My husband died 11 weeks ago.
His name was Ian and I loved him truly. We laughed a lot too.
But, I also disliked him intensely at times, and over 28 years we had known a lot of misery.
I first saw his abuse for what it was at a women’s refuge in South Auckland. I told the women there my story, because they had asked, and they gasped while I was telling it and said to me at the end: you should have been in a place like this, Jackie.
So I knew, finally. I couldn’t deny it any longer. After 23 years.
He was a narcissist when I met him. An abusive, cruel game player. He liked to manipulate people better than anything else in the world, almost. He used to say “I give them enough rope”. He meant me.
He didn’t have a lot of friends because he made it clear very early on that he wanted just me. Nobody else would fill his need. He wanted more of me, always. He wanted all of me, but then he didn’t.
Every morning for those first four years especially, I woke up not knowing who I was waking up to. And even if I woke up to good Ian, he could go from that to shit Ian really really fast. Breathtakingly fast. So fast that it left me in a spin, a daze, unsure, unsteady, and even more needy.
He wanted more of my time, more of my emotional space, more of my attention. I saw alot of my friends but just before I went out, he would start an argument. Always. Without fail. For years, he did this. When I pointed this out to him, he would tell me it was my fault. “Just GO” he’d say, knowing that I couldn’t because I had to make sure he was okay, that we were okay, before I could leave the house. Everything was my fault. All the time. So I was never sure what was authentically my shit to own, and what wasn’t.
I would beg him to tell me what was wrong. As he aged, he got better at voicing his concerns, but sometimes he still reverted to: you should know. If you really loved me, you would know.
I had to fight hard, all of our marriage, to breathe my own oxygen.
I just wanted to be left alone.
He would switch from being fine with me doing something to not fine about it. He would get drunk and rail about how he was my lowest priority. He would go out and not come home. He wouldn’t answer my calls. I would be so glad to see him the next day that I would forgive him.
He would spew hate at me. Spit disgust at me if I cried.
Even after he had leukemia and almost died. Even after that, when my fear of him leaving me shifted largely to the fear of him dying, he wanted more of me.
I fought back by coming home from work, and going straight to our bedroom, for a time.
I didn’t eat dinner with him. I hardly talked to him for a while. I was exhausted by teaching, by the dog, by him.
He would yell. And cry. And I would see I was being unfair, and would acquiesce. But really I wanted him to be as miserable as he had made me in those first years of our marriage. As he still made me. But I didn’t know if I really was being unfair or not. After that long of being with someone, you are so used to it, you don’t know what’s normal and what’s not.
My first worry, my first concern, was always him. In the last 14 years of his increasing ill health, it ate me up. He would ring me, wherever I was, and need me to come home for something. Jump, he’d say. How high? I always responded.
I was anxious all the time. Worried about him.
I was exhausted all the time.
He would rarely, but still, shout. He always said: I’m sorry for shouting but it’s the only way you’ll listen to me. I have to raise my voice to be heard, he’d say.
He was my one true love.
And it is a sad reflection of the insecure and needy young woman I was. Because I deserved better. I deserved so much better. I didn’t leave early on because of that. And I didn’t leave later on because I feared he wouldn’t survive without me.
I grew, over the years, to love him very deeply. But I was always terrified that he would leave me, in some form or another. And so he did. And when he did, I was ready.
I am free.
I am unfettered.
I can finally be who I need to be.
And I am okay.
Jackie is the founder of the Aunties, an NGO that supports women expierencing domestic violence. You can learn more about the Aunties amazing mahi here