Domestic Violence and Partner Betrayal destroy, for many women, the hope of a happy home and family. In this riveting and inspirational story, a woman named Hope triumphs over abuse, betrayal, and broken dreams. I pray that you, too, can discover your voice and find the courage to life free. ~Ella
All I ever wanted was to create a close, functional family with a kind and loyal man with whom I could navigate this crazy world. I’ll bet that’s what you wanted, too. We labored to create peaceful homes where our beloved children felt safe. We valued security and stability, and we needed faithful husbands who loved only us, who saw us as equals, and who were loving and gentle with our kids.
Domestic violence and partner betrayal destroy these fond hopes for many women. In this memoir, written under a pen name to protect my children, I tell my own heartbreaking story of paralyzing fear, long-term abuse, deep betrayal, shocking violence, crippling trauma, stress-induced illness, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, daily torment, massive confusion, broken dreams, painful separations, a much-warranted restraining order, a shocking affair, a devastating divorce, an empty nest, and the eventual restoration of hope for a bright and promising future, albeit with a different-than-expected ending.
In my twenties, thirties, forties, and to some degree, up to the point when my marriage ended in my 50's, I thought everything in our home was my fault: my husband made sure I believed that every single day. I experienced cognitive dissonance with each hour that passed throughout impossibly challenging days. Nothing ever added up, and I lived in a state of constant confusion, hyper-vigilance, and unrest. I looked around desperately for peace, but it eluded me. I did not know where to turn for help. I ended up turning to the church, which was a huge mistake, as is too often the case for women who are in a state of severe trauma from spousal abuse, betrayal, or abandonment.
Don’t get me wrong: I love God, I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I still attend Sunday services. But most pastors, elders, and even many Christian counselors do not understand the insidious dynamics of domestic violence and betrayal trauma. As a result, I incurred deep wounds from further abuse and abandonment at the hands of the church. Without proper education, religious institutions do more harm than good, and I believe this deeply breaks God’s heart.
In recent times, a small percentage of pastors, priests, and Christian leaders have become educated about the nuances of domestic violence and partner betrayal, and they are helping the women and children who desperately need their help and support. But, we have a long way to go, according to heartbreaking stories consistently told by those who cry out for help and are, shockingly, further accused and abused.
Back in the day, I was led to believe that telling anyone about the violence in my home would make me the worst kind of traitor. Uncovering details about the pornography I found in all ten houses we ever lived in would make me a traitor, too, so I protected my husband from anyone thinking ill of him.
I didn’t tell his family or my family what was really happening behind closed doors, but they saw enough to know it wasn’t good. I didn’t speak ill of him to the children, although we had a common understanding of this toxic person in our home who seemed larger than life and always kept us on shaky ground. I was very concerned with being a kind and respectful spouse, while he had no concern for acting kind towards or respecting me. After reading countless books written to Christian women about being “good, submissive, and respectful” wives, I realized my very best behavior wasn’t changing a thing. In fact, the more submissive I became, the more power-hungry and abusive my husband became.
Finally, in desperation, I confided in some different Christian elders and pastors and called several national ministries' prayer lines, but those attempts to find answers also backfired on me in a big way. I did not receive much-needed help, but was instead asked what I was doing to cause the abuse and was encouraged to “be more submissive”. Thus the abuser of me and my children was further enabled and empowered. He must have loved that sickening and dangerous advice! I was labeled “rebellious” and “insubordinate”, and was ultimately accused of harboring or being possessed with a “spirit of Jezebel” that wanted to have power over him and all men. I was told marriage is a ‘two-way street”, which is generally true, unless you add violence and/or adultery to the mix. After all, violence is punishable by law, and adultery goes against God’s law, breaking the marriage covenant.
So, the kids and I remained (barely) standing and utterly abandoned, while we engaged in the daily battle on our own. My husband stood strong, validated, and empowered. We suffered more pain, fear, confusion, and trauma than I can describe in words. We walked on eggshells, trying to navigate the unpredictable mine field of the mood, anger, and violent temper of the “head of the house”.
I became a circus clown, always looking for ways to brighten up the kids’ lives and make them laugh. I read them lovely stories for hours on end, sang cheery tunes to them, bought them beautiful books and educational toys, and baked them special treats. I was silly and goofy and dramatic, in great contrast to the dark and sullen spirit of their father. I tried so hard to protect them from his anger, control, name-calling, and harsh discipline. I did my best. I almost never left home unless they came with me. I micromanaged our environment in an occasionally successful attempt to prevent a need for discipline. A home is supposed to be a refuge from the world, but we were never safe inside those walls, which, if they could speak, would have woefully horrifying stories to tell.
The “leaders” I turned to were my husband’s accomplices, and I maintain they have blood on their hands. When the heart of the Gospel message becomes “wives, submit to your husbands, and children obey”, that causes all sorts of unrest and confusion in the souls affected by the hypocrisy of the abusive one preaching it. My husband and his accomplices caused my children to stumble spiritually and cultivated in them misgivings about the church, a lack of trust in pastors and elders, and many questions about how God views helpless victims of a distorted Gospel. After all, the “church” did not offer protection to them or their mother when we cried out for help. Twisted scriptures were instrumental in keeping us in harm’s way, all “in the Name of Jesus”. Patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes created a persistent cognitive dissonance in us all. In God’s true Kingdom, women are not lesser than men, but in the church, they often are.
I began to carefully guard myself when around Christian leadership. Thank the Lord, I had such deep roots in the Him from childhood, I held my own and didn’t walk away from my faith. Many in my shoes have. May God forgive those who put stumbling blocks in our way! I am so glad I continued to hold onto the hem of Jesus’ garment and to give Him, my kind Lord, access hurting and broken heart. He was the only One I could really trust.
I finally and cautiously confided in a few close friends about the abuse going on under our roof. Those dear companions were there for me in ways only God can understand and someday reward. They invested countless hours listening, praying, and trying to understand my plight, standing alongside me and helping me search out answers for my seemingly impossible situation.
“There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother”, and I had several of them in my court.
I found practical help and enormous comfort from secular sources like the YWCA Women’s Crisis Center. They understood the dynamics of my situation and validated my feelings of isolation and desperation. They helped me get a restraining order once, for a year, after two short-lived escapes from the madness, and eventually were there for me when I permanently left and eventually divorced.
If you are reading this book, I hope you receive the validation you have been looking for inside its pages. You are not crazy, nor are you at fault. As domestic violence and betrayal trauma specialists say,
“You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it”.
You have done all you can to make things right, but you are in a no-win situation, especially if your husband is violent, addicted to pornography, a narcissist, or if he suffers from a cluster B personality disorder (or some combination of these marriage-killers). My husband was wearing a mask when I met him, and I fell in love with a person who did not exist. I did not know what my “Prince Charming” was capable of underneath all that charm and “love bombing”, as they call it. His radar detected the empath I was, a person willing to carry my burdens and his as well, taking responsibility for everything. He chose me on purpose, and he began to deconstruct me, bit by bit. He nearly deconstructed some of the children as well. We bear very deep scars.
The kids and I are very close, bound together by unconditional love and heart strings that were tied through many years of home schooling. We lived on the front line of the battle together 24/7, surviving life in a kind of hell for decades. Along the way, we did make some beautiful memories, but most of them don’t include the perpetrator of all the sadness; he hated our joy with a passion and snuffed it out every chance he got.
Contrary to what you may have been told, God does not want women to submit themselves to abusive and cheating husbands. God cares more about you personally than he does about the institution of marriage. I did not understand that until a few short years ago, so I tried to do everything in my power to avoid a divorce. I read countless books about being “the perfect wife”. I prayed until I ran out of words. I anointed the doorways of our house, praying the Lord’s sweet Spirit would reign, instead of a spirit of violence. I forgave. I showed mercy. I forgave again, and again. I gave more and more chances. We all did. But in the end, God gave me a peace, a really deep peace, about leaving the man who nearly destroyed my kids and me.
In a final cruel chess move, my husband, instead of seeking counseling for our broken marriage and family, told me he couldn’t think of one thing I had done for him in 30 plus years, and crossed the flesh line though a full-on affair with a much younger woman. He called her an “angel” who "cooked for him three times a day" and treated him like a “king”. Of course his focus was on what he could get out of his relationship with her, a foreign woman who was merely looking for a green card.
