My marriage ended four years ago. It was an affable divorce for the most part; neither of us wanted to put our children through the agony of seeing their parents in a bitter battle. For the first two and a half years, we lived together in our house. We were roomates and nothing more. Our children were at a tender age and we didn't want to devastate them, so instead, we sacrificed our own happiness for theirs. That's the story I told my friends and family, the story I once believed. The truth is I was scared to death of being on my own. I also didn't want to give up my lifestyle.
My ex husband took financial care of me during this time. He gave me a generous living allowance, paid all my expenses; I lived a life of luxury on the California Coast. I didn't have to work, I didn't have to worry. Even though we were divorced, he pampered me, but with that, came a heavy price.
I started to feel as though I was suffocating. Even though we were no longer married, the control and the abuse continued, even more than ever before. The anger I swore I'd never let ravage me, overwhelmed me. I knew I had to get out of this situation, but didn't know how. He refused to give me money to hire an attorney, and told me, if I left, I would be leaving the house with only the clothes on my back.
I didn't know where to turn. One day, I found myself in the office for Domestic Abuse at the Santa Monica courthouse. I sat in the chair, crying, begging for help. The woman who reviewed my application took one look at my clothes, my address and what my ex did for a living. She told me, "I'm sorry, but you don't belong here." I asked her to put her judgements aside for a moment and listen to my story. She did, and immedietly got me help.
That day, I learned that emotional and financial abuse are just as devastating and detrimental as physical abuse. It's crippling when you're so completely dependant on someone else, you lose all fortitude and faith that you're capable of making a life for yourself. Thanks to this kind woman who listened to my story, I ended up suing my ex.
We eventually settled on a temporary agreement to keep the house. We came up with what many deemed a progressive living arrangement: The kids would stay in the house. Whichever parent had custody would stay with them, while the other parent stayed in a nearby apartment. Needless to say, for the past eighteen months, I've been living out of a suitcase. Even when my spousal support came to an end, my ex continued to take care of me, giving me what many would deem a privileged life. But I wasn't happy. Even though I was no longer his wife, he was still in full control of my life.
A few days ago, I started feeling restless again. I thought back to the day of my stepfather's funeral. They say a girl looks for her father in the man she marries, but since my father had died when I was young, I ended up marrying my stepfather. Like my ex, he was an emotionally and financially abusive man.
At the funeral, I watched as my mother lifted her head from her hands, revealing white and clear eyes. Not a single tear had fallen. Her lips had formed a slight smile, and she released a long awaited breath. As the guests gathered around her to give their “I’m so sorry’s”, she raised her Kleenex to her eyes, hiding the dryness beneath. After forty years of being married to this man, she was finally free. She had always been too afraid to leave him, never possessing the confidence that she could make it on her own. Even on the day I told her I had asked my husband for a divorce, her response to me was, "Theresa, what are you going to do without a man?"
The other day, I told my ex I want complete autonomy from him, and I want our financial settlement finalized. I want no ties to him other than our children and hopefully, a friendship. He gleefully reminded me that he is no longer obligated to pay my spousal support and if I leave, I leave with nothing. The child support I will collect will barely allow me to get by. He then reminded me that because I gave up the career path to raise our two children, my chances of finding a lucrative job are minimal. He had me. Or so he thought. Two years ago, he was able to scare and control me by this statement. Because of all the work I've done on myself, now, he no longer can.
I looked straight into his cruel and calculating gaze and told him, "I don't give a shit. I'm out of here."
In the few days since our discussion, I have hired a new attorney and have set the motion of gaining total freedom from my situation. My ex has offered to support me for the next ten years if I stay, he even suggested we move back in together so I can live in the style I'm accustomed to. He recapped his declaration that if I leave I will leave with nothing and that there is no way I'll be able to make it on my own. I recapped my own declaration, that I really don't care about "things" anymore, and even if I'm now poor, at least I'll be happy.
The most interesting part of this all is that I'm not frightened anymore. I know it will be tough, I know he will fight me, but I also know that in the end, I'm going to be okay. By taking this risk, I'm going to live the life I'm finally meant to live. My ex states over and over again that he doesn't understand how I can believe I'm going to be fine. I can't understand how I couldn't be.
I have had many experiences in my life these past few months that have given me confidence and courage. Will I fall, will I fail, as my ex predicts? Probably, but I have no doubt I will stand up taller than before, brush myself off and continue stronger than ever. Sadly, my mother didn't have this belief in herself, which is why she hung on to an unhappy situation for so long. Sadly, it wasn't until she was in her eighties when she felt she was truly living.
I'm breathing a little easier now, and I'm feeling something I haven't felt in some time; joy, something I don't think my mother ever felt. Yes, I will no longer be able to get monthly manicures and massages and I can rip up my Neimans and Bloomingdales cards. There will be times I feel sad and scared, and there will be other times I feel the converse. But the most important thing is that I will be feeling instead of being numb. I will experience a bevy of emotions and I look forward to each and every one of them, knowing they are stepping stones on a path that will lead me to my true destiney, a destiny I have no doubt is so much greater than being a kept woman.