We got my ex to sign the parenting plan just days before we had to report to Fort Hood. He literally waited until the last minute. Everything was signed and turned into the court the day before transportation came and packed up all our things. I was still unsure that this was the right thing to do. I had never been so far away from any of my kids and my oldest was staying with my parents. That was starting to eat at me, even though everyone swore it would be okay. All of this following what happened with my husband’s daughter I couldn’t understand how my husband could be laughing and joking with the men packing our things.
Once our things were loaded up we had one last night in our now-empty home. The kids went to stay the night with their father so they would have a bed to sleep in while my husband and I curled up next to each other on the floor of our living room and watched movies off a small television we were carrying down with us. I talked to my husband that night and tried to get a sense of how he was feeling, was he nervous, excited, or did he have a twinge of sadness like me? He assured me he was fine, he felt nothing. He told me this was part of the job he signed up for and he was fine with everything that had happened so far. He expressed his desire to leave the military when his contract was up in a couple of years and move back to Tennessee, into our home, and be a family man. I took this as hope for me and all four of our kids.
The next morning we loaded up our sleeping gear and the television, we went and picked up our kids, and then we went to say goodbye to my parents and my son. My oldest proved to be braver and stronger than I, while I was making promises of trips and visits, he told me he was going to be just fine. He was where he wanted to be and he promised me he would take care of my parents in my absence. I talked to my mom as my husband loaded up snacks and things she had put together. I told her I was only a phone call away and I would be back. She hugged me and told me to keep my faith, that everything would be okay, that everything would work itself out. I went to my dad to say goodbye and he gave me the weather report instead. It was something he always did. Whenever I was away from home he would let me know if there was anything weather-related to watch out for and he always demanded I buckle up and drive safe. For the third time in my life, my father told me he loved me. He was what people refer to as Kentucky shy, he didn’t express emotion or socialize with that many people, but when he did you knew he meant it. I always knew he loved me, but when he did say it, because it wasn’t often, it meant so much more.
We hugged and said our goodbyes and then climbed into my husband’s truck and my car and we headed down to Texas. We took our time getting there, my husband’s truck was fragile to say the least. Just to get her ready for this trip we had to borrow $4000 from family to fix her lift, her tires, and other things. She was a beast of an automobile, but when she broke which was quite often, she was always an expensive fix. My husband and I used walkie-talkies to keep in contact with each other. The kids watched DVD’s in the back of my car while my husband in his truck led the way to our new home.
We rolled in that evening and put blankets and pillows on the floor, we brought the television in, and watched Mickey Mouse’s playhouse for the thousandth time, but we did it as a family in our new place. My husband must have known I had a few apprehensions about all of this because as we watched he curled up behind me, put his arm around me, and whispered that it would be okay as he threaded his fingers through mine. I turned back and kissed him, and mouthed the words I love you, as the kids drifted off to sleep. There in our new empty house curled up on the floor, we slept as a family as our new adventure began.
The First Week Of Hell
When I married my husband I truly believed I was cut out to be a soldier’s wife. I did everything he needed me to do from shining shoes to helping him pack, when he was away I picked up the slack from his absence, I supported everything he needed or wanted. When we didn’t have something he needed or wanted I found a way to get it or at least I tried. I was excited for every moment we got to have together, and I was faithful, loyal, and would wait for him until the end of time. I loved being that person for him, but at the end of the first week in Texas, I was at my wit’s end.
The first day we decided to venture out and see the surrounding area with the kids was an eye-opener. We were in my car just rolling along when a car lost control and it spun out and crashed through a barb wire fence down a small embankment, landing in a field. My husband and I immediately pulled over. My husband being a volunteer fireman immediately wanted to help, but getting to the car was an issue because of traffic. No one cared to stop, no one wanted to help. I called 911 and reported our location and the accident and the operator said “leave.”
“You want us to leave the scene?” I questioned as I grabbed my husband’s hand who was exiting the car.
“Yes, you did your part, you reported it, now I need you to drive away.”
I thought surely this was a mistake. I grew up in the south where there was compassion and civility, Texas was further south where there was supposed to be charm and twang, so I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and put it on speaker.
