That night was awful. I tried to talk to Phil about what the counselor said. I didn’t yell or scold or anything.
But he stonewalled, suddenly abandoned me for a time to talk to Dirk, treated me like a stupid witch who had nothing worthwhile to say, then treated me like I had no right to wonder when we were going to get back to our conversation. These are abuse tactics.
They sat in the foyer of the library, while I was inside the library, on the other side of the wall/windows and glass door.
So Dirk, who knew absolutely nothing about marriage, became Phil’s choice of marriage counselor. So Dirk became privy to who knew what, while I was given no chance whatsoever to tell Dirk my own side of things, and was left out of the conversation about me.
Dirk basically was put in the middle of everything, and probably fed Phil all sorts of bullcrap.
But I wasn’t even supposed to wonder how long this conversation was going to keep us from our own conversation, because when I went to the windows/door and looked at them, he made a gesture toward me as if to say to Dirk, “See what I mean?”
What on earth he meant by that, I had no clue, because I’d been left waiting by myself for quite a long time already, and this was extremely rude of Phil.
Earlier, he had given me every reason to believe that reconciliation was possible. But now, after talking with Dirk, he suddenly said we couldn’t even be friends. It is interference like this that led to me loathing Dirk, so much so that 20 years later, I still won’t even friend him on Facebook.
This stunned me. I can’t remember why he said this. I doubt that I knew then what changed the course of the conversation, because he only communicated through yelling and stonewalling.
But now as I look back over this, I’m certain it was Dirk’s doing. I don’t know why on earth Dirk was so determined to split us up, since he did not want me for himself. Unless, of course, Dirk was actually Phil’s pawn, manipulated into believing that I was the abuser instead of Phil.
I have every reason to believe this is why. Abusers recruit others to help with the abuse, by making them believe that the victim is the abuser. This is called control by proxy.
When I first made notes of this argument a couple of years later for my memoir, I wrote that Phil probably either overreacted–or was only acting. He’d done a lot of acting those few days, as he told me a few days after this event–and as I realized when I contrasted his words to his actions.
All I could do was leave him and not talk to him again.
I didn’t realize yet that his actions proved he had never loved me, no matter what he told me before or his insistence that he still loved me. When you truly love someone, you don’t treat her this way.
In 1996 or 1997, as I worked with Cugan’s friend Laura on ideas for my wedding dress, she told me she knew Phil. He used to come into the gaming shop where she was a clerk, and buy dice and other Dungeons and Dragons items. She knew that Phil had to marry his girlfriend. And that shop was in M–, not S–! Small state, eh?
He used to go there with his high school friends, with whom he kept in touch after high school. Laura told me they were upset with him over something, and that he’d been ostracized for it, but she didn’t know what the thing was. I always wondered if they finally saw how he treated his women.
Laura used to think he was a nice guy, but she had been an abused wife herself, and stopped liking him as soon as I told her he was “borderline abusive.”
I’ll say this as well, in case any of you finds yourself in a similar situation. I have heard and read other stories of emotional abuse. In one, the guy made a date with another woman while lying in bed with his girlfriend, and then told his girlfriend she deserved that.
Many times, an abuser will hit his wife because she did something he thought she shouldn’t have done. She will then start to believe she deserved what she got. Don’t let yourself get into this trap.
In the following months, my friend Helene said, “It sounds like he’s trying to control you even after the relationship is over.”
Did he break up with me because he couldn’t control me? (Sort of like in the song “Control” by Puddle of Mudd: “I can’t control you/ You’re not the one for me, no.” Or in “Special” by Garbage: “I have run you down into the ground/ Spread disease about you over town/ I used to adore you/ I couldn’t control you.”
Also, in a letter to the editor in the 9/28/98 edition of US News and World Report, speaking of the Clinton/Lewinsky/Starr scandal and Hillary’s insistence on standing by her adulterous husband, a reader wrote, “Even women battered and bloodied will defend their abusers.” A typical response of an abused woman is, “He was right and I was wrong. I deserved what I got.”
In one way I was typical, in that I didn’t see the abuse for what it was. In another I wasn’t, in that I refused to say I deserved what I got and that Phil was right to treat me the way he did. This refusal to be a victim, to just sit back and take it, to act like a victim, may be a subconscious reason why Phil left me–which was actually a mercy.
Of course, some people might say I did sit back and take it like a victim, because I didn’t just tell him to leave. But it’s common for abused women to say, as I did, that I loved him and didn’t want to leave. After all the trouble I had finding a Christian man at a Christian college, and one who actually wanted to be with me, where else would I find one, especially one I had so much in common with?
Also, during the summer, even when I felt like telling Phil, “Go back to Wisconsin,” I didn’t because we were married. I saw marriage as a lifelong commitment that was not to be broken lightly.
This may be why he married the new girl, who had been abused by a boyfriend before. (We see the common trend of a woman subconsciously seeking out abusers, and finding them. Cindy said she probably thought Phil wasn’t abusive because he didn’t seem as bad as the previous abuser.)
