Coming of Age
"Woman must come of age by herself—she must find her true center alone.”
Anne Murrow Lindbergh
Like many young girls of my generation I believed in the fairy tale of true love and the charming Prince that would fall in love and swoop me away on his white horse into a magical life and we, indeed, would live in the Happy Ever After, just like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty of Disney fame, or The Princess and the Frog. Perhaps I should have kissed a few frogs before marrying the boy next door. While our family didn’t have a white picket fence, life was the quintessential small town experience and in the aftermath of WWII, we basked in the glow of peace and good will. I grew up believing that if I was a good girl, nothing bad would happen and that while there were bad people in the world, most people were trustworthy. And so it was that towards end of the 60's, freshly graduated from high school in June, I married my prince in September of the same year a month after I turned 18, convinced that I was embarking on a Dream Come True.
I became pregnant with firstborn in 1969, thrilled with the idea of having a baby, but my new husband had become a stranger. He controlled every aspect of my life and I had grown weary of his infidelity; not only was I financially dependent but also particularly vulnerable emotionally now that I was pregnant.
When our son was a little boy and his father slapped or punched me I thought it was my fault and that I deserved it. He constantly belittled me. There were peaceful times, times when he was sweet and caring and when life seemed normal. I believed that everything was going to be all right and when our daughter was born in 1972 I tried hard for their sakes to keep the marriage together.
One night during an especially violent incident I realized he was out of control and capable of killing me. I ran away, knowing that I had to save myself if I was going to save my children. He had always told me that I could not take the children if I ever left him. I was terrified of what he would do. I figured I could get help and then come back and get the kids. Within that year, a custody battle ensued in which I lost my children. Custody was awarded to my husband. He had re married by this time, cut his hair and had a steady job. He was turning on the charm. I had changed my lifestyle, my name, and taken on a new identity, finding sanctuary in a religious group, one of several that had formed during the 70’s. It appeared that the judge did not take kindly to
My lifestyle. The issue of my husband’s treatment of me never came up, or the issue of his character. I was still afraid of him, afraid to expose him for the person that lived beneath the surface.
What irony that the children were given into the keeping of the person that beat their mother! Not only that but he did not honor the court order that required him to stay in the state but instead fled with the children. I did not see them again for over 20 years. I gleaned bits and pieces of information through mutual acquaintances; how the children lived in and out of foster homes and had a series of mothers as their dad remarried and continued his abusive ways. At one point, I the children and I exchanged a few letters. Time passed but the pain and the helplessness I felt did not.
There was a deep place in my heart that ached for my children. I was fortunate enough to be living within a loving family and community, but I still felt isolated. I was embarrassed at the stigma of "battered woman." There was no one I felt that I could talk to or even begin to understand what I was experiencing and this was depressing. My self-esteem was low and after the divorce. Many times I wondered why my life was such a mess. What had I done to deserve such unhappiness? I found it difficult to maintain lasting relationships with men because my trust had been violated. I was so afraid of being hurt, and in fact, was hurt because I kept getting involved in emotionally destructive situations. Several years passed. Then my life changed and my healing began.
I became friends with a woman who had been another of my ex-husband's victims. She was his second wife and after a few years of abuse, divorced him. She and I became allies and fast friends. She sent me two books; one on battered women. I was relieved to know that I wasn't alone and reading that book was the beginning of my healing. I learned that there were thousands of women battered and abused all over the world every day. I learned that battering is an insidious crime that takes place behind closed doors; a crime whose victims are of any social or financial status. Nicole Simpson’s murder decades later brought home to me the fact that my life could have ended just as brutally. I realized that if we told our stories and worked together to educate our children and ourselves we could make a difference.
The other book was one written as a guide to journaling for spiritual healing. . I began to write and maintained a journal for years. I poured out my anger, my frustration, and my pain and began to recognize behavior patterns. I realized that I had to stop
blaming other situations outside of myself; that I had the will, the power, and the responsibility to make the changes within. No one else could live my life but me.
In my search for my self-worth, I took a writing course through correspondence with a local university. I chose the Sacred Feminine as my thesis and the revelatory research brought to the surface feelings and beliefs that had lain buried. I was empowered. A new world opened with a new perspective. I found my center.
I no longer question that part of my life. Those years of darkness were part of my destiny and through that experience I learned about empathy and feel deeply for the women and children whose lives have been lost or torn apart by domestic violence. It is for these women I write my story and with these women I share solace, courage, and most of all hope.
"What single part is redeemed
will become the redemption of all"