I used to think I was damaged goods, a broken woman who had nothing of substance to give to anyone. After all, I had been molested as a child. My parents divorced soon after, and the turbulence of my upbringing left a lot of scars.
At age 32, I had been married and divorced three times and had four children. I had also graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma—Magna Cum Laude—and was enrolled in the Master of Counseling program through the same school.
Upon graduation, I was hired by the State of Oklahoma to work as a Case Manager for people with Developmental Disabilities. Oklahoma was going to reimburse part of my tuition for grad school. I bought my own home. There were years of counseling after revealing to family and friends that I had been molested at age eleven. Also, I had participated in the local women’s shelter and agency event held by Women and Children in Crisis, Take Back the Night, for Domestic Violence Awareness Month a previous October.
Things seemed to be going well.
And yet, I felt unfulfilled. I was alone, except for my kids, and this was something new for me. The weight of solitude in those days was almost unbearable. When the kids would go to their dad’s every other weekend, I wandered through my modest 3-bedroom home and wondered what was to become of me. I had achieved my educational and vocational goals to that point, but my relationship goals were obliterated. I had let my kids down by divorcing their dads. I felt like a complete failure despite my other achievements.
One weekend the sounds of the children leaving as they went off with their fathers echoed, reverberating against the stillness of the empty house, threatening to drive me mad. I decided I had to get out of there.
The city of Bartlesville in northeast Oklahoma is not very large. At that time, the population was around 35, 000. Many of the residents were transplants via Phillips 66, Jane Phillips Hospital, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and Rogers State University.
I wasn’t really into shopping, and even if I had been, I didn’t have the money. I thought about going to see a movie, but the idea of doing that alone was demoralizing. Nothing else was open. So, I decided to go to a small bar a few miles north in the town of Dewey, called The Hitching Post.
Why I did that instead of going for the Solo-Loser-at-the-Movies gig, I will never know. Perhaps it was the allure of music, and perhaps a dance or two. It certainly wasn’t the alcohol, and I wasn’t looking for a hook-up.
At this point my self-esteem was in the gutter. In my view, I had completely fucked up my life after being groomed by my family for such chaos. I tried so hard to do things differently than they did. I didn’t drink, or smoke, or use drugs and alcohol. I earned a college degree. I had a decent job. I suppose some of our past, nature or nurture or otherwise, can’t help but stay with us.
I sat at the bar and ordered a Diet Coke—we called it pop out there—and listened to the band. The two guys to my right were obviously together as they were chatting when I walked in. The one closest to me had rugged good looks, and he knew it.
He began to talk to me, not in a creepy way, but making jokes and cutting up. When he asked me to dance I demurred. I found I liked the way his hands felt on my back and waist and the ease with which he led me around the dance floor. In spite of myself, I was having a good time. At the end of the night he asked me for my phone number. I began to refuse. After all, my last marriage had been emotionally abusive, and physically abusive at the end. He seemed to know I was a little jumpy and he assuaged my fears with humble posturing.
“I know you just met me, and I’m an ugly old fuck, but maybe we can go get something to eat sometime.”
His self-deprecating humor pulled me in.
We began to see one another every other weekend when the kids were gone. I didn’t want them to meet him, at least not yet. I wanted to make sure he was a good guy. My kids had been through enough.
Within several months I was hooked. He seemed to be The One. He drove a truck, had a motorcycle, liked to fish, and he showed me how to look for arrowheads along the creek banks and in the fresh, upturned soil around farmer’s fields. We even went hunting together.
I was blinded by what I saw in this man. He was attentive, willing to talk about feelings and thoughts—something I had never been able to do with anyone. When he finally met my kids, he was charming, funny, and kind.
Before I knew it, he was living with us. Life began to go so fast. I felt I had jumped onto a ride I couldn’t exit.
The first red flags popped up when he tried to control how I interacted with my exes. My oldest son was already living with his dad in Florida, and my second oldest son and daughter decided they wanted to go to their dad’s after several months of tense drop-offs and fights with their dad.
At this point I was devastated. Although I had to share my time with my oldest equally with his dad until he started school, having physical custody of my younger three was comforting. It warded off any doubt that I was a good mom. That assurance began to fade.
About a year into this relationship, I came home late on a Friday night after attending a conference in Oklahoma City. When I arrived, Steve was sitting at the dining room table with an almost empty bottle of Crown and a half-empty glass. He began to question where I was, who I was with, and why I had returned home so late. Shocked by his demeanor, I told him I was only at work. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor. He had hit me and knocked me into the wall.
For the next hour he verbally and physically abused me, holding me hostage in the house. He called me every unholy name, saying I was nothing but a lying, cheating whore. At one point I was able to run into the bedroom where I kept my gun. My hands shook as I pointed it at him and cried, “Just get out of here. Please.” He walked over and took the gun away from me, and began to beat the shit out of me some more. I fell to the floor and he kicked me, with his steel-toed work boots, down the hall. I found myself in the doorway to my daughter’s room, and I scrambled up on her bed.
When I went for the gun, I had also grabbed my cell phone. Back in those days they were bulky, but I hid it in my sweater. He walked away for a minute and I tried to dial 911, but my fingers kept missing the buttons. Aching, I walked into the dining room where I found him sitting there again, drinking.
“What you plan on doing with that phone?”
“I’m calling the police.”
“Go ahead. They won’t believe you anyway.”
Angry, I threw the phone and hit him square on the cheek. I must have thrown it pretty hard because it left a red welt. As the phone fell from him, I grabbed it and ran out the door. I hid in the backyard, trying not to cry or breathe too hard. Once I was able to calm my trembling hands, I called 911 and the police came.
They said they if I wanted to press charges I could, but he had the right to do so as well. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My body was bruised and covered in marks where he punched and kicked me, but the one mark I put on him could get me in trouble if I wanted to do something about it?
“Fine. I’m pressing charges, and I want a restraining order. Let’s see if a judge will let him get away with this.”
Apparently, I called their bluff. He was arrested and released the same day. I had a temporary restraining order by that afternoon. The police came so he could get his things out of the house, and that was that.
I know a lot of women who have been through similar circumstances, and yes, there are men who have been abused by their partners, too.
Domestic violence is a crime. Since that time with Steve, laws have evolved to protect us from abusers and to take our situations more seriously, but it’s not enough. Too many are afraid to speak up or stand against those who have so ruthlessly hurt them, especially when law and order refuse to offer meaningful support or get tangled up in laws that protect the abuser.
So much abuse takes place without any physical contact. It’s the “prepping” stage, as I call it. An abuser will make you think you’ve gone a bit crazy, that you’re not thinking well, and everything becomes your fault. Before long, he has you in his grip. You’ve succumbed to his charms and now you’ll take what he dishes out because you’re doubting yourself instead of holding him accountable for abasing you. Some call it gaslighting, whereby the victim is abused and manipulated into doubting his or her own memory, perception, or sanity.
If you know someone who is in a dangerous relationship, or if you are and don’t know where to turn for help, you can contact 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. You may also click on the link below to learn more.
Take back the night and take back your power. You are so worthy. Don’t ever believe otherwise.
Kim Bailey Deal writes Women’s Fiction, short stories, poetry, non-fiction, and is Social Media Manager for Five 2 One Magazine. She has written two novels and is revising the first for publication. She’s published in several online literary journals and print magazines. Kim lives in her hometown of Chattanooga, TN with her husband. They have two dogs and two cats, six grown children, and five grandchildren. To connect follow at www.kimbaileydeal.net and on Twitter @kimbaileydeal