I graduated college two years before John did. I came back to Connecticut and got a job teaching in a high school in Litchfield County. The on going dance of nightly phone calls that almost always ended in nightly arguments continued. Rereading my old journals revealed a pattern of recognizing the verbally abusive way John treated me one day, followed by entries that shifted the blame to me the next day. “I’m such a drama queen”, “I’m over reacting”, “John’s right. I need to be more careful about my tone of voice”, “This is all obviously my fault”. Flipping through the pages of those journals was like watching a strong, independent woman die. Something was obviously broken in this relationship, and on some level I knew it… but I stayed and blamed myself. Why did I do that? What in the world was I thinking?
Despite all of this we still made plans. We talked about moving in together. He started interviewing for jobs in Connecticut, and when he was hired as a software engineer at a reputable company, I applied to a closer school district. Within a year of him graduating college I found myself picking out a house with him and moving in…. all the while the dance continued. He’d blow up on me over something small, I’d write in my journal about how I thought this might be abusive and then I’d forgive him and blame myself the next day. Freud would have a field day with me.
One day I asked John to come with me to pick out curtains. He really didn’t want to because he thought weekends were for sitting and watching TV, but he finally agreed. We went to Walmart and every curtain I picked up he disliked for one reason or another. Finally I invited him to choose the curtains since he didn’t like anything I was picking out. I guess my tone of voice wasn’t acceptable to him on this occasion either, because the argument started.
I had just started teaching at a school in town. The last thing I wanted was for a student to witness a public argument between John and I. I knew how quickly he could go from zero to sixty and Walmart was crawling with kids on this day. I calmly said “Not here”. When that didn’t work I tried explaining myself, “Please. I work in this town. I don’t want to have an argument in the middle of Walmart. Please stop.” But he responded by saying he wanted to talk about it right now. I suggested talking in the car… he said no. In between my pleas to stop, he continued to escalate. So I turned around and walked calmly away… until I felt myself suddenly lurch backward. I’d barely kept from falling down and my back had been pulled in such an awkward and forceful way that it immediately started aching. It took me a minute to figure out what happened… and I’m sure my face looked shocked until the realization settled in that John wasn’t finished arguing so he’d yanked me backwards by my purse strap as hard as he could so I could not walk away. It was the first time he had put his hands on me. As a reflex I loudly said, “Get your hands off of me” and that seemed to shake him out of it long enough for me to turn and walk away. What I found the strangest part of this is that when he returned to the car he acted as if nothing had happened. This ended up being a reoccurring event in our relationship. He lost his temper. He acted like it never happened. I started to find myself questioning myself. Did that really happen? Did I imagine it? Am I going crazy? All I knew is we didn’t get curtains and for the next 12 years of our relationship our windows remained curtain free.