly March morning, I turned from myself in disgust. While I have always been adamantly pro-choice, this decision was not in any-way-shape-or-form easy or simple for me.
You can say but you had a choice! That might be true. But it is only a small part of the truth. The bigger part of the whole truth is that I did not feel like I had a choice.
When you are looking at a grenade on a shelf in the closet, it does not feel like you have much say in the matter.
When you are having your hair torn from your scalp it doesn’t feel like there is much of a choice.
When you are watching your pet be tortured and you fear bringing another, tiny, human-life into the world only to face the same cruelty and confusion I have control and choice over this scenario are the last words on your lips.
Maybe you understand that. Maybe you don’t. For a long time, I didn’t understand it either and wanted to follow that soul into the infinite grief and despair I felt. But what’s done is done, and anyway, that’s not really the point of my story.
My point, in sharing this dark chapter of my life, is to shed light on something I fear is more common than any woman would like to admit– that there are times when our right to choice is forced upon us. While I do not have any hard statistics to support this theory, I can only imagine I am not the only woman in the world who felt cornered into having an abortion by an abusive partner.
If you have experienced this traumatic tragedy, please know, you are not alone.
I also would like to share that, despite its “elective” nature, abortion is often a terrible loss for the woman who endures it, no matter what her reasons. The grief I felt was profound and real. There is a part of me that will always wonder who I may have created.
In my imagination, she was a sweet girl who grew to be my best friend. I called her Lucy.
I’ve never shared her name with anyone, until now.
I no longer regret my choice. Her existence, however brief, had meaning, and she is with me to this day. Ask me any day, and I can tell you exactly how old she would be.
My story is not unusual, sadly. Abusive relationships can and do happen at any time to anyone, but particularly when a person is vulnerable in some way. In my early twenties, I was lost. Although I had things together, I didn’t know who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. Although I had wonderful friends, I was terribly lonely. After six weeks with Dick, my friends barely recognized the emaciated shadow I became– dressed in a beige skirt and blouse, buttoned all the way to the top.
Re-reading all of this, I wonder if it was really all that bad. So he pinched my knee or pulled my hair? So what? Other women have it much worse. They are bruised, beaten, battered in ways I can’t imagine.
I don’t know why it was so scary to me. Maybe I knew it would get worse. Maybe I was just so hormonal and confused it ratcheted up the terror. I do know it is still numbingly painful and frightening to remember those days.
That said, I would have stayed with him.
It seems so strange to me now, but back then, I would have done just about anything to have made it work.
People are forever confused why a person stays in an abusive relationship. There are many reasons. I went on to get a graduate degree in counseling. When I sit in my therapist chair, across from a young woman who is desperate to get back to the sweet spot in the relationship despite being hurt, ridiculed, cheated on, and lied to, I get it.
Everyone has their own reason for staying. Sometimes they are scared the individual will track them down and hurt them more. Sometimes they stay because of financial reasons. Sometimes they stay because they are hollow and have no other sense of themselves without the relationship. Sometimes they stay out of love.
It sickens me to imagine what my life would be like if I had stayed with Dick, how I would have shriveled up, how I would have never met my husband, how I would never have seen the two, beaming faces of my children.
Dick left me and refused to come back, no matter what I did or said. To add insult to injury, I discovered he had been in another long-term relationship before and during the time he was with me, which may have explained his desperation for me to abort the small packet of cells we created.
His desertion was a blessing I did not understand for nearly six years after the fact. Convinced I was unlovable, I bounced around relationships, unable to settle. I clung to my grief over Lucy, because it was the only thing I had binding me to her, but it was only a small comfort. When one is bound by grief, life becomes very tiny and untenable.
Another blessing came to me in the form of a patient and wise therapist who helped me heal. Over the course of several years, I was able to take pride in myself, and to envision a future that did not include abuse or despair.
It took longer for me to forgive Dick, but I did. No one is all good or all bad, after all. We are all suffering pilgrims, after all. He had military trauma and other issues which I am sure contributed to his ability to treat me in such a manner. But forgiving him wasn’t for him; it was for me. Anger, blame, and resentment would have only bound me emotionally to him in a twisted way. Offering gratitude for allowing me to learn and grow and to know Lucy is far more productive in the grand scheme of things.
It would be really simple to say I lived happily ever after, and to leave it at that.
In actuality, since we are being truthful here, I made a bunch of very crappy choices in the five years post-Dick. I endured a tumultuous relationship with a married man who refused to leave his wife. In a way, the relationship made a weird sense because deep down, I knew he would not stay with me. Every time he left me to go back to his wife, it was agonizing. It was a cycle I later recognized as what we in the business call “repetition compulsion,” or the need to recreate a traumatic experience over and over again. Fortunately, I eventually gained mastery over the cycle, and was able to leave the married man.
My story does have a happy ending, and that is the part on which I focus. I healed, eventually. I spent some time on my own, developing my own interests and forging a career. I went back to school and got a graduate degree in social work. I rekindled a love with a man who is consistent, gentle, and kind that I had known from my childhood. We have two amazing children who are healthy and happy and who are growing up in a home where people respect and love each other.
It is an amazing little pod in which I find myself happily living, struggling, and adoring.
It was a process.
I read someplace that a woman in an abusive relationship will leave, only to return, approximately seven times before she leaves for good. If she’s so lucky to get out for good.
If you recognize yourself in any way in my story, please know there is hope.
For all we endure, we are stronger than we ever give ourselves credit for.
We are infinitely lovable. We are beyond precious. We are worthy.
We will eventually be able to look at ourselves and say, this is not how my story is going to end.
I never told this story before. I’ve hinted to people about a “bad relationship” and a baby I “lost” in my early twenties, but I’ve never put the whole thing down in prose.
I think about the rainbow socks of that lady next to me, and I wonder what her story was. I wonder if she wore those crazy socks because they brought her comfort in the way it brought me comfort to wear my pink sweater that day. All these years later, I feel a sort of camaraderie with her, even though I’ve never seen her again, and never knew her name.
I remember the chicken salad sandwich Dick left on that plate, and I remember the anger and betrayal I felt.
I remember walking down the beach in the winter with Dick, and I remember the sadness and shame.
I vacillate on whether it is a huge part of my life and of me, or whether it was just a thing, a time in the past.
I never told this story before because all those feelings, images, memories are awful and I never wanted to feel them again. I never told this story before because I feared judgement, ridicule, or worse. I never told this story before because I did not want it to be real and thought maybe I could forget it.
But there is power in the telling, and strength in the writing of things that would rather torment us in the dark recesses of our minds.
Often, I tell traumatized clients that when we tell our stories, we are able to process things in a way that helps to put them in perspective, to condense the bad stuff down to a chapter in our lives, rather than making the bad stuff our entire life story.
Life is so much more.
We are so much more.
So we don’t give up until we find the place where we are safe and connected.
We tell our stories, over and over, again and again, for as many times as it takes.
And then we turn the page.
Charlotte P. is an adoring mother, devoted wife, and clinical social worker. She enjoys creating poetry, making jewelry, watching Wil Ferrell movies, and struggles with writing author bios. She has an unhealthy obsession with James Spader, does not like cooking in the slightest, and would like to teach the world that breastfeeding is awesome. You can find her blogging her little heart out over at Momaste– the Mother in Me Bows to the Mother in You (www.momasteblog.wordpress.com).