We’re back with another round of “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Laura Edgerton talks about her abusive marriage and the strength she found to leave it in search for a better life for herself and her daughter. -JKM
I am married to an abusive man who tells me every single day that I am a bad wife, stupid, worthless, nothing. I think that maybe he’s right.
I kneel in front of the toilet in our one-bedroom apartment before work one morning, hoping that my roiling stomach will calm down so that I can leave on time. He pauses in the open doorway to adjust his tie and, with a sneer on his face, cruelly says, “Look at you. You can’t even hack being pregnant.” He leaves the apartment without saying goodbye.
It is July of 1999, a humid, sweltering Minneapolis summer. In a hospital recovery room, my husband sits with our newborn daughter, looking at her skeptically. I lie in the bed and watch him stiffly holding her. I wonder what will become of us.
I take my daughter to daycare each day, go to work, keep my emotions in check until I can be alone in the shower each night, long after she has fallen asleep. I stand under the spray of hot water, stoned, my eyes closed, my shoulders heaving with silent sobs. I am completely alone. I don’t know where my husband is, and I know better than to question him. Once, when I tried to reach him late at night, a woman answered his phone. We never discussed where he had been. When my daughter wakes up, I cradle her in my arms, holding her bottle carefully to her rosebud lips. I kiss her forehead and cheeks as she nuzzles against me; I cry softly into the dark fuzzy down on her head. “I’m sorry-I’m sorry-I’m sorry-I’m sorry-I’m sorry,” I whisper against her soft skin, as the taste of salty tears runs into my mouth. I am failing her for allowing her to be in a household where her father spends every evening yelling at me and berating me over the most trivial things, telling me how stupid I am, telling me how much he hates us and how he wishes we were both dead. It doesn’t take much to set him off—an innocent glance that he misinterprets as a defiant challenge, another man noticing me in public, where I go to eat lunch. I know by now to always stay a step ahead of him, to have the answers ready. “Stupid fucking bitch,” he says, over and over again. The words might as well be tattooed on my arm.
I’ve had enough. I don’t want to live this way anymore. The fear, exhaustion, and shame of this life is too much. I try to stand up for myself as he is screaming at me. My voice quavers as I tell him not to speak to me that way again. His handsome face contorts in anger; his hand rises up so quickly, as though he intends to slap me across the face, that I stumble backward into our glass coffee table and fall down hard against the rough, beveled edge. “Look what you made yourself do,” he says, shaking his head in disgust as he turns and walks away. I have an ugly scratch and a huge bruise on my back for a week. He never asks to see the marks, never apologizes.
“You’re lucky that I never hit you,” he tells me sometimes. “Don’t you ever forget that.”
I wash and fold endless piles of laundry, accompanied only by the television and my own thoughts throughout the long, lonely nights. I spoon sticky white rice and seared kielbasa sausage onto a plate and top all of it with a fried egg and a big puddle of sweet-and-spicy, garlicky chili sauce. I light candles that smell like vanilla and cinnamon. I eat pints of vanilla ice cream swirled with salty caramel sauce and pockets of thick fudge. My daughter’s even breaths sound quietly from the baby monitor, an assurance that she is sleeping safely. Eating late at night, filling my emotional void with delicious foods, makes me feel simultaneously comforted and ashamed. I tell myself I can get through another night.
I used to think that rape could never happen within a marriage, but when my husband arrives home from wherever he’s been all night, I know not to protest. He is usually so drunk that he doesn’t notice the tears sliding silently down my cheeks in the dark as he fucks me so hard that I am certain he’s ripping me apart. I wait for him to finish, to finally slip into his nightly vodka-induced blackout, so that I can go into the bathroom, lock the door and, with my trembling hands, clean the blood from my aching body. He won’t remember this tomorrow, and I don’t dare tell him. When I return to bed, I stare soundlessly into the dark until, at last, sleep claims me, too.
At work, I call the number I’ve kept hidden in my desk for months. I begin speaking with a counselor named Joanne. We talk for long moments, more and more frequently as I begin to realize that maybe I can get out of this situation. Joanne listens without judgment, boosts my confidence, enables me to envision a different existence. She is my lifeline.
My daughter is only fifteen-months-old when we leave. If we stay, he will eventually kill us both. I will tell her never to tolerate abuse from any man. I will teach her that she is strong and capable, that the shit I went through bore no resemblance to love, but was instead the very epitome of control.
Nearly 18 years later, I can still occasionally hear Joanne’s voice in my dreams, telling me that I am enough.
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