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|The Furniture: A Glimpse into My Tale of Emotional Abuse|
|Written by nicolechittock|
|22 August 2008|
The following story is a brief overview of some of what I went through during my marriage. Writing it played a part in my healing process, and I hope reading it will play a part in yours.
“If we get divorced, I’m keeping this furniture.” He said it as a joke, chuckling ever so slightly for a brief second. But his eyes were like green blocks of ice, and only the very edge of his mouth turned up into a smile. My stomach began to churn, and I could taste the acid rising to the top of my throat.
I looked around at the brand new living room furniture, freshly unloaded, unwrapped, and assembled. There was a sofa, loveseat, and chair, all upholstered with soft brown leather. The frames were wooden and elegantly crafted, and each seat was formed into a gentle bucket as if it had been made to caress my backside. The coffee table, found during a chance encounter with a local second-hand store, matched perfectly.
The object I was most proud of spanned the entire length of the back wall of the living room. It was a beautiful German shrank (like a combination between an entertainment center and a china cabinet). It had a set of glass doors enclosing a stack of lighted shelves, and each of the wooden cabinet doors had a hand-carved design. After it was assembled, I delicately placed each piece of my crystal, a treasured gift from my mother, on the shelves, arranging them in perfect symmetry. I positioned my hand-painted blue birdhouse on top of the left hand side of the shrank. Each knick-knack deserved a special place on this functional piece of art. I had never owned anything so beautiful.
The enormous big-screen TV and Bose surround-sound system added the final touch to our small living room in the second story apartment on Pfalzstrasse in Bad Kissingen, Germany. They were the centerpieces of the room and the first things my husband showed off to company.
The queasy sensation in my stomach intensified as the reality of his tasteless comment sunk in.
“I’ve already lost two sets of nice furniture. I’m not giving this one up,” he continued, and the curl of his half-smile completely disappeared. I looked into the piercing green of his eyes and immediately agreed with him.
“Well, of course you would keep it. After all, you’re the one working, so it’s your money that’s paying for it,” I said with what I hoped was a convincing smile. I turned around and pretended to be completely involved with dusting the tops of the picture frames. We’ve only been married for a year, and he’s already planning the divorce?
I couldn’t get his comment out of my head. If we get divorced, I’m keeping this furniture. It kept repeating itself over and over again in my mind. If we get divorced….If we get divorced…I couldn’t help thinking back to March of 2001 and remembering the day he officially proposed to me.
It was a Saturday and I was at work, hosting karaoke. I knew he had the ring in his pocket; we had picked it up from the jeweler earlier that day. He called me over to him and had me sit on his lap. He took my left hand tenderly, lifted it up, and placed the 1/3 karat, heart-shaped diamond ring on my finger. He lifted his chin so that he could look directly into my eyes, and he said, “This is it. This is the last time.” His look was determined as he shook his head and said “If this doesn’t work out, then I’m done.” It was hardly what I expected to hear. No words of love and passion, nothing about how he needed me or couldn’t live without me. He had already used those phrases to blind me. He had no need for them anymore.
So much for a romantic proposal.
If we get divorced, I’m keeping this furniture. His words rang in my ears like the punch line of a nasty joke. My mind drifted back again, this time to our first fight, which also took place at my work, just months after his proposal. It was Friday, and he wanted to have a couple of drinks with his friend. He called to let me know, and I cheerfully told him to have a good time. “You haven’t been able to hang out with S. in a while, so don’t rush or anything. Just call me when you’re on your way!” I told him, and I hung up my cell phone, placing it in my pocket so I could feel the vibrations when it rang. The hours passed by quickly. We always had a large rotation at the bar (around 21 singers), so there was a lot to do. On top of running the karaoke machine and calling up singers, it was also the hostess’ duty to walk around and greet the customers. Just before midnight, I finished lining up the next group of songs and walked over to the bar to say hello to a friend who had just walked in. As I moved across the room, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that my future husband was sitting on the far side of the bar. I had already waved to my friend, so to avoid being rude I stopped to say hello before continuing on. After a brief conversation, I turned to walk over to the man I had agreed to marry. He was gone. I glanced at the door just in time to see him shove it open with his shoulder and storm out. I ran behind him, screaming his name, but he paid no attention to me. He lowered himself into my two-door Toyota Celica, shut the door hard enough to shake the car, and sped off; the brake lights never lit up.
I stood in the parking lot hardly believing what I had just seen. What did I do wrong? He wouldn’t just get mad for no reason, would he? By the time my cell phone rang, I had yet to figure out how or why I had upset him so much. He didn’t hesitate to let me know.
“Why the Hell did you say hello to him before you said hello to me? I don’t need this sh*t!” he yelled into the phone. I reacted by quickly pulling the phone away from my ear. The surface of it was wet, soaked with the tears I had been unable to contain since he raced out of the parking lot.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t even see you there until I’d already waved to him. I didn’t want to be rude,” I said between the sniffles and sobs I couldn’t seem to control.
“Well, I’m the one you should worry about offending! Not some guy! I’m the one you’re supposed to be marrying!” People began to turn and look at me as his voice became clearly audible above the background noise. “I’ll just bring your f*ing car back to you and that’s it, we’re done!”
I sat curled up on the floor of the bar, partially hidden by the edge of a long table. I thought about what he had said to me and how strange it seemed. I still couldn’t understand what I had done that was so horrible, but I knew I was going to lose him over it. It seemed like such a silly thing to ruin an otherwise functional relationship over such a trivial incident. I didn’t think I was wrong, but I didn’t want to lose him either. I didn’t want to be alone again. I decided to take the blame, not knowing that I was building a road that would lead to my own emotional destruction.
When he walked through the door, I begged for his forgiveness. “I promise I won’t ever let anything like that happen again. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have been so rude. I didn’t know it would hurt your feelings so much!” The tears were flowing down my cheeks so fast they had soaked the collar of my green army t-shirt. Just don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me…
He came home with me that night, after I convinced him that I would never again take a single step without considering where he wanted me to walk.
If we get divorced, I’m keeping this furniture. The harshness of his voice echoed around me, the half-smile haunted the dark corners of my home. My son ran out from his room clutching his “beer house,” a foot tall replica of Bear from his favorite TV show, “Bear in the Big Blue House.” I looked at him, his Blue’s Clues underwear peeking out from underneath his red t-shirt because he refused to wear pants. He was proud of his new underwear; he hadn’t worn diapers in 6 months.
“He’s afraid of the toilet,” I had told my husband when my little boy once again soaked his training pants. “I’ve tried putting him on the potty first thing in the morning, and he holds it until I take him off. Maybe he’s not ready yet?”
“Oh, quit spoiling him. The kid is two. He’s ready. He’s just manipulating you. He’s not gonna go until you make him.” As he spoke, he scooped my son off the floor, stripped him of his wet training pants, and carried him into the bathroom. He dropped him into the tub, turned on the cold water, and sprayed it directly onto his tiny, naked bottom, causing him to jump out of shock. My son’s face crinkled as he built up the momentum to cry. He tried to climb out of the tub, but my husband managed to hold on to him despite the slickness of his wet skin. Tears poured out of his eyes, and his chin began to quiver. “Cooooold!” my son wailed, looking desperately at me. I watched first his little toes and then his plump legs turn sheet white.
Once M. felt my son was clean, he yanked him back out of the tub, stood him up, and began to spank. “Why did you do that?” my husband yelled as his hand repeatedly came into contact with that little bare backside, leaving red marks in the shape of his large fingers. “You sat on the potty, and then you peed in your pants! Why did you do that?”
I stood there biting my lower lip until I began to taste blood. “Stop!” I finally yelled, “He doesn’t understand why he’s in trouble! He’s only two, and he’s just learning how to do this!”
“Shut up! You’re gonna raise a little p*ssy, aren’t you? Maybe I should just put you and your spoiled little brat on a plane to your daddy!” he shouted, sounding eerily like a drill Sergeant chastising his troops.
Days later, while M. was speaking to my dad on the phone, my son once again had an accident. Not wanting to hear a lecture or start another fight, I dutifully presented him to receive his punishment. “We had an accident, Daddy,” I said quietly. “Do you want to give him his spanking?”
My husband’s eyes were wide as he looked at me with disbelief. “Aw, he’s just a little guy! He just needs time to learn! You’ll do better next time, junior mint.” Then he turned his attention back to the conversation with my father.
After hanging up the phone, he walked into the bedroom where I was stretched out on the bed reading. “What’re you trying to do, make me look like a jerk in front of your dad?” I didn’t bother responding. He had already made up his mind about my intensions, and I had learned in times like these that it was better to stay quiet. His eyes were as bright as emeralds as he focused their burning gaze on me. He flexed his jaw, and I could hear him grinding his teeth. “Sometimes I just don’t know what I should do with you,” he said as he turned and walked out the door. I was happy to be alone.
A year later, we sat in the living room of our new apartment, our third move since we arrived in Germany in the summer of 2001. I was on the floor, and he sat in the chair above me. I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but I do remember the look on his face when he turned to me and said, “You know, if you ever cheated on me, I wouldn’t just kill you; I’d kill your family, too.” The corner of his mouth was tilted up in a smirk, and his eyes looked distant and glassy.
