Spike Gillespie

(WOMENSENEWS)–Please give it back.

He dangles my laptop computer in front of me, out of reach. It’s more than a piece of equipment. It is symbolic–something I bought for myself, worked hard for. Something I use for my writing, to prove my worth, to support my child.

He is angry because I am leaving him. When I tell him, he lunges at me. I duck and he gets a handful of sweater, not shoulder as he had intended. So he seizes the computer instead.

This marriage was an error. A wild manic moment of stupidity I will not ever (never ever) forgive myself for. If I confess that I knew this man only three days in person and just six weeks online before I married him, if I admit that, will you tell me:

Well, then, stupid, you got what you deserved.

Does anyone deserve this?

This short marriage has been hellish and wrong from the get-go but for reasons–some of which I can explain, many of which I can’t–I have stayed. Now I am leaving.

God he is angry. Somehow I get the computer from him. Shaking, I move for the door.

He arrives before me, blocks my exit. He is six foot two, 270 pounds. I am five foot five, 130. He puffs up, furious blowfish. I pray.

How do I escape? I flee to the office of my friend, an attorney. We file for a protective order. I stop the mail. After school, I break the news to my son.

Honey, I’m sorry. We can’t ever go back home again.

I am so tired of telling this story. I hate this story. I don’t want this story to be me. I don’t want it to be my life. I want to wake up from it. I want it to be gone.

But I keep telling it.

And every time I tell it, I risk provoking him more, prompting some unpredictable wrath. I do not tell out of some wish to be a martyr for the cause. Nor do I tell to pummel him–I will not say his name. I tell because others can’t. Because they’re too afraid of what might happen.

I’m afraid, too. But I overrule the voice telling me silence will keep him away, will keep him from knowing my biggest fear. Because if he decides to come for me, nothing will stop him. And because, let’s face it, he already knows what I fear most.

They all know what we all fear most.

It is not ourselves we are worried for. Let them come, put bullets through our hearts, leave us dead in crimson puddles on the ground. For then it will be over. The constant vigil, the jumping at every loud noise, the agoraphobia that seizes us. All that will be finished.

But we know–and they know, too–that if they take our children, that will rip a hole bigger in our heart than the biggest bullet out there. It is their bargaining chip, the thing they hold over us.

Don’t call the cops. Don’t make me mad. I’ll take away the thing you love most of all. I will render you the walking dead.

Look at me: I am white. I am educated. I am responsible. I am a room mother. I am not poor. Look at him: He is white. He is educated. He is a prominent businessman. Son of an Ivy League physics professor. Raised wealthy. Former missionary.

We are not whatever stereotype comes to mind when you think domestic violence.

The protective order, temporary, expires. In its place, I procure a less potent temporary restraining order. This he violates numerous times over the course of a dragged out divorce. And he taunts me, noting his violations proudly.

So what are you going to do–divorce me?

What I do is have my lawyer present his lawyer with evidence. Consequently, he signs off on nine concurrent suspended jail sentences–one for each admitted violation. He agrees to probation. A permanent restraining order is written into the divorce. The judge shakes his head in disbelief as my lawyer explains. He grants the divorce, locks eyes with me.

Good luck.

Threatening emails continue, and friends and colleagues tell me they are receiving odd correspondence, too. Some bear his return address. Some is anonymous or from fictional characters. I am already in the throws of post-traumatic stress disorder. My terror heightens as I begin each morning with the same thought.

You are prey.

It becomes nearly impossible for me to leave the house, except for groceries and to take my child to school, where everyday I have fear and guilt–that he will come and hurt my child, that he will hurt other children.

The principal, conferred with to strategize safety, will tell me about an ex-stepfather who once did come and take his ex-step-child. A teacher intervened and was hurt. New policy: if my ex comes for my son, they won’t intervene. They’ll call the cops. But they won’t stop the guy.

This is more than I can handle. I move. To another state. I’ve already been living in hiding. Already–illegally–have an incorrect address on my license because I know he can track me through public records.

