My family knew about the abuse. They did nothing.
I didn't even want to go on the trip. There was absolutely nothing appealing to me about driving several hours with a family I didn't like, a husband who was treating me like garbage, a cranky three-year-old daughter, and a colicky three-week-old son, just so that my overly-proud father could show us the fancy college he was paying for my brother to attend.
Yet, there I was, riding down the highway while the baby screamed in the back seat and my husband screamed at me. Wrapped in my own despair and trapped by the weight of the situation, I looked out the window and tried to convince myself of all the positive reasons I had agreed to go.
"Family is family. My brother wants me to see where he's going to school and as a family we support each other."
A lie I told myself in an attempt to feel better.
The last family vacation we took ended in disaster when my husband had gone off with my brother and they came back so drunk and high that my brother vomited all over the hotel room and my husband passed out in the hallway — halfway in, halfway out of the hotel elevator.
If it weren't for a safety stop on the elevator door that kept it from closing all the way, my husband probably would've been crushed to death. My other (sober) brother and I had to drag him and his pissed pants back into the hotel room and babysit him for the rest of the night while he belligerently kept trying to make a break for the ocean.
When the next morning rolled around, I once again begged my parents to help me get divorced. As a stay-at-home mom with a child too young for daycare (and no ability to pay for a nanny), I knew I would need their help and support when I decided to leave my husband.
Instead I was met with their usual "we will support you in marriage counseling, but we will never support you in a divorce" spiel. I'm not sure why I even bothered to asked; their answer was always the same.
They were well aware of my abusive relationship, and my husband's infidelities, money laundering issues, and drug addiction problems, but protected the "perfect family" image with a fierceness I'll never understand.
To them, divorce wasn't an option.
So there I was, on another trip that felt more like a death sentence than a happy weekend getaway. I dried my tears and did my best to hide my emotions, hoping that if my family could act like everything was OK, then maybe I could, too.
When we arrived at the hotel, my daughter caught site of the pool and squealed with joy, asking me to go swimming with her. I looked down at the baby I was nursing and when I made eye contact with my husband, I sent him a pleading look to take our daughter in the pool.
"No," he said, and that was that. A different wife may have tried to reason with him but in my broken state of being I just accepted it, like I always did. With one hand I helped my daughter get her swimsuit on and when the baby was done eating, I passed him off to my mother.
I looked in the mirror at the belly that just three weeks earlier had housed my son, before wrestling into my own swimsuit, hoping the tightness of the fabric might somehow also hold in the tears that were threatening to pour out of me. As I walked out the door, my husband looked up from the TV just long enough to tell me that I looked like a fatass in my bathing suit. Nice.
I jumped into the pool, sunk to the bottom, and screamed where no one could hear me.
My daughter and I stayed in the pool until I was sure I was done crying and then I gathered her up, along with what was left of my pride, and went back to our room. I changed her, put some cartoons on TV, and got in the shower.
I was washing my hair when I heard the click of a camera. I squinted through my soapy view to see my husband's arm sticking through the side of the shower curtain while he aimed his phone at me.
"What are you doing?" I asked him.
"You're so fat!" he told me. "You know, celebrities work with trainers throughout their pregnancies so they can wear their regular clothes home from the hospital."
Not wanting to burst into tears again, I looked down at the water running off my three-week postpartum belly, closed my eyes and again asked him why he was taking pictures of me.
"I'm just making sure you never leave me."
I didn't even have to ask — his tone implied everything I needed to know about the blackmail he was secretly plotting.
I finished my shower and knocked on the adjoining door to my parents' hotel room where my son was now taking a nap. My mother, noticing that I was crying, surprised me by asking what was wrong. I was caught off guard by what appeared to be compassion from her, but took advantage of it and recounted the events of the last hour.
"Hmmm," she said. "Men are weird."
That's all she said before handing me back my son and going back to what she was doing.
That night, my parents insisted that I go out with them to a bar.
"Your brother wants to show you the town and that's the reason that we came," they said.
I had zero interest in bar-hopping with my parents in a college town, and there was no way I was going to leave my children alone with my husband, so I said no. My parents were relentless that I go with them and when my aunt and grandmother (who had come with us) offered to stay with my husband and the kids, I reluctantly agreed to go.
I was only gone 25 minutes when I got a screaming phone call from my husband demanding I come back.
"It's crying," he hissed into the phone.
"He's just colicky. He always cries at this time of night. Give him to my aunt," I instructed and waited on the phone until I was sure my son was in safe arms.
But even without the baby, he didn't stop calling. He called over and over again, demanding that I come back. "It's crying" quickly turned to "You don't deserve to be out."
At the bar, I told my father what was going on. His reaction was minimal at best, but he did agree to drive me back to the hotel. When my husband met us at the door, my father invited my husband to go back out with him to the bar.
I cried myself to sleep that night, feeling terrible that I had left my children with someone who regarded them as nothing more than an "it," and when my husband stumbled through the door at 3 AM looking for sex, I locked myself in the bathroom until I heard him fall asleep.
The next morning, we set off to sightsee. As we drove, my husband started talking about the previous night as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot.
"Why did you go out? You left the baby alone. You had no reason to be going out, no reason not to be with the kids. You shouldn't have done that. Do you think good mothers abandon their kids like that?"
Slouching down into the passenger seat, I didn't say a word. It wasn't that I didn't have anything to say — it's just that I had learned a long time ago that nothing I said mattered. When he started screaming that I was a selfish b*tch, I started crying. His screaming turned to rage, and before I knew it he was literally spitting in my face and the car was swerving all over the road.
My phone rang. It was my mother telling us to pull the car over.
We did. When my brother approached the car and told me to get out of my car and into my parent's car, I took the children and their car seats with me, finally feeling relief that maybe, just maybe, someone cared enough to protect me from the monster I had married.
"Good grief," my mother said. "We could see him through the window screaming at you. You don't need to listen to that. You shouldn't get him so riled up. It's not good for the kids."
I shouldn't have done that? It's not good for the kids? It was my fault?
We rode to our destination in silence. My husband spent the day giving me the silent treatment; I relished in the quiet.
That night while my husband was scouring the college town for a skinnier date, I laid a towel down on the hotel room floor and did 200 sit-ups, praying that if I could remove the baggage from my body, I could also lose the baggage in my soul.
On the last day of the trip, I found myself in a restaurant that looked out over a waterfall and briefly contemplated how easy it would be to throw myself over the side and permanently end it all.
When a shriek from my daughter zapped me back to reality, I looked over to see my husband yanking my daughter from the high chair. His hand was clasped over her face with such force that by the time my father and brother had peeled her out of his arms, she had a welt on her cheek.
As I said my goodbyes to my parents, I pleaded with them to help me leave him.
"Please, you've seen what is going on," I said to them. "You've seen him. I can't live like this anymore. I can't do this any longer. Please help me."
My mother gave me a hug, kissed my kids, and wished me well in working things out.
"Just try a little harder. It takes effort to learn how to be a good wife and you've always been a little difficult," she said before closing my car door.
I went home with my husband that day and for the next six months, I ferociously protected my children from their father — right up until the day he walked out on us.
My parents didn't accept the divorce until the decree was in my hand; and even then their acceptance is given only with the understanding that my marriage was a failure that could have been avoided. To this day though, I'm ashamed I let my husband treat me the way that he did for so long.
But that's what abuse is: It's an all encompassing, make-you-doubt-yourself, manipulative, "always-your-fault" tactic of controlling another person.
It's the reason that when my husband left me and I finally had time to reflect, I turned around and also left my family. I finally realized that domestic abuse is not always inflicted from the hands of a lover; sometimes it comes from the hearts of the people you're bound to by blood.