Don’t read this now but save it for when he is sleeping, at work, or out doing what he insists is innocent alone time. Gloss over this if you see this when you’re together, and don’t flinch. If you want, remark at the drama and imagination I must possess. Call my writing boring, bad, and presumptuous if you want, but don’t ever acknowledge this in front of him – or else.
You really don’t want to discuss it because you know what happens when he suspects you’ve cried to someone about him, or when a friend or family member of yours expresses concern at the treatment you’re getting in his hands. They only see what’s in plain sight and not even what goes on behind closed doors, when it’s just the two of you and his mouth turns into that dreaded shape when he is about to scold you, insult you, or when he is about to strike.
You’re so familiar with it, after all you’ve studied every single trigger and situation where he’s lost his temper and taken it out on you. You’ve done everything you can to avoid it, making sure his every need is met, every concern addressed, and yet you never seem to prevent it. He explodes anyway into a ball of fiery rage you can’t even make out and everything you say or do feels like throwing more combustible items into the flames. “Mainit lang ang ulo,” you say. (He just lost his temper.)
It’s really your fault
He always justifies his actions by mentioning how your mistakes caused them. You should have known better. You’ve spent so many years with him and you still can’t make sure mealtimes occur with precision? You still asked him to go out when it was about to rain, and you didn’t keep him from getting hungry? How many traffic jams have you spent together where he blamed you for the route you didn’t know would be bad? How many times does he have to tell you that you’re no good at doing things, to leave it up to him, to just do what he tells you and see only people he’s approved? How many times has he given you that half-baked threatening “permission”: Go on, go see your family and see what you’re so proud about.
And all the things he’s said about your family, that they’ve deserted you and don’t care about you, that your friends only care for themselves and cannot understand why he screamed at you in front of them, hid you away from them, and then somehow convinced you that it’s your friends who are wrong for consoling you and telling you what your abuser did is wrong.
They don’t understand. Only your abuser understands you and all the hardships you’ve been through, all your shortcomings somehow only he can tolerate. So you must defend him like your life depends on it. Come to think of it, doesn’t it feel like your life does?
Nobody understands him like you do
Your friends must be wrong, because if they are right then you’ve been sleeping with the enemy all this time. It can’t be, because he is so good for you, he keeps you in check and your bad habits in line. You’ve gotten accustomed to the life you have, the tiptoeing you do to preserve the peace, scampering like a scared church mouse more afraid of this person than you are of your God. Your family must be lying when they say they want to protect you, when they say they do not like how he talks to you or treats you, or how he calls every half hour or demands you report your comings and goings when you’re out. Everyone else must be wrong and you find yourself explaining him with all of your might, because entertaining that the one who loves you so intensely also hurts you so intently is just a truth that’s too much to bear. Considering that he might not love you at all makes a mockery of how you’ve spent years standing by his side.
You’ve perfected the calm you show your children you’d like to believe are fine. Yet they feel the sobs stifled in your throat, see the extra quiver in your hands as you thumb your rosary at night. Worst of all, they learn that fear, submission, and domination are how to love and be loved. You say you stay for them and what you think is best for them – this militarized peaceful facade that fronts the blazing guns and detonating bombs behind closed doors. Unfortunately, your children are not deaf and blind. They carry what you’ve carried all their lives.
Recognizing you need help makes you feel dumb, because if you admitted being abused you know you’d have to do something about it. So you insist you’re not, and that everything is perfectly fine, and that the people who are concerned about you are actually out to destroy this precious misunderstood love the two of you have.
Pushing help away
So I understand why you’ve pushed me away, and told me there is no place for friends in your life if they cannot understand how your lover has needs that must be met. You cannot be friends with people if they choose your well-being over your abuser’s rage and volatility, instead of just understanding him and that he is a sensitive, passionate, perfectionist kind of guy. There is no space in your life for someone you’ve cried to about your abuser, because unlike you, they will not forget. They will remind you that you are being abused and ask you why you’re still hanging around. They will ask why you’re allowing your children to be subjected to this life.
In the meantime, he is only happy you’ve chosen to disconnect yourself from your friends and family who just don’t understand. You’ve become completely isolated that you believe you will be turned away if you run to your family one more time. You’ve cut me off because I can’t understand that your feelings are as irrelevant as how he convinced you they are, and you’d rather I forget about how you cried so much, showed me your scars and told me about another fight when you were exasperated by the rage.
But now that you’ve sorted it out again, you want me to walk away. You want me to stop bringing up things you’d rather forget so you can continue to stay.
Then stay. I’ve been in that place where I felt I had no place to go, where the tempers and the extremes of emotion were my proof that my relationship was worth fighting for. I’ve said to myself that my lover wouldn’t feel so much rage for me if she didn’t care about me. By isolating me she made me feel she was just protecting me from everyone else who didn’t love me as much as she made me believe she did. And I bought it for years and years, the way you’re doing right now. I felt dumb and helpless and alone, and I wish someone shook me then to tell me these things, that there is a way out. I wish someone fished me out and rescued me before I found the courage to take my first step out.
You will take that step. One day you will see that his rage has nothing to do with you but everything to do with the anger he brews inside. When he has a bad day at work and comes home and kicks you like a dog, he would have kicked any other dog but you were the only one waiting there for it. One day you will accept that he will not change and by staying you allow him to remain this way, even if you think you’re the only one who understands and can make sense of that temper, the heavy-handedness, that pure force of relentless, uncontrollable rage. You are that last person standing to meet the storm when everyone else has run for cover. But storms don’t change course just because we’re standing in their way, wishing it will be different this time. (READ: [Dash of SAS] Women and upscale abuse)
You will be brave
One day you will get that spurt of courage, of pure will and faith. One day you will entertain the hope that someone out there will love you and protect you in ways that do not destroy your spirit. And you will go, far away where he cannot reach you, where he can never touch those parts of you that were just longing to be put above all things, like pride, and bitterness, and harming the one that you love. You’ll stop staying. You’ll walk out the door.
When that time comes I’ll be here and be a friend to you, along with your family who has watched you be hurt this way but let you be out of respect and not wanting to meddle in your affairs. When you come I’ll tell you how proud I am of you, how I will help you get back on those strong feet you’ve forgotten you had.
In the meantime, be well. You are always in my heart, and in prayers that are my only way of reaching you right now. Know that your struggle is never your own, and that one day you will tell someone it can be done, because you did it. You walked away and survived.
If there is physical, emotional, or verbal abuse in your life, get help.
Women’s Crisis Center
East Avenue Medical Center
East Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City
Tel. 4365088 / 9257133
Quezon City Protection Center for Victim Survivors of Gender Based Violence and Abuse
Quezon City General Hospital
Bahay Toro, Quezon City
Shakira Andrea Sison is a Palanca Award-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours writing letters in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Her column appears on Thursdays. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on Facebook.com/sisonshakira.
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