by Rachel Thompson
It’s exhausting. The abuse.
He wasn’t like this when we married. This overt, standing over me, red in the face, pointing fingers and yelling kind of abuse he does now. In front of other people, even. In front of our lawyers, even.
“Wow, he’s out there, isn’t he?” my lawyer says to me after such a display, when his own lawyer had to tell him, “Don’t yell. Don’t point,” in one of those stark white little meeting rooms that are barely comfortable for two, claustrophobic for four who are at odds. I shake my head. “After all this time dealing with him, I can only interpret his behavior this way: his delusions are real to him. This is what happens when you call him out with facts,” I reply.
I divorced him after twenty-two years and two children who live with me now (my thirteen-year-old son visits him occasionally). He doesn’t pay a dime to help our anxious, OCD-stricken nineteen-year-old daughter with therapy, college, her car, or any kind of life stuff, and by law, he doesn’t have to. He could choose to, yet he chooses not to, which crushes her.
That’s on him.
I choose to care for her well-being and help her navigate adulthood, first jobs, and the myriad of forms that scholarships, financial aid, and grants require, and pay for whatever she needs to the extent that I’m able. He calls her once in a while to see if she’s seen the latest Marvel movie or Game of Thrones.
He visits for a day and she watches him give $20 to my son. None for her. “Make your own money, honey,” she tells me he tells her. My son tells me he doesn’t know what to do with the money. “It feels dirty and sad now.”
My children are too young to feel this. To know this.
It’s exhausting. The abuse.
She wavers in taking his calls. “He’s like that bad boyfriend who keeps breaking my heart except he’s my father which makes it even worse,” she tells me, big hazel eyes shiny with tears. She never expected her first heartbreak to come from someone she’s biologically related to. She doesn’t want to be the girl with “daddy issues. How fucking cliché,” she adds.
“Why am I the one who has to suffer because of his fuck-ups?” she asks me.* Probably a question all children of divorce ask their parents. “I don’t know how to answer, baby,” probably the answer all parents of divorce tell their children, the real answer pregnant with bitterness that need not be birthed right now.
I put off divorce for a long time because I wanted to avoid this exact kind of hurt. This exact kind of abusive bullshit.
We always said — promised — that we’d put the kids’ needs first if we ever split. The promises of smug marrieds.
This is only the microscopic tip of what’s happened in the few years since the divorce. I don’t share much because it’s a map of convoluted toxicity, and to be honest, terrifying. I have accusatory email trails that could reach the moon. Why write about it?
Well, writers write. I’ve chosen not to share previously because it’s nobody’s damn business, and yet, also out of fear. The few pieces I did write, he read and tried to use against me as some kind of ammunition that I’m, let’s see…a “man-hating feminist who hates men” (hilarious for so many reasons, I know).
My attorney: “Um, she lives with a guy, you know that, right?” My loving, supportive dad and sweet brother-in-law came to court to support this “man-hating feminist.”
My heart filled with very un-feminist-like pink cupcake frosting that day.
I spent over twenty years with a man who constantly interrupted me, talked over me, didn’t want me to discuss that I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (especially with our kids), and financially abused me — not to mention the gaslighting and emotional abuse which still triggers me in ways I don’t even realize or understand until my heart jumps like a bunny when I see a new email from him, bracing myself to deal with more.
That unidentifiable, all-encompassing, fatiguing ‘more.’
Such an odd land for this survivor to be in, especially since I didn’t buy a ticket. So I decided the rules had to change: I choose to have as little interaction with him as possible. I’ve blocked him everywhere, including my phone, save email.
Will I leave this foreign land stronger? You bet. That’s also why I’m sharing now. Finally. I’m not hiding how difficult this all is. I’m sure he sees things very differently. Do I care? No. I can’t control his feelings or perceptions, and bothering is a waste of time and effort.
Why didn’t I leave sooner? Isn’t that the question everyone asks of an abused woman? I hate that question. It’s nobody’s damn business. However, in my most embarrassing truth, in my most vulnerable moments, I ask myself this question a lot.
I didn’t realize most of it was happening. There it is. My truth. When you’re in it, you don’t see it. I honestly had no idea. Emotional and financial abuse are insidious. It’s not like he hit me and left bruises or broken bones. He left doubts. He left questions. He left debts. That’s all detritus I’m still working through now.
*My adult daughter gave me full permission to share her mental health issues and thoughts about her father for this piece. She wants other kids of divorce to know what it’s like (her words).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rachel Thompson is the author of the award-winning, bestselling Broken Places (one of IndieReader’s “Best of 2015” top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in both the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Book Festivals), and the bestselling, multi-award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She recently released her first business book, the BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge, to stellar reviews. She is thrilled to be included in Feminine Collective’s two anthologies, Love Notes From Humanity: The Lust, Love & Loss Collection andRaw and Unfiltered Vol 1: Selected Essays and Poems on Relationships with Self and Others.
She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, Feminine Collective, IndieReader.com, The Verbs on Medium, Vocal Media, Mogul.com, and several other publications.
Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs and the live weekly Twitter chats, #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish (Tuesdays, 6 pm PST/9pm EST), and #BookMarketingChat, co-hosted with author assistant Melissa Flickinger (Wednesdays, 6 pm PST/9pm EST). She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.
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