It had been just over three months since the day my ex had disappeared from our home, choosing to hide at his parents house, telling me about his infidelity via MSN Messenger. I wasn’t surprised by the confession; I had suspected that something was up for the last six months, but because of the abusive nature of our relationship, I didn’t dare make such an accusation. When I later told people about his confession, and the medium he used, most were stunned, and offended for me. For some reason, it’d never registered with me that I should be angry at the way he chose to confess his sins. By this point in our marriage, a short year and a half, I knew that he had no respect for me. What did I care if he used the most disconnected means to tell me about it? At least he wasn’t in front of me, I could react, and I didn’t have to fear his fists in my face.
And, there it was, an excuse for me. I could finally get out, and the responsibility was solely on his shoulders.
That naive girl. Even though she’d spent her childhood trying to get people to believe that her narcissistic parents were abusing her, she still thought she could get out, with no consequences. I didn’t expect to be blamed for his infidelity. I didn’t expect to be asked questions like, “Did you make him angry on purpose?” or “Do you realize that his disability makes him struggle with controlling his temper?” If his infidelity had given me any confidence, or feeling of power, it quickly dissipated. Accusations flew from every angle; friends we’d made together, and some that felt they owed him loyalty over me. A lot of accusations were subtle, but there were some people who took pride in boldly shaming me. I had no idea that I could be to blame for him cheating.
My ex husband created a long list of fabricated stories crafted solely to garner sympathy for himself. He had crafted a fantastic story about a happy marriage involving two strangers I didn’t really know. It involved a doting husband who had tried so hard to make his callous, angry wife so happy, but she never cared for him. She had, in her coldness, forced him to cheat. She had laughed at him, insulted him, and hurt him so deeply, that he had no choice but to find love elsewhere. There was no side story about abuse. Just a cliche, stereotypical description of a marriage falling apart, at the hands of an emotionally stunted partner. While that description mostly fit the bill, the roles were reversed, and somehow, I was the one on trial publicly, fearful of setting off a new round of rumors.
Originally, it had enraged me how easy it had been for him to create a false reality where he was the victim. I remembered quickly that this was the rouse of an incredibly skilled abusive man who knew how to manipulate people so he could get what he wanted. I knew this was who he was below the surface, underneath The Nice Guy costume he wore. There was nothing I could do to make it go away. This was the side effect of leaving him, an implication many don’t understand or think of when they say things like, “Why did she stay?”
Only a few people asked me for my side of the story: close friends, my lawyer, the court clerk who saw me on a weekly basis because my ex-husband fought every single piece of legal document I sent his way. His supporters, without talking to me, had made up their mind about me because he’d created a reality that made it impossible for them to imagine hearing or believing my side of the story. Casting me as the villain in this dramatic fairytale gone wrong just made sense. If they had been interested in my side of the story, they would have heard something dynamically and absurdly different that what he’d concocted. However, despite his need for sympathy, I did what most abuse survivors do- I stayed quiet. I used one sentences summaries to describe the failure of our marriage like, “He cheated on me.” I didn’t want to delve any deeper than that, because I didn’t really want to relive the horrors that had been my life for the last year and a half.
I also knew, the quieter I stayed, the less likely I was to garner his attention, and of course, his rage. I didn’t want to inflame him because I knew what he was like in those moments of anger. And now, he had a mob behind him. I was legitimately afraid for my safety. Saying nothing was best.
That is what abusers do. They intimidate their victims.
Ultimately, it was better if I just proactively tried to stay ahead of him. I let my lawyer deal with any legalities. I moved out of our once shared apartment, choosing to move closer to my work, with a roommate, in a building where I had to give access to any visitors. I changed my number, and told our church to cut all contact with me. I changed all of my passwords, closed our bank account, and took his name off of any of our joint bills. Basically, I tried to scrub him out of my life, the best I could, with what little support I had.
And, I had very little. Rumors circulated fast and furiously, especially when I began dating the man who would become my now husband. After I was subjected to another round of “slut” whispers during a work break, I took matters into my own hands. I forwarded a copy of a legal document that had my ex’s confessions, ones that I was accused of fabricating, and a bucket full of other items that he’d carefully left out of the plot line, to a handful of his supporters. I tapped in “Proof” as the subject, and as I clicked send, I was certain that this would end the debate, the gossip and the lies.
Except, it didn’t stop anything. Even when I dangled actual legal proof in their face, with his signature attached, they still made excuses for him. I learned that once a narrative has begun, there are many people, smart people even, who will not deviate from the lines they’ve been fed. It was easier for them to believe that I was all the evil things my ex had led them to believe, than admit that he had completely manipulated, lied, and used them for his own protection.
When I see abuse allegations hit the news cycle,like they did with Jian Ghomeshi and now Bill Cosby, I’m always disgusted by how prominent victim blaming is featured, “Why do they stay?” or “Why don’t they report it to the police?” or “Obviously, she’s lying. He’s such a nice guy.” It’s even more haunting to see the amount of people who take what an accused says as truth, or strictly at face value. It’s never as simple as they say it is.
Silence from a victim is never indicative of a lie.
There is an insurmountable depth of fear that lingers, even if you are able to find a way out. Most of us know these men intimately, and we’ve looked straight into their eyes when they were abusing us. We know what they are capable of. If we tell you that it’s safer for us to to stay hidden, and to move on with our lives, please listen. Our concern with safety should be yours too, and it doesn’t negate the events that we were exposed to. It only serves to properly demonstrate just how much power an abuser has. Personally, had I stuck my neck out and reported him, I could potentially facing an emotional, social and even physical death. I wasn’t about to give him my life, when I’d already lost so much to him.
The societal mob that rallies around men like my ex-husband is a perfect illustration of why we stay quiet. We’ve been abused already; why would we subject ourselves to further abuse from strangers? Until we create a refuge for victims that supports them, and protects them, we can only expect their silence.