My book, Get Your Words Off Me, starts with me wondering:
I can’t remember the first time my husband insulted me or what he said because I didn’t even notice that I had been insulted. It wasn’t much of a stretch from the negative comments and forceful suggestions that he was continually giving me about what to do, and what to say, and what to think, and what to feel, and even how to respond to him and his comments. The realization that his caring critiques were really humiliating affronts took far too many years of my taking it, and accepting it as a part of our marriage. The shame is that I didn’t stand up to him the first time the word “fat” or “ugly” or “nothing” or maybe it was “stupid” came out of his mouth and scream back at him, “DON’T YOU EVER TALK TO ME LIKE THAT AGAIN!” Who knows, maybe that would have been enough to break a pattern before it started? But I didn’t. And so my life became one filled with far too many insults, and distrust and fear of the man I had once loved and respected, and much too much silence from me.
Now I know the answer to that question. No, that would not have stopped the downward turn of this marriage. Nothing would have stopped that. The answer in its starkest form came to me on Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday there was the first encounter after the move from the house three weeks ago. I was to drop off our dog for his week to pick up Poops’ poop. I called when I arrived at the gate of his apartment complex (I was so not surprised that he moved to a gated community). When he approached me I said that he needs a leash since I had to buy a leash since he took the leash. He commented that my daughter had brought it to my house; no she hadn’t, I said and then reiterated that I had to buy this one.
Then he asked if I brought his food bowls. No, I said, I had not. “They are not yours, you can’t take them,” was the comment.
“I had to buy a leash, you can buy bowls.”
“Bitch. I’m out of here. Fuck you.”
Yes, I am sure that if I would have yelled back at him that he was “fat” and “ugly” he would have just expanded the range, as he did. And I’m sure, too, that if I had tried to explain to him how much it hurt me to be called fat and ugly (does that really need explaining?), he would not have heard a word that went from my mouth to his ears because he was not making statements, he was expressing something ugly about himself. I was too kind when I wrote this a few years ago, but I was still married to him then and thinking that he isn’t as slimy and nasty as he is.
The other day in my writing group that is part of my Writing Project class a woman said that her husband, who had verbally abused her, finally got down on his knees and prayed and found it in himself to stop hurting her. When I read this excerpt from my book, she commented that she had yelled back at him that first time because she had the self-confidence. Then she said something that really cut to the quick, she said that her husband had really loved her. Yes, her husband had it in him to love someone besides himself. My ex, he was and is incapable of caring for anyone more than himself or even as much as himself. Maybe the way I handled things was the right way with this beast, preventing worse things from happening. But I am certain now that confrontation that first time would not have helped.
Since that day we had been through my talking back, my yelling back, counseling, mediation, lawyer meetings, legal wranglings, police visits, and the sale of the house and nothing in his attitude or utterances has changed. If none of that had made an impact on him, and if four years of pain in the household did not have an impact on him, turning to him and saying, “You’re hurting me when you say that,” would not have prevented him from becoming who he is.