“The people aren’t exiting the car, they could be hurt,” I tried to explain, but she told us to leave once more and informed us that the first responders had been notified.
“People will fake accidents to get others to stop, then if they are soldiers they will shoot them in the head as initiation.” The operator continued while I wondered what kind of Wild Wild West we had rolled into. It was enough to rattle me to the point I wanted to go back to the house. There we ordered food and turned up the radio. The kids and I had a dance party while my husband worked on his truck. I attempted to block out what had happened and the way it had affected me, but as we slept on the floor again that night I would learn this was just the beginning of my nightmare.
The next morning we put out the kid’s toys that had ridden in the back of the truck into the backyard because I wasn’t ready to head out into town again. The kids had a blast and loved having some of their things. We had carried most of their outdoor things with us just in case there was a delay in getting our stuff and because my husband wanted a check for carrying things. For example, their sandbox traveled with sandbags because he said the government would give him more money if we did it this way rather than buy new sand when we got there. He even joked about getting a uhaul loading it up with the 80 pound Quickcrete bags and then returning them once we got to our destination, after he had weighed in. I didn’t care how he chose to move us as long as we got there safely. We spent the whole day playing outside in their sandbox, and they even had a little pool we were filling up. It was a day of fun and laughter with us all.
The next day the kids continued to play outside and my husband and I finally got time together. We hung out on the floor eating chips and talking, just being together. I shared some of my thoughts and feelings on the move, and he shared his as well. We laughed and joked, then things took a serious turn, and we were talking about regrets. I told him I only had one regret, that I didn’t run away as soon as I learned I was pregnant with my youngest. I explained that I would go back and take the abuse all over again if it meant I would have my kids, but I should have run a lot sooner. He expressed that we may not have met if I had and that everything happens for a reason. He talked about some of his past, mostly the women, he bragged about being a whore while he was in Korea and then he told me that he was a vindictive person and that anyone who left him paid a price. It scared me, but I reassured myself that I was strong, that we loved each other, and that I would never have to worry about it because I would never leave. I assured him of this too. I promised him there on the floor as I leaned my head over onto his shoulder that I would never leave him. I expressed my joy and admiration for him, my love that grew daily, and I explained that when I said my vows I meant them and that I would be racing him in wheelchairs at the old folks’ home with him. It was a renewed vow that I would have to say a lot to assure him that I was in this. – This was a red flag.
The next morning we woke to rain pouring outside. Thunder echoed behind each lightning strike. We watched as water levels outside began to rise. There was no going into town and there was no playing outside. We barely kept the power on as the storm raged on outside.
Sirens sounded and the radio alerted us that there was a tornado headed to the base and it was going to cross us on the way. My husband took this moment in time to tell me he wanted to go to the store and get cigarettes. I told the kids to take their toys and get in our master closet. Once they were out of the room I pleaded with my husband not to go. With tears in my eyes, I begged. He said it would be fine that nothing bad ever happens to him and as soon as he escaped my grasp he left. He drove out in the middle of a tornado and I was sure I was never going to see him again. My heart shattered.
I climbed into the closet with the kids and we said a prayer. With one kid on either side holding onto me we prayed that nothing bad would happen, we prayed for the safety of others, and I prayed that my husband would come back to me whole. I tried calling him as the seconds turned into minutes, but it went straight to voicemail. The storm shifted enough that it bypassed us and went right toward the base. I was going through a million emotions when I heard the roar of his truck as he hit the gas, shoving her into the driveway.
When he finally climbed out and came in the house he told me that he tore her brakes out and the truck would need to be fixed before she could be moved again. I didn’t care. I hugged him tightly, and the kids grabbed onto him too. He was soaked from the rain and now we were too. He blew it off and told me nothing bad ever happens to him at least a dozen times before I was okay with what happened – in truth, I’ve never been okay with his choice to risk his life over cigarettes, but I kept my mouth closed and loved on him as much as I could.
The waters continued to rise until there was water in our new home. I contacted the rental agency and they stated that the homeowner would have to approve repairs, she didn’t.
