"Get Your Words Off Me"


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.

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt 26

I've taken a break lately in posting excerpts from my book, Get Your Words Off Me, but I thought that it was time for a new one, and specifically this one, which explains how he got the master suite and I got the guest bedroom. 

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Why have sex with a man you detest and who makes you hate yourself?

When we were working on our marriage by going to therapy, I felt that it would be an affront to the effort to turn him away when he wanted to have sex. I was, still, unfortunately, seeing submission as a positive attribute instead of what it was: an absolute relinquishment of the self. By cooperating I thought I was behaving fairly, which is ironic considering that his actions were fundamentally unfair and caused me to feel—to be—violated and used.

One night, a few weeks after we had begun our reconciliation process, he got into bed and reached out, touching me, when I was already asleep. That night I finally reacted instinctually—protecting myself, not my relationship. Out of the depths of my sleeping self, I shouted “NO!” He immediately withdrew his hand. I woke, stunned, feeling the “NO!” as it exited my mouth from my unconscious and hung between us.

Then, shockingly, he said sharply, “Get out.” The absurdity of his telling me to get out of our bed when he was the one attacking me, when he was the one who had repeatedly asked me to come back to bed, was enormous. But I realized, as I lay there in the dark with the “NO” still echoing between us, that I had no desire to fight to stay in that bed with him, it was the opposite of what I wanted. I was not going to explain or apologize, or soothe. What a relief to have finally spoken what I felt. So, I stood up, walked out of the room and returned to “my” couch (where I had been sleeping before the attempt at reconciliation).

I have not returned to that bed since; except for one night when he was out of town on a business trip a short time after I had left that room, when I still felt that it was, to some extent, still my room. It is now his bed and his room, I have ceded the space. I should have said, “No, you get out, you are the violator.” But, as with so much else in this marriage, I took what I was dealt and tried my best to survive. And so, in the middle of the night, in my oversized tee-shirt and cotton shorts, I walked out, leaving him naked, alone with whatever demons or remorse may eventually plague him. 


Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Twenty-Five

Without A Common Language 

To make my life an adventure I moved to Israel after graduating from college, and so for much of our marriage I was living in a foreign country and speaking a foreign language with a man who was from that place and spoke that language. And while the differences from where I grew up to there were tremendous, I think that the possibility for problems exist anytime one person in a couple is from the place you live and the other is a “foreigner.” Simple things such as where to go out to eat (even what to eat), where to buy clothes, where to go to the movies, where to take night classes, what streets to take to beat traffic, what foods to celebrate with, will be known intrinsically by one, and so there will be an automatic imbalance in the relationship. This built-in asymmetry needs to be counter-balanced somehow in order for there to be equality in the relationship, because without it, there is no relationship, there is a leader and the led, there is the king of the castle and the maid. And that is not the formula for a successful marriage, at least not with me and for me.

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Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Twenty-Three

Getting Physical (Abuse, that is)

As I held the telephone receiver in my hand with the 911 operator asking me what is the problem, and with my husband screaming at me about his career—I was numb. I didn’t answer her. I had called, but I was overwhelmed by the situation. I had never been so scared in my life, scared for my life because of my husband, but fearful, too, perversely (or as evidence of how cowed I was of him) of the consequences of calling the police on my husband. “Luckily” he yanked the phone cord out of the wall, solving that dilemma, and enhancing the existing—the existential— one, of his now physically violent behavior.

It had started as another of our fights which ended with me (as usual) trying to get away from his insults and threatening attitude, and with him following close behind me, as if I were the energy he needed to keep going (which surely must be the case). I went down to the basement, hoping that he would not follow, hoping that he would stop, hoping that I could get away from him in my own home, hoping that I did not have to go out for an escape drive, hoping that my not answering him would result in his losing interest (as some experts suggest) in harassing me. Alas, he followed me down the stairs into the basement and to the laundry room in the very corner of the basement.

As I bent over to pick up clothes to do a load of laundry, keeping myself busy with the rhythms of a normal life, he was there—near me, menacing me with his physical presence. It was as if he was an anti-peacock, ruffling his black feathers to warn and threaten his peahen instead of to entice and woo her. Suddenly, I felt something hit me on the side of the head—he had kicked a large garbage bag at me. “Luckily,” it was full of other garbage bags so it did not hurt too much (physically), but it bent my glasses and knocked them at an angle. “You hit me! You hit me!” I screamed, partly in shock that what I had feared had finally happened, and partly to protect myself from a continuation or intensification.

His reply, as always, was to deny, deny, deny. “No, I didn’t. I didn’t do anything.”

What, I would fabricate that? I would be cornered in the basement with this six foot tall big guy and I would lie about the outcome? That was insulting. Goddamn it, why won’t he take responsibility for his actions?

I went upstairs, acting on some kind of behavioral auto-pilot, and told my daughters that I was going out for a while, afraid that it would seem that while saving myself I was leaving them. Then, I went to the phone in the kitchen and called 911.

When he saw me pick up the phone he started yelling again, this time, “My career! My career!” Unbelievably, he was placing his guilt onto me; he was trying to make me feel guilty about something that will happen to him because of what he did to me, as opposed to what he had just done to me.

When he yanked the phone cord out of the wall I realized that I really needed to get out. Shaking, I got into my car. As I closed the door I realized that I had forgotten my keys. I held myself as tightly and as compact as possible and went back into the house for them, terrified, terrified of this man who I had once craved. When I got back in the car, I realized that I was barefoot, but I was not going back for my shoes. (I had never driven barefoot before.)

As I was pulling out of the garage, he came out holding the phone in front of him, “For you,” he said.

It was the 911 operator calling back. “What happened, what’s the matter?” she asked me in a concerned tone.

I closed the window, locked the door, and started to blubber into the phone, a true bawling blubber, “my husband kicked something at me.” At that moment it was so hard to speak; speech was another rung up the evolutionary ladder from where I was, it was too hard to find words amidst the emotional turmoil. The operator said that she was sending some police cars over. I was thankful that I did not need to give an address because I was having such a tough time focusing on speaking. I told her that I would be waiting at the end of our drive, fearful of being at home with him. I drove up to the top of our little four-house street and parked. Still stunned at the negative development, I sat there and cried.

