Or: You Can’t Fix Crazy, So Don’t Try
This story is rather difficult to write because I’ve spent time and energy ignoring and denying my feelings about it. But I was intrigued by this #ninjaprompt. The question: “What would make you run away?” Oh yeah, I’ve got an answer for that one.
Life is all about avoiding pain and it seriously hurts to look back and realize that I had gotten married to one person, and shortly after the ceremony he turned into someone else. Someone I didn’t like. Someone I’d cross the street to avoid.
I had no idea what had happened. In an effort to explain this sudden shift, I googled symptoms. Sudden change in personality. Hoarding. Stubborn insistence on eating the same foods, day after day. Health problems related to diet. Inability to participate in a give-and-take conversation. Narcissism. Poor, or non-existent, personal hygiene. Covert bullying. I finally found a list of all these symptoms listed under something called Asperger’s Syndrome. High-functioning Autism. After the mask dropped, I never saw the man who courted me, ever again.
I met this guy online, and he insisted I move 1,000 miles away to live with him. That was one of the first red flags he waved in my face. So many times I’ve asked myself how I could have been so gullible. I guess I was lonely. That’s not much of an excuse, but it’s the only thing I’ve been able to come up with. If you haven’t ever experienced loneliness before, it can be physically painful. I guess he must have been perceptive enough to recognize my weakness, rather like a lion targeting a gazelle that’s too sick to outrun him. He also must have known how to convince me that if I went with him, I would never be lonely again. Looking back, there was no emotion behind his carefully chosen words, nothing in his eyes or his voice. I learned that he simply does not have it in him, to be able to relate to others. He thought only of his own convenience. He liked the idea of being a husband, so he needed a wife. It was that simple, and that sterile.
At first, life was really good. But then it got downright weird. After a month or so, he quit talking. We’d go weeks without exchanging a single word. He thought a deep, meaningful conversation began with, “Do we need anything at Sam’s Club?”
He hoarded stamps, coins, batteries, playing cards, newspapers, reusable grocery bags, coke bottles, books, movies, rocks, magnets. He never drank the coke or used the grocery bags or read the books or watched the movies or played with the cards. Yet he refused to let me throw them out. I was buried in junk, and starved for attention and simple conversation.
At first he gave me a very generous spending allowance, and I felt like the spoiled rotten housewife I’ve always wanted to be. But this perceived freedom came with strings attached. One day I looked over his shoulder as he balanced the checkbook, and discovered that he had been using my spending to track my whereabouts during the day. He also kept notes in a spreadsheet, of the numbers listed in my phone’s caller ID. He did reverse look-ups on the numbers he didn’t recognize, and carefully entered each name.
This man earned almost six figures in a government IT job, but he went out of his way to appear destitute. He showered every day when I was with him, because I made him. But friends and neighbors said he used to resemble a homeless bum, and the more anyone tried to address the problem the worse it got.
I used to go with him on annual business trips. We always drove (about 1,000 miles), and stopped overnight in a little picnic area halfway there. He refused to consider getting a motel room. His reasoning made perfect sense to him. He feared his coin collection being stolen if he left it home, so he packed the whole thing into the back of his minivan. If we were to stop at a motel he’d have to carry it into the room, so no one would break into the car and steal it. Then he’d have to pack it back up again in the morning. “That’s too much hassle.” So we slept in the car.
After I’d been with him a couple of years, and life was still relatively normal, my creative side began to emerge. I made these dolls and opened a little Etsy shop to sell them. I have no idea why, but he seemed threatened by these dolls. He told me that if I was going to earn my own money, I didn’t need his anymore. He closed our joint bank account and opened another in his name only. When I needed to go grocery shopping, he said that he would take me, and he would buy what we needed from a list that he approved.
In this article, I could have said my husband was a hoarder, that he was paranoid, delusional, cheap, emotionally and financially abusive. But these simple words aren’t descriptive enough to tell you why I bailed on him. At the same time, I’m not sure you’d believe the stories. They’re just too weird.
After a few years of living in Wonderland, I started to worry about my safety. The guy was getting mean and unpredictable and, instead of the situation getting better as I hoped it would, it got progressively worse. I made an appointment with the local chapter of Abused Adult Resource Center, just to ask a few questions and get my bearings.
They’ve got this list of thirteen yes-or-no questions they ask in their intake interviews, to assess the level of danger you’re in. Up to five yes answers suggests a little trouble that bears watching. Up to eight yes answers tells you it’s time to make an exit plan. Anything over eight affirmative answers demonstrates immediate danger, and prompt departure is strongly recommended. I answered yes to all but one of these questions. I moved into a safe house that day, lived there for a year, then found an apartment of my own.
The other day I related one of these horror stories to a friend. The telling reminded me of how crazy it really was, trying to live with him. I felt like an unwilling resident in a state mental hospital — blamed for something I did not do, labeled as something I was not, and held personally responsible to fix everything wrong in somebody else’s world.
Life is a bit more normal now, and certainly a lot more peaceful.
If I were to offer advice to my readers, I’d begin by explaining that no one should make excuses for bad behavior. Period. There really is no excuse for treating someone with any kind of disrespect. And if you allow it, it only gets worse.
Also, don’t ignore those red flags — those subtle, and not-so-subtle hints that something is not right. Even if everything seems normal on the surface and you can’t put a finger on a reason for your unease, Run! That gut feeling is there to protect you.
Do not suffer in silence. I told two friends about what was happening to me — what he said, what he did, how I felt about it. I asked them questions about what normal life was supposed to look like. Their advice and support were priceless, and I credit them for giving me the strength and courage to take care of myself.
You may be the type that thinks you can fix this alone. For many things I’m certain you can. But domestic violence, in any of its forms, is not one of them.
Call for help, preferably from someone else’s phone. Here’s the national hotline. Each state and large city has its own hotline too. Look them up. And clear your browsing history afterwards.
As Abhishek Shukla so clearly puts it,
“Life is too short to be anything but happy.”