My husband signed into his new unit the following week. He discussed some of the issues we were having with his new chain of command. I went to JAG to see if there was anything they could do as mold and mildew took over our house. There was nothing anyone could do unless we paid the remainder of our lease or found someone to take it over. We moved our kids into one bedroom that hadn’t gotten any water damage and threw away everything we owned that did.
We bought the kids their school uniforms and went to enroll our daughter who we were told couldn’t start this late in the year, that they had no room for her at the school we were zoned for, but then they told us there was an opening at a school 12 miles from our house and if we didn’t enroll her she would be considered truant. I looked into services for my oldest, in the event anything happened to my parents I wanted to be prepared and have everything in place just in case, but they didn’t offer all of the services my child needed. The closest place to get what he needed was in Austin, but I couldn’t drive him to Austin and be around to take my daughter to school and pick her up, plus I still had my youngest who wasn’t ready for school. Then I started to get sick, I had tremors and my heart was beating weirdly. I struggled with everything I had to do and no one could figure out why. For a split second there, they thought it was the house we were in, but after testing they determined that wasn’t it.
I got scared that I was going to die, I leaned on my family, my faith, and myself. I tried to lean on my husband, but I saw the worry every time he looked at me and I didn’t want to put more on him than he could handle. I started taking pills to sleep and pills to wake up as I deteriorated. One day I was having new symptoms and they terrified me so badly that I called my husband to come home on lunch. The kids were down for a nap, so I took him into the bedroom, tore off his uniform, did all the things he liked, and then once I had him underneath me I took control of what was happening to me by controlling what I was doing to him. I rode him past his ecstasy, I kept going as he told me he was too sensitive to continue. I didn’t stop until he pulled me off of him and I nearly cried when he did because in that moment I was no longer in control of anything. He controlled me and I couldn’t control anything that was happening. He made some comment about coming home for lunch more often if I was going to attack him like that. He loved it and wanted me to do it again, even though he was still saying he couldn’t have sex on weekdays/weeknights, but then he went back to work where my fear flooded me and once again I was reminded that I had no control over anything. I was completely at the mercy of everyone and everything and that terrified me. All of this was enough to make me blow my lid, but instead, I swallowed it. I kept it to myself as my husband was having problems with his First SGT and didn’t need me piling on. I used sex, avoidance, and medicine to block out the reality that there was something very wrong, no one could figure it out, and I was dying.
I went to my family that was military and shared with them everything that was happening, some things I can’t disclose here were included (military stuff happening to my husband), and asked for their advice. They told me to email the Senator and request to come home. They explained this process, told me to get all the paperwork in order, and then send the message. I discussed it with my husband that night. We even called my uncle and let my husband talk to him before we made any moves at all. Then my husband agreed to give it a shot. Worse they could say was no, right?
In a matter of days, the Senator’s liaison was on the phone with me explaining that they were requesting an inquiry and before we could even ask what that meant our lives were under a microscope, especially my husband’s career. To make a very long story short, his chain of command pulled us from the house we were in and got us placed in base housing immediately to get us out of that unhealthy house. It was on us to move and I could no longer go from sitting to standing without my BP jumping up to dangerous levels. Thankfully, we had made some friends who had been stepping in to help out. We got moved into our new house just as his COC helped get my daughter enrolled in the school on the base where no one cared what time of the year it was or if they had room. They made room for her. We met all our neighbors and made new friends when my husband tried to go to work one morning and his truck ate the cat that had climbed inside the engine and everyone came to see. Everything was changing fast and my husband’s 1SGT and Captain made his life a living hell while all this was happening.
