I have been wanting to go back to church for the longest time. Since meeting my husband, I slowly started to not attend Mass anymore. He’s not a Catholic like me and he doesn’t really profess any faith. And I was okay with that, since I have always believed that we all have our own individual paths to walk when it comes to faith and religion. The way I see it, it will be between each one of us and God on the Day of the Final Judgment and we individually will have to be accountable for our actions or lack thereof.
Either way, I made up my mind on Saturday night and I decided I was going to go to Mass on Sunday and that I was going to take our daughter with me since she was baptized in my faith. I also decided that this time, I was going to be firm and I was not going to let him make me change my mind. After all, we’re getting divorced and he better get used to the fact that he won’t be able to control me anymore. Actually, let me rephrase that: He cannot control me, not now, not in the future. He is trying and he’s using the courts and his attorney to do so. In fact, he has even been using our daughter in an effort not just to discredit me as a mother and to show the courts that I’m unfit, but he’s doing it at our daughter’s expense. But this is food for another conversation.
Going back to the main topic here, my mind was made up. It was long coming. My daughter walked up early on Sunday. I decided to catch an earlier Mass celebration now that she was awake even earlier than what I had thought she would. I had also decided that he was more than welcome to join us if he wanted to. But there was no turning back. I was going to take our daughter with me, like it or not.
I built up my courage and about half an hour before leaving I shared my plans with him. I also remembered my mother’s words to me a few days before: “You’re scared of him.” She’s right. I am scared of him. I was always scared of him. Maybe not in the beginning of our relationship. Maybe not during our engagement period. But after we got married, I slowly started to be more and more scared of him.
At the very beginning, I was just concerned about his feelings. I would make decisions taking his feelings into consideration. I always treated him the way I wanted to be treated. What I didn’t realize back then was that he didn’t do the same towards me. I didn’t realize that he had already started to manipulate me and devalue me since it was done in a very covert, surreptitious way. A little bit here, a little bit there; usually about small stuff.
As time went by, he became more and more aggressive in the way he devalue me. It was like a snowball falling down the side of a mountain, growing with every inch of terrain it would run. When you’re in the midst of that, you can’t see it coming. You just get tangled in it and you lose sight of your surroundings, your reality. You start seeing your reality through the eyes of your narcissist. And since this was the person I trusted, the person who vowed to love me and protect me until death did us part, why would I even suspect that he didn’t really have my best interest at heart? So I let him be and do to me as he pleased.
I would raise my voice and concerns, only to have them fall in a word salad and be unheard. Even worst, I would convince myself that he was right and I was not, even when my gut feeling was telling me that it wasn’t right and that something was off.
During one of those endless discussions that would last at least 2 to 3 hours, I said to him that I felt that he was so good at turning words after words and around that I felt I had no voice when it came to him; that it didn’t matter how hard I tried, he was not understanding my point. Now I know he did understand; he just didn’t want to take action responsibility for his part of the problem and wanted to make me the guilty party. I remember that after telling him that he could twist and change my words to a point that I could no longer remember what I was talking about or wanting to point out to him, I confessed to him that I was even scared of bringing certain things up to him because he would get very upset at me.
As soon as I had set that, his body language changed. He would adopt this posture and this face expression, this stare, that it would turn him in someone I couldn’t recognize. I would immediately start feeling scared. I pointed out to him that he was doing it right there, at that moment, and that he was making me feel uneasy. He got upset at me and, with this tone of voice that he would always use in these situations, not loud, but deeper, with a certain tone that to this day I can’t quite put my finger on it, he said to me, with a clear angry hint on his words:
“And what do you think I am going to do to you? Hit you?”
That was it. I never again felt safe around him, at least not when I needed to bring something up that needed to be worked out between us. It didn’t matter what it was. Usually, it would be a boundary problem, something I wanted to do, something I wanted us to do or pursue, some promise he had made to me long time ago and that he was avoiding or twisting at all cost. It didn’t matter. Those words would always linger in the back of my brain and deep in my soul.
You see, you don’t need to use violence to try to subjugate someone else. Just by indirectly implying it, you can get the same results, if not worse. No, he never hit me. He didn’t need to. He knew I had witnessed domestic violence while growing up. Therefore, he could use my past and the slightest of implications to provoke the kind of response he wanted in me, in this case, of total submission.
Yes, my mother is right and I need to start doing something about it. And I did. I told him I was going to church and that I was taking our daughter with me. I was ready for him to either not allow me to go, or him wanting to join us. I was going to fight it back, even tell him that he was more than welcome to come with us. I didn’t care. I wanted to go and I was going to go despite of him.
Since my daughter was born, I dreamt of taking her to church with me. I had attended Mass a few times while being pregnant. After she was born, and since we were married in the Catholic Church, I dreamt of her baptism. I wanted to have her baptized in my country of origin. And since we got married in the Catholic Church, we had promised that we were going to raise our children Catholic. That changed. After our daughter was born, he tried to go back on his words and that includes even the name we had already picked for her. I am so glad that I stuck to my guns on that hospital bed that day when he tried to pull another last-minute change on me, in the same modus operandi he always pulled, pulls, and will probably pull on me.
He has a very long complicated last name, very difficult to spell. We had agreed upon an easy-to-spell first name. No need to condemn her to have to spell her name and last name the rest of her life. It was more than enough with the last name. And he pulled this “Let’s name her ______” while I was in the bed, holding her for one of the first times, and the nurse was trying to fill out the form for the birth certificate and social security number request. I had just pushed a baby out of my body. I was still feeling strong after going through that. I said ‘No!’ and that we had already agreed upon the name long time ago. The nurse jokingly said to him “You don’t mess up with a woman who just pushed a baby out of her body.” I am grateful to her for saying that to this day and I will always be.
