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Marlene: “He began to calm down and I got out safely.”

Where to begin. It’s hard to know where a good place is because it seems my entire life, up until just recently has followed the same script. I was raised in a home where my mother took a lot of verbal and physical abuse from my father. He never hurt me or my brother but he hurt my mom a lot. Often my brother and I would just pretend to be invisible. We stayed quiet and just froze. We acted as though we were a part of the furniture. Mostly I think we were just scared so we stayed very quiet and still, hid in the bedroom until things quieted down between them. It went on this way my entire life, even when my mother nursed my father through emphysema. Even then he insulted her.At that time though I wasn’t around much. I had only one desire in my life and that was to get out of my house. I did so the moment I turned 18. I wanted to be anywhere but in that house.

Despite the fact that my mother cared for me and truly showed me and my brother love, my mother was always very anxious. It’s hard to explain, but all I know is I left the moment I could. At 18 I was working as a waitress in California and often found myself dating men that were unkind to me. Some hit me and I would fight back with anger that came from some place I can’t describe. I fought back with violent words and in a tone that often made my situation worse. I poised myself like a bad ass and had the “no one will control me” attitude. In the end I would always leave them. I had decided that I would not be like my mother. I always had that in my mind. I didn’t want to be like my mother. I would never allow a man to hit me.

At 22 years old I met the man that would be my husband for the next 33 years. Yes you read that right. 33 years. But it was 33 years of abuse. I realize now in my late 50s that it was abuse. All that time though I didn’t . He never hit me. Not once. But I was never allowed to have money. I couldn’t spend without his permission and had to show him every single time each item and the receipt. I couldn’t go places without permission. He often went places without me because he told me he was embarrassed to bring me out in public. I was fat. In his eyes at 125 pounds he called me fat. My hair was either too short or not short enough. My clothes were never right, but then I didn’t have the financial means to get new clothes. Our children were stupid because of me. It started out so slowly that I didn’t even realize it in the beginning. There were apologies in the beginning and again, he never hit me, so to me it was a good relationship. As long as he didn’t hit me, it was a good relationship.

The belittling increased, but I didn’t really know it. The name calling and the control increased but I didn’t really know it. In fact I didn’t really know any of it until after all that time my daughter, old enough and raised in a different, more vocal generation, said to me, “I don’t ever want to be like you mom.  I never want a relationship like you and dad.”  I couldn’t stop thinking about that.

When I looked in the mirror I cried at the sight of myself. I thought I was ugly. I thought I was fat. I thought I was stupid. I thought all of these things about myself. But I had a memory of myself from long ago. I remembered feeling pretty once. I remembered feeling independent and in charge of my life once. What had happened? What happened was 30 plus years of being told otherwise. It was still a number of years later but I decided shortly after that conversation with my daughter to leave. I had no real place to go. I had no money and no work experience. So I decided to be bold. I actually asked my daughter to let me live with her. I thought she would say no because by her prior comment I thought that she too, like her dad, was ashamed of who I was. But she welcomed me. My own daughter, raised in this awful home was the one to help me.

It’s been a few years now. Through that separation period I started to take care of myself. I took care of my body by exercising and then felt strong enough to take a safety class. I learned so much. I realized that I wasn’t alone and there were many women like me. I am divorced now and much to my ex-husbands disbelief and anger he is paying me alimony. I am able to live on my own and am going to school. It’s funny to think that my life now at 50 plus is like a rebirth. I am starting all over again and it feels so good.

Now that I am dating again I realize how the training has helped me. I was dating a man casually about a year after my divorce and as I was telling him I didn’t want to see him any longer he became angry. At first I found myself acting in that rebellious and antagonistic way that I did at 18 and 19. Then as he yelled louder I thought of Tanya. I really did. I thought of Tanya and the purple key. I took a breath and started to talk in a calm voice. “Tanya said to speak softer and calmer”, I thought this! I started to utter things that I didn’t necessarily believe, like how I understood his feelings. Then he began to calm down and I was able to leave safely. I was so proud of myself! Can I say that again? I was so proud of myself! I never called him back again and he finally gave up trying to get in touch with me. I learned that I CAN DO IT! I thought of what I learned and what that purple key kept reminding me of. I wondered how that rebellious and violent tone from my past would have changed the outcome of this situation. Then I decided….I don’t want to know! I told Tanya of my experience and she was proud of me too. What a kid I have become at 59 years old! I want someone to be proud of me just as much as I want to be proud of myself. Like I learned in the class, my voice isn’t just for yelling for help. I can use it in other ways to get to safety.