Most of us feel that we know ourselves pretty well. Over time, we have learned to trust our instincts and follow those “gut feelings.” They protect us from danger, both mentally and physically, and we may even feel impervious to danger. But what if something worms it’s way through those protective barriers we have in place? What if that something, or someone, finds the Achilles Heel that you didn’t even know you had? In the right circumstances, it can rock you to your core and make you question everything you thought you knew about yourself.
I found myself in such a situation not too many years ago. My husband and I had been through a nasty divorce, and I suddenly found myself a single parent of three very young children. It was really hard at first. Not so much the daily living, as he hadn’t really contributed anyway, but the mental aspect changed and made things difficult. He had disconnected long before the actual split, but at least I had the feeling that he was there. When I found myself on my own with the kids, I was surprised by the sense of loneliness I felt.
The split brought on the expected changes to my social circle. Many of the people I hung out with were his friends, so my circle shrunk considerably. Right about the same time as the divorce, I started a new job. I was meeting new people, but I still felt like an outsider. I had worked for a much smaller company before, and my new employer had literally 50 times more employees than I worked with before.
I found solace through my few remaining friends and through the new ones I was making at the new job. Some of them had kids too, so I tried to socialize with other single moms as much as possible to curb the loneliness. I didn’t date for quite a while, but after some time, I noticed I was developing feelings for a man I met through work. He didn’t appear to notice me much at all, that is, until in a burst of courage, I asked him out. He was surprised by my advances, but thrilled to find he had an admirer.
We dated for several months and became quite attached before I brought him home to meet my children. Regretful for having none of his own, he quickly bonded with mine. My heart was filled with joy, seeing how well they responded to each other, and I soon let down the walls I had built to protect myself and my children. I was in love; even my kids were in love with him.
A few more months went by, and we started making long term plans. We talked about how we might merge our two households, where we might live, where the best place to raise the kids would be, all the important things people discuss when planning a life together. Everything seemed perfect and I couldn’t believe my luck at finding such a wonderful man.
Then the inevitable happened; we had our first fight. I can’t even remember what it was about now, but it happened late at night at my house. It was my son’s fifth birthday that day, and the kids were sleeping, worn out from the party, the cake, the ice cream, and the fifteen other kids that had spent hours running and screaming through the house. I suppose we were a little worn as well from the mayhem, so it is understandable that it would not take much to set off an argument.
I do remember that he became very animated and loud, even though I can’t remember why. Worried that he might wake the children, I walked out to the back yard with the hope that he would follow me and we could continue the dispute in a more private setting. He did not follow me. I sat down on the patio and smoked a cigarette to calm my nerves and waited. Ten minutes passed, but he did not come out. Soon, I heard him start his vehicle and drive away.
The next day, a bouquet of flowers was delivered with a note of apology. I was relieved; relieved that we could survive a fight and relieved that he could admit that he acted like an ass. I went about my day as usual, my heart light and filled once again with love. It was my day off, so I did my weekly chores and then took the kids to McDonald’s with a friend and her kids so they could all play in the cage of balls and ride the big twisty slides.
Later that day, I was giving my two year old daughter a bath. As I washed her hair, I happened to notice that her ear was black. Black, not blue. I completely freaked out. Even though she was quite verbose for a two year old, she couldn’t tell me what had happened, so I called in my next witness, my five year old son. I asked if he could tell me what had happened to turn my daughters ear black. Without much excitement, he told me that my boyfriend had come into their bedroom the night before when they had been awoken by our yelling. My daughter wouldn’t stop crying, he explained, so the boyfriend threw her across the room. I asked him to demonstrate using a teddy bear. He picked up the bear and violently slammed it into the wall beside my daughters bed. My son told me that it had worked, because my daughter went right to sleep after that.
As he demonstrated, I found myself gasping for breath and unable to think straight. I felt as though I’d been punched in the gut. My mind was racing, trying to determine if it was possible, if my son was telling the truth or exaggerating as kids are apt to do from time to time. I looked again to examine my daughter’s ear, and this time, examined her from head to toe. While she had no other marks as disturbing as her ear, she did have some other bruising on that side of her body. I couldn’t believe I had missed seeing the marks. I brushed her hair that morning, but never noticed her ear. At the time, I felt terribly guilty for not seeing it. In hindsight, I’m amazed I noticed much of anything with a five year old and two babies.
I called the police. They came, they asked questions, they took pictures, and they left. They told me they would look in to it and get back to me. I took her to the doctor. They asked questions, they took pictures, and gave her a clean bill of health. I called social services, they asked questions….they said they’d get back to me.
I spent the next several days avoiding the boyfriend, not really sure how to confront him. I called in sick to work, and told the boyfriend we all had the flu and that he should probably stay away. When at last I did confront him, he denied the whole thing. Of course the part of me that was still in love was happy to hear his denial, but luckily, some portion of my protective instincts were still in tact, and with a broken heart, I ended the relationship.
Here is the truly horrible part. When I confided to a few co-workers about what had happened, they were not surprised. In fact, they knew he had a violent past with women. The whole company did it seemed, and not one person told me or warned me. My best friend from work at the time knew all about his last relationship. She said, “yeah, they used to knock each other around all the time, even in the locker room at work. It was crazy.” Incredulously, I asked her why she hadn’t told me. She said, “I figured you knew. Some women just like that kind of thing.” Yeah, I dumped her along with the boyfriend.
I’ll admit that there were red flags along the way, but I ignored them because I was swept away by my feelings. The end result was that I lost nearly all faith in my ability to read people, my ability to trust my instincts. I withdrew from social activities and built even bigger and stronger walls to protect myself and my kids. I made it damn near impossible for anyone to get close to us. The knowledge that I had allowed something, someone so destructive into our lives, allowed that someone to hurt my kids, almost ruined me.
My daughter does not seem to have any long term emotional scars from the event, and I have since forgiven myself for letting it happen, but I have yet to feel secure in my own instincts or lose that feeling of vulnerability. Once your core is breached and you discover you are not as infallible as you once thought, it is a long road back to knowing and trusting who you truly are.