It’s been nearly a decade since I took WGST (then WMST) 422, but the statistics and stories I learned have affected every day of my life since.
The part of the course that provoked the most immediate emotional response was the readings?which both the tutor and student interviewed in Tynes? article noted could be unsettling. One of the course texts, Fleeing the House of Horrors: Women Who Have Left Abusive Partners, by Aysan Se?ver, contains particularly graphic and disturbing descriptions of women’s horrifying experiences (to get an idea of the level of Horrors, check out the beginning of Se?ver’s introduction on Google Books).
The stories included in this collection are heartbreaking and more than sufficient to reduce any compassionate human being to tears. At the same time, though, these stories made me feel lucky that things in my life weren’t worse than they were. When I took WMST 422, you see, I was living in an abusive marriage. But as angry and controlling as Brent was, the physical abuse was not as frequent or severe as many of the women whose stories Se?ver collected. I never suffered any permanent injuries, and the majority of his violence was directed against property.
Brent was particularly hard on phones – I don’t know how many phones we went through in the first year of our marriage, but they were often the first thing he’d grab when angry. Cordless handsets and cell phones were frequently thrown at walls or the ground, and I remember one wall-mounted phone that Brent ripped out and stomped on, not only destroying the phone, but tearing out the drywall sinkers and phone jack.
Brent had agreed to allow me work on completing my university degree because he was unhappy with our financial situation. I had few qualifications, so his job paid much more than mine did, and he felt it was unfair that I should be contributing less to the household than he was. So he gave me permission to return to school, though he never had any interest in what my courses were, or how I was doing, only that they were completed as fast as possible, and that they didn’t cost him anything.
Every month, my paycheck covered the rent and groceries, and I applied for bursaries wherever possible to cover the cost of my courses. Even though Brent worked full-time, he insisted that all of his earnings were going to pay down his credit card debts. He stayed out late most nights and blew up whenever I asked any questions about money, especially if they were related to how much he made or why we were always so short. He retained, as did the men in the House of Horrors, complete financial control over our household.
And as many of the women in Fleeing the House of Horrors noted, I also had little control over the nature or timing of sexual activity, or over methods of birth control. Brent believed that “natural timing” would effectively prevent pregnancy, and was morally opposed to both barrier and hormonal contraceptives. He pitched fits whenever I mentioned the possibility of pills, and threatened to kill me when I asked about his beliefs on tubal ligation. In spite of his belief in the power of “natural timing,” he frequently ignored the dates scribbled on the calendar.
When I became pregnant, Brent began staying out even later than before. When he came home each night, sometime between two and five in the morning, he would begin shouting at me ? asking why I was asleep, why I didn’t wait for him to have my supper, why I was too lazy to do the dishes. The questions were not rhetorical. He expected an answer, and he expected me to immediately get out of bed and fix his problems. He also decided that he wouldn’t eat food that had been cooled and re-heated, so he further expected that I would cook him a fresh new supper and stay up to eat it with him.
One of those times, when I got him some food and then tried to go back to bed to sleep, he was so furious at my refusal to eat with him (at three o?clock in the morning) that he hurled his dishes down the hall after me from the kitchen towards the bedroom doorway, complete with the supper still on them. The al dente spaghetti held some of the Corel shards onto the hallway walls, while the remainder of the noodles and broken plate chunks, coated in sauce, splattered the parquet floor. After weeks like this, eventually, I miscarried.
Later, after another miscarriage, Brent announced to my doctor that I would not be consenting to any more check-ups or a D&C (a procedure commonly required to clear tissues from the uterus after miscarriage). On our way out of the clinic, I briefly spoke to the receptionist to cancel my previously-booked pregnancy checkups, and Brent excused himself to use the washroom. My doctor immediately pulled me aside and told me that my pregnancy had been healthy, and should have been carried to term, but that he believed my living environment had placed my body under such significant stress that it would be unable to sustain pregnancy.
I felt broken by Brent’s anger, and I felt broken by the loss of two pregnancies. But at the same time, I felt relieved that I was not bringing an innocent baby into the chaos of my life. And then I felt broken for feeling relieved.
That night, I tried to bury myself in schoolwork, at which I’d always excelled, to forget all my brokenness for a while. So I sat down at my desk and resumed my WMST 422 readings. And while the women’s stories collected in Aysan Se?ver?s Fleeing the House of Horrors were certainly enough to cause great emotional upheaval, the details of these personal anecdotes did not make a lasting impression on me. Perhaps surprisingly, what has stayed with me ever since were some of the statistics that I came across in my readings and research?statistics that helped change my life.
Check next week’s issue of The Voice for Living my Learning ? Part 2.
This two-part article, published in August and September, was mentioned by literally every single person who made suggestions for this Best Of issue. So without further ado, the second part: