I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, and for most of my life, try as I may to shake them, many of my views of myself as a woman have been based in that era.  If you have ever watched re-runs of “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners” and even the old “Lassie” series, you will have seen some of the gender stereotypes that were implanted into my psyche.  For the most part in this era, men were family heads and were regarded as being the strong partners; women kept the households running but were regarded as members of the “weaker sex.”  I can just hear the guffaws now from those of you who are in your forties, thirties, and younger! 

One of the human qualities that took a big hit when I was young was what we knew then as “feminine intuition.”  Men had common sense—most of the time!—and women had “feminine intuition.”  The problem was that at the time, feminine intuition was an attribute that the general public and my family of origin did not seem to view with much respect.  Thus, I reached adulthood with typical values for the times:  common sense and the ability to reason well, logically, were “in,” and intuition, the ability to arrive at conclusions through hunches or through some mysterious, indescribable process originating at a spot in the brain far from common sense and reason, was “out.”

During my twenty-year marriage, this attitude of valuing common sense and reason over intuition prevailed.  During discussions with my former husband, if I could not back up my opinion with hard facts but relied instead on my intuition, my opinion was worthless, unworthy of any consideration at all.  Because I had learned as a child and as a young adult that others were much smarter than I and that my hunches and intuitive knowledge lacked validity, I made a wrong decision about midway in my marriage that I would not make today if I could take my present wisdom with me and travel through time back to the 1970s.  “If I had it to do over. . .” is trite and tired, I know, but if any of you, my readers, can benefit from hearing about my mistake, I’m willing and happy to tell you about it.

At some point near the midpoint of the nineteen seventies, I began waking up in the middle of the night perspiring heavily, heart beating wildly, and wanting to run, just run as fast as I could run to get away from my home.  I didn’t understand why this was happening, and I didn’t tell anyone about it.  I didn’t run, however.  I stayed put.  At the time, I had been married for a bit more than ten years and had two children, a twelve-year-old son and a seven-year-old adopted daughter.  My husband was a professional who earned a good living to support us, and I had a teaching certificate and was a substitute teacher.  Our home, while not fancy or modern, was decent, and we had a small parcel of land on which we grew vegetables and sometimes pastured sheep or cows.  We even had a barn, home to a flock of banty chickens.  Life was good—as seen from the outside.  

Life as experienced from the inside, however, was not so good.  Because I had grown up in a home where I had learned to walk on tiptoes around my parents to avoid riling them, especially to avoid riling my father and provoking one of his tantrums, I thought that walking on tiptoes around my husband was normal.  My children learned to walk on tiptoes, too.  So there we were, all walking on tiptoes so as not to provoke the head of the family and cause him to “blow.”  When he “blew,” he was dangerous, more dangerous physically to the children than to me.  He didn’t hit me, but he hit them and said they needed to learn their lesson.  When I intervened, he hit me verbally by shouting obscenities at me and calling me names. During his tantrums, I lived in a time warp, paralyzed; trapped somewhere in my mind between my father’s violent tantrums and my husband’s violent tantrums, I was unable to distinguish “now” from “then” and do what I needed to do to ensure my children’s safety or my own safety. I understand now that PTSD does that– it causes people to mistake one reality for another reality, and the inability to make decisions or the errors in decision-making that result can be fatal.  For some victims of domestic violence, the decisions made during times of violence have been fatal. 

Then one day in 1975 or 1976, my husband came home from work and announced that we would be moving to Germany.  He had made this decision without asking for my input.  This would be the ideal time, I knew, to make the break—if a break was to be made.  But I simply could not justify leaving my situation.  I tried to see the situation objectively, through the eyes of an outsider, and I did not see that leaving was warranted.  Our situation was not that bad!  Perhaps if I had not grown up in a home where people tiptoed, I could have seen the situation clearly, could have identified it as an abusive situation, and then would have taken my children and left.  But that was not the case.  I didn’t see the reality of our situation, and I could not justify uprooting my kids simply because something deep inside me told me that our situation was not what it should have been.  My intuition told me that the tiptoeing and the violence were wrong; none of us, including the person we tiptoed around, deserved to live like that.  But I had no faith in my own wisdom, and I allowed my children and myself to be bullied because there was no hard evidence, observable evidence, to show that we were, indeed, being bullied. 

In addition to not seeing that my children and I were living in an abuse situation, I stayed because I did not believe I would be supported in any way by either his family or my family if I took the children and left.  In fact, I was afraid that my husband’s family would use their finances to prevent me from retaining custody of the children.  It would be a nasty fight, I determined, and did I want to put my children and myself through that?  I decided that I did not want to do that to them or to myself.  We went to Germany in September of 1976 and returned in August of 1978. 

Once back in the U.S., we returned to our home town, and my husband returned to his former place of employment. I found a job in a dry-cleaning establishment to supplement our income, and my son and daughter went to school.  Again, from the outside, our family life must have looked good.  I noticed, however, that my husband did not spend much time at home.  At first, I did not pay a lot of attention to that fact.  He worked about forty-five minutes from where we lived, and I felt that if he wanted to spend time with co-workers after he finished work, then that was his privilege. I had friends in our town with whom I could socialize, but he did not.  So I understood his need to socialize with his co-workers. 

As time passed, however, he returned home later in the evening, and he seemed to spend more time drinking.  I also noticed that one female co-worker called more frequently, sometimes in the middle of the night, asking him to return to work to fix one thing or another.  We spent very little time together, and that worried me.  One day I confronted him with the fact that our relationship seemed to be in need of repair and suggested we go for marriage counseling, but he would have none of that.  When I suggested that I might go by myself, he reacted by shouting at me, denying that there was a problem.  I kept any additional thoughts on the subject to myself, but I knew I had struck a nerve.  I did not, however, know what to do with this information, so I did nothing.   Again, I lacked confidence in my intuition and my capacity to make decisions.

I did nothing, that is, until the spring evening in 1981 when I caught him in the act of using our daughter for his own sexual gratification.  Then I blew the whistle on the entire domestic mess, and just as with Joshua in the Battle of Jericho, the walls came tumbling down, revealing a domestic mess as toxic and stinking as the contents of a cesspool.  So why was I able in 1981 to do what I was unable to do in 1974? 

In 1981, rather than just having a sense that something was awry in our relationship, the intuitive suspicion I had in the mid-1970s, I had a specific piece of information that gave me all the reason I needed for putting paid to our domestic relationship. I had a hard, cold fact—the look of terror on my daughter’s face.  And then when I had a chance to talk to my daughter and confirm that I had perceived the situation accurately, I had further support for my case. Yes, by the time I called the police and reported my husband, I was confident that I was doing what needed to be done, severing my relationship with my spouse.

The tragedy embedded in these events is that at some level of awareness, I’d felt compelled to wait for specific, hard evidence, the discovery of sexual abuse, before feeling justified in severing my relationship with my spouse.  If I had trusted my intuition in the mid-seventies, the time I was waking up at night, heart pounding, and wanting to run, my daughter would have been spared the experience of being a victim, and my children and I would all have been spared some years of being the objects of my former husband’s rages.  We could have stopped tiptoeing.  I know that now.  I didn’t know it then.