It’s amazing how threatening a subtle comment can be when you have a history of abuse lurking behind it. I imagine that if a stranger overheard the things John said to me that I knew were meant as a threat, they might think that it was innocent…. that I was overreacting… and that is what John was banking on.
This is how he got away with the abuse for the length of time that he did. He walked a fine line. It was enough to make me consistently question myself. The comments hinted of danger. They were meant to be threatening and the intent was made clear…. but were also subtle enough that he could say he meant it in a different way if he were questioned. It left me with a clear feeling of unhappiness… fear… sadness… but an insecurity about whether what I felt was real and valid.
The longer I went to counseling the clearer things became. The less I started questioning my sense of reality. The less I defended him. So when we went for a visit to James’ developmental pediatrician and she began to ask questions, I answered them politely but honestly. It was time that people started looking at James’ behavior with an understanding that he was witnessing a lot of aggression at home. It couldn’t all be blamed on his autism.
The pediatrician asked if there were any changes at home, and I shared that we were getting a divorce. When she asked why, I replied that I felt as if John was too rough towards me and towards the kids. John’s head shot upwards and he glared at me, but didn’t say anything. He knew that James was a witness to this behavior and if the doctor continued to pry everything would be out in the open. He eventually said, “That’s not true” and I replied that I disagreed and left it at that.
When we left, he looked at me like he wanted to rip my head off of my shoulders. In a quiet and angry tone of voice he said, “I hope you aren’t going to say anything in this process to bring my character into question.”
It seems like an innocent comment. It’s just a hope after all. And who would want to have their character brought into question? But I felt the anger rolling off of him in waves. I read between the lines and understood that he was furious. He was angry that I told the doctor the truth and he was hinting that I’d better watch my step and what I share with people. I understood his unspoken message that was meant for only me to understand…. that was stated in a calculated way so that he couldn’t be accused of threatening me by the authorities. He was clear enough that I understand the potential for harm to myself.
We returned to the same house. I became more jumpy. I was constantly looking over my shoulder. Tension flowed through my veins all of the time. I barely slept at night even with the door locked and I began sleeping with a pocket knife under my pillow. The only way to protect my children from having to go with this abusive man 50% of the time was to tell the truth. Telling the truth meant he might hurt me. The court system was forcing us to live in the same house where he had endless opportunities to hurt me. It became harder and harder to breathe.