[ TRIGGER WARNING: Descriptions of verbal + emotional abuse ]
“Don’t buy the ice cream,” he said.
“But they’ll ask for ice cream,” I answered, glancing at the grocery list.
He shot me a chilly stare, and I knew better than to buy the ice cream.
After church the next day, our guests gathered in our charming New England home. The dining room table looked lovely set with winter white china. I had roasted a turkey to serve with dressing, green beans, and a much-loved recipe that my grandmother, and mother, always served during the holidays. The group chatted pleasantly. I cleared the plates, handed out cups of steaming coffee, and waited until the time was right to offer dessert.
“May I have some ice cream?” A guest asked, politely, as I handed him a dish of apple pie.
A swirl of emotions welled in my stomach—humiliation, pain, anger, and fear. The pie looked naked on the dish.
“I’m sorry, “ I answered, flustered. “We don’t have any.” Grasping for what else to say, I lied: “I forgot to buy the ice cream.”
My then-husband watched apathetically, lifted a fork, and ate the pie as if nothing had happened.
It took nine years for me to piece together that something was seriously wrong with our marriage. The realization hit while walking one winter afternoon. Plowing my boots through deep snow, it occurred to me that I no longer painted, read books, wrote stories, or danced. Up to that point, our relationship had revolved primarily around what my husband wanted. I had worked hard to support him through a prestigious Boston area business school. I had moved 13 times to advance his career. After taking a corporate job, he had lived largely in a separate sphere, and shared little with me.
Somewhere along the way, my passionate interests—for travel, history, theology, and writing—had fallen by the wayside.
Behind the scenes, my husband severely criticized my mistakes—some real, some imagined—and his responses were increasingly cruel. Nothing that I did was right—Up was down. Down was up. Sideways was straight. And upside down became my new normal. He glared. He cut me down with words. He spent weeks in chilly silence without explaining why, even when I asked. It felt as if I must read his mind, and know the future, to avoid ticking him off. If I stood up for myself, he backed me into corners, pushed me against walls, or onto the bed, until I apologized. I tried to admit my mistakes, and own real ways that I had hurt him. The more I apologized, the more he seemed to resent me.
It made little sense—like Alice strolling through a pleasant forest, one moment, then tumbling into Wonderland, in the next. I imagined the girl falling through a dark hole, brushing off her skirt, and tilting her head to make sense of the suddenly topsy-turvy surroundings. “You are everything I want in a wife,” he had proclaimed before popping the question that little girls wait to hear at the end of fairy tales: “Will you marry me?” Continue Reading in SheLoves . . .
[ Names and identifying details have been changed. ]
Amy R. Buckley, 2014