by Hélène Williams
The only place that I feel like I’m worth anything is at work. Well, that’s not true. When it’s just me with my toddler son I feel like I’ve done something right. At work, I consistently get rated “Effective.” But at home, I’m reminded constantly of things I’ve done or do wrong, or forget to do, or of things I shouldn’t say in conversations with the neighbors.
Recently, I made the mistake of researching “verbal abuse,” and what I found was my life. The moment I saw the description of how victims of verbal abuse usually feel, I wanted to not be me. At least, I wanted to not be the me I am now. I wanted to be the me of before, the me that never apologized for things that were not my fault, or for someone else’s mood swings and feelings of inadequacy.
I am scared of what I have become. I am scared of the example I’m setting for my teenager daughter and for my son. I don’t want my daughter to feel like she ever has to apologize when someone else is the problem, and I don’t want my son to feel like he can ever speak to a woman the way his father speaks to me. I want my daughter to be strong, sassy, and willful, the way I was. I want my son to treat a woman with respect, and caring, and like she has a special place in his heart.
But I don’t know what to do.
That’s not true either. I do know what to do, and I try to do it. I try to talk to him about the way what he says—or doesn’t say to me—makes me feel, or about what I need from him in our “relationship,” or, or, or. It doesn’t make a difference, though. We always cycle back into the “It’s your fault,” “I’m sorry” pattern that I just don’t see a way out of. I like to be happy—I like for him to be happy. I want our whole family to be happy. I can’t remember a time, though, when he was really, truly happy. He’s always had a worry, a concern, something that is not right and that makes something—some thing, many things—impossible. There’s always something to be angry about.
And, almost always, that something is someone else’s fault. Except that it’s not. He finds a way, though, to make it be. “If you didn’t. . .then I wouldn’t. . .” I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard that. Or “If you had only. . .then I wouldn’t. . .” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard it, I would be rich. A millionaire. Away from here.
But I’m not. And I stay, because I am in a position where if I didn’t stay, my daughter, son and I would be living in a shelter. I can’t provide enough. Sometimes I want to be here. Sometimes I forget, and everything is great, and everybody loves everybody else, and there is nothing to worry about or be afraid of, or wish for. I only wish I knew what made it change, what I do to trigger the change, how to not trigger the change.
I want to feel like I’m worthy of a special place in someone’s heart; I want to feel like me again.