When I was a little girl I believed in fairy tales. I never saw past the happy ending to think there could ever be an ugly side to love. In fairy tales the only names called were terms of endearment. The boy never told the girl she was stupid or held his arm pressed against her throat as he hissed expletives. The girl wept openly after romantic gestures, not because the boy whipped a casserole dish past her head over some perceived transgression.
And I don’t know that the girl ever had a marriage counselor ask if she had an escape plan because the boy was usually a prince on a white horse and no escape was needed.
An escape plan…those are some scary words to hear and they were a sharp contrast to the romantic images I had grown up watching on the big screen. In real life my captor wasn’t some ugly villain who would meet an ugly end making way for a happy ending. My captor was my husband.
When ugly does invade the fantasy on screen, the victims look like Julia Roberts and she has the means to fake her death and run off to some charming place that only exists in the movies where a leading man has been cast who will patiently bring back her confidence or save her from the cycle of violence.
Domestic violence isn’t something that gets wrapped up in a neat little ending nor does there seem to be any great musical soundtrack playing in the background. It isn’t about fairytales or fantasies or even love. It is about control. The control one person feels they are entitled to have over another person.
My husband spent weeks in marriage counseling explaining to the counselor all that was wrong with me. I never said a word. Not one word. I listened as my husband practically begged the therapist to help him get me in control. His control.
With each session I was sure that the therapist was looking at my husband with sympathy. As my husband recalled the time I took 45 minutes to grocery shop the fear welled up inside of me. I remembered coming home and carrying in packages from the car. My husband was sitting on the couch when I walked in. It never dawned on me that he should get up and help as I went back and forth from car to kitchen carrying bags. I just remember his stone face and the panic I felt.
The store had been crowded. Only two registers were open. There was an accident on the way home. I hit every read light. It amounted to me being out a little longer than usual but all of those reasons just sounded like excuses. He knew the truth. At least he was sure he did. It wasn’t all innocent things that added an extra 20 minutes. He was sure that I had slept with someone. Maybe it was the produce guy. Maybe it was the guy who repackaged the chopped meat that had leaked. Maybe it was just some random guy who happened to be in the store at the same time. It didn’t matter who it was. It also didn’t matter that he told me I was fat and disgusting and that no man would ever want me. When I was out for too many unaccounted minutes, I was a goddess and no man could resist the temptation that was me.
Just when I thought that the therapist was nodding sympathetically at my husband, he suggested speaking to us privately. I was afraid to feel hope. I had begun to believe the worst things about myself. But there was something about the way he asked to speak to me privately that gave me hope.
My husband left the counseling session that day and never went back. He was sure that the therapist was in love with me. It was more proof that I was a slutty seductress. In my husband’s fantasy, the therapist would be pushing all of his things off of the desk and making it our own private love nest. Maybe I wasn’t the one who watched too many movies.
I finally got my 45 minutes alone with my marriage counselor and he worked fast. He spoke of the importance of an escape plan, a husband who was a police officer and even more scarily, his access to a firearm. Forget the fairy tales. I was the star of my own horror movie.
Peggy is a mom and student at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. Peggy hopes to change the perceptions about what a victim looks like as well as raise awareness about domestic violence. Peggy believes it is possible to break the cycle.