“Whatever it is that you’re doing to make him react that way, stop it.” Jill blinked through a thick layer of mascara. She stroked back a long blond curl and shook her head. “If you stop upsetting him, then he won’t hurt you.”
My jaw dropped, my stomach clenching as I looked at her. Words eluded me in that moment. I had finally found enough courage to confide in someone, to voice the horror of living with an abusive husband, and this was the response my mother-in-law dished out?
I clamped my jaw shut, pursing my lips as another feeling erupted and burned my cheeks. Shame. My eyes drifted down to my feet as I forced out the words. “But I don’t do anything to upset him.”
She crinkled her nose, her pencilled brows lifting as she scrutinized me. Her next words made me want to sink between the twisted carpet beneath my feet.
“Well, you must be doing something wrong. Lucas wouldn’t hurt you otherwise.”
She swivelled towards the kitchen benchtop to pop on the kettle. I watched as she pulled two mugs from an overhanging cupboard before setting them down and looking back at me. “It’s your fault, Ava. He’s always had trouble controlling his emotions. You need to learn how to behave.”
She paused and flashed me a smile. “Coffee?”
Coffee? Was she serious? As I fixed my gaze on her, I realized that she was. I tilted my chin as I circled strands of auburn hair over my ear and narrowed my eyes. At the same time, I became aware of the rage brewing in my veins. Her smile fizzled as I marched closer to her. I tore at the sleeves on my wrists to expose the bruises on my skin, thrusting my arms at her as I spoke through gritted teeth.
“This is my fault? My fault, Jill?” I said, as the heat of my tears stung my eyes. I tried to withhold the tears as I gazed down at her, watching as she barely glanced at the angry welts.
She shrugged. “Like I said, you need to stop upsetting him. It’s not his fault.”
My dark eyes narrowed down to slits as my jaw tightened. “Are you telling me that I deserve this?”
She avoided looking at me as she turned to busy herself with teaspoons and coffee jars. When she didn’t reply, I stepped closer to her.
“Jill?” I said, biting my trembling lip. “I asked you a question.”
Her golden tresses flipped across her shoulders as she whirled around suddenly, treating me to a heated stare. “I don’t want to talk about it, Ava,” she said, clasping her slender hips. “We don’t talk about these kinds of things. We just note it, learn from it and move on.”
“Move on?” I felt the fury overwhelm me. So, I mirrored her moves, gripping my hips and glaring. “Is that the answer that’s been evading me for so long? And how about your grand-babies? He’s already started venting his rage on Liam. Who knows how far he could take it…” my voice trailed and I shuddered.
The thought of my children suffering beneath my husband’s erratic bouts of violence was too much to bear. I knew I had to do something. This life was eating me up from the inside out, and it was guilt that formed the groundwork on which I stood.
Guilt. If I could give it a color, it would be green. And not the green offered of vibrant grasses swaying beneath a summer breeze, but the sludgy green that clung to the walls of a putrid pond. Green shadowed my every waking hour. It was that murky shade that relentlessly haunted me. Green for not protecting my children from the horrific scenes tainting their reality, and green for the strength I lacked. Most of all, though, it was the muddy tint of green that had replaced my convictions.
Jill waved a dismissive hand, snorting. Her gaze hardened as she looked me in the eye.
“He wouldn’t hurt the children,” she said, straightening her short frame. “You married him, Ava. This is the life you chose. Now, you must deal with it, just like I dealt with it. I didn’t go running to my mother-in-law for sympathy.” She took in a breath and hissed. “No, I toughened up and got smarter, and that’s what you need to do. Stop upsetting him and he won’t hurt you.”
I swallowed hard as her words sunk in. She tore her eyes away and made for the fridge. The revelation came to me in a flash.
“You were abused, too?”
I saw her tense before reaching for a bottle of milk and swinging the fridge door closed. When she didn’t answer, I moved up to her, noticing her fingers quivering as she set down the milk. She didn’t look at me.
“Jill, how bad was it?”
Her chin lowered along with her shoulders and she sighed. When she turned around, I saw the pain in her eyes.
“Lucas’s father was a good man.” Her eyes glazed and darted away from me. For a moment, I wondered if she would continue. She let out a breath as she began to speak again. “But sometimes, good people do bad things.”
Her fingers knotted together, and she shook her head. “He’d always had a hot temper; anything could set him off. Me and the kids lived on our nerves and walked on eggshells. It was like Russian Roulette.” She gave a rueful laugh. “One day, I came home from work to find him…” Her voice faltered.
Her chest began to rack as she leaned heavily against the benchtop. I had never seen her so vulnerable. When she lifted her eyes to mine, they were glistening and my heart cracked. “He was interfering with Lucas.”
I gasped and reached out to her, resting my hand on her arm as I searched for the right words.
My words came in a whisper. “Wha — what happened?”
She jerked away from me as her voice hardened. “Anarchy — that’s what happened, Ava. And what followed was my near death. So, you see now, Lucas isn’t to blame for his behavior. He breathes beneath the treacherous shadow of his father. You must submit to the life you chose, be there for him and forgive his indiscretions.”
My mind went blank then, before a thousand thoughts spiralled as I struggled to understand. My eyes skimmed to the floor. Then, one thought materialised above the whirl in my head — The cycle of abuse stops here.
I could barely breathe when I looked back at her.
“I’m sorry for what happened to you and Lucas,” I said, shaking my head. “But that doesn’t excuse the way he treats me and the kids. Toxic behavior can be unlearned; it doesn’t have to carry on through the generations.”
Her lips contorted in a scowl. “Did you not hear what I said? He’s been through hell! His actions are not always his own. Ava, you need to understand this — he needs you to understand this.”
“No,” I replied, feeling the heat simmer below my skin as I siphoned courage from the fire. “That’s where you’re wrong. Every action is a choice. Every hateful remark, every slap, and every punch that he delivers is a choice he gets to make each and every time.”
I reached for my wedding ring and twisted it off my finger. Her eyes widened as I placed it on the benchtop beside the milk. Then, I levelled my stare on her and lifted my chin. “Love shouldn’t hurt, Jill.”
I stormed out of the kitchen as she chased after me, calling.
“Ava! This is crazy! What are doing?”
When I reached the threshold of my bedroom, I paused to glance over my shoulder at her ashen face. “I’m taking the kids and leaving,” I said, clutching the door frame. “I’m not you, Jill, and no amount of understanding his past will justify another minute of this life. I deserve more; my children deserve more and I’m doing something about it.”
She shrieked, but I didn’t wait around for her reply. I walked into my room and opened the closet where the luggage was kept, before pulling out items from drawers and hangers and flinging them into the bags. It was then that I felt something shift slightly within me, and for the first time in years, the murky green shrouding me lightened.
Originally published by P.S I Love You on Medium – November 8th, 2019.