This book will enable you to see what is happening to you. Here is a short list of abuses you (and your children) may be experiencing: consistent lies, crazymaking, gaslighting, projection, violence, blame shifting, minimizing, denying, isolation, intimidation, entitlement, threats, emotional and/or physical abandonment, threats of suicide, deceit, opposing, belittling, undermining, manipulation, and emotional, psychological, physical, verbal, sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse (yes, that’s a real thing).
You are not alone; there are resources and organizations that can help. I am well aware that there is no easy way out for you; you may risk losing custody or partial custody of your kids if you decide to leave. That’s what kept me in my toxic marriage for more than three decades. You may struggle to find ways to financially support your children if you are cut off from finances. You may put yourself and your children in grave danger once your partner realizes he has lost control.
This book does not give easy answers, because there are none. Living with domestic violence or with a porn/sex addicted spouse is very complicated. If nothing else, I hope my story will help you feel that someone understands your plight. I pray it will equip you with some of the resources you need to make the best decisions for your own family and situation. I will never say God wanted me to go through all the abuse for this reason, but since I have incurred many battle wounds and gained valuable wisdom along my journey, I am equipped to help other women for whom I have deep empathy and compassion.
I pray for you, my dear sisters suffering silently within the walls of your homes. I understand the workings of your broken hearts. But, God is with you: He sees everything and cares about your pain more than you know. He wants to help you. He cries with you. He wants you to know you are His beloved daughter, His dear child, His beautiful princess, and that nothing and no one can change that. Your self-worth may have taken a huge hit, but it is not too late for you to look in the mirror and see what God sees. I am on that journey myself, and although I have not yet arrived, and though the many lies I have been told still have some grip on me, I feel freer every day.
So, here is my completely true and not at all exaggerated story of deep heartbreak and deep comfort from the Lord. Of a broken family and of God’s healing. Of deep bondage and of sweet, sweet freedom. Of sad endings and of new beginnings.
My life has not turned out as I originally hoped, but I am still standing, and I am stronger and more confident than ever before. The kids are going to be ok. They are God’s kids. And I am God’s girl, and I am going to be ok. And no one can take that away from me. You are God’s girl too. Don’t let anyone take that away from you….
It was a gorgeous autumn day in New England. I took a drive to clear my head and heart and to just, breathe. I had recently suffered a shock when my sweet daughter took my hand in hers and broke my heart with news that her father, my husband of almost 32 years, had an affair with a far younger woman. In a predictably cowardly manner, he set her up to tell me, and she, her eldest brother, and his wife tried to help me absorb the blow. She showed me a picture of the two of them hugging and smiling, cheek to cheek, on foreign soil, and I nearly passed out. I put on a brave face for them, but it felt like my world was turned upside down. Even more upside down than it was before. They would never know how I projectile vomited all night when I got home, and for weeks afterwards.
Even decades of pornography, emotional affairs, flirtations, violence towards me and the children, and verbal, psychological, and spiritual abuse could not have prepared me for this, the final abandonment.
I had left, during the last New England autumn, for the fourth time in our marriage. I had hoped Daemon would go for counseling, maybe work on anger management, or get a diagnosis explaining his issues. Maybe even go on medication. All I knew is that he was not safe and I couldn’t share a roof with him anymore, and neither could my youngest who still lived at home.
Naive or not, I really never saw this coming; nothing can prepare you for your husband’s full-on affair with another woman. No wonder there were angry demands throughout last summer for an immediate divorce. Most wouldn’t understand why I stayed for so long or why I still cared about him, or this latest betrayal. Victims of domestic violence can’t explain their lack of action to those not familiar with abuse in the very place that is supposed to be a safe haven from a cruel world.
How can I convey in words the trauma bonding experienced after years of being built up and torn down over and over again, the abuser ensuring that your identity rests in him and his opinion alone? Stockholm Syndrome places unseen chains which bind together the abused and the abuser. I had loved and wanted to be close friends with my husband with everything in me, but my mind had always known he was inaccessible to me, and incapable of such a relationship. Narcissists can only love themselves, not the empaths they captivate and capture with their unique charms.
As if some unseen force drew me there, I pulled my car into the driveway of our former country home, the place where so very many good and bad things had happened, to search in vain for answers that cannot be found. I stared up at the window to my old bedroom where I had survived one of the most harrowing nights of my life, a night when felt enveloped in a thick darkness. In the clutches of my husband that evening, I could feel evil all around me and could have cut the tension with a knife. There was that insidious voice, the one that crept into my mind daily, reminding me that I was never enough, that I was intrinsically evil, that God Himself was displeased with me. That I was a hypocrite, a very rebellious wife, and that I had become ill and almost died several times and lost the ability to teach ballet or homeschool the five kids because God was punishing me for not submitting properly to his “God-given authority”. For not being willing to call him “lord”. For protecting the children from him, “suggesting he was a monster”. For having opinions. And for possessing an undeniable joy and inner strength that stood in stark contrast to his dark, sullen, weak yet controlling spirit.
I tremble afresh as I remember how, on that night, Daemon leaned over my much weaker body, close enough for me to feel his breath on my face, and said with a calculated determination,
“Jezebel… I know you’re in there…and you can’t hide from me anymore. You’ve taken over my sweet Hope, but your time is short. . .you’re not going to control me or have power over me anymore. I cast you out in the Name of Jesus Christ!”
I was terrified. Fear gripped my faint heart and tiny frame, and I was overcome with a feeling of dread no friend or family member can comprehend. Of course some will say,
“Why didn’t you immediately get up and say for him to get away from you, and then leave the room?”
You ask that because you don’t understand domestic violence and the fear it creates, fear for your very life. Don’t feel badly; you only know what you know.
With good reason, my limbs were jerking without my permission, joints cracking loudly in the pitch black of our small but adorable bedroom, whose sweet decor created cognitive dissonance as the backdrop to the present evil. I lay still, my heart beating like it was the only noise in the house. This monster that I somehow loved, this unlikely enemy that I clung to, lay next to me every night while I pondered how I could ever escape without his getting custody of our precious children.
I waited until he fell asleep and then, visibly trembling, gracefully tiptoed down the stairs like the ballerina I was, and all through the house, out to my ballet studio, where I hid in the very pink closet. I was in a cold sweat, shaking violently. I couldn’t think straight. There was ringing in my ears and I felt feverish. I thought I might faint. I tried to focus: what should I do now? I called the YWCA crisis line for women, whose number I had memorized long ago, and asked if an advocate could call me right back. Though it was the middle of the night, someone did, and she patiently listened to, validated, encouraged, and helped me make it through to sunrise the next morning, only for the madness to start all over again.
The house, a plain old New Englander overlooking a beautiful lake, is the one we all refer to when we speak of the past and the kids’ childhood. It looked entirely harmless on the outside, standing tall in a beautiful country setting, but it was a house that at once entertained anger and violence, fun and laughter, fear and desperation, and hope and joy. But never peace. Never ever peace.
No one has lived there since the five giddy voices of sweet young children filled the boxy rooms. It’s almost as if the old place, like me and the kids, can’t accept how things turned out. There was so much potential for happiness: the house simply won’t take a chance on another family. The yard is so overgrown that even the top of the swing set is covered in tall, wild greenery. The structure, like the land it stands on, although somewhat renovated by another owner years ago, is in a state of utter disrepair. It looks like I feel inside: desperate and confused. And it is a perfect picture of the overwhelmed state we all lived in for so many years.
I can’t see “big rock” because the grass is so high, but I can picture the kids jumping off it with squeals of delight. I recall the canoe rides on the lake, a special treat reserved for a crack of dawn adventure with one of the older boys. The Juniper trees are still standing tall and strong at the side of the house, happily remembering the four golden-hearted boys and the sweet strawberry blonde girl who climbed in them for years. The kids and I are still standing, too, some stronger than others, but we are heavily laden with heartache and traumatic memories from the past. The boys are determined to treat women like angels and my only daughter is determined to never be treated poorly by another man. I am glad for their resolve and pray daily for them to break the cycle of abuse they grew up with.
