Monday, March 10, 2008

Part XI: November

One coping mechanism Mitch and I discovered early on for dealing with our shaky foundation was moving. We fell into a pattern of packing up our tattered belongings and moving somewhere new for a fresh start. I was never happy or even satisfied with the dank little motel room masquerading as an apartment we inhabited so by November we were fed up and more than ready to move out of the dreary thin-walled place that seemed to be choking our marriage. And not a moment too soon. Days before we moved I met our next-door neighbor on the landing as I stepped outside, only to discover I knew him. He was my newly assigned advisor, a new professor in the history department. I was mortified, fearing he could hear through our bedroom wall. But I was less concerned with him hearing the usual activities of newlyweds and more afraid he had overheard our frequent fights - the yelling, the screaming, the tears. I didn't even acknowledge that I knew him, I just ducked my head and ran down the stairs hoping he hadn't seen or recognized me an arm's length away.

At the first of November, we moved to a beautiful little apartment much closer to campus that was new - NEW! The carpeting and kitchen was all light and I fell in love with the bright blue carpet, the whole thing was so alluring despite its higher price tag. The trouble with moving from a furnished (however shabbily) to an unfurnished apartment is gathering up enough basics to actually move in. Neither of us brought much of anything into the marriage as far as material possessions. We had the wedding gifts, our clothes and a box or two of books. I also had a TV. That meant we had to round up a bed, couch, dresser and something to hold the TV. One of the strange things about college is how easy it is to locate a cheap, used couch. A brother or roommate of a boyfriend of a friend of mine (as such things always go) delivered couches and was often asked to haul away the old, rejected furniture he was replacing so he sold us a $20 nubby brown couch. Lucky for us it was also a hide-a-bed which gave us a place to sleep until we could locate a bed. Or, more accurately, until we could take delivery of the bed my parents were donating to our cause. Other items were soon donated including a dining table, a giant microwave and tv stand. We were set.

Moving into that new apartment with its large living room window, I was convinced everything bad was behind us. Late-night confessions of doubt and drugs were left to fester at the motel where they belonged. We had made it through the trying first month and now we were settled into this new routine and all was well. But I had only moved, briefly, into the eye of the storm - the calming center where all appeared as normal but for the hair standing on end on the back of my neck. Mitch was just bolstering me up and leading me down the path of trust again.

We attended classes, I searched for a job and I began my short-lived pursuit of a teaching certificate. I was a history major and a music minor and when I made the decision to get married I realized I should plot out a career path that might yield fruit sooner rather than later. I secretly wanted to be a lawyer but did not tell anyone of this out of fear they would discourage me. I decided that since Mitch had four whole years of college to go I should pick up my teaching certificate so I could start working before going on to graduate school, law school or otherwise. Wisely, the first class in the teaching series included an observation seminar wherein students were sent into schools to observe and help out. My teaching aspirations were targeted primarily at the secondary level - preferably history or music. Unfortunately, no one paid any attention to my goals and I was given the assignment to observe a 6th grade math class. I hated math in school. HATED! I confess that I only took one math class in college - Math 101 - and I took it my very first quarter of school to get it over and out of my way. And 6th graders? Kids who are trapped in that awkward not-yet-a-teenager but no-longer-a-child age are horrible. Half the girls are still playing with Barbies and the other are trying to experiment with their newly discovered hormones to attract the terribly awkward, runty little boys who coped by yelling, spitting and swearing. I was called mean and even worse, I was called Mrs. I hated being called by my married name with Mrs. attached to the front like an old woman. I believe that chance assignment is the single greatest reason I never pursued teaching.

The calm was short-lived.


The first time I was introduced to the cycle of abuse was sitting in a criminal law course my first year of law school just three years later. My heart started pounding and my pulse raced as I sank into my chair while others in the class batted around the legitimacy of battered women's syndrome as a defense. I flipped through the reading assignment I had neglected the night before horrified I was so ill-prepared for this discussion. Inside I was screaming, crying, running, defeated. How could this be I thought as I stared at the pattern colorfully illustrated in my text book: Tension Building at 12 with an arrow pointing toward Incident at 3 leading to Reconciliation at 6 and another arrow pointing to Calm at 9 and a final arrow circling back to Tension Building. Round and round with no end. I was seeing a counselor for the second time and no one had ever outlined the pattern for me or even acknowledged there was such a thing. Yes, the police once gave me a list of "signs of abuse" but I was too stunned by their presence in my apartment and the handcuffs on my husband to focus on anything more on the list than "cruelty to pets" which captured my broken heart as my dog barked wildly from the downstairs bathroom in which he was locked.

