Jack* roared towards me. He picked me up and slammed me against the refrigerator. My feet are not touching the ground as he pins me with one hand and the other is made into a fist aimed at my face.
In those suspended seconds I considered letting him hit me so that I would have a real reason to finally leave him and end this sham of a marriage. Instead I quickly and gently covered his fist with my hand and calmly advised him not to him me. He let go of me. He apologized. Eventually eleven years of ugly memories would sneak by.
At 27 I was 3,000 miles away from my family, living in Los Angles pursuing a career as a comedienne. It was a variety arts contest held at a local nightclub where I met Jack.
Jack, who had won the contest, introduced himself to me after the show.
“I loved your routine, especially the way you play the harmonica. I think you should have won. It is far more difficult to perform comedy. I also play harmonica. Do you want to get together this week-end, we could write a funny song using the harmonica that you could put in your routine.”
We met that week-end and began dating. Both Jack and I played harmonica, loved music, and loved the Lord. Jack was a songwriter. I was impressed with the worship songs that he wrote. He had even once been nominated for a Dove award, the Christian equivalent of a Grammy.
Jack would say sweet things like,
“When I am with you the world is full of color and sunshine.” or “You’re so pretty, I’m so lucky that you’re mine.”
I loved his beefy, hairy hands and the way they felt as they held mine.
Eight months after we met, Jack and I were married on a hill, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Family and friends flew in from various states. As I walked down the isle with my dad at my side a well-known Christian artist that befriended Jack, sang a song that Jack had written for me called ‘My Beautiful Bride’. Never before did I feel so alive.
It didn’t concern me that Jack was 34 years old and didn’t have his own apartment or furnishings. He worked as a bill collector. I loved the little mobile home on the beach that I owned, so I was happy that Jack was moving in with me. We would build our marriage on the rock of Christ. Love can conquer all. We would take on the entertainment field and buy our own home together some day. But Jack was fired from his job just two weeks after we were married. That first month of married life I was totally responsible for all the bills. Little did I know that month would start eleven years of financial responsibility that would be thrust upon me.
Often Jack would tell me about his horrible upbringing and how he felt it related to his bad disposition. As the years went by I used his sad upbringing to explain why he treated me the way he did. Soon all my emotional energy was spent on my husband. How could I please him? How could I help him overcome his depression and anger so we could start living a happy life? Despite my efforts to please him we argued weekly.
In our tenth year of marriage, Jack and I relocated to Nashville, Tennessee. Jack wanted a chance at making it as a songwriter. Our fist weeks in Nashville were exciting as Jack made important contacts within the music industry. I was so happy to see him smiling again and writing songs daily. But soon Jack began visiting the local bars and drinking more. To pay for beer, burger and cigarettes he pawned his wedding band and stole my jewelry and music CD’s while I was at work.
One morning I woke up at 3:30am to the sound of groaning. Jack wasn’t in bed. I checked both bathrooms, he wasn’t there either. I went into the living room and saw Jack’s bare rump hanging over the cedar chest that I bought to put our blankets in. Jack had taken out the blankets and made a bed with them on the floor and was using the cedar chest as a toilet! He was drunk, it was no use to try and communicate with him. I had to get up early and go to work so I just went back to bed.
Jack often called me at work and started an argument. When I refused to answer my phone he called my manager and demanded to speak with me. The stresses from home life carried over into work and I lost my job at a prestigious Big 6 firm. I came home and told Jack that I was fired. Instead of comfort or encouragement Jack blasted me with obscenities.
“Did you buy your f#*%ing degree!”
I yelled back that God was my provider and he would see me through this.
Jack shouted, “F&*# God!”
I was shocked. I looked in his eyes and noticed that he was taking pleasure in arguing. Suddenly a peace overcame me. Despite the shouting I heard a still, small voice within me say, ‘No more strife.’ I stopped participating in the inane argument, went to another room and began planning my escape. Jack would fight me on leaving him. I knew Jack would become physically abusive in trying to detain me.