I must say our lake is as lovely as ever, and I am sitting here remembering the haunting sound the loons used to make as we fell asleep at night, tears of sadness and desperation often soaking our six pillows. The seventh pillow was always dry, the perpetrator of the deep sadness resting peacefully upon it. And why wouldn’t he? He was in control. He had the power. He was “lord”.
At a mere 20 years old, I was an unusually cheerful and energetic girl. I had just emerged from the professional ballet world, completed two years of college, and given serious consideration to becoming a nun. I was full of life and had an undeniable bounce in my step. I was a passionate adventurer. I loved God very sincerely and attended church every time the doors were open. I fiercely loved both my family and friends. I was loyal, honest, hopeful, and unusually trusting. I was overwhelmed with excitement as I boarded a plane for Seville, Spain where I would spend a semester living with a Spanish family, studying the language I had come to love. A gentle-hearted man had asked me to marry him before I left, but I told him I needed to pray and consider whether I would enter the convent when I came home or finish college then start a family. But something happened in beautiful Sevilla that would change my life forever: in stark contrast to my original plan, I met and fell madly in love with a fellow American student, a handsome and charismatic man from the wholesome midwest. My Prince Charming.
He was so attractive. Strong-willed. Passionate. Funny. Sweet. Generous. And most of all….charming. So very charming. And since I had always suffered from a sort of Cinderella Syndrome, I fell really hard. I thought he was my fairytale come true: he was the most romantic man I had ever met. He wooed me with roses and chocolate, sang to me, recited poems to me, and zealously pursued me. I lost my desire to enter the convent, and I knew I wouldn’t marry my childhood sweetheart, who had shocked me by going out on a date with another (very pretty) girl not long before. As sweet as he was, he had a wandering eye, and I was hurt and disillusioned by all that anyway.
I was now consumed with thoughts of this strong-minded man who had very suddenly invaded my life, heart, and mind and caused me to become ravished, obsessed, almost drunk with love for him. He called me “Cenicienta”, the Spanish version of Cinderella. He said he himself had thought about becoming a priest, and the pages of his Bible were well worn, much of its contents committed to his memory. He spoke as if God was everything to him, which made me think we were very much alike.
When I look back now I can see the red flags I subconsciously ignored. Like the time, after one of our first passionate kisses, he told me he was sometimes “too much” for his last girlfriend, and if he was too much for me, to just tell him and he would back off a little. I remember how that bothered me, because it seemed so arrogant, but I let it go. Also, he made sure he was always the initiator of any interaction and made me feel inferior from the beginning. I wouldn’t have been able to express it or even known it then, but a pattern had begun that would last for more than three decades. He was in charge; he needed to have power and control. And I was a gentle soul, eager to please others. Especially him. He had chosen me for a reason. And I was very much in love and already addicted, though I didn’t yet know it.
My parents and siblings were not convinced that Prince Charming loved me. Neither were uncles or grandparents, nor a few friends who dared speak up. They became irritated at my incessant compliments that built him up and they noticed his contrasting criticism of everything I did and was. My parents kept telling me that I was an amazing girl and should be more confident, but I was so in love, I couldn’t see the imbalance. When my Prince Charming grabbed me close to himself, referring to me as “big green eyes”, and I looked into those big brown eyes of his, as he called me “the sweet of his heart”, I was truly mesmerized.
After a short courtship, mostly long distance, I accepted his grandiose and dramatic proposal, and all dressed up in white lace and a darling bridal hat, I became a married woman. Though mature beyond my years at the tender age of 22, I did not understand that mind games, crazy making, and gaslighting had suddenly become part of my world. My husband had been very forward with me during our courtship, and I had physically pushed back many a time. Now that we were married, he spurned me at will, making me feel like I had to beg for his affection. I felt alarmed and confused, and even ran barefoot into a snowstorm one winter day when, upon my sweet and loving physical advance, he said,
“Is that ‘all’ you want?”, smugly rejecting me, making me feel like some kind of animal. He seemed entertained by the exchange.
My heart stopped. I should have been a blushing bride, but my face instead flushed from humiliation. What was happening to me? Was it something I did, something I said? Was there something wrong with me? Was I not pretty enough or desirable enough?
Then, shortly after that, Daemon bought me the most lovely, unique, and precious lamp for Christmas. Beneath the lacy blue lampshade, on a little white platform, sat a beautiful Victorian lady in a detailed light blue gown, her facial features delicate and sweet. He said the doll reminded him of me. I can now see that he wanted me to be just like that doll: quiet, demure, and lovely, demanding nothing that would require him to give up a piece of himself. I was thrilled with this unique gift, and my faith in our marriage was temporarily restored.
Having never had a dog, I started dreaming about getting a puppy. I went to a pet store and saw the most adorable Pekingese. He was so energetic and sweet, I just had to have him! Prince Charming bought him for me for my 23rd birthday, four short months after our wedding day, and little Spunky became my new love. I trained him to do unique and entertaining tricks and he was a delight to all who met him. I remember how sad and confused I was when Daemon would torment him in different ways, and how he would scare him, jumping from around a corner or from behind a door, until my beloved pup would wet on the floor from fear. He took such strange delight in frightening a weaker creature, and although I objected, the cruel game continued. I now understand that in those painful moments he was displaying his power over our tiny, helpless dog, and over me. Little did I know that this dark behavior would someday affect my five beautiful and innocent children.
One day, Daemon came home with a secret box, and much to my delight, he unveiled the most adorable kitten inside! One of his students had gifted it to us, and I was delighted beyond words! We named her “Cookie” because she was all black and white like an Oreo. She was darling. She and Spunky got along really well and watching them play together gave us many hearty laughs. We did not have much income from our humble jobs, but we made do and created some nice memories. Yet, in the back of my mind, I always knew that something seemed wrong.
With my newlywed glow still intact, I endeavored to be a lovely wife. I couldn’t cook, but I set out to learn. I kept our apartment clean and decorated it the best I could on a small budget. I had friends over for candlelight suppers, paying attention to every little detail so Daemon would be proud to be my husband. I kept myself looking as pretty as I could, night and day, because I suppose even then I I knew I had to perform to be accepted. I donned the prettiest lingerie and wore those angora-covered high heels you see in old movies around our cute apartment! I always made sure my makeup was perfectly applied and did the best I could to tame my unruly hair. I wanted desperately to be loved and wanted by my husband. But I knew even then, deep down in my heart, that I wasn’t loved for who I was, and certainly not unconditionally. I was only accepted if I remained demure and cooperative, looking pretty while going with the flow and performing well.
Then there was the deep insecurity that came from seeing Daemon with his young female students. He taught at a local high school for girls, and he coached their sports in the afternoons. I felt that the girls’ attention meant too much to him, but I shrugged it off as my overactive imagination. Did I noticed him flirting? Trying to garner their admiration? Staring at them? This would also became a theme of our life together, hurting me to the core of my being.
I didn’t know it, but my time living near my family was winding down. Daemon was quietly planning to move me to the midwest. Like most abusers, he needed to isolate me from both family and friends in order to have full control. We were in love, though, and I, with my Pollyanna attitude, went along with the plan. Life was an adventure, and though I would miss my family, tremendously, I would be with my Prince Charming and my little puppy and kitten, and all would be well…
In the thick of springtime we packed our little car and made the long trip, in a straight shot, leaving New England behind for the midwest. There we were, singing together as our little car made its way down the highway, ready to make a new start. Daemon’s parents lived out in the boondocks with his younger sister. His brother also lived at home, though he had already begun his career as a dentist. Jobs were scarce up north, but Daemon was offered a teaching position at a small Christian school. His yearly wages totaled $9,000. I had difficulty finding employment, although I had a college degree, but I volunteered at his school. We moved into the most darling cottage-type home on a lovely and fittingly named country road called Evergreen Trail. I set about decorating to create a lovely, cheery, and inviting space for us and any future visitors, and we settled into our new life with our lovable pets. Life was peaceful. I well remember how our Woodstock chimes, a thoughtful wedding gift from a loving relative, sent lovely sounds in the crisp country air. Though I loved our little nest, I was desperately missing my family and beautiful New England.
We had many lovely days and nights at first. When Daemon would return home from work, I would, in my typical dramatic style, run and welcome him home with open arms. Planting a big kiss on him, and hardly able to contain my excitement, I would pull him towards the kitchen so he could taste the results of my latest culinary experiment. Though at times I practically set the kitchen on fire, my failures became few and far between. I learned how to make a perfect souffle, crepes from scratch, gorgeous casseroles, homemade bread, and scrumptious desserts. I plowed through the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook in one year and mastered every single recipe; I felt like Betty Crocker herself! I kept the house sparkling and myself looking as lovely as I could. I ironed Daemon’s clothes for school each morning and helped him grade papers at night. I was cheerful and energetic as I kept up our cute little house, and I took pride in creating a beautiful and comforting space where we could relax and unwind. We really did have many romantic evenings there. We were very much in love.
It was so much fun watching Spunky and Cookie run around together. We played with them for hours on end. We had a spring-fed pond in our backyard, and it was stocked with trout. It must have created a hilarious scene when I refused to use worms for bait and instead opted for bread crumbs, still catching the most fish, outfitted in a frilly dress, pearls, high heels, and carefully applied makeup. Our beagle-owning and very redneck neighbor, who would often fish with us, would always laugh,
“City girl strikes again!”, while he cracked up at my proud squeals of delight as I examined the fish dangling from my rod.
They were truly fun times, and I was very much in love with my Prince Charming. We attended his home church on Sundays and I made great new friends there. There were two couples we hung out with regularly, and we had a really lovely time with them. We made lots of memories at his parents’ house, too, and I came to dearly love his family. We even co-directed a Christmas musical at the church. It was tremendous fun.
On our first anniversary, we were so broke we couldn't even afford to go out for dinner. While at church that morning, the mother of a dear friend found out about our special day and insisted on giving us enough money to have a romantic dinner at a local restaurant. My mother in law was disappointed we didn't have dinner with them, but even that early on in my marriage, I remember feeling relieved. I knew my Prince would have spent the entire time watching TV and ignoring me.
I did feel threatened, though, by some of the young girls at the high school where Daemon taught. I always felt like their attentions and admiration meant more to him than they should, though I tried to brush it off as my overactive imagination. I kept looking at myself in the mirror, picking apart every aspect of my appearance. I began to feel I was not pretty enough to keep my husband’s attention.
We were not doing well financially and eventually had to move out of our adorable rental and move into the basement of my in-law’s house. I was so sad, but I was determined to stay cheerful. I fixed up the dark area the best I could and put on a brave face. I was missing my own family but was determined to make the best of the situation. When the school year ended, Daemon and I found outside sales jobs with a vacuum cleaning company. So, for a season, we did the unthinkable and walked door to door peddling unbelievably expensive vacuums and carpet scrubbers. We sold none. To add to the stress, Daemon would not come to bed at night, but would stay upstairs ’til all hours watching TV with his family, and then for more hours by himself. It got so bad, and although I entreated him to change this unhealthy pattern, one night I put a note on the door upstairs leading to the basement saying, “Don’t bother coming down here tonight.” Tensions were rising, and I noticed that when I pointed out anything my husband did that hurt or upset me, he became angry and distant. I was not accustomed to that response, as my father always cared so much about my mother’s feelings.
I felt Daemon and I become somewhat distant from each other, and I knew this living situation wasn’t good for our still brand new marriage. So, after a bit longer, I told him that we should relocate back to Boston where there were jobs that paid decent salaries. For some reason, he agreed, which still surprises me to this day. So, we came back east, and he got a job at a financial institution as a loan officer and I took a job at an investment firm in Boston. We got a cute little one bedroom apartment on the north shore and settled in with Spunky. We left our little kitten behind as she so loved the country, and because Daemon’s family had become attached to her. Thank God for hills and trees and winding roads. I was home.
Once again, I created an inviting atmosphere in our home and resumed my former practices of cooking and cleaning and ironing and trying to make Daemon’s life lovely. I truly delighted in serving and taking care of him. My family was thrilled to have us back. To all outsiders, it would have seemed we were the perfect little newlywed couple. But, inside the walls of our cute apartment, trouble was brewing, though I wouldn’t have known what to call it. I was often criticized for seemingly insignificant things, like leaving a glass of half-drunk water on a coffee table or squeezing the tube of toothpaste wrong. For most couples, these things are jokes between them, but for us it was more intense. I felt like a child a lot of the time. I started getting glimpses of Daemon’s anger as well. One day I was unloading the dishwasher and some water spilled onto the floor from a plastic cup that had turned upside down on the top rack during the rinse cycle. Daemon snapped,
“Why did you do that?! Clean that up!”
I remember, like it happened yesterday, the confusion that suddenly invaded my poor mind. I jumped to the floor, profusely apologizing, and I cleaned up the water as fast as I could. I felt so demeaned and so confused. I couldn’t make sense of what had just happened. I started feeling attacked on a daily basis. It seemed like nothing I did was right. I began noticing that in pictures taken of me during that time my shoulders were hunched over, like I felt defeated. I was being mentally, verbally, and emotionally abused, but I did not know that yet. The deconstruction process had begun in earnest, and the perpetrator of the damage knew exactly what he was doing.
Before too long, I found out I was pregnant with our first baby. I was thrilled beyond words, and so was the father to be. I couldn’t have been happier. I felt strongly I was having a boy and couldn’t wait to be a mommy. I followed my doctor’s instructions to the letter and prepared to welcome our dear, sweet child. A couple of months before I delivered, I was visiting my parents’ house for lunch one day, as they lived only five minutes away, and I remember to this day collapsing in my dad’s arms and saying to him,
“I can’t take it anymore, daddy…. I can’t do it!”
He kept asking me, as he tried to hold me up, what was I talking about? But back then I wouldn’t have known what words to use to express what I was going through. And I wouldn’t have dreamed of putting my husband down in any way. But Daemon was already in full “attack and dismantle” mode, using techniques like gaslighting, crazymaking, criticism, and stonewalling to exert control over me. I had been a fairly confident girl when I met and married him, but that confidence was being eroded daily. I started to question my every decision and my every action. I would never have realized then that I was a victim of abuse. I thought I brought it all upon myself by not being “good enough”. I meditated daily on how I could look prettier, be smarter, be a better housekeeper, be sweeter, or be “something” more than I was, a complete disappointment to and certainly not the apple of my husband’s eye, by any far stretch of the imagination.
One day, on our way home from Lamaze class, I said to Daemon,
“We should really spend as much quality time together as possible over the next few weeks, because once the baby comes, nothing will ever be the same again.”
He looked over at me with a look of disgust, as, against my pleas, he drove way too fast on the narrow, curvy road, and said,
“Stop being a weirdo. What are you talking about?! Just stop it.”
I remember how deflated I felt. At that very moment I was so desperately sad in my heart. I could tell he didn’t love me. Not in the way I saw my father love my mother. Not remotely. I felt like a pebble in his shoe. Like a thorn in his side. Like a burden. And I hated that feeling in the deepest part of myself. I felt rejected and confused. I tried to brush it off, but some of my youthfulness, hopefulness, and energy was seeping out of me as I prepared to become a mother.
A few months before our son arrived, Daemon quit his job at the financial institution and was offered a position as the manager of a video store that had a Triple XXX room in the back. I pleaded with him not to take it. I felt very uneasy about his having access to that room. He told me I was being ridiculous, and happily and triumphantly settled into his new routine. He often closed up the store at night and came home ridiculously late, claiming he couldn’t help it. One day while I was bent over with my huge belly looking for something in the trunk of his car, I came across a pornographic film. I stood there in disbelief. I felt physically ill and started shaking. This was very unfamiliar territory for me. I was raised in an ultra conservative environment where these things weren’t even spoken of. And I knew how faithful my father had been to my mother, in thought and in deed. I felt betrayed and alone, and I didn’t know what to do.
I carried the video upstairs to our apartment and questioned my husband with a devastated expression on my tear stained face. Of course, Daemon acted angry and put out, and immediately came up with some lame excuse I did not believe for one single minute. But, I had no way to prove anything, so I let it go. My marriage was never the same from that moment on, and I consistently felt I was not “enough”. I wished I was prettier, had a better figure, had nicer hair. I always felt insecure. I never felt our relationship with solid or stable ever again. I worried much more about his interactions with other women. I wondered what he was thinking about or picturing when we were intimate, as he kept his eyes so tightly closed. I suffered mental torment in ways I can’t describe.
