By Britni de la Cretaz published
Details have been changed to protect the author's safety.
When I was pregnant with my second child, my husband made it his personal objective to decimate my self-confidence. He would tell me every day that I was fat—that I disgusted him.
Compared to the physical violence, the insults felt like almost nothing. Like the swift sting of a finger flick, the kind you use to get rid of a pesky little bug. His words were no match for his hands.
My husband would throw wine glasses at me so hard that they would break on my body. He would pitch the laptop across the room if I didn't agree on what movie to watch.
I lived in a small world of fear that felt like it was always, somehow, getting smaller.
Even money was something that was entirely in his control—I didn't have any of my own. I would say, "Today I'm taking our daughter to the park," and he'd throw me a $20.
He paid all the bills, managed all the bank accounts, and oversaw all our assets. I never knew how much money he made. I was never allowed access to the bank.
I was trapped.
I had moved East on a whim at the age of 23 and didn't know a single person there—that was part of the appeal. I wanted to start over somewhere new.
I'd left home at 15 and spent most of high school homeless and living out of cars. I grew up quickly—four years later, I started slaving away in corporate America supporting myself with mind-numbing office work. I figured a move to a new city was my one chance to be young and have fun, so I took it—and I decided to do the exact opposite of boring office work: I started stripping. It was fast, easy, and frankly, an exciting way to make sure I had the money to fund my new life.
On my third night dancing, a cute guy kept asking me out and following me around my whole shift. In hindsight it was creepy, but at the time, I thought was romantic.
I went home with him after our first date and pretty much never left. He was a power player in real estate and his world of money, drugs, and flashy living was all very seductive—I fell in almost immediately. All we did was have sex and party.
And then I discovered I was pregnant.
I didn't want to have the baby. He did.
Since we were at such odds, we agreed that we would make a decision—together—when he came home from work one day. But when he arrived, he dropped a bombshell: He had already told his parents and they were beside themselves with excitement.
It was masterfully manipulative. My first small taste of what was to come.
At that moment, I realized I was having a baby with someone I had just met. I didn't know who to reach out to for help— I didn't have people to call or anybody to fall back on. Since I was estranged from my family and living in a new place, the only people I knew were friends he had introduced me to. This is how he ended up having complete control over me.
For my entire pregnancy, I sat at home. Alone. I had stopped stripping and taken an office job (oh, the irony), but had gotten laid off when the company was bought out. Because I didn't have a job, I was losing all ties to my independent life: my car got repossessed because I couldn't pay for it; I had let my lease on my apartment go since I spent so much time at his house. Everything that was mine was slipping away.
So was the man whose baby I was carrying.
As I became more visibly pregnant, he withdrew. He wouldn't touch me, kiss me, or seem to want to have anything to do with me. I had to walk alone for miles to my OB-GYN appointments because he was always working and wouldn't drive.
By the time the baby arrived, his moods had become completely unpredictable. When my water broke, he yelled that I'd better not get anything on the seat of his Lexus.
Then, with our daughter, there were rare, good moments: He would hold her and she would coo, he would tell me he loved me—I clung to those high points almost like life rafts. They were signs, I was sure, that things would get better. But even when they did, they would just get worse again. He would yell at me, tell me I was stupid, and then apologize with flowers or presents.
Out of nowhere, he decided that we should get married. I tried to call it off several times but he would always talk me into it because we had a kid, after all. When I told him I was unhappy—that I wanted to leave—he would threaten to commit suicide.
We got married and didn't even talk to each other during the reception.
For a brief period, things between us began to improve, at least financially. He bought us a really nice house and even purchased my dream car just for me. Eventually, we owned multiple houses and cars—but my name wasn't on any of them.
I wanted this to change—to get some kind of financial autonomy, or really any autonomy. I begged to get a job. "I have no friends and I need something that's just mine," I said over and over.
We fought about this for months. Finally, he agreed to let me get a part-time job as a waitress. Isolated and alone for so long, I was desperate to make new friends at the restaurant, but whenever I did, he went ballistic on me—yelling that he was embarrassed to tell people his wife was a waitress. Later, I learned this is exactly what a controlling, abusive partner does—tries to isolate you from anyone and everyone. To keep you all to themselves.
My job also compromised his daily hold over me. When he would offer me a $20 bill, I would say, "It's okay, I have money." He'd throw something at me and storm out the door.
The part-time job didn't last long. Eventually he made me quit, inventing excuse after excuse that my working was bad for our marriage and for our daughter—my real Achilles heel when I would muster up any strength to advocate for myself. Even though he was rich, he got threatened by my measly paycheck, by the tiny little bit of authority it gave me in my own life.
