I remember a song from the 1950s titled “It Pays to Be Ignorant.”  I think this was the theme song of a Groucho Marx quiz program on early television, but I could be wrong about that—just as I have been wrong about so many things.  As the song title implies, sometimes it’s good to be ignorant.  For example, I am happy to not know much about the seamy side of life and its darkness.  Oh, I know something about life’s darkness as it relates to my own experience, but my own experience has been sufficient.  I don’t want to know about the darkness of other lives if I don’t need to know. 

 

In my position as a community college remedial writing instructor, I helped other women find relief from the darkness when they wanted my help. I listened to them and referred them to competent help and to safe places to stay. In the process, I always encouraged them to turn themselves toward the light and not look back into the shadows. I did the same for myself—I gravitated toward the light and didn’t spend a lot of time looking back.  Looking back into that pit was so distressing that it rendered me unable to teach my classes.  Now that I am retired and have the support of a competent therapist, however, I am looking back and trying to make sense of my own darkness, and recently I have found myself focusing on the darkness in my twenty-year marriage.  As I do this, I’m also discovering the degree of my ignorance as a young woman in my early twenties.

 

 Some people may prefer to call ignorance by another name.  Granted, innocent or naïve may be more appealing adjectives than ignorant, but no doubt about it:  I was ignorant!  First off, as a young wife, I operated on the assumption that my husband’s mind worked the same way my mind did.  I assumed that he lived by the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.), a rule which I have always kept in mind as I have interacted with other people.  I also assumed that he obeyed the Ten Commandments, the rules for life that I learned in Sunday School at the local Episcopal church when I was growing up.  Didn’t everyone obey the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments?  I assumed they did.

 

When I was young and first married, I assumed that my husband followed the same moral beliefs that I followed, and I also assumed that any punishment I received from him, as from my parents, was justified.  As my twenty-year marriage wore on and his behavior became more problematic, more violent, I managed to overlook his abusive behavior toward me, figuring that I deserved what he dished out.  He broke the Golden Rule, but when he did that, he must have had a good reason.   Never did I imagine that maybe he felt the Golden Rule didn’t apply to him.  No, when he broke the Rule, he must have known something about the game of life that I didn’t know.  And because I knew from my childhood experiences that I was in the wrong, I felt I had no right to ask him to explain his behavior.  I was so conditioned to my lifetime role as being the person at fault that I saw no disconnect between my own use of the Golden Rule as a guide to my behavior and his apparent rejection of the Rule. 

 

I took my husband seriously and blamed myself for my failures when he yelled at me and called me a stupid bitch for making a mistake and overspending at the grocery store, for not having the “right” kind of dinner on the table, or for not having his clean underwear folded in his drawer—this despite the fact that I worked outside the home and contributed to our family income.  I accepted my failure as a wife and as a woman, but the thought that he may have had some shortcomings never entered my mind.  I accepted the fact that he was free to break the Golden Rule and I was not.  The rules didn’t apply to him.  My denial was so strong that I did not challenge this assumption. 

 

Now, when I go back in my memory and remember the times I saw a man who treated his wife tenderly and with respect and thought to myself, “Gee, I wish my husband were like that,” I remember the guilt I felt at thinking those thoughts.  I was a married woman, and in my mind, I had no business wanting something other than what I had from my husband!  “Thou shalt not covet” loomed large in my conscience.  And I assumed that in my husband’s conscience the words loomed equally large. Now, however, knowing that not only did my husband covet but acted on his coveting and cheated on me for a good many years, I have become aware of the degree to which I was ignorant.  Looking back, I am truly amazed at my ignorance, in fact.  Only after I had reported him for child abuse and was going through the papers he had left in our home did I discover the letters from one of his lovers and have concrete proof of his misbehavior.  Just as he had not obeyed the Golden Rule, he also had not obeyed one of the Ten Commandments.  Here I had felt guilty for wishing, and he had gone far beyond wishing many times.  Another of my assumptions blown to hell.   More evidence of my ignorance.

 

All the years of my marriage, all twenty years, I assumed that I was the person at fault, the person who failed in my marital relationship.  Just as I had failed my parents, I failed my husband.  Was my father at fault when he picked my cat up by the tail and bashed her against the kitchen wall because I had misbehaved?  No.  I was only nine years old at the time, but I deserved to hear the thud of my cat’s body hit the wall and hear her cries.  So I thought.  Nobody told me I didn’t deserve the punishment.  Was my mother at fault when she said, “All my friends believe you are getting married because you have to get married”?  I wasn’t pregnant, but the guilt I felt for having sex with my future husband before I was married led me to feel deserving of her words. After all, good girls did not have sex before they married, and I had wanted to be a good girl all my life.  My mother knew I was a bad girl.  She was right about me, and I deserved whatever punishment she deemed appropriate. 

 

So after I had reported my husband for molesting our daughter, and after he had been to court and was given supervised visitation, and after I had asked him on one of these visits why he had become progressively rougher with me in bed and he had replied, “I just wanted to see if there was anyone in your body,” I thought, “It was my fault for not being there.”  Oh, yes, it was all my fault.  If only I had given him the satisfaction of knowing he was hurting me as he tore up my insides, then he would have known I was really there and would have stopped hurting me?  Something did not add up.  It was my fault that he pounded me like I was a piece of tough steak and tore me up?  I don’t think so!  Now I can say, “I don’t think so,” but at the time, I still believed I was at fault for willing myself to leave my body and giving him nothing but an empty shell to pound on. 

 

Recently, I had a conversation about my husband’s response to my question during the visitation, and my friend enlightened me as to the manipulative ploys of men such as my former husband, men who cheat on their wives and molest their little girls.  As my friend pointed out, I had married a master manipulator, a person who no way would take responsibility for his behavior and who had no conscience.  As my friend stated, when my former husband responded to my question by saying that he “wanted to find out if there was anyone in my body,” he was putting the responsibility for his behavior onto me.  According to him, it was all my fault that he was ripping my insides and tearing me up until I bled.  When she said that, I thought, “Wow!  I’ve never even considered that he was wrong about that.  I’ve reached the age of 73 still believing that I deserved what he did to me.”  All these years, I have believed that he had a right to pound on me and that I was at fault for not responding to him and letting him know I was there?  Yup!  All these years! 

 

Slowly, I’m defogging my mind and replacing old erroneous assumptions about relationships with new, more realistic assumptions.  I don’t have a lot of time left in my life, but in the time I do have, I want to see life and my role in human interactions as clearly as I can.  Now I feel as if I’m at an optometrist’s office, and each time the doctor changes the settings on the eyepiece I’m looking through, I can see more clearly.  Will my vision of life ever be 20-20?  Probably not, but I want that vision to be as clear as possible. I’m learning my lessons late in life, but knowledge is power even at my age.  I just thank God that I am still capable of learning and still able to cut through the fog of my ignorance and see the light. I wish the same for you, my readers.  Namaste.  Peace be with you.   

 

 

 

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