Finally, three police cars pulled up, one male officer in each. It seemed excessive, but also comforting. They asked me what had happened; I explained it as calmly as possible, as objectively as possible. Why did I feel a need to be objective, to be the detached observer relaying what she had seen? Did it make me seem more reliable, more truthful, more intelligent, more trustworthy? Who knows, but that’s the persona I thought I was conveying, not the dismayed, battered, wife. Maybe I didn’t want to be that woman, and so I acted as if I was someone else.

They went to the house to get his side of the story.

While I was waiting, a neighbor pulled up, stopping his car beside my car, rolling down his window to talk to me. I needed to wipe my eyes before I could open the window. “Is everything okay?” he asked. I replied that it was, and thanked him for asking. Why is the husband across the way concerned about my welfare when my own husband obviously is not? Why is this man who goes hunting and calls people “buddy” more tender than my charismatic lawyer husband? I know this shows my bias, cultural and educational, but it is true. Why does this man, who I barely interact with except to say “hi,” stop to inquire? I know my husband would have just driven by if it had been this man’s wife at the top of the street and three police cars at his home.

When the police officer I spoke with came back, his deepest insight was that my husband “seemed to be mad at the world and that he did not intend to kick anything at you.” Amongst other things I wanted to say. He had been three feet away from me and kicked a bag in my direction, what was that if not on purpose? The police did suggest that I not go home immediately. I didn’t. But why did they not tell him to leave? Why did they not issue a restraining order on him? Why was I punished for being punished?

When I did return, I saw that he had taken that bag that he had “innocently” kicked at me; moreover, it wasn’t even in the garbage bins in the garage—it was gone. His guilt, though, was not. My naïveté that he would not hit me was gone.

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Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Twenty-Two

King of the Castle

Lying in bed, I look out the window to the darkened sky and listen to the radio. I need the radio on when I go to sleep; I am so alone, lonely, especially in bed, that it comforts me, makes me feel less alone—less abandoned.

When my husband comes in he closes the shutters, tells me to turn off the radio (even though I am sleeping), and tells me my breathing is too loud or some other inane comment that seems, in hindsight, another way to ensure that his word is last and his needs first.

He is getting ready to go to bed, and must arrange the room to suit his needs, never does he adjust to mine. The shutters must be closed tightly when he changes, but it makes me feel isolated. He says that he will reopen them when he is done, but rarely does, and so I get up from the midst of my never heavy-enough sleep to open them after he has fallen asleep. Those closed shutters make me feel closed in—with him.

Then the radio, no matter how low, is always cause for complaint. I try to keep it on “another five minutes,” but it is never enough to lull me back to sleep before the next “turn it off” is uttered.  It is so hard to constantly fight for…air?

And then, there is the consideration of which is better, to upset him in bed or let him go to sleep quickly and undisturbed? There is always a balance that needs to be struck, that I need to find, between maintaining peace between us, and peace within. Giving in repeatedly, which is what I have done, even if for a good cause, has battered me down. Sadly, he didn’t noticed what he has been doing to me, or that his behavior was in any way wrong. Maybe that’s why my stating that I want a divorce was so hard on him. It seems natural to him to tell me what to do at home (what temperature the house should be, what pictures we should buy, what programs we should watch) and at work (not to work late, not to work from home, not to work on Saturdays), that he never noticed that I was agreeing in order not to argue, not because I agreed.

It’s funny, but I realize now that the only thing we had in common was that we liked the same foods. While that might be the basis for a good date, it is not the basis of a strong marriage.

He really does think he is more important than me. And for a long time, too long, my actions clearly showed that I agreed.
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Excerpt Twenty-Two: Confidence Boosted or Confidence Busted?

I can remember early in our marriage we would do everything together. We would do the grocery shopping together. We would go clothes shopping, for me, together. He would suggest what I should try on, and me, wanting him to like the way I looked, I would try on and often buy the clothes he suggested. (When we shopped for him, he rarely liked my choices; he got what he picked out.) At that point it wasn’t that I was losing myself and my personality in his decisions, it was rather that I did not have confidence in myself and so I was following his confidence, his perception of me. Besides, I wanted to look good for him. It wasn’t that he was controlling me, I was enabling his recommendations. Now that I think of his forceful personality, it’s not necessarily that I did not have confidence (wow, what a concept), it was that he had an inordinate amount of confidence. So, pitted against his utter confidence, my standard waverings stood out and became something for him to direct and ultimately control.

Why didn’t I have self-confidence, or rather why didn’t I have enough self-confidence to stand up to him. Was I following what I thought was the role a wife should take upon herself? Was I following the way my mother had acted with my father? She let him make all the decisions, or so it seemed. She waited for him and was guided by him. It seemed to work for them, why did it become oppressive for me? Was I, the independent daughter who went off to Israel alone at 20, in reality not independent, was I looking for guidance? And did this man simply take advantage of that? Or, was there no other way to be with him, except with his usurping all power and control. Did I ruin the picture by eventually seeking to reassert my independence and sense of self?

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It's Finally Over: Unravelling the Thread

This is my story, my unraveling of my thread to try to find where things got twisted. It has been/is a worthwhile journey for me. I hope that the experience presented in these "It's Finally Over" games has been/is helpful to you too. But now, perhaps it is time for you to unravel your own life: start where you want, let the thread of your life unravel as your mind wanders, just try to look at its path with a clear head.


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Excerpt Twenty-One: First Year of Teaching

The first year of teaching is supposed to be one of the hardest job there is. For me, as tough as it was, dealing with life at home was harder. The constant stress of living in an abusive relationship was much tougher than teaching one hundred and thirty reluctant teenagers the eight parts of speech.

Is relationship the right word to describe my marriage, perhaps predicament or situation is better? How can something so nefarious be a “relationship”? Isn’t that a word with positive connotations, doesn’t it signify something that brings happiness, isn’t it something that you want to be a part of?