At one point, I had to go to work with my husband which was tricky with my health, and this 22-year-old Captain sat across from me with acne on his face and demanded my oldest son’s medical records. I refused. They asked me to step out of the room and my husband’s chain of command berated him because of my refusal. They wanted proof my son had Autism, a child who didn’t live with us and wasn’t with us at that time. They couldn’t do anything to help my son, so I refused and they punished my husband until I conceded. They forced him to work 18-20 hour days every single day, he wasn’t allowed to take me to the doctor so I had to have other people help out. My mom had called my doctor and demanded they test me for Lyme’s and I tested positive, so they put me on medication to get better, I was still without my husband even though I was getting better at being able to do more things on my own. After my meds brought me back to life we were checking to see if there was any permanent damage from the Lyme’s and when I got news there was, I couldn’t even tell my husband because they kept him so busy he couldn’t answer the phone. There were some nights, I didn’t even know if he came home at all other than wrinkled sheets beside me in the morning I didn’t see him and he was always beaten down when I did see him. When I would bring him dinner he was like a ghost of a man. The way they talked to him was as if he was worthless and it crushed me. He was prepared to continue like this, but I wasn’t. I gave in and showed them proof of my son’s testing and diagnosis. To this day, I don’t understand the point behind any of what they did because all they did was look at the paper and hand it back to me. They did nothing with it, I think they just wanted to know if we would break, and I did. I would give in a thousand times over to save someone I loved, and that day I was able to save my husband from more abuse.
My husband was given a three-day weekend after that and we spent every second of it together. We took the kids to Fudruckers, the mall, and the zoo, and we walked hand in hand around the neighborhood we had moved into, talking with all the neighbors and just being together. Our house became the hangout for the neighborhood kids. We had a trampoline that was given to us and playhouses. We had tons of Nerf guns and everything kids could want. While it was still warm out we bought different kinds of sprinklers and ran hoses in between, we attached them to the fence and our yard was a water wonderland. Everything was sort of getting back to normal. We had made friends with some of the most amazing people in the neighborhood and they were what made Texas home while we were there.
My husband and I had grown closer as a result of what happened. I told him I would always be there in any battle that involved him. He didn’t understand why I turned over the records after he had told me not to, but he thanked me for doing it anyway. We had grown together when we faced this together. I was giving him a massage that night, trying to help some of his aches when he confided in me in ways he hadn’t before. He told me about someone he killed while overseas and what the military threatened to do to him because of it.
He explained to me that there was a group of soldiers that had ridden out somewhere and came across a kid who had something in his hand. The kid wouldn’t put it down, show it to them, and he wouldn’t stop coming at them, so the LT gave an order to fire. My husband said he pulled the trigger and the kid went down. He said they had told him out of all the people who fired their gun that day they could trace the bullet that killed the kid back to him, and because there was supposition around if he pulled the trigger before after the order was given or if the order to fire was given that they had threatened to put him in prison for murder. Then he expressed that the kid didn’t have a weapon at all, it was a baseball. My husband confided that he couldn’t understand why the kid didn’t listen when they told him to stop, to show what was in his hands. I watched his face as he mumbled something about the soldiers always giving the kids chocolate.
Therapy, or the lack thereof…
We had survived Halloween on post with all the kids in the neighborhood walking around collecting candy. My husband put on his fireman’s uniform while I dressed up like Abby from NCIS (she was my husband’s favorite at the time). My daughter dressed as Cinderella and my baby boy went as Bob the Builder. It was a lot of fun, but my husband’s daughter’s birthday fell in October and I couldn’t help but think of her and wonder if she was happy, if Melissa had any reservations about what had happened or regrets about the choices made. This was the first year I didn’t have all my kids when trick or treating, but I couldn’t let my husband know I missed home. After everything that happened, after everything that was disclosed, I was on eggshells.
I was still dealing with the after-effects of being sick and missing my family and told my husband I wanted to go to therapy. I found this amazing shrink who listened and helped, but during this time I was in therapy my husband’s behavior changed. We stopped having sex, he told me he had “fucked it out of [his] system” while he was in Korea and didn’t want it. He was back to throwing up everything he ate, and he was being cruel. I assumed the new attitude had to do with all his tossing and turning at night, but I didn’t know. He didn’t confide in me about this like he had other things. I asked him to go to the doctor and get checked for whatever was making him throw up again, I asked him to check for low testosterone. But, after I had endured enough abuse from his anger and his refusal to go to the doctor, I asked him to go to therapy himself. I expressed concern and explained all he had been through it wouldn’t hurt to see someone. When he refused, told me the Army would kick him out if he did, I sat him down and asked him point-blank to get help, if not for me then for himself. If the Army kicked him out then I would have still stood by him and done whatever, but his job, his spite, was more important than anything else.