Before we knew it, my water broke and we were on our way to the hospital. When we got there, I gushed to the nurses about how this was my first baby and I was so excited to be a mommy. Standing there in my lacy white maternity top with the big bow, their eyes betrayed their pity for me for what I was about to endure. Daemon had pulled a double shift at work and acted quite put out that he needed to stay awake at this late hour. That really hurt. I was not progressing in my labor and had to be put on Pitocin. If you’ve never had it administered, you won’t understand this, but the contractions started coming one on top of the other and they increased in strength. I was in so much pain and had nothing but a little Demerol to take the edge off. The new father kept falling asleep on the pull out chair-bed in the room. When he woke up, he noticed the “number” registering on the machine measuring my contractions and said it didn’t seem like a very big or painful one. He got a big sandwich and ate it leaning over my huge, contracting stomach, dropping crumbs all over my johnny. I said nothing.
I had always been a gentle person, and that did not change now. Also, I was afraid to say anything, because we had an unspoken understanding that I had better not challenge him on any point at any time. So I felt like I was suffering alone, and was so thankful that my mother came in the room to be with me. She was so kind, so helpful, and so comforting. Seventeen hours in, my beautiful redheaded son came into the world. Ironically, he immediately had an unusual bond with his father, which made me feel even less valuable than I already did. But, I was over the moon. Many stitches later, and with fresh makeup applied by my hilarious mom in the delivery room, I sat in the maternity ward hugging my little bundle of joy. I felt so much love, I can’t describe it. If you’re a mom, you understand. The weight of your little infant child in your arms is perfection. Michael had an angel face. I could never have imagined in that moment the future horrors he would experience at the hands of his father.
Upon arriving home, I picked up where I left off, trying to make everything perfect. As Daemon stood and watched me changing Michaels’ diaper, he told me I didn’t know what I was doing and that he would take over. I had helped raise my much younger brother and had changed his diaper a thousand times, quite competently. I felt incensed at this accusation, but knew better than to argue. I can look back now and see that I was terrified of Daemon even then; but I didn’t consciously think that thought to myself. He had trained me to stay in my little pumpkin shell, and there he kept me very well.
The nights were long at first, and my perfectionism in keeping an immaculate house landed me back in the hospital. I was very ill for a few days and then rebounded and resumed my new role as a full time mom. I felt very disfigured and sadly altered by my difficult delivery. Actually, I felt like a freak, ugly and undesirable and extra intimidated by thoughts of Daemon in that back room at the video store. He knew the doctor said to wait a full six weeks before resuming any kind of physical intimacy, but he pushed himself on me, and in an effort to avoid his wrath or silent treatment and rejection, I reluctantly gave in. When I look back and think about it now, he pressured me against my will and had no care for my physical pain or condition. I am quite sure that premature act contributed to my need to have extensive reconstructive surgery in later years.
In the middle of summer, when our little sweetheart was around three months old, my in-laws traveled from the midwest to meet their new grandson. We had a lovely time with them, but towards the end of their visit, my father-in-law informed me that Daemon and I and our son would be moving to Houston in the next couple of weeks. He had landed a teaching job there, and with the cost of living so much lower in the south, they all felt it was the only thing to do. I began to object, still physically recovering from a difficult delivery and adjusting to so recently becoming a mother, never mind the fact that my marriage was not on solid ground. But my father in law sternly told me that with or without me, my Michael and Daemon were relocating there. I was in shock; I can’t even explain how my blood froze. I stood there, mute, and didn’t know what to say or do. In that moment, and during the time of packing and leaving, I truly felt I had no voice and no other option. It’s hard to explain why I didn’t fight this huge, unilateral decision. I knew my place by then: I was afraid, psychologically beaten down, confused, and alone. I, like many victims of domestic violence, did not feel I could tell anyone what was going on in my home.
My parents, siblings, and grandparents were utterly devastated upon hearing the news. I had only moved back to Boston a couple of years before, and here I was, leaving all over again, their precious new grandson in tow. With a heavy heart, I packed up our humble belongings and headed to Houston, into the unknown, with my sweet baby boy, and a stranger by my side.
We were greeted by the sweetest relatives you could ever imagine. My husband’s extended family on his mother’s side was delightful beyond words. Southern hospitality is a real thing, and I wished I had been born a Southern Belle! Uncles, aunts, and cousins welcomed us with open arms, and their kind reception was a balm to my travel-weary and uneasy soul.
We found and settled into an adorable, spacious apartment in a huge complex that was so big, it had seventeen in-ground swimming pools! There were security guards at the entrance, and high fencing all around, and I felt very safe there. I had prayed for new carpeting, because we had a soon-to-be-crawling baby, and with my chidlike faith in God, I even prayed it would be gray. I prayed for a clean, open living space and for a washer and dryer, and I got all my wishes! Thought I felt very frightened and alone I always felt God's presence with me. I set up house once again, thrilled to be creating another lovely space. Decorating has always had a calming effect on me, probably because I love letting my creative juices flow to make something beautiful. I think deep inside I always felt my world was very dark, depressing, and hopeless, so I set about, throughout my entire married life, making the physical world around me as pretty and bright and cheery as I could.
Daemon had landed a fantastic job at the number one high school in Houston. He loved the culture, the administration, his coworkers, and his students alike. While I settled in and became accustomed to the heat and bugs, I found myself to be unusually exhausted and hungry all the time, and didn’t know why, and I was too busy setting up house to ponder it. Then, almost before Daemon completed his first couple of weeks teaching, I found out I was pregnant again. I would be due to deliver my second child one year from the birth of the first. I was so excited, but plenty scared at the same time. I was so very far from home, and my first delivery was so difficult. Daemon had been so emotionally distant and not comforted me at all the first time around. I felt terribly alone in that moment, but I enjoyed being a mom more than anything I had ever done, and I invested everything I had into my little son, greatly looking forward to the arrival of his new sibling.
Daemon decided to pioneer a sports program at his new school, as there were no sports teams at all up to that time. He coached girls’ basketball and volleyball and often came home very late. So, there I was, in a strange new state, home alone with my baby boy from around 6 a.m. til 9 p.m. day after day, pregnant, with no family around, and with no car. I have always been a people person, so this situation was extra hard on me. But I found creative ways to keep Michael happy and stimulated and learning new things, as once again my stomach grew and I prepared to welcome baby #2.
Up to this point, my husband hadn’t displayed any kind of abusive behavior towards our tiny son, but his treatment of me had worsened. I endeavored to be the loveliest partner I could be, buying books on how to be an excellent Christian wife, then praying so hard to be one, and even journaling about it, page after page, asking God to help me fit into the mold Daemon wanted me in. If I only knew then what I know now, that God was not requiring me to be submissive, a doormat, or perfect, and that I would never ever be good enough for Daemon anyway. The bar would always be raised higher, and I would settle into a life of frustration and sadness over my “failure” to measure up. Daemon would often say, as his words carved deep wounds in my very soul,
“You’re a good mother, but you’re certainly not a good wife.”
Somehow, though, life continued to unfold. On the weekends, we had a reprise from our respective full and empty schedules and the reality of our dysfunctional home during our wonderful visits to family outside of the city. Those were comforting times for me, as my husband’s aunt treated me like her kin, showing so much kindness to me and Michael. A humble and devout Christian woman who gave hospitality new meaning, she could fry up the best chicken and mix up the best sweet tea you have ever tasted! I thanked God for those comforting and refreshing pitstops along my lonely and difficult road.
One day Michael and I strolled over to the little video store that was inside our complex. The girl named Candy who worked there also lived in our huge complex, along with her husband Paul. We became fast friends. They were from the midwest and were newlyweds as well. They didn’t have children yet but were thrilled to spend time with us and enjoy Michael’s hilarious antics and unusually sweet personality. We spent more and more time with them, and after a while, I started to notice that Daemon and Candy seemed awfully friendly with each other. She dressed in tight leggings and was very thin and pretty, and here I was, hugely pregnant again, with a baby on my hip. My hair frizzed so badly in the Texas humidity and I always felt ugly and unappealing to my husband. I couldn’t compare with this beautiful, blonde girl. Candy and Paul were at our house or we were at theirs most nights of the week. Funny thing is, I truly loved them. But I felt increasingly uneasy about Daemon’s attentions to Candy and her attentions to him. One afternoon, I asked Damon if we could please just spend the night together as a family, and he practically bit my head off. I was so wounded by that response, I’ll never forget it. I felt increasingly insecure in my marriage and began to dread spending time with our new friends. I wanted to go home, but I never shared that sentiment out loud.
Before I knew it, the baby, whom we found out was another boy, was on his way. My doctor induced me, as I was almost to my due date, and she was about to go away on vacation. My labor lasted only eight hours this time, and I clung to my Bible for most of it! I was so blessed when little Joshua came into the world! The nurse, who had four boys of her own, rejoiced with me over how beautiful my new baby boy was. I felt like the most blessed woman in the world to have two beautiful sons. I cried that my parents couldn’t see his dear face, and I had no idea when they would. But I put on a brave expression as Daemon left for the night. In the still of the delivery room, alone with my beautiful blue-eyed boy looking up at me from the crook of my arm, I felt God’s presence. I can’t explain it in words, but it’s as if my Loving Creator knew my heart was breaking in my isolation, and He comforted me Himself. I tried to be at peace, knowing Daemon was on his way to Paul and Candy’s house to pick up Michael.
The next day, Candy walked into my room with Michael nestled in her arms, right behind my husband, who seemed unusually happy. He gave me an empty hello and an emptier kiss on the lips, and when I tried to greet my beautiful one year old son, Michael took one look at the new baby in my arms and recoiled from me, snuggling tighter into Candy’s arms. I was utterly crushed and devastated. How can I explain how I felt in mere words? It was surreal: here I was, living in a foreign place, far from everything I’d ever known, with a husband who did not love me, who in fact seemed to resent my very existence, and now my toddling son, from whom I had not been separated for one moment since his birth, was clinging to the very woman with whom my husband was having at the very least an emotional affair. There was nothing I could do to change anything about the situation, so I put on a cheerful face and held out hope that Michael would be glad to see me when I returned home, and he was.
My dear mother and sister came to visit me when Joshua was three weeks old. At the time I hadn’t seen them in almost a year! They couldn’t believe how cute my chubby cheeked son was, and what a big and precious boy Michael had grown into. When they left a week later, I cried so many tears that I didn’t think my body could ever produce more. Little did I know then the rivers of tears that would fall from my green eyes throughout the next decades.
Daemon and I settled into life as parents of two and I grew very close to my beautiful sons: they were my whole world. Both boys were entirely precious, super low maintenance, and very sweet-spirited, and I loved them fiercely. Daemon continued to work long hours, teaching and coaching, and I learned to be content at home, loving my little sweethearts. I was cheerful and hopeful, and I served and blessed my husband in every conceivable way. I continued to iron his clothes for work, make him gourmet meals and desserts, and keep the house immaculate. I zealously nurtured, trained, and educated the boys, and still helped correct papers at night. I consistently showed my husband kindness, forgiveness, and respect, even when my heart was breaking from loneliness and injury through his emotional abandonment, flirtations with other women, and constant criticism of me.
When Joshua was around nine months old, I found myself deeply exhausted again, so I bought a pregnancy test. Late at night, I took it, and it came out positive. I didn’t tell Daemon. I remember sitting there in the dark, so happy and content to have this secret all to myself. I was going to have another dear child, and I truly didn’t feel my husband deserved to hear the news. He was always so cruel to me and distant from me emotionally. I kept it to myself for a few weeks!
Already I had a sense of, “there’s me and the kids, and there’s Daemon”.
Eventually I broke the news about the new baby, and before we knew it my stomach was bulging again. We found out we were having a little girl, and I was delighted beyond words!
The abuse in our home increased, but I would not have known to call it that. I only knew that there were land mines everywhere, and if the boys or I accidentally stepped on one, it would be bad for us. Very bad. So, I walked on eggshells and tried to avoid upsetting Daemon day by day. I micromanaged the kids’ behavior so they would not incur his wrath. But, even spilled milk could bring on a fit of rage. I felt sick to my stomach much of the time.
One night, Joshua wouldn’t swallow the food he had in his mouth during dinner. He was only a year and a few months old at the time. Eventually his dad yanked him out of his high chair, held him by the shoulders while he stood on the ground looking up, utterly terrified. Daemon, with a menacing look on his face, threatened,
“You had better swallow that RIGHT NOW!”
I forget what Joshua was chewing, but he couldn’t seem to get it down his little throat. Daemon grabbed the wooden spoon. Chills crawled up my spine as he began to lay stroke upon stroke upon our little boy’s tender bottom. I tried to intervene, to no avail. Daemon told me to back off in a very threatening way. I didn’t, and I took a few swats trying to protect my little boy. He would not swallow, no matter how many times I implored him or Daemon hit him with that spoon on his bare and now very red bottom.
The tension in the room was so high that I remember feeling like I was going to pass out. I didn’t know what to do. Michael was bawling and looking terrified. I kept pleading with my husband to stop, but that seemed to egg him on. He always had to prove he alone possessed all the power and control. Finally, he gave up and made Joshua spit out the food stuck in his mouth. I was so relieved, words can’t say. I rocked Joshua to sleep that night, as he whimpered and shook from pain and fear.
Michael had been terribly frightened and scarred by the incident as well.
I have often gone back to that night in my mind and thought about what options I had. Could I have run and open the door and screamed “help” from the top of my lungs? Would my neighbors have heard me and helped? Could I have snuck down the hallway to my bedroom phone and called 911? Should I have done one of those things? The answer is yes. Why didn’t I? That is a complex question. I had been groomed to be mortally afraid of Daemon. And I didn’t want to walk away from Joshua, even for a minute. I don’t know. I wish I had done something different. I couldn’t take Joshua out for two weeks after that incident. His bottom was deeply bruised, boasting every color of the rainbow. Now I understand that it was child abuse. But back then, in the early 90s, things were much different. I am not sure my reporting Daemon to the authorities would have ended the way I wanted it to.
One day, during that season, upon his return home from work, Daemon told me that he wanted to take a group of students to Spain for ten days for an educational tour. My heart stopped. All I could picture was those lovely, flirty young girls, the same ones he mocked me in front of when I visited his school, all traveling with him to the very country where we met. I begged him not to go, and he pretended to change his mind. Then one day while he was not yet home from work, the school called saying they needed some information about the “student trip to Spain”. He had already taken deposits from the parents and was planning to leave soon. My heart was in my throat and I could feel my blood pressure rising. I felt so betrayed and so humiliated as I fumbled for words in an attempt to not act surprised.
When Daemon got home that day, I conveyed the school’s message and expressed my hurt. He launched into a vicious verbal assault and told me it was none of my business, and that I had serious issues with control. I knew it was too late, so I accepted what was to come and focused on the kids and my pregnancy. My mother-in-law came from Michigan to stay with me and the kids while he was away, for which I was very grateful. We spent the days caring for the boys, singing and harmonizing together, cooking, going for walks, shopping, and reading books to and playing games with the kids. We had a lovely time, and at one point my mother in law said to me,
“I think you are the finest mother I have ever seen, and the best friend I have ever had!”
I loved her the same. The long-awaited night came for the big homecoming. I boarded our huge conversion van around 11:00 pm and headed to the large and sprawling airport. This may sound ridiculous, but my vehicle was so tall that I couldn’t clear some places in the parking area. I ended up leaving the van in a remote spot in the middle of an intricate maze of parking places and sections, and anxiously ran to meet Daemon and his students at the gate. When I arrived, breathless, there were already camera crews and loads of parents, as he had taken over 30 students and a couple of chaperones with him on this big adventure. He had spoken on the radio about his trip, beforehand, all about his wonderful students and the incredible high school they attended, and reporters were there for the follow up story.
For whatever reason, I was really excited to see Daemon! When he walked towards the crowd, grinning from ear to ear, he turned a deaf ear to my greeting, and with his narcissistic flare, soaked in the admiration of the parents, zealously answering the reporters’ questions. You could tell how closely he had bonded with the students, many of them female. He gave an on-camera interview alongside them and barely noticed my watching. Even when the last student left with her parents, I did not get the greeting I would have expected, nor did Daemon seem much interested I how our boys had fared over the last week and a half.