Learning how to plan interesting and effective lessons; reading and understanding the short stories, plays, poems and novels I was to cover; writing quizzes, tests, and warm-up assignments, homework assignments and essay questions; speaking to and emailing students, parents and administrators; reading, commenting on and grading papers were all difficult, but coming home was infinitely worse. At school, although there were tough days and tough kids (or, kids being kids, or kids reacting to a tough teacher) who challenged me by slumping or ignoring or doubting or questioning, at least they seemed to respect me and knew (I think) that I was doing something for them, or at least that I was trying to do something for them. And I was. At home my husband made me feel that my very presence was anathema. That pervasive feeling of negativity is what made home so much tougher than school ever was.

Since my husband did not work for a year and a half, including the entire first year of my teaching (the ostensible reason was that he was laid off, but I interpreted it as part of his absolute commitment to make my life hell), he was at home most of the time, and so everyday as I drove home I would wonder if he would be there when I arrive. The drive home usually took about 40 minutes; it was generally a good transition from school. I would take the highway, so I could just drive along with the flow of traffic (three o’clock is still too early for traffic, even in this area), listening to music, snatches of my day coming up to me, with all of the accompanying ‘should haves’ and ‘could haves,’ a calm easy time between two worlds, but in a world of itself.


That is until I would drive down our driveway and click on the garage door opener. Is he home or isn’t he? Because of the lighting in the garage, it always takes a few seconds for the garage door to open enough for me to know the home situation. If the car is not there, I would smile broadly and continue the easy transition. But, if it was there, I would generally say (out loud for emphasis, to show that I really mean it, that this is more than wishful thinking, this is a demand, a desire that is so strong that it deserves speaking out loud, making it more possible, perhaps it will reverberate into reality), “Get a job! Go away!” And then I would drive in with an absolute anchor as a heart. I could feel myself being beaten down just by his presence; just by the tangible prove of his reality—of my reality:

     That I live with a man I hate;

     That I live with a man who is constantly insulting me;

     That I live with a man who treats me with absolutely no respect;

     That I live with a man who finds it acceptable to ridicule me;

     That I live with a man who is constantly trying to control my life.

I am confronted with the fact that my home is no one’s castle; that my home has become my prison, and I am an inmate.

If he is home, he is generally on his laptop in either the basement or at the kitchen table. If he is at the kitchen table, he generally gathers up his computer when I come in and goes down to the basement. While I relish his going away so that I don’t have to confront his verbal abuse or stony countenance (which I find repulsive even though I am unable to look directly at him), it is still upsetting that my mere presence is repulsive to him, too. Certainly I don’t expect unbounded joy when I come in, but this summary dismissal is still hurtful. I simply said that I don’t love you any more, I don’t want to be married to you anymore; I did not verbally assault him. I shared with him more than twenty years of my life before I really felt what was being done to me and voiced my decision. Why is he so vindictive? Why has this degraded into a game of wills that is counter-productive? Why is he (perhaps it is we by now) unable to confront each other and talk the end through? Why do I have to come home day after day to a man who has become an evil entity, who simply wishes me ill?

I had always prided myself on being a mature person, so why now, when maturity is so much in need, am I incapable of getting past his solid wall of antagonism. It just does not make sense, or maybe it does too much, that what I say and do is not enough to end this marriage with grace and timeliness. Continuing in our sorry cycle, it must be according to his time-line and conditions, otherwise we barely move forward. It seems that he can’t prevent himself: he must be a bully till the end. And finally, I can’t get over it that I am always prevented from getting what I want, even when I am forceful.

Am I so weak? Am I too nice and too understanding, always questioning myself, doubting myself and my experiences, and not him and his motivations?

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Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Nineteen

Just Answer the Question


Sometimes I forget that I am living with a man who is not normal. For a moment I think that we can have a conversation, and then he responds in a completely irrational way, and I am back to my life.


It finally occurs to me that the analogy that fits his understanding of the world is that he sees the world through a circus mirror. Everything is distorted. He is incapable of even recognizing reality, because for him there is none—everything is twisted and contorted, and, unfortunately, he is the only one who sees things through that mirror. His vision of reality is implicitly twisted. Not only can he not see the truth, but no one can even know what he is thinking or perceiving (his truth), since the distortion is only within him.


The other day I asked him if he had someone come to service the air conditioner. That should have been a simple conversation; instead, it touched off a tirade.


“Don’t leave me notes telling me what to do,” he yelled at me, already red in the face. Then, without a pause, he turned the tables, and rushed at me with accusations: “Did you call your plumber? He didn’t fix the bathtub. Did you call him? Did you tell him to come back to fix the caulking? Did you?”


I tried to answer him over his tirade, “I called him and left him two messages.” But as I was trying to explain, I realized that he was not interested in what I had to say; moreover, he was not going to let me know about the air conditioner, so I walked up the stairs, defeated. He wanted to hear himself berate me; he did not want to listen to an explanation.


He complained that I leave him notes with things to do. Well, we don’t talk since whatever I say is just a lead-in to a rant at me, so I leave notes, how else are we supposed to “communicate”? In fact, he has even asked me, through his lawyer, to leave him notes telling him where I am going with our daughters or about their different activities. Some notes are good and some notes are bad; if it’s the information he wants, it’s good; if it’s for me, then it’s bad.


It had seemed like a harmless question. But, nothing here is harmless.


What am I afraid of? That he will yell at me. Unbelievably, it’s that simple. Nothing more than that (I think); to maintain a modicum of peace and quiet in the house, in the family, in the soul. Has it been worth it? As I sit here thinking about it, it seems such a petty concern, just ask him what you need to know and to hell with his yelling, don’t let it bother you. I even imagine telling him to shut up and answer the question. But it doesn’t work like that. I have not built up immunity to his screams; I have developed a severe allergy to them and try to avoid them as much as possible. And no, it has not been worth it. My silence has been devastating to my psyche, my self-confidence, my very sense of self and my understanding of the world.


But even when I finally did answer back with a “stop it,” he would keep going, ignoring my pleas and hands over my ears. My shouts of “I’m not listening to you” simply interrupted his rant, they did not end it. This is a man who must have the last word, no matter how ugly.