Discovering this in a class of opinionated, predominantly male, law students I felt overpowered by the horror of it. They were questioning the women in the cases in front of us, their judgment, their terror, their lack of rational thought. But what held me riveted was not the syndrome we were supposed to be debating, it was this cycle. How could it be a cycle, I wondered. How could my experience be set forth so plainly as a recognizable pattern in a base form of human behavior. My experience was not an anomaly. Perhaps this should have comforted me, instead I felt deflated. Somewhere in human nature a pattern was set out for manipulating a spouse into submission and I had fallen prey. I saw it so clearly sitting there with the graphic in front of me showing the cycle repeating itself in an unending circle. I recognized the placation of the abuser as tension mounted, I closed my eyes to block out the memories of violent outbursts followed by exaggerated yet somehow accusatory apologies that were ignored by us both as soon as possible.

Not many years, or possibly even months, before my marriage I recall loudly questioning these ridiculous women who refused to leave abusive husbands. My ignorant judgment failed to understand the emotional isolation to which these women were confined. They no longer understood what was normal and were so reliant on their abuser they accepted his accusation that it was indeed their fault when they made him so angry he was forced to hit them.


Memory is a tricky thing. Not long after Mitch and I moved, we moved into stage 2 of the cycle - Incident. I do not remember what escalated us from stage 1 tension or how or precisely when the incident occurred or even what happened.

One of the few pieces of furniture we had at that point aside from the couch was a glass-topped kitchen table donated by my aunt. He slammed something onto the table and it shattered. Then, during that fight, or perhaps another day, I forget, he hit me for the first time. Although he may not have hit me. He may have shoved me or grabbed me or perhaps I did just run into the open front door. I do not remember. My loss of memory is not due to the twelve and a half years standing between me and that date. Almost as soon as it happened I shoved it so far out of my head that I completely forgot about it. Completely. Even to the point of comfortably and rationally explaining away the bruise he left on my forearm.

What I clearly remember is standing in the living room after Mitch left sobbing hysterically holding the cordless phone with my poor mother on the other end, her voice cautious and still. I held myself in check as I returned to rational thought, recognizing this was not something I could disclose, so I wished it away into the some dark recess of my head, never to be opened again. I told her we were in a fight but withheld the violent details. My mother, however, has always been the intuitive type and from that point forward she knew there was something wrong and I believe she fervently prayed for me daily.


Annie said...

You are amazing. My heart aches for you. You are amazing.

Emily said...

Oh, Alyssa. I'm so, so sorry. {{hugs}}

DeAnn said...

Wow! This really made me think. Abuse is a funny thing - whether it happens when you are a child or older. How is it that the abuser doesn't even really have to say to "not tell" but somehow we just know not to tell?

I can't imagine the personal hell you lived through. But you are amazing and brave and by telling your story your hell won't be in vain. Someone will read it that needs it, or someone who reads it will share with someone who needs it. Thanks for letting us peak into your soul.

Ma said...

I will never forget the day you called me. I felt physically ill that day after speaking to you. Unfortunately, my intuition was right. I remember asking you questions that you dodged and telling you to not let him destroy you . . . I was meaning emotionally because I hadn't expected any physical abuse at that point. I wanted to tell you to leave him right that minute . . . I would have been thrilled if you had changed your mind about marrying Mitch on the day of your wedding because of what I was feeling even though I didn't really know Mitch. I know you well enough to know that you had to come to the decision to leave Mitch on your own. I couldn't tell you to leave him because you may have resented me and always felt that it would have worked out if you had only given it a little more time.

I must admit that I have often asked myself if I did the right thing in not telling you to leave him right then.

Beck said...

What a nightmare, Alyssa. No one deserves a relationship like that - you're a strong, strong woman for being where you are now.

jani vegas said...


My name is Janet--I'm Tiffany's sister-in-law. I feel like I sort of know you from your comments on Tiff's blogs.

I have to tell you how much I admire you for sharing this story. You are an incredibly wise and strong person. I can't even imagine how you lived through this nightmare. I also am SO impressed with your wonderfully wise and supportive parents. How difficult it must have been for them to watch you go through this! But also, how wise they were to know this was something they couldn't rush in a fix for you--that you had to come to terms with it and deal with in when you were ready. They are awesome--and I can tell they raised a Fabulous daughter.

Thanks for allowing me to add my two cents!!

hovergirl said...

I totally remember talking to you when you guys moved to SLC and you played off the broken kitchen table thing like an accident and a joke. And then I have a vague memory of sitting on campus at the U and your telling me that you guys were having an argument and some lame neighbor called the police. At the time, my ears pricked up a little, but I didn't know what to say. If I had asked you what was going on, would you have told me? I love you then and now and always.

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