I was 7 years old when my father decided he wanted to divorce my mother. I was the oldest child of three, a Daddy’s girl, and I was devastated.
I remember being upstairs in my bedroom when I heard my parents talking in hushed tones downstairs in the front room. It sounded like my mother was crying. As quietly as my little, slippered feet would move, I tip-toed to the landing above them where I could see them and listened.
“Please don’t go,” my mother was pleading with him. He was sitting on the couch, and she was on her knees in front of him, tears streaming down her face.
“You’re a good wife and a good mother,” he told her.
“Then why do you want to leave us?” she asked him.
“Because I just don’t want this,” he explained. “I don’t want to be married anymore.” Then he gently took her hands off his knees, stood up, and walked out.
My mother collapsed into a heap on the carpet and cried, huge sobs racking her body as she tried to be quiet and not wake us kids up.
Just as quietly, I crept back upstairs and climbed back under my Raggedy Ann and Andy sheets. Then I cried, too. Why does Daddy want to leave? What did we do wrong?
Fast forward ten years. I have a boyfriend who is a straight-A student, he has a good job and a cool car, and he’s getting academic scholarships to college. We’re both seniors in high school and I am president of the dance troupe. I am an over-achiever, a perfectionist, taking as many advanced placement classes that I can manage so I can get college credit.
And I’m pregnant.
He wants to get married. I don’t. He wants to keep the baby. I don’t. None of the things he wants to do to “remedy” the situation will work for me because then EVERYONE WILL KNOW. And that’s not acceptable.
Everyone will know that I’m NOT perfect. They’ll think I’m a slut. They’ll look down on me. And my mom – oh my God! My mom will KILL me!
She always told us kids that if we had sex before marriage, it was sin and we’d go to Hell. In fact, if we girls even thought about sexual things, we’d go to Hell. So I pretty much figured that’s where I was headed for SURE now! And there was no way, NO WAY, I was going to raise a child in that home. After my father left, my mother had become physically and emotionally abusive toward us kids. I wouldn’t subject a child to that environment.
So, with my boyfriend’s reluctant cooperation, I had an abortion. I had convinced myself “a fetus is not a person yet,” and so I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Besides, I told myself, I was actually “saving” a baby from having to live in an abusive home. Now I could hide this “mistake,” this evidence of my imperfection, from the world and go on with the perfect life I had planned.
Fast forward two more years, to my second year in college. It’s day 2 of my 3-day stint in the mental ward at the hospital. I had attempted to overdose on Tylenol and Southern Comfort. Luckily, I was dramatic enough to call my boyfriend (not the same one from high school) to tell him he “wouldn’t need to worry about me anymore” (we just had an argument the day before when I found him in the bedroom of another woman). Worried by my cryptic message, he came to my place and found me in the backyard where I had vomited and passed out behind some hedges.
Still attempting to put on an image of being perfect, I didn’t tell the ward’s therapist about anything from my past. I told her I didn’t know why I was so sad, but that it scared me that I would want to hurt myself. I agreed with her that I had a lot going for me, and that suicide isn’t the answer when things get difficult. Yes, ma’am. You’re right. It won’t happen again. I’ll be okay. I’ll get help. I told her whatever I needed to say to get out of there.
Ten self-destructive years later, I find myself talking to the police officer who responded to my 911 call. I’m telling him that I’m fine, and that the argument between my husband and me just got “a little out of hand.” We’re fine. Everything’s perfect. I can handle it. No one will know. No one can see. Hide the black eye and the fat lip. Lie. Again. No one can know.
Another ten years pass with me hiding my pain, hiding the abuse, hiding my shame. I keep smiling. I have to look happy. I have to show everyone that I’m okay. I’m good. Everything’s perfect.
Then he hits me again, and this time two of our kids are