Years later, April 9 and 10, 1998, what can I say? That he treated me like the bad guy when, all along, he was the bad guy. He was emotionally abusive, and didn’t listen to a word I said, didn’t treat my feelings or ideas or words like they were worth his attention or care.
He’d said he’d be my husband, said we were meant for each other, even said he was my husband–yet had no respect for his commitment, or for me. All he cared about was himself. Just before the breakup, he told his friends that he still loved me–but he didn’t show it.
He also didn’t talk to me about whether or not a breakup was necessary, or even try to work out the misunderstanding of the night before the breakup, but to other people. And then told me after he had already decided, all by himself.
(When did he talk to them? There wasn’t much time in between Thursday night and Friday afternoon. And how long did he take to process the things they said? Did he even give himself enough time?)
He talked with my parents on the phone, at their request, but didn’t listen to them; he didn’t even want to go to a counselor for help. It was all what he wanted, and he didn’t listen to any of my suggestions for what we could do to fix things.
He seemed to think I was the problem, but was too blind to see that very similar things would happen all over again with other girlfriends. He refused to see his own failings, while I was willing to see mine.
But when you look at why I did them–because he was so hard to deal with and I didn’t know how else to get through to him, and he was so irresponsible that I was forced to nag at him for things–you can easily see they were tiny compared to his own failings. (It’s called catching fleas from your abuser.)
Being forced to act like a mother and make a guy get up in time to go to his own job, being forced to nag at him until he gets his brakes fixed because this is the last day he’ll have a chance (before you go on a long road trip back to campus) and he just wants to be a slugabed–
These are nothing compared to the sin of emotional abuse, sexual abuse by forcing someone to do unnatural acts, and the threat of physical abuse if he finally decided to carry out his threats to hit.
He threatened me once or twice with physical violence (I have described at least one such instance to you), and really did slap Persephone while they were together. (She slapped him right back, and he never did it to her again.)
And my second husband, Cugan, considers some of the sexual abuse to be physical as well, because after all, it took physical force to do the things he did.
Phil said he was a better person when not around me–a convenient phrase taken from Mrs. Doubtfire–but this was not true. He was no better with Persephone, as I describe later.
Sharon said in 1996 or 1997, that watching him and his new girlfriend was like watching him and me all over again, only worse because she would lie about where she was when she missed Phi-Delt meetings for him.
Cindy heard him yelling at her the way he used to yell at me, and she was not happy with him at all. When the new girlfriend got pregnant, Pearl tried to warn her not to marry him; she didn’t listen. And in 2007, they divorced.
At a Christmas party at Sharon’s house in 1997, my friends, not me, brought up the subject of Phil, soon after somebody said they saw Dave working at Dunham’s Sporting Goods. Pearl said with a laugh that Phil and his new wife’s kid should be taken away by the SPCC, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
My friends told me he treated me like a child, and that’s one reason why they no longer liked him soon after we started dating–besides the fact that they considered him annoying.
But back to September 1994. When you’ve been married to and living with someone all summer and they suddenly cut off all contact with you, even though they’ve been abusing you, you feel like a part of you is lost.
Wednesday, September 14. On one of these early days of the week, Helene came to the library and saw me. That’s probably when I told her about the breakup, while updating the card catalog.
She said she had been engaged three times since her husband died in a plane crash, and each engagement had been broken. She was numb for the first few days afterward.
I felt similar, and could barely get through my shifts at the library. Time was molasses, so slow I could hardly bear it. Everything I did at the library, including updating the card catalog, made me restless.
I confided in Helene, called her on the phone once, and often sat with her at lunch during the next several months. I talked about my feelings and got her advice; we discussed a book she lent me about dealing with a divorce.
For both of us, a favorite part of the book described a counselor’s experience in his support group for divorcees. One woman saw her ex-husband having a picnic with a new girlfriend. She ran her vehicle over them. The people in the group said, “Ooh! Did she back up and run over them again?”
While I confided in Helene, Phil confided in her best friend Kay. He seemed to think of her as a sister.
I think it was Helene, or maybe Anna, who first said Phil seemed like good marriage material, but needed to grow up. But later on, Helene said his turning to Persephone confirmed her worst fears about him, that he would go on to somebody else right away rather than trying to work out problems.
I told her how Phil treated me during the marriage; she liked him less every time I talked to her about him.
I spent most of my time with my friends or working or in class or eating or alone in the apartment, trying to do homework and deal with things and get on with life.
As much as possible, I wanted to go on with my daily life without grief interfering. I lost very little, if any, sleep, and kept eating properly. I dealt with things much better than when Peter broke up with me.
And after what Phil said on Tuesday night, I kept my distance from him. No, I was never the stalker-type; if somebody told me to stop talking to them, I stopped.
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)
Table of Contents
December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?
April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign
October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:
Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams
June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:
July & August 1994: