I left out so many details of my first marriage in my book Crush for many reasons. I knew my son who was 11 at the time would read the book. I also wanted to focus on what I actually learned from the relationship as that was the premise of the book. But the biggest reason I left out the painful details was because I was afraid of him. I feared my ex-husband for so many reasons. He was abusive, controlling and anytime I disagreed with him there was a price to pay.
I remember when Matt was two and I had to travel for work. This was shortly after our divorce. Steve wanted to stay at my condo with my son. I was torn between listening to my new boyfriend point out how I bent over backwards for Steve and giving into Steve to keep the peace. I said no with some fluffy excuse and off I went to Salt Lake City for work. I worried about my son and missed him so much. He was two and I adored every minute of him. My punishment for disagreeing with Steve…he refused to pick up the telephone the entire time I was gone. I must have tried to call 100 times. I thought of asking my new boyfriend Erik to drive by his house to assure me there was some sign that nothing was wrong. On day four anxiety was so high I decided to call the daycare. Barbara Jo was his teacher and I think she sensed things were not right. She never questioned why I would interrupt my son’s routine at school. She put my little angel on the phone and we talked for 10 minutes. I was so happy and the next day I came home. I never said a word to Steve. I was just relieved to grab my son and take him back home.
When Matt was six my ex-husband wanted to change the schedule. I remember him telling me that he was going to fight for full custody if I didn’t cooperate. This time I was torn between what was best for my son and keeping the peace with Steve. Ironically Matt had the flu on the weekend Steve wanted to take him for a longer than agreed upon time. I had the strength to say no. I explained that he was sick and I wanted to enforce what the court order had stated. Moments later my ex-husband was at my front door. Long story short he was arrested and I got my first restraining order. Despite his assault charge he still attempted to fight me for full custody. I spent $4000 on an attorney just to keep the current visitation agreement in place. I have no idea why my attorney didn’t encourage me to request full custody at that time. Perhaps he knew I was too weak.
When Matt was seven I was about seven minutes late dropping him off to his father. I had to do all the transporting at this point because of the restraining order. We were late because we were finishing up a fun day picking out our pumpkin. Steve was standing on his front steps screaming at me. Yelling to the car about how I stole precious time from him. Everyone around could hear him including my son. I have regrets. I wish I told him I was keeping my son that evening because he was so angry. Matt got out of the car and approached his father with fear.
When Matt was 13 he was accepted into a magnet school for the arts. He loved acting and hitting this lottery seemed like an amazing opportunity. He went for two weeks and hated it. Sure Matt loved acting but he also loved track and basketball. Going to this school would not allow him to participate in any sports. The last straw was when the class had to recite a poem called My Athletics are Pathetic. I laughed when Matt told me that and helped him to make his decision. He met with his guidance counselor, visited the theater class at the public high school and thought about this for days. In the end he decided to go to the public high school. It was his decision 100%. I truly thought it was the best decision but I also knew he had to make it on his own. His father did not agree and I knew this. In fact the only reason I wanted him to stay at the school, the only thing in that pro category was it would keep peace with his father. After Matt told his father his decision I received a text from Matt. It simply said “dad is calling you”. I won’t relive the horrific things he said to me. I remember being in the parking lot of CBS radio waiting to go in and do a segment titled “Is it a Fling or the Real Thing?” I actually listened to his entire rant. I was afraid to hang up and piss him off more. He finally hung up and I was left shaken and afraid as to what he would do next.
When Matt was 14 his father was arrested and sent to prison. I knew rationally this was the time to get full custody. But the fear and the need to keep the peace consumed me. I kept rationalizing that he would be locked up long enough that Matt would be 18 by the time he gets out. I pitied him as well. I couldn’t help myself he always had a way of getting me with guilt and fear. I remember telling him on a phone call that I might need full custody as Matt’s passport will expire soon and I can’t get a new one without him present. He insisted he would be out by then and I was worrying about nothing. Fear and guilt continued to control me.
The phone rang and I saw the dreaded 401 area code. I reluctantly picked it up and pressed one to accept the call. He was calling because he felt it was time for Matt to come visit him. Matt was adamant that he never wanted to go see his father in prison. He is 15 now and I respect that decision just as I respected his decision to switch to the public high school. I said “no”. His response was quick and angry and he said “need I remind you we have shared custody.” He went on to say that is what is best for Matt and as his parents we needed to make these decisions for him. I swear it was as if a marching band started playing and lights started blinking. I needed to get full custody.
The process was grueling. He needed to be served in prison and he was. His reaction was one I will never forget. A letter full of hate. It said he was done and sick of fighting for our son because it was costing too much money. It then went in to describing me as the worst possible mother on the planet. I was shaking but strong. I didn’t cry and this only confirmed that I did the right thing. This letter was just what the judge needed to grant me my full custody with visitation at my discretion.
Today this man no longer controls me. I am not afraid of his reaction when I move to Virginia. I am not afraid of his reaction if Matt gets a bad grade. I am not responsible for how his relationship is with our son. I am honest with Matt who is now 15. I have told him quite a bit and will tell him more as he gets older.
What I learned…
My fear of this man was modeled to my son. If I want my son to be able to make healthy choices for himself I needed to show him that I could do the same thing. Thank God my husband stepped into our lives. Somehow Matt is strong emotionally and has no trouble telling his father he is not coming to see him. I credit my husband for teaching Matt to be strong. I overheard Matt on the phone one evening explaining why he doesn’t want to see his step mother anymore. His last sentence on the subject was “right now I am going to surround myself with healthy people.” I was so relieved that he wasn’t afraid. He witnessed my fear constantly and at times I even encouraged him to walk on eggshells with his father. Keeping his father from reacting seemed to become my job. I was wrong and somehow Matt understands that.
I learned that even when you are divorced the abuse and control doesn’t end until you decide to end it. I lied to myself and my husband on a daily basis. I walked on eggshells to keep the peace. I remember Steve wanting to do his laundry at my condo. He didn’t have facilities in his apartment building. I would hide this from Erik and do the laundry for him. It would be ready when he dropped Matt off. I hated doing this but had to in order to keep the peace. There were times when Erik would suggest getting tickets to a game or going on a vacation. I would always calculate to see if that would disrupt Steve’s visitation. If it did I made up an excuse not to do it. I let him skip payments, miss visits, and verbally abuse me on many occasions.
Keeping the peace was just making things worse.
Every day I sent a message that he could control me. Crushing the eggshells is the fastest way to fix things. It is the only way to be free.
I am now finally completely free of this man.
I will never allow him to verbally abuse me again. In fact I will never take a phone call from him. I owe him nothing.
The abuse is over.