It started to go off the rails quite soon after I told him I was leaving. Gradually, as the reality of the magnitude of what I was doing sunk in for him, the angrier he became. When I told him I’d hired a lawyer and wanted to discuss what it would look like to divide our finances he got angry. When I explained how child support might work and that I’d been informed about my rights he got angry.
He tried to convince me that we could put the money for the children into an account that we’d both have access to. That I could buy the things they needed from there. I explained calmly that child support didn’t work that way, that he’d have to pay me and that I could legally use the money for anything related to caring for the children. He was furious. I tried to explain that child support wasn’t just for the children’s clothes and activities, but for anything related to their care. That I could use it for things like utilities bills (so they had heat and electricity) or repairs to the car (if the brakes were broken and it was unsafe for them) etc. He got angrier. We fought. I was so hurt because I felt like he didn’t trust me to manage money, even though I’d been paying our bills and managing household finances for our entire marriage. I didn’t understand at that point, that the issue was power and control. I wanted him to trust me. I kept trying to explain. He got very angry. I thought he might hit me, but he just yelled at me to drop it, to walk away. We were in the basement of our house, near the stairs. He wanted me to go upstairs to let him calm down (he’d been sleeping in the basement as we were separated within the same house). A part of me knew I should go upstairs, but I was so hurt and so upset and I needed him to understand. He was full of rage and I was afraid and crying.
When I didn’t go upstairs he got angrier. He smashed his head through the drywall of the basement wall. I didn’t understand why he would destroy his own property. I was the one leaving, this would soon be his house, not ours. Why damage it?
I was really scared at this point and I wanted to leave. I told him I wanted to take the children to my parents’ house until he calmed down. I needed to calm down as well. I couldn’t stop crying and shaking. I went up to the main floor, but he blocked my way to the upstairs, blocking me from the kids. He told me I could go to my parents’ but I couldn’t take the kids. I kept trying to get by him and he kept holding me back. I told him I was going to call the police. At this point we were upstairs, near my older daughter’s bedroom. He snarled at me “if you call the police I will tell them you are mentally ill and hysterical and they won’t believe you. They will believe me.”
Defeated, I knew he was right. I was too afraid to call. I grabbed my medication and some things and ran out to my car, locked myself in and sobbed. It was late. Maybe midnight. I cried and cried. I called a friend who’d told me that I could call him if I had to leave in an emergency. He didn’t pick up. I was too afraid to tell my parents. I wasn’t willing to leave my kids.
I remember him coming out to the car. Asking me, through the glass, to come into the house. Eventually he went back inside the house. I cried in the car for a long time before realizing I was out of options. I went back into the house, went upstairs and went to sleep.
I could have run with the kids while he was sleeping. But I was too afraid. We lived together, separately for a few more weeks after that night. More recently, I learned that my daughter heard us fighting and me crying and she was afraid. She never told me at the time.
He took the kids to visit his mother. I packed my belongings and moved them to my parents garage. I tried to make the house look as nice as possible before the children returned, so they wouldn’t be afraid. I finished staining the new fence. I hung pictures of his family in place of the ones I took down. I spent hours looking through my photo albums, taking out all the ones of his family that I thought he’d want to keep before packing the albums. I left our wedding album on the bookshelf. I spent 10 days mostly alone, slowly taking apart my life and putting it into boxes.
When he came back from the trip he was cold. He was a white hot, cold rage. His eyes were changed. I knew on some level he was dangerous, but I still wanted to believe it would be okay. I wanted to believe we could separate, and co-parent peacefully in two separate houses.
When he came back there were 3 nights until the day I took possession of my new place. He told me he would be sleeping in our bedroom now and I could sleep downstairs. I didn’t argue. I slept on the couch and lying numb and afraid in my daughter’s bed. I remember having a terrible nightmare on the last night I spent in that house. It was 4 years ago tonight. I dreamed that one of my friends died. It was horrible and sad and I woke up crying.
