by Rebecca Strong
Welcome to your twentieth year of marriage, en route to your twenty-first, with continued service to hell if you decide to continue on this journey. All your grievances, bruises, and tears should have long ago become the reason for your divorce, but instead are stowed securely deep in the crevices of your chest. Please use caution when you reach for them, as the blame for what’s been done to you may have shifted over the years.
All aisles, exits, and the bulkhead area should have been cleared from all extraneous emotions, and especially the ones that infringe on his ability to hurt you. You’re to stay seated with your seatbelt securely fastened if he makes a face that looks like he is about to hit you, calls you “stupid” in front of your daughters, or tells you he’s “going to beat the shit” out of you.
All your protests and requests for conversation should now be turned off and stowed as they may interfere with his ability to think he is a great husband and a wonderful father. When he is ready to engage, he’ll let you know, and you may raise an approved topic of conversation. Note that some topics may not be raised at all during the marriage. You’ll gauge the list of approved topics from your past experiences of being snapped at, belittled, and criticized.
If you are seated in a military-spouse seating area, please review your responsibilities. They include foregoing your career, organizing all relocations, reassembling a home, helping your children adjust to different schools, and making a new life for yourself every time you move. None of these responsibilities entail any compensation —financial or otherwise—but they come with his belief that you must earn your keep. If you prefer not to take a minimum-wage position and instead decide to dedicate your time to something you love while making a pittance, he will be happy to deride you with “I have a woman at home who does nothing” statement every time you spend money on something he doesn’t like.
As you continue on your journey, please make sure your feelings are fastened. To fasten them, don’t tell anyone that he yells at you if your teenagers are taking too long to get ready to leave the house, blames you in fights you have with them over homework, snaps at you if the GPS isn’t fast enough—or if it’s wrong—and throws scorn on every vacation plan you ever made while never making one himself. Also, keep mum about having to wait for him to leave before you make a phone call so you can avoid being criticized, and about sidestepping questions that will earn you a condescending remark, and about being called “bitch” in front of your children more times than you care to count. To release those feelings, compare how other men you know never treat their wives the way he treats you.
Remain with your feelings securely fastened any time you are with your parents or friends. Even if it’s safe to release them, it’s best to keep them fastened in case you experience some unexpected change in his behavior. You are required to comply with the notion that most of his outbursts are your doing. Freedom from shame isn’t allowed and the “it’s your fault” law prohibits tampering with, disassembling, or destroying the secrecy that feeds that shame.
There are several emergency exits, but none of them are simple. Please take a moment to consider them for the umpteenth time, keeping in mind that the most difficult exit might be the one you’d have to take. That exit is equipped with a “middle-aged woman” slide that may be used to explain how, following the divorce, you’ll likely end up with no health insurance, no means of sustenance, and no work, because you spent the last twenty years moving around to support his career. All exits are clearly marked with stomach cramps, migraines, and involuntary crying.
If you experience a loss of power leading to a reduction in the visibility of a happy future, a floor-level fetal position will guide your tears to the exits. In the event of a drop in your ability to breathe, get out of bed and pull a piece of paper and a pen towards you. To start the flow of writing, remember all the things he’s ever said or done to you, and write normally. Although the words you’re transcribing seem to slow the flow of oxygen to your body, continue to breathe. If you are traveling with children, write everything down first and then beat yourself up for not having assisted those children by leaving the marriage long ago.
Your life vest of courage is located under the thick layers of paralyzing dread. To reach it, dig below the fear of loneliness, of being broke, of shame, of sleepless nights, and of guilt. Slip the vest over your head and pass the straps of “I can do it” around your waist. To inflate the vest, pick up the telephone and dial the lawyer you’ve researched. You can activate a light of further bravery by securing all of your bank and credit card accounts ahead of time so that he cannot do to you what his father did to his mother.
You’ll find this and all other safety information in the domestic abuse handbook available freely on the Internet. We strongly suggest you read it before proceeding on this journey. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to lock yourself in the bathroom and wonder for the umpteenth time if all of this has been your fault and if you’re doing the right thing. Once again, welcome on board to your life’s worst nightmare no matter what you decide. Thank you for journeying with us, but we’d like to never see you on this trip again.