His dad had gone as a chaperone, and when the two travelers asked where the van was parked, stating how tired they were from their long flight, I honestly couldn’t remember. Literally. Turning around and around, trying so hard to think, I led them on a wild good chase all over the expansive airport for at least an hour, trying to find the van. Instead of Daemon showing understanding and patience, he started screaming at me, now that the cameramen were gone, and belittled me for being “stupid enough to lose the van”. I was so hurt and shocked by his behavior. A sense of cognitive dissonance came over me when I thought about the difference between his behavior outside our home and his behavior inside our home. He truly lived a double life. We finally located the van, but the damage was done. I was hurt beyond words.
The next day I remember how impatient Daemon was with the boys, for no good reason. He consistently showed kindness only to others, not to his own little family. How I longed for home and for all things familiar back east. I pined for my parents, my siblings, and for my grandparents, with whom I was very close. When in public, Daemon wore a mask, but I knew the man behind the mask. And that man made our lives miserable.
Around this time we began attending a small church. I did not like the pastor from day one, as he seemed very arrogant and spoke down to women and children. He was harsh with his wife and stepdaughter, and I could see they walked on eggshells around him. Of course Daemon liked the church, because there was a lot of emphasis on wives submitting to their husbands and children obeying their parents. During the pastor’s harsh sermons in which His references to Christ’s attitudes about family life sounded very different from the Jesus I knew, he often chastised parents for not spanking their children hard enough to leave bruises, stating their “whimpy” discipline was ineffective. He said fathers and mothers needed to “break their kids’ spirits”, as they were born to rebel. And the husbands needed to keep their wives in line. And of course the wives needed to obey without question, as their sole purpose in life was to be their husband’s “helper”. He espoused a complementarian theology with which I could not disagree more.
This was a recipe for disaster for our already struggling family. Daemon was encouraged to be even more power hungry in our marriage, constantly accusing me of being a “rebellious” wife. He was very harsh with our tiny boys, who were ridiculously well behaved for their ages and did not need his heavy hand to keep them in line. I felt truly afraid for my dear children. And here I was pregnant with a little girl. I did not feel we were safe in our own home but felt trapped like a bird in a cage, though my countenance remained cheerful and hopeful. I often thought, "I really do know why the 'caged bird sings'".
We traveled by car, with no stops along the way, all the way to Boston that summer for my parents’ 25th anniversary party. We stayed for a couple of weeks, and then drove to Michigan, again with no stops, to attend Daemon’s sister’s wedding there. I remember like it was yesterday how both our families reacted, more through their expressions than anything, when they witnessed Daemon’s harsh treatment of the boys. My parents and siblings made little comments about how “they were just little children” and they acted tense when Daemon was around. My sister-in-law’s husband used to walk out of the house because he could not handle the harsh spankings and violent threats. It is exceedingly painful to remember those times, because I was at a loss for what to do and was mistaken about what God would want me to do. I stood between Daemon and the boys as much as possible to protect them, and I almost never left them in his care. But, no matter how hard I tried, they endured much pain and terror, and their father has a lot of answer for. I often thought of the scripture,
“Whomever causes the least of these to stumble, it would be better that he have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown to the bottom of the sea”.
I know with all my heart and mind that if I had tried to leave, Daemon would have used his unusual gifts of persuasion and manipulation to try to gain full custody of my boys. I couldn’t imagine a world without my sons or a world where they were alone with him all the time. Or even half of the time. Or even a quarter of the time. I was in a constant state of confusion and frustration, turning around and around in my mind, lost in the hopeless, frightening landscape around me.
When we returned to Houston, things were as bad as ever. I was six months pregnant and due to have our baby girl soon. I remember one night Damon telling me he was going out with Paul and his friend Tom. I asked where, and he said some sort for boxing match. Candy came over with her husband and his friend, and Daemon, along with the three of them, was whispering and laughing as they all kept glancing my way. I had no idea what was going on, but I felt very uncomfortable and excluded. With my huge stomach, I handled the boys’ dinner, bath time and bedtime, and then sat down with Candy to chat until the guys came home. When they did return, they were, again, laughing, seemingly in my direction. Even Candy seemed in on the joke.
When they left, I demanded to know what was so funny and why they were being so secretive. Daemon confessed that the boxing match was in a “gentleman’s club" where there were strippers.
Maybe some women wouldn’t be bothered by this, but I am not one of them. During our vows, my husband had committed to being faithful to me alone, for life, and he should not have been laughing behind my back, making a fool of me, joking about seeing other women naked or provocatively dancing around half naked. I felt so injured as I tried to choke back tears, as I fell into bed, exhausted in body and crushed in spirit. It was his lie and his mockery that made me feel so very alone, and I felt alone and deserted all the time we lived in Houston. I missed my family and all that was familiar more than words could say.
For my birthday and Christmas, my parents and grandparents used to send me big packages full of carefully chosen treasures. I remember like it was yesterday how I would steel away each coveted box in a corner and wait until everyone was fast asleep, and then creep out into the living room, breathless, as I opened presents from my beloved family. In the dimmed light of my living room, tears fell from my eyes like a torrent as I opened each specially chosen gift, and longed for home. I felt like I had my own special secret, as I unwrapped each present. Those were such comforting moments for me. How I tried to be strong as I navigated my unsafe world. How I tried to persevere while walking on eggshells day by day. I felt like I had my own special secret, as I unwrapped each present. Those were such comforting moments for me.
They say in an abusive relationship, or to some degree in any relationship, two people do a sort of “dance”. One makes a move and the other has learned the move they are expected to make in response. No one thinks about it consciously, of course. But early in my marriage I had learned the “dance” well, and I knew not to alter the choreography in any way, mastering my expected part. I knew, for example, that I was always in danger and never safe. I could never relax. I was not able to express opposing ideas or opinions, ever, and I was only allowed to approach Daemon about any topic with a gentle, meek, subservient attitude. Even then, more often than not, I was dismissed as overreactive, hysterical, or dramatic.
I tried in every way I could to tell my husband that he was too hard on the boys. I never used the word “abuse” because I did not yet realize that’s what we were dealing with, as hard as that may be to believe. Daemon’s father had been extremely violent with his mother, and with Daemon and his siblings as well. He had slapped and punched and pushed his wife on many occasions, even breaking her glasses and leaving bruises all over her. My husband did not see himself as abusive because he used different tactics. He thought he was better. Yes, he pushed me and he spanked the kids in excess. But, I would say his abuse was more insidious. He specialized in spiritual abuse, which it took me decades to understand existed. He used God’s precious Word, and my and the kids desire to honor and obey God, against us. He used God’s Word as a weapon, to control, to manipulate, to silence, and to have power over us. It was the cruelest form of abuse I have ever experienced.
Even before my sweet daughter graced the world with her presence, Daemon was accusing me of being wicked, intrinsically evil, a “usurper of his God-given authority”, a rebel, self-absorbed, and unwilling to “submit”. Oh, how I have grown to hate that last word. One night I tried to talk to him about his treatment of our dear sons. I could see the fear in their eyes whenever their dad even began to raise his voice or become upset at me or at them. Daemon literally grabbed me by the neck, looked into my eyes, and with seething hatred said,
“You are not my wife.”
I passed out. Literally. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in our bed, no longer in the living room. I was in a state of shock at the disdain my husband had for me. I can’t explain it, but it was so real. What did he mean, “you’re not my wife”? Because I tried to tell him he’s too harsh with our little sons? Because I have a brain and an opinion about the matter? I lived in constant fear. And when Daemon, on occasion, did do something especially kind for me, I would be ecstatic beyond words. I lived for those moments. Trauma bonding. That’s what he created between him and me and him and the kids. ADD MORE HERE.
We occasionally had access to a vehicle and visited Daemon at his school, for graduation or to watch a sporting event he was coaching. I began to notice how inappropriately close he seemed with some of his female students. It was extremely unsettling to me. I was in my late twenties but had maintained a tiny figure and kept myself looking as lovely as I possibly could. But, I could not compete with girls ten years younger who had never birthed children or lived in a war zone. I felt strangely jealous of his laughing so hard with them and of their little inside jokes. When I would try to interject something or participate in the conversation, Daemon would roll his eyes to them, making a fool out of me. I just don’t know how to explain how that hurt. It hurt so much. I felt so utterly abandoned in those moments. But, who could I tell?
