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Once upon a time I fell in love with a bad man. He wasn’t bad in the beginning, or rather he was but I didn’t know it. He concealed his darkness from my view until the vows had been spoken and the rings I paid for were securely on our fingers. I was looking up how to get an annulment the day after my court magistrate non-wedding wedding day as he raged around the room. I knew I had made a mistake, but I still didn’t know, and couldn’t know, how very serious that mistake was, or how deeply I would pay for it.
I met Mr. X online. We had attended the same high school together and graduated the same year. He remembered me vaguely and I didn’t remember him at all. But we began to talk and eventually, of course, we decided to meet.
The very next day I attended a cookout with his family to celebrate his birthday. Normally meeting an entire family the day after a first date would make me panic but they made me feel at home. Welcomed.
Among his large family was his young daughter, Little X. I was nervous about meeting her because he told me she often was shy and hard on his girlfriends. Instead, to my surprise, she ran right up to me and hugged me. Then she took my hand and pulled me into the room where she was hanging out and listening to music. The bonding began in that moment and it never stopped. I often joked that she had “sealed the deal” on my relationship with Mr. X.
We got engaged within a few months. This fast and furious approach I now know is a common tactic among abusive men. They rush the relationship so that you have little time to learn about them or their family. Any resistance is met by threats and sometimes those threats are of suicide. At the time, I was flattered and caught up in the whirlwind.
My previous relationship of over a decade had ended with no wedding ring. I was ready to begin that stage in my life, despite the decline in marriage rates since the seventies across the country, and defy the statistics that make a commitment sound more and more like a gamble. More than anything, I wanted to have a family. I counted my blessings and called it a miracle.
I was so caught up in the love and my new role as a soon-to-be stepmom that I didn’t even flinch when I had to pay for our wedding rings. He assured me he would get me something better for an anniversary down the road, and I believed him. I wasn’t in it for the money or the diamond. I agreed to get married in front of a court magistrate and waved goodbye to the fairytale dreams of a beautiful wedding and dress. “Who needs all of that stuff anyway?” I reasoned.
The day after the wedding, we began to pack up my apartment. We were broke and I had to sell almost all of my furniture. He was furious because I wouldn’t stop packing and go to one of his friends’ houses for a cookout. I kept explaining we had a deadline to meet to be out of my apartment. He threw his phone against the wall and lost it.
It was in that moment that my stomach sank like a rock. “What have I done?” I thought while searching for rules on obtaining an annulment. I just knew this was going to be bad. Really bad.
Things escalated quickly. He flew into rages on a daily basis and sometimes several times a day. He resumed the drug habit he had assured me pre-wedding that he had kicked over two years before. The rages were terrifying and they often occurred in front of his daughter. I scrambled to try and protect her, to get her and myself into counseling, and to try and stop him from abusing drugs.
I finally had no choice but to leave. Criminal investigators helped me and my step-daughter, of whom I was granted temporary custody, get away and settled into a safehouse for women and children. He was in jail, and my days of trying to find ways to save her were numbered. I was told when he was released from jail I would need to leave the state.
After about three months, he was released and my step-daughter was placed back in his care. In shock, I began to pack up my things and prepare to move somewhere I had never been, surrounded by nobody I had ever known. I was losing it all. My step-daughter was gone, my belongings except for what would fit in my car were gone, and now I had to point to a place on the map and go there. I was alone and very afraid.
Driving to my new destination involved moving from one safehouse to the next. Eventually I found a place where I felt safe and ready to start over. I moved into an apartment and began to unpack what little I had brought and what little I was given by charity. Sitting on a donated mattress on the floor of my little apartment, I opened up the box containing my wedding rings. I held them in my hand and watched as they sparkled with false hope in the light streaming in from my window.
I knew I didn’t want to keep them and that I needed to let them go. I needed to let go of my marriage and my hopes for a future with a man and a little girl I thought would be my family. I needed to let go of the pain of knowing I married a man that didn’t love me back. So I stood up and placed the rings in my pocket and grabbed my car keys. It was time for yet another road trip.
A little while later I found myself pulling into a parking lot facing several rows of docks jutting out over the water. I smiled and got out of the car. There was a man and his son fishing on the dock and I nodded as I walked past. I went over to an isolated corner on the far end of the dock and looked out over the water. I felt a calm peace that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. The water lapped against the dock and seemed to agree, it was time to let go.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the rings. I had paid for them — in so many ways. I held them up and watched again as they sparkled in the sunlight. I took a deep breath that seemed to fill me up from my toes to the bottom of my heart and tossed the rings into the water. I watched, amazed at my bravado, as they silently sunk to the depths below.
I sat down and dangled my feet off of the edge of the dock just as I had done a month before with my step-daughter on another dock in another life. I sent a text message to two of my closest friends that simply said “I did it.” And I had. I had started the process of letting go.
Water is known to symbolize purity, healing, and cleansing. I have always found peace beside an ocean, lake, or river. This moment was no different. I had a long way to go in my healing but this little moment of mine was a huge step. I had driven many miles to get where I was but I had made it. Walking away I looked up at the sun and this time it was my heart that sparkled. I was free.
If you or anyone you know is involved in an abusive relationship please call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.