Bored and alone at home again, I decided I wanted to have another baby—something else good and pure that I could hold on to. He promised me it wouldn't be like the first time.
And it wasn't. It was worse. He graduated from throwing glasses to throwing dishware. And appliances.
I was eight months pregnant with our second child when I finally got the nerve to kick him out. It was a burst of blind power, like the women who can lift a car when their baby is trapped underneath. I had to do it. It came from somewhere outside of me, or inside of me—I don't know, but suddenly, it was there.
Miraculously he left, but he kept begging to come back, showing up with all of these lavish gifts for me. This went on and on and then he told me there was this house that he wanted me to look at. It was a mansion—massive and beautiful with marble floors and a big balcony that overlooked the city.
He went ahead and bought the house for me (a peace offering) and then dangled this in front of my face: "I'm going to get a maid so you don't have to clean it."
I sat on the stairs of this big, beautiful house and called my sister after not speaking for years. Pulled in so many different directions at once, I broke down.
I told her I was an empty shell of a person and I had no idea who I was. There was this mansion with all of these beautiful things, and luxury cars, and a successful husband, and two beautiful kids—and it was all a sham.
She told me that I needed to do whatever it took to get out of there.
I secretly went to see an attorney about getting a divorce, but it only made me feel more trapped. He told me to fill out all this financial paperwork—but I didn't know the answers to any of the questions: inquiries about marital assets, property values, stock shares, and bank statements. I started sneaking through all my husband's financial files and I didn't understand a word.
I hadn't had a bank account, or even credit, in almost a decade. I didn't know how to make sense of any of what was in front of me.
So I panicked. I took the kids, put them in the car, and drove out of state to stay with my sister, who had been covertly feeding me advice. When my husband came home and saw that I had left, he instantly shut off my cell phone.
I stayed at my sister's house for two weeks as we strategized a more long-term way to break free—I couldn't just keep leaving only to go back again. I needed to secure my own money so that I could fund an escape with two children, but if I started working again, I had a horrible sinking fear that my husband would know.
My sister and I came up with a plan. I would go home and put on a happy face. When I asked him for money in the mornings, I was going to lie about how much cash I needed and where I was going that day so I could save it for my escape.
From there, I launched into action. The first thing I did was get a P.O. box in my name so I could have mail sent to me that he couldn't access. Next, and much more difficult, I opened a fresh-start bank account—there were many confusing moments with bank tellers and complicated forms that made me feel stupid, like I wouldn't be able to pull this off, like I wasn't smart or savvy enough. But I pushed through all the doubt, all the times my husband put me down, everything that said I couldn't do this.
It helped that I started small. I stashed away $5 or $10 a day. Whatever I could. I built up enough money to start renting out a storage unit and then I browsed the free stuff on Craigslist. In my plan, my children and I would just leave everything behind and start completely over. So I started collecting anything I could, anything my kids or I would need for our new life: clothes, toys, furniture. Since my husband was never home, I had plenty of time.
One night, he came home late from work and dragged me out of bed by my hair—he was angry that I was sleeping in the guest bedroom and not in our bed. I knew then that I needed to leave—that I might not survive until the morning—and called a friend, one of the few I'd managed to make in secret.
We waited until my husband left the house, and then pounced: My friend and her husband came over and I frantically threw clothes into garbage bags. I climbed into the momentary safety of her husband's truck, with my kids, and went to their house—my husband didn't know where she lived.
I left him a note on the counter with my wedding ring telling him that our marriage was finished—I told him not to look for me because he wouldn't find me.
That's when he lost it. He left voicemail after voicemail threatening me with everything under the sun. He even insinuated he might kill me. I shook with nauseating fear. But I had to keep going.
For the next month, we stayed with different friends each night, always a different place for the sake of our safety. Because my husband was so wealthy, with so much at his disposal, I never knew whether we were being followed. It was in everyone's best interest, from the few people who were willing to house us to my kids, that we keep moving. We slept on an air mattress on the floor, only to pack up and go somewhere else the next day.
In desperation, I finally called my estranged mother for help. She was relieved to hear from me, heartbroken by my story. She helped me pay the lawyer fees to secure a divorce.
Eventually, I got a job. It was only part-time but after nearly a decade without steady work experience, it was all I could get—at least it still left enough time for me to pick the kids up from school. A charity organization for abuse survivors helped me with a down payment on a low-income apartment right before Christmas that year.
We finally had somewhere stable to call home. It wasn't big, or fancy, or any of the things my husband had offered me—but it was safe, and it was mine.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call Safe Horizon's anonymous domestic violence hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE.
Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer and baseball enthusiast living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.
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