I went to the local police station to explain my situation and ask for their advice on how to leave Jack. The police said they would assist me for fifteen minutes while I packed my belongings. They gave me a number to the local women’s abuse shelter and the domestic violence center. I was to alert the police and shelter when I was leaving and to let them know that I was leaving on my own free will and was not a missing person. Next, I went to the bank and took out all of my money. I never added Jack’s name to my banking account so he would not know that I closed the account. Next I went to the post office and put in a change of address to my parents’ house so that I would continue to receive checks that were due to me from various sources of employment. Since Jack was selling my belongings at pawnshops, I wrote down all the serial numbers to my valuables. Since Jack was passing out on the living room floor nightly I felt safe to sleep with my jewelry and cash in my bra. Since he was driving drunk I purchased a book on women’s legal rights that contained a chapter on how to protect myself legally in case he hurt or killed someone while on the road. I packed our suitcases with valuable papers, items and necessary clothing, then I returned the suitcases to their normal storage space.
I began to cry. The pain was like nothing I have ever felt before. The sobs seemed to come straight from my chest and throat. I sobbed in the bathroom, using a towel to silence my weeping. I didn’t want Jack to think anything was out of the ordinary.
The only time I could count on Jack being gone for two or three hours was on Wednesday evenings when he went to a bar in town and met up with a group of songwriters. Monday and Tuesday I made my plans. Wednesday morning was awful as I watched the hours go by waiting for Jack to leave for the brewery. Around noon Jack went to get the mail. When he returned his mood was very dark.
“So, when were you planning on leaving me?”
“What makes you think that I am leaving you?”
“The mailman told me.”
Unreal! I put in a change of address for one person, not a family. The mailman’s comment about a change of address ruined my plans and put me in danger.
I began talking to Jack about our crumbling relationship. Surprisingly he engaged in conversation with a calm demeanor. We talked for hours and at one point I asked him,
“Jack, will you please let me go for a few months?”
He understood! We talked about this important decision. While I was gone he would take measures to seek help for himself and use the time alone to reflect on our relationship. That night he didn’t go have drinks with his friends. That night we made love. I would leave the following day.
The next morning Jack had changed back into the cruel, abusive monster that I been living with.
“Don’t think you’re going to leave me! I will sabotage all your business efforts. I will sell everything in the apartment. Don’t even think of leaving me!”
Apparently our sincere talks and lovemaking meant nothing to him. I felt like a chump and a whore. It was time to plan escape route number two…with a vengeance.
I decided to take our dog, Curly, for a walk. Jack did not see me tuck my cell phone in my undergarment. Luckily, I was able to walk Curly by myself. As soon as I cleared a corner, I retrieved my cell phone and called my mom in Michigan. She agreed to fly down the next morning and help me leave Jack.
That evening Jack passed out on the living room floor. Once again I slept with my jewelry and cash with my bra. With the morning came new hope. In order to get out of the apartment without suspicion I told Jack that I was going to the grocery store. Fortunately two men came to visit Jack as I was preparing to leave, thus preventing him from insisting that he come along. I believe the Lord sent those two men to allow me the freedom to leave.
I got in my car and began my journey to freedom. I picked up mom at the airport. We rented a U-Haul. Mom drove my car; I drove the U-Haul as we went to the police to ask for their assistance while I packed up my things at the apartment.
Jack was outside and saw me as I parked the U-Haul in front of our apartment, with the police right behind me.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m leaving you Jack”
Jack refused to let me take anything out of the apartment. I couldn’t take one chair, not one tv, not a pot, pan, dish was I allowed to remove without his permission. Finally I took the suitcases that I had already packed, along with my personal business files and clothes. I left behind many mementos and all the household furnishings that I took out loans to purchase.
The minute I got in the empty U-Haul and headed north I felt reborn. Like a salmon, I jumped high enough to escape the swirling, sucking eddy of despair my life with Jack had become. By golly the joy in my life was so evident I wanted to pop-a-wheelie, but the U-Haul wasn’t willing. I did pop in a CD of Jo Dee Messina and blared her song Bye Bye. I sang along “Got a lead foot down on my accelerator and the rear view mirror torn off, I ain’t never looking back, bye bye my baby, bye bye.”
A feeling of empowerment came over me as I shouted.
“Never again! Never again will I pay for all the clothes, food, taxes and car repair bills for two people when one is fully capable of assisting! Never again will my spouse physically restrain me from walking out the door! Never again will I be screamed at and humiliated in public. Never again!”
Whew, did it ever feel good to let it out and proclaim that I would never let these things happen to me again. By fleeing and then divorcing Jack I was taking back my life. I was allowing myself the chance to dance rather than walking on eggshells all the time. I learned that although I would mourn what started out hopeful and what might have been, I was strong enough to leave and return, never again.