I couldn’t believe what I had heard. “What? Why?” I asked.
“Because I know you don’t care much about yourself, but you’d do anything to protect your family.” I didn’t know what to say. After all, he was right.
If we get divorced, I’m keeping this furniture. How many other times during the last two years had I heard these ultimatums?
“I swear to God, if you don’t shut up I might just change my mind about never hitting a girl! You’re just lucky I care about my Army career!” “You’d better pack your bag, little girl, because I’m f*king done with you. Make sure you get everything because you’re not coming back!” “Are you f*king crying again? Keep it up, and I’ll make sure you have a good God damn reason to cry!” “This isn’t yelling! Do you want me to yell? I can yell if you want me to yell!” “If you walk out that door right now, don’t bother coming back.” “If we get divorced, I’m keeping this furniture.”
The marriage had collapsed. Even the good things couldn’t make up for the anger and resentment that began to build in my heart. Occasionally, he would realize that I was slipping away, and he would do something drastic to attempt to bring me back. He would take me to town for a day of shopping and conversation. He would hold me in bed and tell me I was his “one and only,” and he couldn’t live without me. I stopped believing it all. Instead of waiting anxiously by the window for him to come home, I began to dread the evenings. Instead of fearing being alone, I began to treasure it.
When he learned he would be reporting to Iraq in February of 2004, I seized the opportunity to go home. “I don’t think I can stay here by myself,” I told him.
“The other wives are staying,” he replied. Yeah, the other wives I’m not allowed to talk to, I thought.
“The only friend I have here is J., and she lives too far away. I want to go home. I miss my family.”
I spent the following weeks pleading my case, and he finally consented to let me return to the States. We bought the tickets, and I began to pack, taking only what was necessary.
My son and I left Germany four months before M. was scheduled to go to war. It was a cold October morning, and the first hints of the harsh winter ahead had begun to threaten the surrounding landscape. We rode to the airport in silence. I stared out the window of our blue Opel Cadet at the flecks of snow cascading gently downward to land on the pavement. They melted immediately, vanishing as though they had never existed at all.
I saw him twice after that quiet ride to the airport. He came to visit soon after I arrived in the States. It was Christmas, and he shopped with the fervor of a man trying desperately to win over the heart of a long-lost lover. He proudly presented me with diamond earrings, a delicate diamond bracelet, expensive perfume, new clothes, and a ring containing a dazzling opal, my birthstone.
“Thank you,” I said as I opened each present. “It’s beautiful.” But the expensive gifts did little to impress me; instead, they represented a cheap, easy apology. I tried to hide my disappointment behind forced smiles and laughter. I wanted love, not jewelry.
The second time I saw him it was late in October 2004, a year after I returned to the States. He was home on leave, and we agreed to meet in a neutral location to discuss the terms of our divorce. My friends begged me not to go, but I knew he wouldn’t do anything rash in a public place. His reputation and his military career were too important to him; he kept his methods of torture private.
We sat across from each other at a restaurant table meant for four, but the space did little to ease the trembling feeling that possessed my body. We engaged in small talk, asking each other questions but not really listening to the answers. I looked into his face, the face of a man I once thought I loved. I knew every scar, every freckle, every laugh and frown line. But this man was a stranger. He looked at me sadly and commented on our lack of conversation. “We used to have so much to say to each other. What happened to us?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said as the flood of words I knew I’d never unleash raced to my throat causing it to swell, making it hard to swallow. I sipped my cold coffee, and the liquid settled into the back of my mouth, layering my tongue with bitterness. I forced it down and set the mug off to the side.
We calmly discussed the separation of our marital possessions. A simple business transaction. I didn’t even ask about the furniture.
After we had exhausted all of the legal decisions, he tried to talk about memories while I tried to forget them. We finally gave up, and he slowly walked me out to my car. He leaned over to kiss me, and I quickly turned my head. His lips grazed the side of my face, and he pulled back. I tried not to notice his look of embarrassment, but I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of pleasure at seeing him so humiliated. I got in my car, started the engine, and drove away without glancing back. It was over. The divorce would be final in February of 2005, just over four years after our first kiss.
I sped down the highway on a return path to my friend’s house where I had been staying for the last two months. I had the radio at full volume, playing Rob Zombie with a vengeance. I screamed. I yelled. And yes, I cried. It was over. I had stood up for myself and my son by escaping the ravages of emotional abuse. I had left that restaurant with my pride, my sanity, and an open future. He can keep the f*king furniture, I thought, as I pulled my car into the driveway and walked through the door.
After over three years of waiting, I have finally received the personal belongings promised to me in that meeting at the diner. I had to take him to court to get it, but I faced him and was triumphant. True to his word, he kept every piece of the furniture...
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