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Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Eighteen

When a House Is Not a Home

Lately, he has been calling our house “his house.” It is his house and I should leave, just like that. It is his house because he has earned more money. There is absolutely no recognition of non-monetary contribution or partnership or support, it is cut and dry. How does something that was shared, that was decided upon by two of us for our family, that was a sign of success for the both of us, suddenly become the sole property of one? How does one person negate the value of another? How does my space suddenly become non-existent? And how did I become a squatter with no rights to my own house?

From being told not to take up space with my things, I am now told that there is no space for me. My presence is being invalidated simply because I have opposed him. Although I know that I should have spoken up more, I wonder if it really would have helped. If this man attempts to erase my existence because I no longer adhere to his rules, what would have happened if I would have spoken up sooner, would it really have improved the situation or worsened it? Would it have ended sooner rather than later? This is not a situation replete with negotiation, these are blanket statements and actions, and no matter how I act, go with the flow or fight against it, I am always found to be guilty of some offense against him.


And now that I have moved out of the master bedroom and am living in a guest bedroom, one that is used by my daughters since that is where the computer is, my space is even more restricted. It’s not that I agree that it is his house, but his stating it has made me uncomfortable in this house, as if that in and of itself has managed to dislodge me from the comfort I had enjoyed previously in this home. Since I moved out of the master bedroom, I barely have any personal space, since even this refuge is a shared space. My space, originally delineated by my daughter’s old twin mattress on the floor, and now a love seat, a pile of books next to it, and an alarm clock. My comfort in being at home has been taken from me. This is no longer a home.  


When he was working (ostensibly) at home, he had taken over the kitchen table and the study in the basement, not to mention the master bedroom. He spread out. No one told him to put his things away, to make like he does not exist, to move his things so that they don’t interfere with the life of the family. No, he takes and uses space as he sees fit. Isn’t that the way it should be, that we each consider our private needs as well as the needs of the family? It seems that he is reinforcing his statement that it is his house by taking so much of it for his exclusive use. Not surprisingly, he does not clear his things away at the end of the day; he does not have to uninhabit the space, I do not place that demand on him.


Why not oppose him? There was some logic to not leaving things out, not leaving a mess, not taking up too much of the family space with my individual things. But also, as always, I conceded without an argument to prevent an argument. I did not want to upset him, I did not want to create an opportunity for him to find fault with me for other things, to lash out at me for things I might have said or done, real and imagined. I stayed quiet simply to keep him quiet. This policy of appeasement may have been momentarily successful, but in the long run it undermined me to the core.


But why didn’t I start a fight? Why didn’t I let these things come out? I am a conflict avoider who goes out of her way not to cause an argument, and to settle those already begun. Even my graduate studies focused on how to resolve conflicts, on how to prevent or stop them. Yet, a central point that I seemed to have missed is that conflict can be good, it can help us to understand the other, and then to move forward in a relationship, whether between people or nations. That was the point I obviously missed, that confrontation is good and avoidance is bad. I just kept sweeping things under the rug.


Thinking back to the requirement that I clear out my things, I realize now that it was nonsense and an insult. What is a family home if not the space that holds the needs of the family? The space should be adapted to suit the family, each of its members, and not the other way around.


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Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Seventeen

The Opposite of Space is Lack of Space


When I went to graduate school my husband would bristle at the sight of my books spread out on the dining room table. I was to put them away; I was not to leave evidence of my studies on the table or around the house. They were simply to be gone when he came home. He said they made the house look messy and the dining room table was not the place for them. Did he care that I was comfortable studying there, that I have always had an affinity to using a dining table as a study space? Where was I supposed to study, and who was to decide where I was to study? As usual, he made a proclamation and I was expected to—and did—comply, not sure of what the “punishment” would be, but not wanting to arouse his ire. Knowing that your husband makes threatening noises and postures, and tells you what must be done or not done is enough for someone like me, always trying to please and not rocking the boat, to do as she is told.


I don’t think that housekeeping was the issue, it most likely was that he did not approve of what I was studying, and he certainly did not approve of my studying what I wanted in spite of his negative opinion. When I told him that I was going to get a master’s degree in conflict studies, his response was that he would not bother me about working during my studies if I were to go to law school. Did someone say something about law school? Did I ever express any interest in studying law? No. It was his idea, his idea of what would be good for me—or, for him. I think about this now, and wonder if he had either planned the dissolution of our marriage or his retreat from the work world. I wonder if he wanted me to study law so that I would make a good salary and support him as he exited the law himself and pursued his heart’s desire.


We did not discuss what I was going to study because it was my decision to make and I did not want him to try, once again, to get me to study what he wanted me to study. A few years before he had convinced me that I should get an MBA, I even took the GMAT and began taking classes. It was a fiasco. I did not have the experience, outlook or capabilities for a career in business. I don’t know why he just didn’t go for the degree himself, it was what he wanted to do. By now, finally, I knew that I needed to just go ahead without his approval. To him this was a rebellion; to me it was standing up for myself. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.


His sustained campaign to change me was going awry. And I was getting to where I needed to be, in spite of him. His inability to acknowledge my interests as distinct from his was a problem that could not be erased by getting me to adopt his interests or expectations (and to drop my own). While I am glad that I finally did what I needed to do, it did not give me great satisfaction that there were no discussions about the studies themselves, or my reasons for pursuing that course. After years of marriage we were still not able to talk and plan, there was always an element of confrontation—never of compromise (or rather, only my compromises and never his) or discussion. It was my explaining and his deciding. As if we were father and child. So, I had learned to avoid discussing things with him, and he had never learned to trust me.


Every day I would set out my books on the dining room table after he left in the morning, and then put them away, out of sight, at the end of the day. This was an absolute invalidation of who I am, of my very existence. This was not about neatness; it was about my finally, blatantly, disregarding his opinion, of being decisive in what I want to do and not succumbing to his wishes. This was not about a notebook being left out, but about my betrayal of how he wants me to act and of who he wants me to be.


