Yesterday, I heard an employee of a domestic violence agency speaking on the radio. She was telling the story of my marriage…. summing John up perfectly. It was as if she had lived my life…. or watched it unfold somehow. One thing that she said that really resonated with me is that many people think that the hardest part of these situations is making the decision to get out. They think that once abused individuals get to that point, that everything is going to get better. That the abuse will finally end for them. In reality, that is not the end…. but just the beginning.
I can attest that this is true. The court system is not set up to protect victims of abuse. They force you to continue to live together until you can agree on custody and splitting assets, which only prolongs the abusers control over you. They favor giving both parents as much parenting time as possible despite reports of abuse, which only allows the abuser to continue the mind games and physical threatening of the children. They force the abused and the abuser to sit in a room together and bargain over who gets the children and the money and the house…. all the while knowing that they are going back to the same house and the abused is going to back down out of fear and mental scars that have built up over the years, and the abuser is going to continue to threaten…. manipulate… control. They set the scene for the perfect explosion. They provide the dynamite… lock you together in a house … and wait for someone to light a match.
I believed the counselor at the court ordered parenting class when she said that the police would help me if anything happened. I believed her when she told me that I did not need to be covered head to toe with blood and bruises for someone to assist me. She was wrong.
John continued to escalate in this toxic environment that was encouraged by the court system. I continued to do my best to keep the peace for the sake of the children. One day, as I was cleaning the kitchen, I heard John ask James to clean his goldfish cracker crumbs off of the couch. James continued to play. John raised his voice and told James to do it once again. James looked up in my direction and I gave him a nod. It was as if he was feeling nervous about approaching the couch. Perhaps it was because his father had a menacing look on his face and was sitting right next to the crumbs.
James retrieved the hand vacuum and headed to the couch. John must have decided that James was not moving quickly enough for him because he started to yell, “James! I told you to clean up your mess!” James, of course reacted to this and ran into the playroom, leaving the vacuum behind. I watched as John followed him, yelled at him to clean the couch and put the vacuum back in his hand before returning to his spot on the couch next to the crumbs.
James once again slowly headed over to the couch and John continued to raise his voice, saying the same thing over and over again. Once James got to the couch I watched as John forcibly poked him repeatedly in the side saying “Clean it up! Turn the vacuum on and clean it up!” After what seemed like an eternity of watching him poke at James I decided I couldn’t stand there and just watch any longer. Things were escalating. James was handling this amazingly well so far given his autism, but it wasn’t going to last. I can’t imagine anyone enjoying getting jabbed in the rib cage over and over again.
I walked over to help and said, “I think he doesn’t want to come over there because you are putting your body very close to him and poking at him. Why don’t you move over a little bit.” John immediately escalated telling me to stay out of it and that he wasn’t moving. He had it handled. I told him that I wasn’t going to let him keep poking James in the side so I came over to help. I asked James if he would feel more comfortable vacuuming the couch if I were to sit between him and his father. He said, “Yes Mommy”
So … as uncomfortable as it was…. I did just that. John became incited with rage. He stood up and put his body behind my shoulders. He put a hand on each shoulder and attempted to push me onto the floor.
I yelled, “Get your hands off of me!” He continued to use force to try to push me over. James looked up at him in fear. John then let go of me, walked around James and climbed over the arm rest of the chair. This resulted in John crouching on the couch over the crumbs so that he was face to face with James as he tried to make him vacuum the crumbs up, which were now under his body and between his legs.
“James, go in the other room. You don’t need to clean this up anymore.” I said. I wasn’t about to have James witness what I was afraid was about to happen. I picked the vacuum up and said, “You are not calm. The children should not see this. I will clean the crumbs. You need to go cool off somewhere.” I took a step towards the couch and he stood up and stepped in front of me. I stepped to the side to try to get away from him and he stepped in front of me again. He did this a few more times. I stopped trying to step around him and asked him to please move over. This was a silly thing that was turning dangerous very quickly. He started to walk towards me, trying to use his body to force me to walk backwards away from the couch.
As John continued to yell and put his face and body closer and closer to mine, James retreated into the playroom again. John put his hands on the vacuum and attempted to yank it from my hands. Looking back, I should have let go…. but I was scared….. I was in shock…. I wasn’t thinking clearly and I thought I was protecting James by being the one to take the brunt of it. So my grip remained.
I started to yell, “Let go of me! Get your hands off of me!” thinking it would scare him into letting go. It didn’t work. He put his second hand on the vacuum and started to tug even harder. “Let go of me or I’m calling the police!” That didn’t work either. I tried a few more times. Nothing. I was scared. Terrified actually. I didn’t want to bring the kids back into this…but I didn’t know what to do. “James, bring Mommy the phone please honey.” I tried to keep the shaking in my voice to a minimum.
James brought me the phone and I held it up with one hand. “Get your hands off of me or I’m calling. I’m not kidding. Do it now.” John finally let go and stomped upstairs. I walked into the kitchen… putting both hands on the counter … trying to regain my breath and stop shaking. About five minutes later I heard John coming down the stairs again.
He walked towards the kitchen island and stood very close to me. In a low, angry but seemingly calm voice, he started to blame me and say that I was the reason that had just happened. Another tactic that narcissists use… projection. Making his problem and lack of control into mine.
I told him he was lucky I didn’t call the police. Suddenly his expression changed. “You grabbed me too!” I was shocked. NO…. I didn’t. He continued to say that I had grabbed him too and it was my fault. I reminded him that the children witnessed everything so he stopped and instead he said he was taking the children out to lunch. Even though it made my stomach turn… I had no choice but to let him and rely on the fact that they would be in a public place and hopefully he wouldn’t retaliate against James.
I got in the car and found myself in the police parking lot. I was shaking from head to toe. I asked to speak to someone and they sent out a detective and a sergeant. I told them the entire story. I told them how frightened I was. And they told me that all he had to do was lie and say I grabbed him too and they’d have to arrest us both. (Based on our previous interaction, I have a feeling John already knew that.) They started to encourage me not to pursue anything.
“What? But I didn’t touch him. My son saw everything. Couldn’t you just ask him?” I was shocked. I was told they would protect me! They replied, “Yea…. but he’s only 6.” They then started to document my story. “So what you’re saying is, you argued over the vacuum… he pulled on it… you said let go… and then he did.” No…. that is not what I said.
I repeated my story to them again, and again the officer played it down to sound as if it were nothing. John was right. The police weren’t going to protect me. They were protecting him. All of the years of being made to question my reality were reinforced. The small glimmer of hope that I had been harboring deep inside that said… someone will help…. someone will protect you… dimmed and was extinguished.
They did end up driving out to the house and talking with John… but he just lied as they spoon fed him what to say to stay out of jail. We went back to the same house… slept under the same roof. He was given unlimited access to my children and to me. Once again… the system failed me and more importantly… my children.