Once in a while we went out on a date, maybe on our anniversary or some other special occasion. Daemon would enlist one of his students, especially one beautiful girl in particular, to come watch the boys. I fully trusted these seventeen-year-old girls, as they were exceptional straight A students with great morals and ethics and unusual maturity for their ages. But, seeing how my husband interacted with them made me want to vomit. It was hard to enjoy those dates, especially since Daemon was often distant, pensive, and emotionally unavailable through our “special evening". I often felt like I was eating alone. He would brighten up and get animated as soon as we got home, and his ridiculously sweet student with the short skirt, full figure, and beautiful face recounted her night with our boys. I felt so incredibly alone. I had not signed up for this! I thought about how much my dad loved my mom. I would have given anything for Daemon to love me a smidgen of that much.
We continued to spend a lot of time with Paul and Candy. Her relationship with Daemon made me more and more uncomfortable. One day Candy was visiting while I was still pregnant with my sweet girl. When my husband got home, he lit up when he saw her, as did she. After a while she said she had to get home to Paul, and my husband suddenly maintained he had to retrieve a forgotten something from his car. He descended the outside stairs with her and disappeared for longer than expected. I wondered if they were down there kissing. My pregnant stomach twisted into knots and I felt like I was I a mild state of shock. I’ll never know what happened that day.
On another occasion, Candy followed Daemon down the hallway to our. bedroom, her new Bible in her hands. She sat next to him on our bed, and was asking him questions about the meaning of a certain Bible story, and that’s the state I found them in. I was shocked. I had no boundaries then, and really no voice, so I said nothing, but, completely off-balance, walked back out to my living room. I felt so ill. What was he thinking? What was she thinking? Her husband seemed oblivious to it all! I was so zealous about being a good mother that I never let these devastating situations keep me down for long. I pressed on and did the best I could to make the boys’ lives happy and fulfilled.
On weekends we often took day trips with our friends. Although it was sometimes enjoyable, there was always pain mixed in because Daemon never put boundaries around himself so that other women couldn’t access him. He left himself quite open for emotional attachments to other, always beautiful, females. This became a trend throughout our married life, much to my excruciating sadness. I had been raised by a mom who taught me the importance of faithfulness and devotion, and it didn’t matter what other man flirted with or tried to get close to me, they never succeeded. I had eyes only for my husband. I adored him, and I so wished he felt the same way about me. I truly thought he was the handsomest, strongest, most attractive man in the world. I always felt like I was chasing him all our lives together. He never chased me.
One day we were at church and a friend of mine asked,
“Are you concerned about the relationship between Daemon and Candy at all? It seems like they’re way too close and aren’t acting appropriately towards each other.”
She wasn’t the only one who asked. What a blessing that was, in a way, as it prevented me from feeling like I was imagining things or I was crazy. Daemon gaslighted me all the time, trying to get me to believe that I didn’t know what I knew, that my reality wasn’t reality. Though it grounded and validated me, I was so hurt and alarmed to think others had noticed Daemon's attentions to Candy, too. I tried to talk with Daemon about it and faced his wrath as he portrayed me as a pathetic, jealous, insecure woman with a vivid imagination. But, I knew I was right. And I knew it wouldn’t stop.
Within this uneasy and unstable atmosphere, the most beautiful little girl in the world was born. My heart was filled to overflowing by her sweet presence in my life. Our daughter was nothing but a blessing from day one. Her birth was very different from the others. I was two weeks late, as usual, and had to be induced. My mother in law came to stay with us for a month before the delivery and while we adjusted to having three children. She looked concerned for me the morning I left for the hospital, as my stomach was enormous, especially for my petite size. Upon admission, I was put on Pitocin right away, and the doctor insisted on my having an enormous enema while in full-on labor! It was pretty awful. When I was released to go to my private bathroom, conveniently situated in my Victorian-themed birthing room, I discovered the door was locked. I knocked with urgency, only to hear,
“Sorry, I’m having technical difficulties. It’ll be a while, hon.”
I tried to explain my predicament to Daemon, to no avail. I was too prideful to empty the contents of my bowels on the floor, so I exercised all the self control I possessed while quietly enduring massive contractions at around 9 centimeters, waiting to get into that bathroom. I remember the nurse saying she had never met someone so sweet or patient before. Ha! I didn’t have a choice. If I had raised my voice to or shown impatience towards Daemon, I would have paid dearly, on the brink of delivering his daughter or not.
When he finally emerged, unconcerned, and with no apology, I ran in, sat down, and felt like my entire digestive tract came out, and the baby, too! I made my way back to the bed and delivered my darling girl within minutes, three hours from the time I was admitted! She was over 9 pounds, and as with the first two deliveries, I had no pain killers administered. I felt amazed that I did it again! How I wished my parents were there to see their sweet, rosy-cheeked, strawberry-blonde granddaughter. I held her tight to me, and my heart felt so whole, in spite of the many cracks and tears within it. I was so proud to carry that little bundle of joy, all dressed in pink, home with me. When I look back now, it is excruciating to think of the world she was born into. A world of violence and yelling and threats and beatings. But she had older brothers who adored her and she rarely cried or fussed; she was the easiest baby ever. Parenting those three cherubs didn’t ever feel hard to me, though they were all born within 2 1/2 years.
After Michael’s birth, I had been in really rough shape and gained a lot of weight that I needed to lose. But, after Joshua’s and Ann’s births, I bounced back and was my tiny self again almost overnight. My stomach was still flat, though its multitude of hideous, raised, red and purple stretch marks was evidence of the three pregnancies I had endured.
My days were filled with joy as I set up little “tea parties” with ginger ale and special cookies for the boys and played all sorts of games with them while I rocked my little Annie with the porcelain complexion, strawberry blonde hair, green eyes, and sweet smile, all of which made her a singular beauty. Daemon’s arrival at home each day was either a blessing or a curse, and we never knew which it would be. He was sweet at times, honestly. I think if he were a monster 24/7 it would have made things seem more black and white and cut and dry for me. It would have been easier. But, the bursts of kindness and thoughtfulness sprinkled in between the ranting and moodiness and violence muddied the waters and made things seem gray and confusing.
One night when Annie was around 8 months old, she woke up screaming in her crib in the middle of the night. She never cried, day or night, so this was a bit disconcerting. I was utterly exhausted from having three kids so close together, and Daemon got up and ran in before I could get there. I was feeling nervous as I approached the crib, the boys looking on from their toddler beds. I saw that Daemon was holding Ann’s tiny shoulders and looking directly into her eyes, teeth clenched, saying, in a frighteningly threatening voice,
“Stop crying, Ann, right now!”
I trembled as I watched the situation escalate. Ann must have been in pain or became terrified at her father’s behavior, because she only cried harder. And harder. Her father picked her up and began to shake her and tell her he said to stop crying. I ran to his side, careful of my attitude, saying,
“It’s ok! I’m here now, and I can take over. You have to get up early for work in the morning…I’ll take care of her.”
I will never forget the look I got and how Daemon clenched his jaw harder and said, “Back off, Hope!”
I said, “No,” and he proceeded to drop Ann back in her crib, turn around, and pick me up and throw me across the room, quite violently, screaming, “I told you to back off!”
I hit the floor hard, in utter shock and disbelief. I immediately bounced back up and ran over to the crib, grabbing my Annie. I looked at Daemon with extreme upset and took my trembling baby girl into the living room, settling into the rocking chair to sing to her and calm her down. I stayed on the floor in her room for the rest of the night once I got her settled again. I didn’t trust Daemon with her anymore. I didn’t trust him with any of our sweet children.
The next morning I asked him, face twisted with pain and confusion,
“How could you throw me across the room like that?! I’m the mother of your children!”
This man who had just a few short years ago committed to love and protect me forever accused me of throwing myself, and then suggested I go to Hollywood because I was such a good actress. Again, he was telling me I didn’t know what I knew to be true. When you are gaslighted day after day, night after night, you really do start to question your reality and even your sanity. But, I knew he had thrown my violently across that room, right in front of my three children, and I could not believe it. What else was he capable of? And what would it take for me to find out?
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