Why did I listen to his complaints and put my things away? Maybe I wasn’t ready to escalate the situation, or maybe I thought that this would be enough to align the relationship onto a level of parity. What for him was a transgression, a slap in the face, was for me self-expression, the beginning of being proud of my capabilities, interests and accomplishments, and not ashamed as he had made me feel. 


* * *


Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Fifteen



To others he would always speak of how wonderful I am, of all the things that I have done or am doing. Sometimes he would tell me what he said to others about how wonderful I am. But I didn’t feel that. I didn’t feel that admiration myself. Was it simply for him to look good in other people’s eyes? This is a question that took years to formulate. Yet, at times I did believe that he supported me and was proud of me, and wanted me to succeed—for me. So the incongruity, I thought, was in me, my own self-confidence was my problem and not that it could be partially laid to blame on his criticisms and suggestions.

It’s easy to explain this in psychological terms, to say that he needs to be seen by others as a success and naturally his wife needs to be successful, too, as an extension of himself, but then, at home, he needs to reassert his superiority and ensure that I am aware of that hierarchy. So what? That does not make up for years of confusion: am I appreciated or am I reviled? Does he admire me or does he disdain me? I know that it is not good to base your self worth on someone else’s opinion, but that happens in a marriage, how could it not, how could you not seek the approval and judgment of the person closest to you, of the person you chose—partially for that very reason—because he loved you for who you are, and because you lived to please that person. So why shouldn’t his opinion carry weight?

At our twelfth anniversary dinner my husband and I sat largely silent in a restaurant dining room, surrounded by couples and groups who seemed to be together, not like us, two silent strangers at the same table. We no longer had anything to talk about, or share; we were encapsulated in our own thoughts. There seemed to be too many subjects that were minefields or not of interest to the other; there were too many thoughts that were no longer to be shared. After a while I started telling him about a game I had developed. He wasn’t listening; it took him a while before he realized that this was something I had done, not something I had bought. The discounting of my words (not listening to me) and my creativity (not aware of my creations and no longer expecting them) was silencing, made me retreat back into myself after a cursory discussion. This stultifying silence was not only a sign of a failing marriage, but of our living separate lives. For the rest of the meal when we talked, it was only about the meal itself.

Why did we not split up then? Why did we not realize that the marriage was over? Why did the “comfort” of continuing in the status quo override the logic of an end? This absolute silence and separation surely shows that we were long past the early passion, and even past the mature comfort of being together because we were so utterly apart. While I know that I still loved him at this point, it was becoming too painful, too much of a failure, too much trying just to maintain civility. 

* * *


Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Fourteen

The Writer in the Family


When we first met, I wanted to be a writer. During our first year of marriage I spent my spare time writing the great American novel—in Israel. It was a classic story of growing up and separating from one’s parents and finding one’s own path. It was, of course, largely autobiographical, if not in detail then in thoughts and perceptions. When I finished writing it, I gave it to my husband to read. His comment was that it was okay, a middling, barely encouraging okay. Nonetheless, it made me feel good. Then he suggested that I give it to a friend of his to read, another aspiring writer. I did. He didn’t like it. Then, my husband came back and said that, in fact, he hadn’t really liked it either, but that he didn’t tell me that because he didn’t want to hurt me. That dishonesty hurt more than the bad press. Why did he withhold his true impression from me, and more importantly, why did he feel that he could/should control my emotions? Was this an example of how he was manipulating me—so very long ago?


About a week later, the man who never spoke of writing, who never spoke of reading except his law books and adventure books as a child, proclaimed that he was going to write a book and that it was going to be a great book, unlike anything ever written. In fact, he had already started and had a lot written already. (I, of course, was a slow writer and in a week would barely have written five pages, and he knew this.)


The one area that was mine, that was free of his incursions and dominance, was suddenly taken from me. It was as if he simply said I am better than you in everything, even in what you think you are good at. If he was now the writer in the family, what was I?


I did not write for another three years. I am not blaming him, I am blaming my lack of confidence, but his incursion surely was uncalled for, was not helpful in getting my confidence up to speed. Was it to undermine me and prove his superiority, or was it truly his desire to write, to get his story down? Perhaps even a combination of the two? Whatever it was, it hurt. It’s not as if he told me that I’m a bad writer and he is better, but it was implied. So the person whose opinion I had come to value the most had discounted me and the one thing I wanted to do the most. I needed encouragement. What else are you supposed to get at home if not the courage and confidence to accomplish your dreams? And his lying about his true impression of my writing did not make me feel good; rather it undermined my confidence in both myself and the feedback I would receive.


* * *

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Thirteen

The Many Uses of Language

What is so surprising is that this man, who has used words so efficiently in his career as a lawyer, uses such simple constructs to put me down. Am I not even worthy of an elegantly phrased put-down, one with drama and individuality? Apparently not. He reaches for the basic, “You’re fat.” “You’re ugly.” How can I respond to that? Should I say “No, I’m not”? That sounds weak, and besides, doesn’t that acknowledge his point? It’s not a point to discuss, and it seems to garner some validity just by alluding to it. It’s like those balanced discussions where both sides are presented even though one is overwhelmingly true and the other is held by only a handful of contrarians. You give it validity it does not deserve simply by raising it.

Still, hearing those words hurled at you by your husband is powerful; it makes you shrink within yourself, makes you feel that way—even if for a moment. But, no, not for a moment, these statements will reverberate forever, will have a hold on you forever, at moments of doubt or when eating or trying on clothes or putting on make-up. It comes back, You’re fat. You’re ugly. Yes, my size 14 pants are getting tight and I no longer want to look at myself in the mirror. I don’t really look at who I am. I have raised a protective layer, unfortunately it has merely succeeded in keeping past insults in, echoing forever.

Fat and ugly and nothing. It’s come back to this many times. Why does he say this? Why should I dwell on it? Shouldn’t I just discount it as the ravings of a madman, of a man spurned? Why can’t my mind keep off of this, why can’t I replay all of the compliments that I have received from him and others instead, and from my own perception before it was skewed? Why? Why come back to this? It’s certainly not a key to unlocking a happy future. It’s not a trigger used to release me from an unhappy past and present—it’s just a poisonous proclamation that has uncomfortably settled within me.