Concerning raising her as a Catholic, all of a sudden he was taking his words back and saying that we hadn’t agreed on doing any of that. I would remind him that they would have not allowed us to get married in the Catholic Church without agreeing to that and that we had to sign those forms. Now that our daughter is approaching school age, he’s already started a fight with me over sending her to a Catholic school and putting her in a public school, instead. But I shouldn’t be surprised. He has undone and turned upside down every single promise he had made to me.
But while I’m still alive and kicking, I will go to Mass from now on and I will take my daughter with me. I need my spiritual life to become alive again. And I feel that I am not fulfilling my duties by not taking care of my daughter’s spiritual education and upbringing if I cannot share my faith, her faith, with her. She will eventually have to make a decision (through the Sacrament of Confirmation) to remain a Catholic at some point in her life. And that’s fine by me. We all have to do that in our faith. But I cannot allow my husband to try to control that aspect of my life, as well.
Of course, he didn’t like it when I said I was going to church with our daughter. He was laying on the couch, like usual, with his laptop on his lap and the TV on. He gave me that look, that hideous stare and then proceeded to throw an interrogatory at me: How long it was going to take (he knows Mass lasts roughly an hour, so it was a stupid question to begin with,) when we would be back, where were we going… I just replied with “I’ll be back when it’s over” and proceeded to get our daughter ready to go.
I was still a bit scared inside, but I really got upset at him for trying to control me once again. I’m actually sick of it. At least I didn’t start rumbling in my brain asking stupid questions to which I know the answers, questions like why can’t he just be like other husbands and say something like yes, go ahead, enjoy your time at church and let me know if you need anything, take your time. I learnt long time ago that he is not like that and he never will be.
My daughter seemed to be happy to be getting out of the tiny condo where we live. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and not as cold as it has been lately around here. Finally, spring is starting to feel in this area after a long, grey winter. She was uneasy at an unfamiliar place, but it was expected. Her father doesn’t really allow me to take her much anywhere, unless he can come with us. Therefore, our daughter is not used to go to unfamiliar places or out that much. It is sad that we got to this point. I am trying to correct it as much as I can because I know this is going to delay her in other social areas. I’m already taking steps to change it. But as long as I am forced to stay under his roof, I will encounter difficulties and have to face his wrath or controlling ways.
Eventually, she started to feel it was okay to be there. She would listen to the music when they would start to sing. She behaved quite well and towards the Communion part of the celebration, she started to be more of her usual happy self.
I was a completely different story. We were in the crying room, just the two of us since it was very early in the morning and she was basically the only child attending that early Mass celebration. The gates opened at some point when they were reading the Scriptures and the story of Lazarus was being read, which happens to be one of my favourite passages from the Bible. It has always been a story of hope for me, even as a young child who still couldn’t comprehend the full meaning of the story. But as a child, I could already understand how definite death can be. The story of Lazarus is the opposite of death and it’s a story of life. A story of hope. For someone like me who had lost of all hope during my marriage, the story of Lazarus rising from the death and how Jesus made it look so simple brought much needed peace to my soul. I started to cry and, in the process, honoring the name of the room I was in. I think I cried more than all of the children combined who might have stepped in there through the years.
Thank goodness my daughter was oblivious to what was going on with me. At that time, she was quietly sitting on my lap, reclined comfortably on my chest, hugging her security blanket and favourite stuffed animal. She was also playing with her cup, while listening to the strange but soothing voice coming through the overhead speaker. While I kept on crying, I also kept on thinking that I didn’t want the Mass to end. I didn’t want to go back to his stupid condo where I had been forced to live since we got married.
Just one Mass was not enough to comfort my soul and my spirit. But I definitely felt much better than the day before, not because of Mass itself or because I might have felt some words might have been directed at me without the priest’s knowledge. Nobody knows me at that parish. So nobody really paid attention to this lonely woman with her child in the crying room. But the one thing that it did for me was reassure me that I can find my voice back and that I can keep trying to stand up for myself and going back to the things I used to enjoy and that made me who I was before I met him.
It was a small victory for me. I just hope that it will be the first of many to come. I need them to come. I need it not just for me, but for my daughter’s sake. I don’t want to be a bad role model to her, one of a broken woman who has let the man in her life step all over her, disrespect her, lie to her, deceive her. I want her to grow up strong, capable of taking care of herself, of respecting herself, and, as a result, demand respect from others when it concerns her. They say light draws darkness away. I need to be a person that brings light to her so she can learn what light is and she can scare the darkness away. Darkness does not like light because darkness cannot live in the light. If I can’t be a good role model, who is she going to have as such? Her father?
To wrap it up, while my mother’s words hurt a little bit when she said them to me, I am grateful she said them. They hurt because she was right. However, it was a different type of pain than the one that I’m used to coming from my husband. It was the type of pain that prompted me to do something about it. It didn’t put me down. It raised me up. In a way, I think I had a bit of Lazarus in me this past week. I am still not completely alive, but I am raising back from the death. Your body doesn’t need to be lifeless for us to die. We can die in so many different ways. We can die in spirit, in heart, in soul, in all three. When abused, you die from within. It doesn’t have to be like that. It shouldn’t be like that. But it is. And I need to come alive again, for myself, for my mother, for my daughter, and for those who truly care for me and me for them.