I return for a court date. I have hired a lawyer because I have continued to receive weird e-mails and I am convinced my ex-husband is the source. The judge does not take me seriously. Essentially, she rules I cannot prove he has sent these notes. Perhaps someone has broken into his workplace, hacked into his computer and has chosen to send weird letters to me from his account.

A friend of mine at SafePlace (formerly the Center for Battered Women) winces when she hears this judge’s name–the same judge who acts apologetic when handing men protective orders–orders that can only be procured when violence or threat of violence has already occurred.

Here in Texas, John Battaglia’s ex-wife had a restraining order against him. In mid-April, 2001, she reported a violation of that order. A warrant for Battaglia’s arrest was not executed promptly. The ex-wife then went to the Dallas District Attorney. On Thursday, May 3, 2001 the necessary paperwork reached the court.

By then, Battaglia was already in jail. Why? Because his two daughters, Faith, 9 and Liberty, 6, had been found shot to death in their father’s loft on May 2nd. Long before his trial (a Dallas Jury convicted him and sentenced him to death in April) you did not need to consult a family expert or the prosecution to postulate possible motive.

My ex-husband used to tell me about how his father beat his mother. He told me he, himself–as an adult– had once blackened her eye.

Battaglia, too, had a past record of domestic violence. In 1987, he was accused of beating his first wife into unconsciousness. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge. He received probation.

I don’t know if Battaglia ever witnessed family violence in his childhood. I do know that, according to a 1996 report by the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family, “a child’s exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.”

I also know that leaving a batterer is trickier than it seems. Often, friends of battered women give up in exasperation when she returns repeatedly to her abuser.

Part of the problem is definition of batterer. Once, a friend’s friend leapt to my ex’s defense when I pointed out he was abusive.

But he didn’t hit you, did he?

Technically, she was right. Like many, she had a narrow definition of battering, did not know that control–the root of domestic violence–can be exerted in many sadistic ways. He had restrained me, nearly breaking my wrists. He woke me nightly, two or three or four a.m., demanding I concede to some argumentative point, depriving me of sleep until I did–the way terrorists break hostages. He wanted me to lose weight, dress better, behave differently. He insisted he was sober and drug-free, only to abuse alcohol and prescription drugs regularly.

All of this left me broke and broken, a shriveled shadow of who I was before I met him, unsure of myself on all levels. Learning about domestic violence first hand cost me plenty. Every last dime I had divorcing him, fleeing him, hiding from him, taking him to court, seeking therapy for my son and me.

It cost me my dignity, my security, and any sense of safety I ever had. I will not ever, for as long as he is alive, be able to sleep soundly, to keep my head from snapping around whenever a door opens. To stop myself from jumping when car honks or a coworker comes up behind me, puts a friendly hand on my arm without warning.

Battering is an out-of-control attempt to control others. And when the batterer doesn’t get what the batterer wants (something that is ever-changing and never possible to fulfill) he gets even. He throws a left hook, a verbal jab. He takes away her privileges. He takes away her esteem. Maybe he takes away her teeth. Or her life.

But in the worst case situations, he takes away her children.

The pain lasts forever. Not just for the mother. For the friends and the classmates and the parents of the friends and classmates and the teachers. For people who read the news reports and shake their heads in disbelief.

I am so tired of writing about this. I so want to pretend that it never happened to me. I speak out because I can’t not. I speak out because so many women are bullied into silence. I speak out because every time I read about a man who takes revenge against an ex-partner, I feel a warning tap on my own shoulder. I hear a voice in my ear.

Never ever let down your guard.

We must escape. We must show our children that we will not put up with the abuse and that they must not either. We must pressure the courts. We must refuse to accept the label of misdemeanor for brutal assault.

We have already lost Faith. And Liberty. For them, for every victim of domestic violence, we must demand justice.

Spike Gillespie writes a regular column for The Dallas Morning News and is the author of “All The Wrong Men And One Perfect Boy.”

For more information:

American Psychological Association
Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family: