As I said in My Life With An Abuser – The Beginning (here), this is my story of meeting a predator; marrying the predator; living with the predator turned abuser; and my escape from the abuser. The courtship was brief. The writing was on the wall during this period, but I was too naive to see it. There should be a universal law against anyone marrying before the age of 28!
Staff Sergeant Potato Head and I began to see each other after that February weekend. He was sweet, nice, understanding, caring, concerned, protective . . . everything a young, naive 18-year-old could possibly want from a suitor 10 years older.
Toward the middle of March, little things started popping up. When I would tell him of plans to hang out with my roommate or to hang out with some other friends, he would come up with some reason or excuse to have me cancel those plans and so I spent the time with him. He would do that a lot. After a few weeks of me constantly canceling, they just stopped asking.
As a single, 18-year-old Marine with no responsibilities, I should have been enjoying my youth and freedom. I should not have had my time monopolized by one person. The thing is, I did not realize what was happening. I did not see he was setting the stage for him to be able to get complete control over me.
I remember there was one evening I was hanging out at PMO (Provost Marshall’s Office), just chatting with some of my MP (Military Police) friends. The phone rang. No big deal, right? It is an office. Phones ring. I’m off duty and it’s not my office. One of my friends looks at me, giving me a strange look and held out the phone to me. He said, “There’s a Staff Sergeant Potato Head on the phone for you.”
To say I was shocked would be putting it mildly. I knew he and I had no plans. I told him I was just going to stay in my room and read. Anyway, I take the call. He said, “Why are you at PMO? I thought you said you were staying in your room to read?! I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“I was in my room. I did read. I got bored and decided to come over here and hang out with some friends for a little while.”
“Well, I’ve been trying to call you for hours.” (This is way before cell phones and GPS. 😉 )
“OK You have found me. I am fine. I will see you tomorrow, OK?”
“But I wanted to see you.”
“You can see me tomorrow. I have to go. I will talk to you later.”
“Wait . . . ”
“Sorry, but I have to get off the phone. You know this is a government line.”
“Fine. I will call you later.” He hangs up.
About twenty minutes later, he calls back. I tell my friend to tell him I’m not there. Fifteen minutes later, he calls back. He tells my friend, “This is Staff Sergeant Potato Head. I know Lance Corporal Me is there. Please put her on the phone now.” He was playing the rank card.
I get on the phone and ask him what he wanted. He claimed he needed to go the hospital because he was having terrible stomach pain and needed someone to drive him. Fine. I told my friends I would see them later. I explained what was going on. They asked if I was going to be alright. I told them I would. He was a pain in the ass but harmless. At least, I thought he was harmless.
I take him to the hospital. Big surprise. Not a damn thing wrong with him. On the drive back to the barracks, the car slows down. I cannot get speed up for anything. Eventually, it just stops completely. We discovered the drive shaft had fallen off of the car. Thankfully, we were not far from the barracks and were able to walk back once the tow truck hauled the car off.
While the car was in the shop, we spent a lot of time over in his room. It was quite boring. If I went back to my own room, the phone was constantly ringing. It was beginning to be where I had no ‘Me’ time. I was constantly with him. What I did not see at the time is how he was isolating me. It was subtle. He was testing limits. He wanted to see how far he could push me before I started to back off and withdraw from him. It is one of the things predators/abusers do.
At the end of March/beginning of April, he and I went up to visit his children and family in New England over a long weekend. It was a nice but quick trip. His children were adorable. His family was large like mine, so I felt mostly at home.
After that weekend, he really began to isolate me. He monopolized my time so much I hardly had the chance to speak with my mom or my best friend. If I was on the phone, he would have include himself in on the conversation. This did not sit well with me. Not. One. Little. Bit. I had reached my fill.
By the third week of April 1985, I was over it. I needed my space. I needed my freedom. I needed to be away from him. I needed to focus on ME. I told him all of this. He did not take it well. I did not care. He was smothering me. I felt like I was being suffocated. I was not happy.
Staff Sergeant Potato Head backed off. He now knew how far he could squeeze before I balked and withdrew. This meant he had to alter his approach. He left me alone for about a week. When he re-engaged, he did so full-on. He reeled and reeled and reeled me in. He turned on the charm. He became the fun, loving, caring and sweet man I fell in love with. Well, I thought I was in love.
He courted me hard for almost three weeks. He let me have my space. He was ever vigilant to signs he may be smothering me. He realized he did not yet have me fully under his control and, in all actuality, it would not take much for me to sever the connection. Again, at 18 I really had no clue about life or predators/abusers.
Then, on a cool, crisp evening in May, he proposed. I hesitated. I did not say yes immediately. I couldn’t. I was actually engaged to another Marine. A Marine who was just as young as I was. A Marine who deserved someone better than me. During this whole time, I spared not one thought for him or his feelings. I will give it to Staff Sergeant Potato Head. He was exceptional at playing mind games with an 18-year-old. He twisted it around so well he had me believing V did not really care about me or even want me.
Staff Sergeant Potato Head used my insecurities and my low self-esteem to his advantage. He built me up. He assured me he would always be there for me. He would always protect me and never let anyone hurt me again. Pretty words. Pretty actions. Me, a naive, gullible now 19-year-old woman.
I said yes. This made him ecstatic. On Monday, 13 May 1985, we went and applied for the marriage license. We married on Wednesday, 15 May 1985. I wore my Prom Dress and he wore his Service Charlie uniform.
I should have realized my marriage was doomed from the start when I chose that dress. The one and only prom I was going to attend, I got stood up . . . By a Marine.
I could sit here and sing the “Shoulda Woulda Coulda” blues about why I married Staff Sergeant Potato Head. I shoulda went with my gut and steered clear of him. I woulda gone for help sooner had I actually recognized the signs. I coulda just walked away. But I will not. It does no good and serves no purpose other than to fill one with regret.
Staff Sergeant Potato Head had so many characteristics of an abuser: (1) he made it seem like everyone else was at fault for whatever was going wrong in his life (i.e. Wife Number 1 and their divorce); (2) he made sure our ‘courtship’ was quick (less than three months); (3) he displayed jealousy whenever I was around other Marines . . . especially male Marines; (4) he started with the controlling behavior (monopolizing my time, expecting me to always be with him, making plans for me, etc); (5) he began to have unrealistic expectations of me (he wanted me to be his everything emotionally and domestically); and (6) he isolated me from my family and friends.
For abusers, isolation is key. When they keep their victim from family and friends, they are keeping them from the support network. And that is what happened with me . . .