Does he still say it because he knows its power over me? Does it still make him feel power over me? The only purpose I can think of, now many years after that first insult and only when I have been able to think about this analytically, is that this is his way of lessening my worth in his eyes so the fact that I said I want a divorce will not be so hurtful to him. But what about before, before I said that I want to separate, before I said I want a divorce? Then his comments were aimed at controlling. Now they aim at denigrating, which makes me more certain that he is protecting himself by hurting me. It seems that he is realigning his perceptions of me so that he can hate me and see me as being unworthy of his love. Does this show that he doesn’t know how to love? Or was this his way of holding onto me when he felt me slipping away? So much to ponder, if I choose to.

* * *

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Twelve


I am by nature an introvert, a quiet person who does not speak much until comfortable with the people I am with or until something just bursts out of me, needing to be expressed—generally interrupting someone, so sudden and strong the desire to express myself becomes. This could stem from my thinking that everyone else has more interesting and insightful things to say; or my feeling that I have to wholly agree or disagree with something to state it and identify with it; or my not wanting to offer ideas and opinions that I cannot back with evidence; or my recognizing that my mind is often blank, just absorbing (or not) the things people are saying with nary a comment or question coming to the fore; and so, I am often quiet. This is who I am. But I wonder if I am quieter than I would have been if I had been in a normal relationship instead of this relationship where my words and comments were always second-rate—always second to my ex-husband’s?

Can I blame my continued reticence to speak and participate on this relationship, where my voice and opinions always came after my ex’s, in both importance and validity, and where my voice was discounted, or shunned, or simply not sought? How much can a person take being discounted, her opinion only sought to concur with his, and not take that out of the bedroom or the kitchen or the living room and out into the world? The dynamic of this relationship must have continued unknowingly in other relationships. I’m certainly not blaming my introversion on my husband or our relationship, it was there before (was that why he “chose” me?), but I do wonder if I would have outgrown it sooner, better, more effectively, if I had felt respected at home? (Conversely, I wonder what my acquiescence did to him. Did it embolden him to perceive that he was always right and must always be submitted to? Did he lose any ability to debate and discuss by my not putting up a competent defense? Or did he merely continue in the path that was laid out for him as a child, when he was perceived as the boy genius?)

Natural weaknesses ended up being enforced and “strengthened” in the dynamics of this relationship. Add to that the fact that we lived in Israel for most of our marriage (I moved there by myself when I was 22), and Hebrew was not my mother-tongue and never became as strong and effective as English was for me. So, not only did I have to find the thoughts and ideas, but then I needed to express them in a foreign language. Add to that the indulgent smile (or long-suffering look) when I would use the wrong word or verb form, even if done in a friendly manner, dampening my desire to speak up. And then, opposite that timidity, was this paradigm of speech, a man who does not hesitate to express his opinion, state facts or variations thereof, and seek to convince even if he does not believe in what he is saying. So, the confidence to speak and participate retreated even further.

I remember that he told me once that he had convinced a friend of his of the existence of God. My reaction was to shutdown, to tell him that I don’t want to get a repeat of the lecture. I did not want his mind to take the controls over mine—I feared it from pretty early on in the relationship. I wanted to keep my doubts and questions intact, and not be flooded by his certainties and proclamations (believed or not). Perhaps I just wasn’t mentally strong enough to challenge this man. My intelligence, I have found, is quiet, more collaborative and interactive. I do not try to overpower people, but simply to express my thoughts and ideas, and draw out theirs; the most I hope for is a reverberating thought or question in someone. I trust in their mental capacities, whereas he trusts in his own, only. What a difference.

It truly was, in many respects, an unbalanced relationship. The safeguards that love naturally imposes to make that imbalance seem insignificant wore me down with time. The passion of being together, of being touched and loved by him, could not compensate, ultimately, for the pain he seared upon me. Unfortunately, the friction that two opposites generate realign over time, reinstating the true unbalanced nature of the relationship.

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Eleven

Signs along the Way


According to experts, both professional and amateur (namely, friends with experience in counseling and well-meaning friends), I need to understand that it’s not my fault that my ex-husband emotionally and verbally abused me. OK, I got that. It’s not my fault. It’s Not My Fault! So what? Does saying that do anything for me? Does it make me feel any better? Does it make my choice in this man any less devastating? Does it make me believe it? Does it make my life any more bearable? Even though I think I know it’s true, it’s still hard to believe.


Saying that it’s not my fault doesn’t give me anything to grow from: I don’t gain insight into his personality or mine; and, I can’t assess what I did that enabled me to become a victim of such a deeply devastating act, repeatedly, over far too many days and weeks and months and years. And, as someone who finds no shame in wallowing in self-pity, it certainly doesn’t help prevent me from wasting the rest of my life wallowing.


The irony here (both in what happened and my silent reaction) is that I had always seen myself as a strong, independent woman. I was a feminist, spurred by the times and an inner impulse. I was determined not to have a traditional woman’s job; I was determined to break from expectations; I was pitting myself against society’s game plan and I planned to come up strong. Was my husband the embodiment of all I opposed? Was he my nemesis, some chauvinistic trick to bring me down from my lofty heights of feminist idealism where men and women would be absolute equals to prove to me that I was wrong? Wrong to assume, assert even, that we are equal? It’s sad to realize that in public I would talk about and act upon my beliefs, while in private I betrayed everything that was essential to me and about me.


So why did I let this happen to me; how did this happen to me? Women were still taught to be submissive, even in the midst of the radicalism of the 60’s and 70’s; after all, our parents, especially our mothers, were raised in different times, times when those roles were the norms. Was this dichotomy the problem? The expectations placed on us outside the home and inside the home did not mesh. At home, my mother was the helpmate to my father. Outside there was talk of equality, at home the old world still reigned; moreover, since there were no role models to follow at home, it was up to me to find my way. To further complicate things, my husband was not uncomfortable with the status quo on the home front. Even though we started off with an equal duties pact, it did not last long. In the face of so much change I still perceived my role as supporting and even bolstering the ego of my husband, regardless of all the other things I was to accomplish on my own. Where was my feminism in this? And why did I concede so easily at home; was it comfortable to put the guard down at home, to not have to always fight and be aware of discrimination? But still, I wonder at the woman who at twenty took off alone for her grand adventure; I would have thought that I would have been stronger, better, than that. I guess I was wrong on yet another thing.


