I stumbled on to her story unexpectedly. She wasn’t anyone I ever thought much of: a quiet, demure woman of plain looks and a personality to match. I asked her a pretty benign question, like “How’s your new apartment?” and the answers that came made me look at her in a new way.
When I asked the question, her eyes became moist with unshed tears and her hands trembled. She described the way in which she had plotted for months to set up her new apartment and leave her husband. The money she ferreted away, the secret post office box she procured to hide her activity, the timing of it all so that he wouldn’t notice discrepancies, omissions, subtle changes. He was so accustomed to being in control that it would have taken a sledge hammer for him to notice these things anyway, but she was still so afraid. She was surprisingly ashamed at becoming the deceptive person in her marriage – she had wished for a better way but she had endured enough personal humiliation to know that this was the only way out. She still struggled to accept this about herself even though it had been the only choice. She recalled the night she finally left him, and the horrible tug-of-war they had played with their two young children — literally. She had, in the very last moment, let go of her children just as the doors of the train were closing. She left them standing on the train platform, crying, pinned from escape by her husband. It was one of the worst moments of her life.
But now she felt liberated and could finally talk about all the awful things she had hid from everyone, all the strange and disgusting things she had suffered. She still fought hard every day to keep her distance and to protect herself from him — and to resist the habit of mindless obedience: thinking that every question he asked must be answered and every request he made must be fulfilled. She had fought for and won custodial rights to her children. And she had the bare essentials in her new apartment. But she was, well, relieved. Too tentative to proclaim happiness, but certainly, relieved. She smiled and cried quietly.