I married the man of my dreams when I was 34 years old. Almost 35. My husband is 65 years old. He is my senior by quite a few years. 26 to be exact. I have heard of studies done that say a woman’s chances of marrying after 35 go down significantly. I remember the relief washing over me when my then boyfriend of six years finally asked me to be his wife. I felt like a late bloomer. I spent most of my twenties trying to untangle the mess that was my childhood. I met David in my late twenties. I was wild, reckless. Dangerous even. My husband has loved me through some very challenging times. I feel grateful for that. For him. I also feel terror. I’m sure I cannot trust him on body memory days and sometimes even on “good days” I am skeptical. He has lied to me in the past about inconsequential things. This creates a real dilemma for survivors of incest. Our flesh and blood, the ones who are meant to keep us safe, violated us in the grossest of ways. It’s fucking hard to trust. And my mind plays tricks on me. I don’t worry that my husband will have an affair. In fact, it would ease a lot of my guilt if he did. I understand that he has needs and I’m not meeting them right now. The guilt of coming up short all the time is a cross I lug around with me. My trust issues are deep rooted and go way beyond whether or not someone is faithful. This is almost irrelevant to me. I wonder if I can trust someone enough to relax around them. Enough to be myself, enough to breathe.
All of this has taken a toll on my husband. He has to wait patiently and kindly for his wife to come back to him more than he would like. I have to leave sometimes. I just do. Lately that means staying in my office all day. Sometimes it means running errands all day. Sometimes it means leaving the state or even country. Sometimes it means leaving my body. It’s a circus anyway you slice it.
My need to be alone is overwhelming at times. Being around people is painful on body memory days because I live in a world where the most benign interaction with another human can feel like a hall of mirrors to me. Everything about my perception becomes distorted. I cannot see clearly. It feels like the people who love me hate me. I cannot feel or see love. Only disappointment. This is PTSD.
I’ll consider myself incredibly blessed if my marriage can survive given the rat’s nest we have to untangle at this point.
He’s trying to hang tough. He is. And he has a part in what’s wrong with our marriage so that adds another layer of complication upon us. But he is working hard. It’s painful. The work is painful but worthwhile. That is the hope.
4. The Mirror
The first time my father touched me inappropriately, that I can remember, I was giving him a hug. He stood in front of his dresser, which had a mirror. He faced away from the mirror and I could see my face in it as my arms were wrapped around him and my head was over his shoulder, straining to look over it. He reached down, placing his hand between my legs and squeezed hard. The look of horror on my face as he asked me if I was “getting all hot and wet down there” tells me that it wasn’t my desire or wish to have him touch me in that way. I didn’t want him to touch me at all after that day. No more hugs. I began shrinking away from him. It was complicated however as he was my only shield from my stepmother who honestly made the Wicked Witch of the West look like Glenda. She called me a “stupid cunt” on a regular basis, sometimes mumbling it under her breath, other times yelling it whilst throwing a pot in my general direction. It was her go to phrase. I was a shy child, very sensitive, more so now that the abuse was happening. And she was an educated woman. Moderately so anyway. She was a nurse in a pulmonary unit at one of the local hospitals. I knew that I was the only one who knew what she was actually capable of, how she was always dancing on the brink of a meltdown… Or a breakdown. She hated me. I was very thin and lithe and told regularly by others that I was a beautiful child, a pretty girl. She was obese partly due to her Lupus, which she was always trying to control with either chemotherapy or radiation back then. She was bald mostly with a few thin wisps of hair across the top of her head. Debra was quite a mess physically and I know the deterioration of her physical health was a contributing factor as far as her behavior towards me was concerned. I feel a great deal of compassion for her now because I know, deep in my heart, her life has been punishment enough.
Her feet would get very swollen either from the Lupus or from the treatment. Coming home from school one day I could see she was quite shaken. She told me to, “Keep your head down. Your father is in one of his moods. I’ll be lucky to live tonight.” Her voice was trembling as she took laundry off the line and she had the look of a wild animal in her eyes. I could see she was absolutely convinced he was going to kill her. She regularly had a way of walking around on eggshells around my father, trying not to poke the bear but I had never seen anyone look the way she looked in that moment, rabid, scared… doomed. It frightened me and gave weight and validity to my father’s threats. I still believe he was capable of murder.
Later that evening he walked up behind her and began stomping on her already swollen and sore feet with his steel toe boots on until she was lying on the floor in the middle of the hallway, not even crying. He grunted and groaned and called her ugly, yelling for her to shut up. I peed my pants. “Thomas, please.” She cowered there but that’s all she said.
And she went to work the next day.
My father wanted me to believe that I was the reason he did that to her, that he was angry about the way she had been treating me. I believed him.
I threw my breakfast up the next morning. Not because I wanted to- but because my stomach was in knots. I know that some survivors turn to eating disorders as a way of coping and while I became a binge eater, I was never a candidate for bulimia. I loathe everything about throwing up. And so I cried that morning before I vomited up my breakfast. I cried because I didn’t want to throw up and because I didn’t know what else to do. I thought to myself: how had my life turned into this actual real life nightmare? What was happening? I mean honestly, my life wasn’t fabulous before I left to live with my father. I felt like things were a bit over the top at this point- in contrast, my life before looked easy. Bring on the bullies and the alcoholic mom!
I had no idea what to do… My brain could scarcely process what was happening. My father had worked to isolate me for a period of months before he began touching me. I wasn’t permitted to spend time with anyone other than my church group, where he was an active member. Housework and babysitting duties came before homework. Homework was a privilege to be earned although I would be punished for sub par grades. My gratitude to my parents and devotion to my family was the best way for me to praise God. Just like my life depended on it.