It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I started being afraid of John. For the most part he wasn’t putting his hands on me. He never beat me. I never had a mark on my body from him. There were a few times that he put his hands on me and I will talk about those in later posts, but for the most part he used fear to control me.
As I mentioned in a previous post, John really seemed to enjoy arguing. He would find a way to pick fights about pretty much everything. It almost became a nightly dance with us. He wouldn’t like my tone of voice when I said something, or he didn’t like that I asked him to clean something up. He’d get mad and start to yell… And I would say never mind and walk into another room. But then, after we bought a house together, it got worse and the chasing started.
After John got upset about something I felt was seemingly small, I would walk into another room to try and get some space from the argument and his aggressive behavior. He started following me into the room, screaming the entire way. At first I would yell back….but he would only get louder and more persistent. When I realized that was not working I started walking out of that room into a different one… he would follow. After a few months of this he started blocking my body with his when I tried to walk away. He would walk towards me until I was stuck in a corner and then he would put each hand on the walls on either side of me and continue to scream in my face… our noses nearly touching. I think that is when the fear started.
I kept thinking… What is he going to do? How do I get him calm? I had no idea what the right thing to say was to get him to let me out of the corner. Eventually the yelling would stop and he would storm off leaving me shaking and frightened … sobbing in the corner. My mind would race…. How did I end up here? What could I have possibly said to him to make him angry enough to do that to me? Why do I keep making him so angry? See … by this point in the relationship I BELIEVED it was my fault that he reacted that way. It was something I said. It was the way I said it. I might not know exactly what it was that I did that set him off…. but I KNEW it was my fault. He was in my head.
Then I got brave. I decided I was going to get out of the corner and lock myself in the guestroom. So that is what I started to do. Only he would follow me there too and bang on the door, yelling and shaking the house. I vividly remember curling up in the fetal position on the bed in the guestroom, terrified and sobbing while he pounded on the door for 30 minutes… 45 minutes…. an hour. Sometimes he would walk away and I could breathe again, but he’d always return and the banging would start again. “Open this door!”, “Come out of there!” When I go back in my journal and read my entries from those nights the fear washes over me like it’s happening in this exact moment. Pure terror.
This was only four years into our fourteen year relationship. We weren’t married yet. We didn’t have kids. My name wasn’t even on the house we were living in together. I could have so easily physically walked away… but mentally I couldn’t. I had been made to believe that I was the one who was ruining our relationship and I needed to fix what I was doing so that I “didn’t lose him”. And here comes the fear. When you have no idea what you did to make someone react to you the way he did, you have no idea how to prevent it from happening again. I began to walk on egg shells. I did all of the cooking, cleaning and laundry. I asked for very little. I tried not to express my feelings if I thought he would get upset. I analyzed everything I said and everything I did before I said or did it. But somehow I would still make him angry.
As part of the divorce process you are required to take court mandated parenting classes. While I was sitting in my class the counselor asked me why I never called the police. She caught me completely off guard. What would the police do? He never gave me a black eye. He never stabbed me with a knife or threw me down a flight of stairs. I had no idea that the police would have helped me given my situation. I had no idea this was abusive until much, much later. Ten years after the fear started and I still believed that there was no one that could have helped me. One of the main reasons I am writing this blog, aside from the therapeutic aspects of getting my story out there, is to let women in a similar situation know that this type of behavior is NOT OK. There ARE people out there who can protect you. You aren’t stuck and you do not have to accept this as your “normal”. I should have called the police each and every time he cornered me. But I let the fear control me.