In spite of the theorizing, I still wonder where my ex-husband got off thinking that it’s alright to insult his wife and then sit down to eat the dinner she just prepared, with nary a compliment in sight. He doesn’t seem to have been in any turmoil; even for the “old style” husband his behavior was unacceptable. So while I can lay some blame for my acquiescence on society, he only has himself to blame.


Although I can apportion some of the blame, I realize that no matter how externally-mandated roles and expectations have influenced us, our interior core defines us and there is no backing down from seeing all as stemming from that core. We created and destroyed our love and our marriage. Understanding what happened will help me to heal and, I hope, create a brighter future.

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Ten


Stupid. Shit. Beast. Whore. Bitch. Liar. Loser. Asshole. Leech. Fart. Zero. Nothing.

I can’t remember the first time my ex-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.

I wonder what would have happened if I had yelled back at him. Would I have been excited about my 20th anniversary rather than dread it? I’ll never know, because I didn’t. I stood there quietly while he had his tantrum, and then I went back to life, I probably asked him if he wanted dinner. This acceptance or excusing of his behavior is something to shake my head in wonder at now, but then, then I just wanted to placate my husband, I just wanted to calm him down. It’s revelatory that my focus was on him and not on me; I was worrying about soothing him rather than being contorted with anguish at how he had spoken to me.

Bound together for me in this whole sorry scene is that I was doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing, in spite of the way I was being treated. I continued to take care of his needs and coddle his ego, and he was supposed to do the same for me, after all, didn’t we love each other? Isn’t that the way a marriage is supposed to work, aren’t we supposed to take care of each other? He broke the pattern by not caring for me, but still expecting that I attend to him. Or rather, he demanded more from me, of me, in order to get any tenderness from him. And so it came to pass that I would have to take the reprimands to get the tenderness. (But was it tenderness? What was it, what was I getting in return for serving him?) He was either breaking me down or proving my absolute allegiance, or both. In the end, I was mostly broken, but not enough to prevent me from breaking with him, but it took so very long. Years and years of taking it quietly, of looking past the harsh comments, and being treated like a servant, far too many years wasted expecting things to get better when some in-the-future and undefined event or situation would come to pass. But really, years of not realizing how bad it was—how wrong it was.

Even though I didn’t hurl back a biting comment that would put him in his place, or use my all-purpose standard, “Fuck you!” for quite a while, I did not acquiesce. My mind, and then my body, subtly began turning away from him. Gradually he stopped being a depository of knowledge who I would refer to when talking with others; instead, he became a person whose opinion I would so completely shun that when it was uttered, I would tune it out completely. So deeply, although still unconsciously, did I need to oppose him, prevent him from taking over any more of my mind and inhibit my self-esteem. I did not want to grant his words validity as I struggled to oppose his nasty pronouncements. Swirling within me were his obscenities, I didn’t need to confront his logic; I didn’t need to make sense of anything he said for it would always cause me to doubt myself and not him.

But it took so very long to reach that point of closing off his words. That turning away, even if unseen and unrealized, is perhaps what kept me alive, what kept me from wholly absorbing his insults and his hateful vision of myself and the world. It is, I think, what enabled me to break from him; to demand a divorce and then push and push and push him until he finally had to acquiesce—to me.

While continuing to live with him after that first outright insult, I began unconsciously to sidestep the marriage, and especially the relationship that is supposed to be at its core, that place where we are to respect each other and seek solace in each other. That was my leaving. Even with a pretty low self-esteem quotient and a personality that quietly took the abuse he was shoving at me by closing doors and taking solitary drives, I remained intact by slowly shutting him out. The swinging door into my interior life became closed to the person to whom I had once swung it open with a passion. The passion part is still there, but now with an entirely different tone.

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Nine

On Being a Smart, Independent Emotionally-Abused Woman

But is he mean to you? my friend asks when I tell her that I am changing my last name back to my maiden name after my divorce.

What do you mean? I ask back, not wanting to think that she may be implying that if he hasn’t hit me, then he hasn’t been mean to me.

You know, hit you, she answers.

Is that it? Unless I’ve been physically beaten—smashed against the wall with the requisite concussion, broken bones and black eyes—he has been nice to me? Is the abuse I have endured as naught because only my eyes are red, not my skin? Two years of constant insults and curses, and twenty years of belittling comments and controlling behaviors are okay if I haven’t been physically broken? It doesn’t make sense. Do people really believe sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me? Have they never been upset by criticism? Have they never felt the pain of rejection? Have they never felt a sting caused by a word? Have they never felt a hurt-filled word reverberate through their mind a minute after it was uttered, an hour after it was uttered, a week after it was uttered—forever?

I look at her and respond (truthfully), He kicked a bag at my head once and I called the police. He didn’t try again.

She looks satisfied, as if now there is justification for my disaffection, for my wanting to distance myself from him and his name. And I had played right into those expectations, that to be abused can only mean to be physically tormented. My reply disappointed me; once again I didn’t stand up for myself, I didn’t say what I needed to say. Yes, he’s been mean, I should have said, he calls me bitch and liar and leech every chance he gets. Yes, he is mean. He insults my job, my interests, my ideas, my vocabulary, my family, my friends, my looks, my name, my breathing, my smell—my everything. Yes, he’s mean. And I have had no protection from him because he has not hit me, or threatened to kill me or physically harm me. And that must stop. For if I let her misperception continue, what chance is there to change that misperception?

Yes, verbal abuse is abuse. It hurts and humiliates. What more needs to happen to a woman in order to be protected against a man? Why do only welts count? A man should not be free to use his wife as his verbal punching bag.