My husband spoke of getting out in one breath and in the next, he would tell me that his father never thought he would make it 20 years so he wanted to. He would say how much he hated his job, but then tell me he would be the only one in his family to stick it out that long. I would respond with support and empathy and a reminder that we are only here for a short time. Someone else in his family could come along, join, and stay in 30 days and obliterate his finish line, his mental and physical health was more important than trying to prove his dad wrong.
He eventually agreed to go to therapy and told me it was his PTSD making him behave the way he was.
My husband had therapy one day and I asked to go with him. I needed to go to the mall to get gifts for my daughter’s birthday, and the mall was right across the street from the medical office. I asked if we could drop him off, let me do what I needed to do, and meet up at Fudrucker’s at the end of the parking lot for lunch, and then we would head back home. He reluctantly agreed, but that isn’t what happened. We did ride together, and I did drop him off. I did go to the mall, but after we got inside I realized I didn’t have my son’s pacifier (binky) and went to go back out to the car and get it. It was one of those things that it was better to have and not need. Especially, when it was getting close to nap time. However, as I made it through the first set of glass doors I saw him. I hadn’t opened the door to exit the mall yet and I wouldn’t because I was standing frozen in place, watching my husband stand on the side of the shrink’s office smoking and talking on the phone. I watched him walk to the gas station and buy a pack of cigarettes. Me, being the person that I am, I called his therapist’s office myself to apologize and reschedule, but she told me my husband didn’t have an appointment and that he had canceled all future appointments. He had quit therapy after the second session after the therapist saw something I wished I had seen.
I went back inside and bought the gifts needed, even bought a new pacifier, and pretended that my husband hadn’t been lying to me. I didn’t even know how to approach the subject because no matter how I confronted things it always seemed to backfire lately. My husband found me in the mall and walked up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist, startling me.
“You okay?” He questioned when I jumped and stepped out of his arms. I laughed it off with him, but the truth was I wasn’t okay.
“How was therapy?” I asked after every session and he would always respond with fine, but this time he said more.
“It was good. He said it was definitely my PTSD and that we would work on it, but there is no cure.”
I wanted to say something, I wanted to tell him I knew, I wanted an explanation, but even if he answered would it have been true? No one can answer that because I never pushed it. I swallowed it like I was having to do with everything else because I never wanted to put more on him when his job was stressing him out. We had gone from this place of amazing strength where we could tell each other everything to everything I did was piss poor by his standards, so I said nothing. My therapist warned me that if I kept bottling things up one day I would explode.
The Explosion and the Birthday Party.
When you look at the photo below you see my husband watching as I cut my daughter’s birthday cake. You see my daughter watching to see how I do it because she wants to cut it too.
Here’s what you don’t see.
That day my husband went full-blown narcissistic asshole on me and locked me and the kids out of the house on a cold November day. His excuse was that we didn’t know how to clean correctly. He locked us out with no keys, money, purse, food, coats, nothing. We had nothing while he turned up the radio, and cleaned everything I had already cleaned. The kids and I had to go hang out with our neighbor Misty, who tried to go talk to my husband and had to do so through a window because he wouldn’t let her in either.
What you don’t see in this picture is that after everything I had done, everything I had swallowed, all the concessions I had made he told me repeatedly that I didn’t do enough, I wasn’t enough and that without him, I would be nothing. He reminded me that he took me in when he didn’t have to and I still owed him for that kindness. He assured me that I could go home, but I couldn’t take anything with me. None of the kid’s things, no gas money to get there, nothing. He warned me that if I did leave, my ex would see the weakness, and come for my kids and me. He reminded me that he had warned me that he was vindictive and it wouldn’t be just my ex coming for me. He bragged and said that because he was military, he was trained in psychological warfare and that there wouldn’t be bruises to show for the damage he would do. He promised that no one would ever believe me if I spoke up, that everyone loved him and it was my word against someone everyone saw as a hero and adored. He reminded me that I was still working on getting past the damage Lyme’s had done and I would be without medical coverage. He swore if I left that he would cut me off of everything before I was out of the driveway. He even stated that he would commit “financial suicide” to ensure me and the kids would never get anything from him. He then touched on every fear I had. He took every weakness I had and turned it into a weapon and stabbed me with it. We had had some issues, but this was the first time I had seen it full-scale like this. The worst thing is, this isn’t even a full attack by him. I won’t see what that looks like for a few years.
