My mind is filled with voices.

"Breakfast with Modigliani." Collage by Bridget Benton.
“Breakfast with Modigliani.” Collage by Bridget Benton.

We end our day sitting together on the couch. I am not talking about my father. I am not talking about my ex.

My mother says, “A long time ago, I said to your dad that the way he got so angry and then so sorry…I said it seemed to me like what I heard about how abusive people behaved. He got so mad. He yelled that I must never say such a thing again, ever. So I didn’t.”

My mother laughs. “I mean, I only said it was like abuse. I never said it was abuse.” She laughs again, and sips her coffee.

*     *     *     *     *     *

I haven’t mentioned my ex by name in months. I tell the group I feel bad because sometimes I talk about him without naming him, and they assume I am talking about my father. It’s safer to let them think so. If my father knew what I say about him here, he would be hurt; if my ex knew, he would be angry. He would make me pay.

Another woman tells me she understands. “I was married to a controlling man, too. When he died, I was relieved. Everything was so much easier with him dead.”

I nod. A moment of connection, taking in her pain.

“It was bad,” she continues. “Not as bad as what you went through, but still…”

I begin to laugh. Huge, belly-deep guffaws. Wiping away tears, I try to reassure her between my gasps: “I don’t find any of this even slightly funny.”

*     *     *     *     *     *

I am talking to a friend on Facebook. An old-new friend: the kind of “haven’t see you since high school!” re-acquaintance social media makes possible. We have previously chatted about an old crush we once had in common and how he screwed with both our heads, back in the day. We regularly comment on each other’s posts; mostly casual, but with indications she and I may have more recent stories in common. Today I need a friend who will understand. I reach out.

Her experiences were horrifying, and I am so so sorry. My experiences were undeserved, and she is so so sorry. Neither of us knows how to change the world so that fewer girls can grow into fewer women with such terrible stories.

Before I can let her go, I need to tell the final piece. The nightmare and the clarity of it. What my best friend short-hands as “the dungeon story.” New Year’s Eve.

I say how the night began.

Am feeling the urge to kick balls, she messages back. My stomach clenches a bit.

I continue.

Kicking balls is too good for him.

I finish the story.

Sharpening my ginsu knives, now.

My insides are become fully ice. I always turn to ice, or stone, when people express anger at the ex on my behalf. I know their anger is in solidarity; I know I’m supposed to be angry, too. Sometimes I even think I might like to be a little angry.

But for today, I am still just ice.

*     *     *     *     *     *

“Don’t feel bad about the money,” my father tells me. Over the course of my marriage, he frequently sent large sums of cash to sustain my ex’s business plans. He connected my then-husband with his own professional contacts, people whom he trusted to vet the soundness of the proposed start-up’s proposed technology, before he began to invest. Four months after the divorce, my ex fled his business partners in New York to hide out with his girlfriend in the basement of a farmhouse in rural Virginia. (He moved into her bed the day after he threw me out, but I don’t know that yet.) I am the only one who knows where he is now.

“I’ve lost money in investments before,” my father tells me.

I stare blankly at the wall, phone held to my ear. It hadn’t occurred to me, in the flurry of losses I’ve experienced since last New Year’s Eve, to give priority of place to my father’s financial investments and the cost to him of my marital failure.

I guess I’d better start, if only because I’m now supposed to stop.

*     *     *     *     *     *

My ex’s mother wants us to stay friends. A year after the separation, she flies to Philadelphia for a long weekend visit with me, which we mostly spend in cafes making each other cry. She didn’t know how much money he had demanded from me at the divorce, in exchange for the now-worthless stock he told her he’d given to me freely. I didn’t know that he’d never replaced our bed once he’d let the movers take it away for me, having no need for a new one of his own. She tells me how much she hates the new girlfriend and the new girlfriend’s mother, and how he made such a mistake letting me get away. I signal the waiter for a refill of my decaf. After breakfast on the morning she leaves, she grips me in a tight hug and says, “I’m so glad we cleared the air about all this. Now we can just be friends.”

A year after that, I find out about his marriage to the new girlfriend because his mother sends me an afghan she started crocheting the day they finally told her about their Valentine’s Day ceremony. “He was so much happier with you,” she writes in an email. I guess the afghan is my consolation prize.

A year after that, she writes to tell me it’s been too long since she’s heard from me. Her cats don’t like the snow, and she is hoping spring comes to her garden soon. I write back to say I’m less sure than she is that I want this friendship. I write that her son abused me. I remind her she saw evidence of it. I tell her I have nightmares about him and I’ve attempted suicide three times.

She replies, “I am saddened at the path you’ve found yourself on as a result of your trusting love.” I’m not sure, from her syntax, if she sees the fault in my choice to love or in my choice to trust.

Either way, I appear to be the cause of her sadness.

*     *     *     *     *     *

I don’t sleep in the dark. I don’t sleep in the center of my bed but instead hug the mattress’ edge, ready to jump out at the first sign of danger. I don’t let my cat curl up on my chest to sleep; even her meager 10 pounds feels unendurably heavy and threatening.

It’s been three years.

I pick up a book on recovery and flip to the chapter on unfinished healing.

Think back to your life before the relationship. 

I think back.

If you had other abusive relationships, try to think back to your life before the first one.

I think back further.

I think back further again.

How far back do I need to go, before I get to start forward…?

# # #

“My mind is filled with voices.” is part of an ongoing memory project.
Additional installments can be found here.

4 thoughts on “My mind is filled with voices.

  1. This is such an honest and compelling piece, one I can identify with on many levels. Pulling oneself together after the wreckage of an abusive, controlling relationship is devastating. It took me years to gain back my sense of self and to rebuild my life. It made it difficult to trust other relationships that followed. To this day I am flabbergasted to have found someone who loves and respects me,


  2. I have not words… I read this post this morning and it has stayed in my thoughts all day. I keep rereading it–it is so powerful. I hope that writing it has given you strength, because you deserve it.


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