*   *   *

It’s devastating when the person who is supposed to encourage, support and protect you becomes the person you need to be protected from.  Now I pay a lawyer $350 (it used to be $500) an hour to defend me against and extricate myself from the man I unhesitatingly married almost twenty-three years ago. How does love morph into hate? How does the man who tells you you’re beautiful become the man who calls you ugly—inside and out? How does the woman who hangs onto her husband’s every word as if it were the truth from Mount Sinai come to cover her ears and scream STOP over and over again so she won’t have to hear him berate her? How did I come to hate the man I once loved?

I can blame him. I can say he’s selfish and a narcissist. I can say he never really loved me, it was all about him, always, and I naively believed that he cared about me. But what does that say about me? How did I end up with such an evil man? I can analyze and hypothesize about his faults and faultiness, but, ultimately, to make my life better, to make it one that improves upon this dismal present, one that I will be content within—no, happy within—I need to understand where I went wrong, or at least to understand where my intentions were missed, why my actions came up lacking. Much that went wrong can be blamed on him. So what? Does it really matter that he is a deeply-flawed person. The right question seems to be: am I? Am I flawed for having fallen in love with him? for having stayed with him? for having believed in him for so long (even more than myself)?

*  *   *

Since I have always thought that whatever I live through, someone else has/is/will do so as well, this book--broken up into excerpts for the blog--is meant to bring comfort to other women (and men) who have or will, unfortunately, at some point, live in this debilitating atmosphere, and to help them understand the dynamics of that relationship. And to know, that they are not alone, that there is a community of caring—even if never met or formally established—of women who empathize with them, and who send out thoughts of compassion and care, even if through the ether, and even if out of their own pain and incomprehension and self-doubt. These excerpts are also a heartfelt rending of my soul so that friends and family can understand what I—we—have lived through.


Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Eight


Rocking gently on the cold bathroom floor, I hugged my legs tightly, straining to hold myself small and tight, as if clasping my arms could prevent the explosion (or implosion, since I was the only one in danger) within from reaching the surface. In the small, darkened room, leaning against the locked door, I continued to hold onto myself until I finally heard him walk past, and then heard the door to the mudroom open and shut, and then the door to the garage open and shut, and then the garage door open and then shut, indicating that my husband had finally left the house. Had finally left me. At least until he inevitably returned later, in a good mood, as if he had not just made me wish I had never met him.

Leave, leave, leave, leave, leave, I screamed to myself in yet another desperate attempt at not losing self-control. Please, please, please, please, please, I added instinctively as if my niceties would help me now to get what I wanted from him. As if any of my goodness had had an impact on him. As if my pleas for help had ever been heard by anyone, divine or otherwise.

As I continued to rock myself in the dark bathroom, as isolated as I had ever been in the twenty years of my marriage, I felt a curious sensation of victory. After all, he had left and I had stayed. Up until now, it was always the opposite: I was always running to my car in a desperate bid to escape the house, escape his insults, escape his accusations, escape him. But now, finally, I had held my ground (albeit the cold tiles of the bathroom floor), but I had not caved in—running away, conceding the fight, conceding that I was weaker, conceding that he had won, yet again. I had not groveled my way out of the house, I had not enabled him to continue spewing insults, I had spurned the attack.

Not that I wouldn’t still have to endure countless verbal assaults from him before we would finally divorce, but I had ultimately swerved past his control, beyond his reach, away from the sway his words and commands usually had over me. 

In spite of my “victory,” I walked resignedly out of my bathroom tomb and went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for our daughters, as usual. It was only 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning. The beginning of another wearying weekend.

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Seven

Need for a Hug

I need a hug. I need to be encased and enclosed within masculine compassion. It’s not asking for much, but it is certainly more than I have gotten in years, and more than I expect to get for years to come. A simple warm embrace that a man and a woman exchange, and share. It’s not an invitation to sex, but it does not deny passion. It’s not cordial, there is, after all, some chemistry required to make it a warm embrace and not simply an air-kiss hug.

My younger daughter does the hug-thing, and my parents do it when they come to visit and when they leave; it’s all I get, but it’s not what I need. My daughters, well, that is me transferring my love and hopes and encouragement onto them. My parents, when they come to visit they give a “you look better or worse (depending on the trip) than we expected” hug and then when they go it’s a “be strong and let us out of here, you and all your neediness” hug. Neither are what a woman, this woman, needs.

There’s the friend hug, too. That can be wonderful, but it’s more of a mutual commiseration, it does not answer any physical needs other than to say you are a good friend and when I see you I need to do more than just say hi and get to talking.

9/11 was another, your-marriage-is-over day. I needed an existential hug, one that affirmed and reaffirmed my belief in the world and the still existent good. But my husband was distant. He did not come over to me within all of my weepiness and join me. And I, seeing that distraction, did not call him over or go over to him. Something like that should have been felt, should have been automatic. He focused on the terrorists and their viciousness, the need for revenge; whereas I focused on the victims and their tragedies. His focus kept a rage and anger at the boiling-point, which did not have room for trembling with the victim. My focus required a hug to coalesce all of the sorrow and emptiness and compassion I had in me, and which had no outlet.

My parents, knowing of my need for that human contact came to visit a few days later. My embrace with each of them was warm and supportive. But, still, it was a parent and a child. I am a grown woman, and I need something else. But why? What does a hug represent for me? Why has it become something so vital that I mull over its loss, and analyze those I receive or participate in? A hug is, after all, simply a momentary embrace. It is a letting down of one’s guard; a non-verbal interaction in a words-filled life; a purely physical moment in a too cerebral world. Perhaps, for me, someone who does not get moved in prayer or by prayer it is my deep connection with something greater than myself. Maybe it’s a basic life force or universal energy or godliness that I am seeking and which I have found—hope to find again—at that juncture of man and woman. Or perhaps it is my wishful condensing of all my needs at this time into that one thing that I can’t have, rather than spread out all of my needs and desires into an endless list and array of things that would be overwhelming, I have chosen to focus on this seemingly attainable thing.

Maybe I am downsizing my needs. Now that my marriage has fallen apart and I have been sleeping on a mattress on the floor and then a love seat in the guest bedroom for more than three years, maybe that is all I can hope to attain. Maybe it symbolizes my journey into the future, by focusing on something that can only happen in the future, I am easing myself out of this horrible place I am in currently.