Reactive abuse is when you, as someone who is being abused, lash out toward your abuser in response to the abuse to which you’re being subjected. However, the truth is that it is a manipulation tactic that allows the user to shift the blame on to you. s shift blame from themselves onto the victim. You’ll be told that you’re overreacting or being overly dramatic and you’ll be accused of being the abuser yourself.
In other words, reactive abuse refers to what happens when you react in a significant way to a toxic behavior that is repeatedly used to control and manipulate you… in toxic relationships, abusers will do whatever they can to avoid taking responsibility for their behaviors.Angela Atkinson – Author, Trauma Counselor, LSC
Reactive abuse is also what happened that day. After everything, I finally exploded. I told him about all the lies I knew about, and I confronted each one. I told him I loved him, but it was not enough to keep being the person he loved in public and berated in private. I had this moment of clarity where I told him I would rather face my ex than spend another minute trying to be something I wasn’t just to please him. I unleashed months and months’ worth of withholding while he stood there. I unleashed everything I had been holding back with tears streaming down my face and yet he was calm with a smirk on his face that grew when he said quietly, “fuck you.” Then he greeted everyone who had been at the door listening to my meltdown.
In this photo, his head is cocked which he normally did when he won something or when he wondered if he had gone too far. I couldn’t look at him, so I focused on cutting the cake, on playing with the kids, I pretended everything was okay while trying not to cry, or feel embarrassed and guilty. Our friends consoled me and told me it was okay, but from now on, instead of tearing into him, they wanted me to talk to them. Our beautiful friends captured this moment not knowing what had happened, but when I see my face and his stance, I see what happened over and over again.
My husband has a type, it has always been women with children, mostly brown haired women and mostly women who had been hurt before. He swoops in and makes promises and acts like this amazing person that you wonder how you were so lucky to get him. He gets the kids to fall in love with him and the women follow suit. We question why he is single, but he will always have a story to tell about why he is that makes you hate the people he claims hurt him, but they were actually the ones who got hurt. We don’t believe those people who he hurt because we don’t want to believe that he is capable of such things. We want him to be the one guy in a herd of assholes that is still decent. Once attached, it’s hard to leave someone if you know it will hurt your kids as much as it would have hurt mine. I believed I could endure any pain he unleashed, I believed it to be PTSD and something we could work on, I believed I could be patient enough to be that person for him as long as it wasn’t my kids feeling, seeing, or hearing any of the abuse. I found myself saying, he did this… but at least he didn’t hit me, eventually, I wouldn’t be able to say that either.
Later that night, after we were both calm, my husband was able to convince me to apologize to him for making him feel locking us out was necessary. I wouldn’t even realize the irony of me apologizing for this behavior until I got him to make amends with his sister and listened as he made her apologize for something she never said, but that’s coming later.
My kids didn’t know what happened that night and I was grateful, but I also slept on the couch instead of next to him. I had lived with one type of abuser and once the trust was broken so was my ability to sleep next to them. My husband had done the same. He had broken my trust repeatedly, he had manipulated me and pushed until I felt I had no choice but to push back. That night when my weaknesses became weapons and he warned of dangerous times to come if I tried to leave I flashed back to those same words being spoken by the man who always turned my stomach, my ex.
Could I have found two of the same type of men? Two men that everyone thought were boy scouts on the outside, two men who came across so amazing in the beginning, but to those who knew them long enough and got close enough knew they were the devil reincarnate? I couldn’t believe that to be true because they were so different yet they were also the same. One would use his words and violence, while the other used trauma bonding and threats. I would share what happened with my therapist who recommended I either walk away or bring him in with me for a joint session, but then I wouldn’t be able to go back to therapy anymore because there was no time for me to do that. I was suddenly very busy running my husband’s errands.