I woke up and he was gone. The kids had a medical appointment and then we were supposed to go to my parents’ house for the night. I packed up some last things, the children’s clothing and left them by the front door for my Dad to pick up while we were at the appointment. I got an email from him telling me that the plan had changed, that he wouldn’t allow me to take the children. He insisted he would come to get them later in the day, that he didn’t want them exposed to the move and my new house empty. He said the kids would stay with him most of the time until school started. I didn’t agree, I tried to negotiate with him. I remember lying curled up on the floor of my childhood bedroom, crying, sobbing on the phone with him trying to convince him to allow the children to stay with me that night. I’d already been away from them 10 days and they were confused and upset.
My Dad tried to pick up the kids things and he wouldn’t allow him into the house. He was angry and like an animal. My Dad asked him to calm down but he wouldn’t listen. He allowed my Dad to take the things that belonged to me, but not the children’s clothing.
Before dinner, he showed up at my parents’ house. He wanted the kids. We were standing on the front porch and I was asking him to let the kids stay with me. He dragged them away from me. They were crying, especially my older child. He took them anyway. Took them out to dinner to try to bribe them into being okay with what had happened.
I remember lying on the floor of the bedroom, sobbing. Trying to reach my lawyer. Trying to get advice about what to do. Feeling defeated, less than 12 hours after leaving him. It already felt like too much. I was scared and I knew that I’d been living in a dream world for the past 6 weeks, thinking we could live separately and co-parent.
But it would take me another few months, until October of that year, before I truly realized the depths he would go to to take my kids away. It would be a few more months until I realized it was hopeless and there was no chance of a reconciliation, common ground, shared parenting or co-operation.
I spent a few more months telling people that it was “just sexual abuse” and that he was basically a good guy. I spent a few more months believing that it was about sex. I spent a few more months believing before someone told me that abuse was about power and control, and that I had to stop making excuses for him and acknowledge the severity of what was happening.
Every year since then I’ve spent the last few days of August re-living every moment of those last few weeks I spent in my old life. I might have already written this exact blog post last year. Every year I struggle. Every year I feel hopeless. Every year I’m forced to confront the reality that my marriage was abusive, that my ex-husband was very definitely NOT “basically a good guy.”
This year, I received the verdict of the four year long custody battle and family law trial only a few weeks before the anniversary of the leaving.
It took me a year to plan to leave and to execute that plan. It took me 4 more years to get custody of my children.
It took 5 years to leave him. 5 years.
I feel like a chapter in my life has closed. The court verdict drew a line after the last sentence on the final page of the book of my leaving. The book closed. I got free. For a moment I breathed out and my entire body has almost collapsed with the exhaustion of the fight finally ending. I had to hold it together for 5 years. I had to be sane for 5 years. I had to cope. I had to go to work. I had to act normally, when inside I felt like I was being torn apart with the grief of knowing my children were being abused and I couldn’t stop it. I felt like my brain shattered into a million pieces during the last few days of court when my children’s psychological records were disclosed, against their wishes and the wishes of their psychologist, to their father. I felt like I would not survive the anxiety of waiting over 8 months for the verdict of the trial.
But I did survive. I’m not the same person I was 5 years ago. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. This has changed me. It has fundamentally shifted any belief I had in the world being a fair and just place. It has created a dark, sad, hopeless place inside of me that I don’t know how to soothe.
And almost as soon as I breathed out. Almost as soon as the chapter book closed, with the verdict in my favour…before I had a chance to rest or come to a full stop…while I was still almost immobile with exhaustion…
It carried on. A new book opened. A book full of empty blank pages. I have no idea what the future holds. I know that it contains more struggles and more fear. I know that my kids are still not safe, that he will still emotionally abuse them when he has access to them. I know that I will continue to have to fight for my trans daughter’s right to exist safely. I know that I will need to fight every day to hold onto hope and to see the good in the world.
The leaving has ended.
I just don’t know what the living has in store for us.