As I said in My Life With An Abuser – The Beginning and My Life With An Abuser – The Courtship, this is my story of meeting a predator; marrying the predator; living with the predator turned abuser; and my escape from the abuser.
Wednesday, 15 May 1985 dawned clear and beautiful. I got up and ready for work like I normal. One would be forgiven for thinking this was going to be an ordinary Wednesday. This particular Wednesday was about to change my life in more ways than I ever thought possible.
Staff Sergeant Potato Head and I went to the Court House on our lunch hour. I had changed out of my uniform and into the only ‘nice’ dress I owned – my Prom Dress (bought for a prom that I got stood up for). He decided to remain in uniform. Since it was a Civil Service – and a quick one at that – we did not have family or friends there. We ‘borrowed’ a couple of witnesses.
I do not think the ink was even dry before he changed. As soon as the ceremony was over and we were headed back to work, he began to tell me what I could and could not do. At first, I thought he was just pulling the ‘I’m the Staff Sergeant – you’re only a Lance Corporal’ crap. So, I just blew it off. I thought as soon as we were ‘home’ things would be different. At 19, my thinking really was not my strong suit!
Staff Sergeant Potato Head was staying at a Captain’s house while the Captain was out of town for a couple of weeks. After work, rather than going back to the barracks, we went to the house. We had dinner. We cleaned up. We went upstairs to go to bed.
After getting upstairs, something set him off. Honestly, I do not even remember what it was. What I do remember is him smacking me across the face for the first time. I remember standing next to the bed in utter disbelief. Once the shock wore off, I grabbed my clothes, got dressed and ran out the door. I remember screaming I was going to see a lawyer first thing in the morning because I wanted a divorce. No way in hell was I going to stay with a man who hit me!
He came running after me. He apologized. He said he didn’t know what came over him. He swore it was the first time anything like that had happened. He promised he would never do it again. He loved me too much. On and on and on he went. He spewed all the right words. So many pretty words came out of his mouth. I weakened. I accepted his apology. I believed him when he said it was the first time he had ever done something like that. I believed him when he said he would never do it again. I told him if he ever hit me again, there would be hell to pay. I grew up in a neighborhood of mostly all males. I could more than handle myself in a fight.
We moved out of the barracks and into a two-bedroom townhouse. For a few weeks, all was calm. I had made the mental determination to make the marriage work. At the time, I felt a divorce would be a personal failure. I do not like to fail. Ever. So, I tried. I tried to be careful of what I said or did. I tried to make sure I did nothing to set him off. The problem with that is an abuser will ALWAYS find something wrong. ALWAYS.
After a while, I got sick and tired of walking on egg shells. Why in the hell should I have to tip toe around anything in my own house?! I was a grown woman. I was an Active Duty United States Marine. So, the minute he would start, I made sure it went is far as it could go. Whatever he threw out – physically or mentally – I threw right back. I may have been getting my ass beat, but he damn well was aware he had been in a fight! This all happened during our first year of marriage. Back and forth. Back and forth. On and on it went. Until . . .
Our command got involved. We were ordered to attend marital counseling/anger management/couples counseling – whatever you want to call it. It was strictly for couples with documented domestic violence issues. We had to attend weekly sessions for eight weeks.
I have to admit, I learned a lot during those sessions. I learned what triggers to look for. I learned that if I raised my arms and hands above my waist, he could interpret it as an act of aggression. Therefore, he was justified in striking (at least in his mind). The downside is HE was also learning.
After the sessions ended, all was calm. There were occasional ‘flare ups’ but nothing like before. The physical portion of his abuse stopped. Sweet relief! I was able to breathe again. I didn’t have to worry about having my guard up against a physical attack 24/7. In my ‘relaxed’ state, I failed to realize he had started in with the mental, emotional, and financial abuse in a big way.
Staff Sergeant Potato Head had to be Joint on all my bank accounts. He was forever saying it was how it is in a marriage. Everything is shared. This is one area where I refused to cave. I learned from my mother what happens when everything is Joint. I was NOT going to let that happen to me.
During my first year as a Marine, I started an allotment for my mom. I was sending her as much money as I could to help her out financially. When Staff Sergeant Potato Head and I got married, he made me reduce the amount I sent home. As a fact, he was upset I had refused to stop the allotment. It was a major source of contention between us.
I was required to pay half on all bills. The only one he did not expect money for was his $450 month Child Support he sent to Wife Number 1. He was a Staff Sergeant (E6). I was a Lance Corporal (E3). There was a MAJOR pay difference. It did not matter though.
I had my Direct Deposit switched to his bank account. He made me Joint on it. I was able to keep my Savings Accounts separate. However, there was no money going into them. Every. Last. Dime. I earned was in the Joint account to cover my half of the expenses. I never had any extra money. If I wanted something, I had to have a reason why and I had to be able to justify the expenditure.
We had one vehicle. When I mentioned getting a second one, he would always say we could not afford one or there was no need for one. It was like that for the entire marriage. If I wanted or needed to go to the store, he drove. I was not allowed to drive many places. We shopped together about 90% of the time. This was not by my choice, let me tell you!
The mental abuse began much more subtly. He loved to take things which had meaning or were important to me. He would either hide them or he would throw them away. Books. He knew my books were important to me. My Active Duty ID Card and Driver’s License. I was to have my ID Card with me at all times. He loved to take it and hide it. He knew I would never leave home or go anywhere without it. Little by little, he chipped away at me.
The emotional abuse was not subtle. Not one little bit. He knew about my childhood. He knew what buttons to push. The biggest button pushed was abandonment. He was constantly threatening to leave me the way my father had. When he struck emotionally, he was ruthless. And this is how he wore me down. He found whatever sliver in my armor and exploited it. Relentlessly.
Another tool in his arsenal was isolation. Once the ring was on my finger, he worked even harder to ensure I was cutoff from family and friends. If I spoke on the phone, he was either standing/sitting next to me or he was listening in on the other extension. When we would go back to visit my family (they lived in the Midwest; his was in New England), he was everywhere I was. I was not allowed to hang out alone with friends I had had for YEARS. He was there with us or I could not visit. Period. Eventually, I stopped trying to contact them.
Shortly before I became pregnant with our daughter, I became fed up. I grew tired of his threats. I grew tired of the mental and emotional games. I had reached my limit. One day, I decided I was going to do to him exactly what he did to me.
One afternoon, he had gone upstairs to change his clothes because he was going to go out and run some errands. He had left his keys and wallet on top of the entertainment center. The entertainment center was homemade. He built it one weekend not too long after we moved in. It was about six feet long, maybe four feet high, and around two feet deep. It had six shelves/cubbies. Two shelves held his vinyl record albums. Behind those albums was about a four inch gap. The gap would make an absolutely perfect hiding spot!
I took his keys and wallet and hid them behind the albums. I knew he would never think to look there! He came downstairs and went to retrieve his keys and wallet. They were not there. I was in the kitchen ‘cleaning.’ He asked me where his keys and wallet were. I told him right where he left them. He told me they weren’t there. I said, “I watched you put them there before I came in here.” This went on for a couple more minutes as he searched for the keys and wallet.
He started getting super agitated. The more I denied having any knowledge as to the location, the more upset he became. Finally, he started to come at me as though he was going to physically assault me. I met him just outside the kitchen door, looked at him and said, “You don’t like it, do you?” He asked me what I meant. I told him, “You don’t like it when your things come up missing, do you?” The look on his face spoke volumes! It was like watching a light bulb go off. It was in that moment he realized he had lost some leverage and ability to control me.
I walked over and got the keys and wallet for him. As I handed them to him, I calmly let him know if he ever tried to hide MY stuff, I will do the same to him. I told him from that point forward, whatever he did to me, I was going to do the exact same thing to him. “When you least expect it, expect it.”
Another memorable incident came one night when he threatened to leave me. We were arguing over something stupid (which was about 90% of our arguments). Because the argument was not leaning in his direction, he pulled out his ‘trump card.’ He said he was going to leave me. He walked over to the closet to get his coat. I hollered at him to wait.
Rather than burst into tears as he expected, I turned the tables on him. I said, “Wait! If you’re going to leave, let’s go upstairs. I am going to help you pack all your shit to make sure you forget nothing! Hell, I’ll even help you carry it all out to the car! If you want to leave, leave. I just don’t care anymore. The minute you walk out that door, though, there will be no coming back. You can tell me from here until eternity no one will ever want me. I don’t care. It means nothing to me. So, let’s just go and get your shit. I want you gone!”
That stopped him dead in his tracks. He realized he no longer had my abandonment insecurities as leverage to keep me in line. He knew it was time to come up with new ways to control me . . .
Domestic Abuse/Domestic Violence is about control. He/She wants to get and maintain power and control over his/her partner. It is not about love. It is never about love. The abuse comes in many forms: physical, emotional, sexual, financial, mental, and new to the 21st Century, Digital Abuse. All are defined at The National Domestic Violence Hotline website.
There were so many warning signs and Red Flags but I was too young and too naive to know or recognize them. But, then again, even if I knew what signs to look for, I am not sure I would have avoided becoming a victim. Staff Sergeant Potato Head was extremely good at hiding his true nature. The majority of predators/abusers are.