I can’t believe the universe just provided validation for a decision I took this year. I’m referring to a recent column of yours on domestic abuse.
Last New Year’s Eve I visited my sister and tried hard to avoid any discussion of her marital life. Her 20-year marriage has been filled with infidelity and abuse of every sort. Of course, she starts in on her husband’s girl-chasing and what she should do.
I’ve heard all this stuff many times before, and this time I was not mobilized to analyze, offer advice or even listen. I noticed myself being emotionally detached while my sister was energized by the idea of fighting for her man.
For the first time I also noticed my 18-year-old nephew’s severe depression. Two years ago he witnessed his father throwing a can of veggies at his mother while she held their newborn child in her hands. My nephew stopped talking to his father then. All my sister has to say is he needs to learn to respect his dad.
Let me tell you how we have tried to help for 20 years. My parents offered her a place to stay, I gave money for a divorce lawyer, and my parents offered money if she leaves. We have begged and pleaded, the police have been called, and her husband has been arrested.
Guess what? They are still going strong.
My stepmom hates my sister’s husband with a passion, and I’ve had many sleepless nights while they kissed and made up. One day we couldn’t reach her, and I cannot describe the panic I felt. It is a horrible rollercoaster, and the feeling of powerlessness is brutal.
So I’ve disengaged. I am not going to their house. I am not pretending their lives are normal. I will not entertain any discussion with her unless it ends with her getting therapy and leaving. I will not be burdened by the details of the life she has chosen.
Early in her marriage, we all saw the signs. While she miscarried their first child, her husband was nowhere to be found. My stepmother and dad drove four hours each way from out of state with her, yet she returned. I’ve driven four hours to take her to a prenatal appointment because he refused to.
I am so done. My only regret is I can’t save my nieces and nephews, but they know the entire family is here for them. My nephew will graduate high school, and as much as it pains me, I will be sending a gift instead of attending.
Nothing anyone does can make a “victim” of domestic violence leave their abuser if they are not ready. In the meantime, we cannot make ourselves sick as we watch powerlessly as the drama unfolds.
Tori, sometimes we see people in difficult circumstances and our heart goes out to them. But when we look a little closer, what comes into focus is a sly quality the victim has which allows them to get what they seek.
You and your family did everything possible to help. To no avail. Now her children pay for her lack of judgment.
Kids with severe depression are common in families with abuse, and the depression is usually undiagnosed and untreated. Your sister told her son he needs to respect his father. She was wrong. The only principle that makes sense is, respect those who deserve respect.
For years your sister has taken advantage of your natural compassion and the compassion of your family. And she has used it against you. It is a credit to you, but not a credit to her.
When we see victims of abuse, it’s tempting to ignore the underside of abuse. It is tempting to forget they don’t have the right to make us play in their game. They don’t have the right to make us soul-sick as well.
Wayne & Tamara
McKenzie River Reflections
I am a young, 46-year-old Grammy to two boys ages eight and 20 months. I am extremely close to them as well as to my daughter, mother, and father.
I was let go from my job in 2011 and have been unemployed since. I have been watching my grandsons - the older one is in school during the school year - every day, Monday through Friday, since then.
Last September I married a man I’ve known since childhood. He was living in North Carolina since he was 18, but moved here five years ago. He wants so badly to move back down there because he has a captain’s license and can easily find work. Work that he enjoys.
There are not many opportunities here in Oklahoma City for a boat captain. He is very unhappy. I, too, adore the Carolinas, but am having a difficult time moving away from my family. I moved myself and my daughter to California when she was four, but returned to Oklahoma within two years because she missed my mom and dad so much.
I have been sacrificing for my family my entire life. My daughter thinks it’s terrible for me to move so far away from my grandsons. Half of me wants to move to North Carolina and make my husband’s dreams come true, but the other half can’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to my grandsons.
Should I stay, or should I go? Please give me some advice.
Carol Ann, three people have a claim on you. The first is your husband. He wants to return to the sea.
The second is your daughter. On the face of it, she seems to have the strongest claim on your life, but her claim may turn out to be the weakest. Although you sacrificed for her, she didn’t inherit the sacrifice gene from you. Not only do you forgo things for her, she demands it of you.
The third person with a claim, of course, is you, and the common answer to your question is, do what you want to do.
But there’s more to it than that. The role of sacrificer involves more than sacrifice. Another way of saying you sacrificed for others is that you allowed yourself to spoil them. That appears to be true of your daughter.
There’s a fine line between telling someone you sacrificed for them, and blaming them for the sacrifice. If you’ve allowed yourself to live life by other people’s designs, who is responsible for your life?
Sacrificing can be a crutch. It says, I don’t have to make decisions. When you give up your determination and will to others, it makes nothing your fault. In calling what you did a sacrifice, are you putting a positive spin on the actions of a woman who didn’t have goals of her own?
In Anton Chekhov’s story “The Darling,” the main character is a woman who lacks an identity. Married to a theater owner, she becomes wrapped up in the affairs of the stage. After he dies, she marries the owner of a timber yard and entirely forgets about show business. She focuses on her new husband and his opinions. Until he dies. Then she meets a veterinarian and becomes fixated with his life.
Are you like the darling? What is your answer to the question, who is Carol Ann?
A few years ago a hospice group published a list of the top five regrets of the dying. Two regrets they listed were, I wish I had expressed my true self and I wish I’d lived according to my dreams.
You asked whether you should bow to your husband’s wishes or your daughter’s. The two choices sound like variations of the same answer. The real question is, Who is Carol Ann? What does she want from life?
Wayne & Tamara
McKenzie River Reflections