Trigger Warning * Violence * Language
Following the funeral, I immediately went back to work and moved forward with my life. I was determined not to remain a victim. I felt like I had been given a second chance. It did, however, take more than 10 years for me to begin the healing process. I spent a long time pretending none of it happened. When I talked about it, I refused to actually feel any of it.
Initially, I did all the things I was never allowed to do. I cut my hair, bought clothes that closely matched some of the things Nate had forbidden me to wear, and drank alcohol. It was a short period of “rebellion,” and then I started building a better life.
We all had to go through court proceedings to prove that Nate did indeed die in self-defense. (Truth: I have hardly any recall about this time.) The case was proven quickly and Steve never faced charges. He repeatedly apologized to me over the years, but I was only thankful that he saved my life.
We all eventually parted ways. I think when you go through trauma together, it either draws you closer or pushes you apart. Sadly, it pushed us apart as we headed in different directions.
For a long time, Nate’s father maintained that I had plotted to have his son killed. He even made attempts to break into my home once to take my children from me, but by the time the police arrived, he had left. We moved soon after and tried to stay hidden. He died a few years later.
I remained in contact with my first mother-in-law, Mary, until close to my daughter’s 18th birthday. At that time, it became too difficult for me to keep that connection going. It was a decision I made for me, not because Mary did anything wrong.
The district attorney, citing I was a victim of domestic abuse who could not properly cooperate with the police without bringing harm to myself, eventually threw out the case involving my arrest.
John and I began dating right away. Though my mother said, “You should mourn for at least one year,” I refused to put on a show for anyone. I knew I was moving fast, and I knew people disapproved, but my heart was open and my gut told me it was ok. I was sometimes scared I was repeating a cycle, but John never gave me reason for pause.
Some people believed John and I had an affair while I was married to Nate. Though I have nothing to prove to anyone, I’ve always maintained that the most important people know we did not: me and him. That is all that matters to me.
John and I were married a mere nine months after Nate died. Many said it was because I didn’t know how not to be married. (They weren’t invited to our wedding.) The truth is, nothing in my life ever felt so right. As of this writing, we’ve been married – happily – for almost 20 years.
It took longer than I ever could have imagined, but I finally found my happily-ever-after. It’s just that it was never supposed to be with Nate.
As for the whys and such about all the time I spent with Nate, defending him, loving him, trying to help him…there is no one good answer. The truth is, Nate’s biggest mistake was that he left me over and over. Each time he left, I grew a little bit stronger and relied on myself a little bit more. I didn’t know it at the time, but his leaving always made me better, ready for the day when I was ready to leave. Had he never gone to prison or left me over and over, I can’t say that I’d have grown strong enough to want to go. I might, in fact, not be here at all.
That is the sad story behind trauma and domestic violence. What you see in people is not always what you get. I lied daily to friends and family. I wanted them to believe everything was good, that I hadn’t been wrong in being with him. And plus…I did love him. But it wasn’t until loving John that I realized I never felt the right kind of love, the healthy kind. Nor had I ever received the healthy kind of love.
Life goes on, the earth continues to revolve, and I get stronger still. The scars Nate left me with slowly mend, and one day, maybe I’ll be completely healed.
If you’re in an abusive situation, there is help. You’re not alone. Most cities have emergency abuse shelters. Please find where yours is located and meet with someone there. You can get out and be free.
Today, I am much better than I was just 5 years ago. In 2012, I went into counseling – real counseling with a caring and competent counselor – and began digging into all the wounded places of my soul. It was a hard, ugly work, but it was worth every step. I wasn’t immediately better, and I’m not 100% healed now, but I have come a million miles.
Today, I am an advocate in a pregnancy center, a speaker (I just participated in TEDx Colorado Springs!), a writer, and a friend to anyone who wants a healthy friendship. I don’t participate in toxic relationships anymore. I have come too far for that now.
Today, I am still happily married to John, although our relationship is so much better than it once was. In our early years, I was ready to bolt any time things looked like they’d go wrong. I carried way too much baggage into our marriage, and I didn’t even attempt to deal with any of it until it blew up in my face. I am happy to say that while I entertained the idea of sabotaging our marriage, I never went through with it. Our relationship has grown with us and we are much healthier than we were.
Today, my children are now grown-ups who are quite amazing (no bias). We are all very close, and as adults, they are three of my very best friends. To protect their grown-up privacy, I will leave it at that.
What I Chose to Include vs What I Left Out
Any time you tell a story, you have to decide what is most important for someone who is reading or listening. For this story, I left out more of the physical abuse because I want readers to gain a greater sense of what abuse looks like when it’s not all fists and bruises. Control through fear and abuse through words and sexual assault is still domestic violence. However, my life before Nate was full of more physical abuse than my marriage, and sometimes people get really confused about how a woman stays in a physically abusive marriage.
I chose to leave out more of the family dynamics because I don’t care to go into that battle. However, that was another few layers that added to why I stayed.
I also left out some big events that are not mine entirely to share. Due to their nature, I want to honor the people to whom the stories belong more fully. Though I believe we own everything that happens to us, sometimes other people own those moments more, and I don’t want to hurt anyone. I feel like I peeled back enough layers.
I also wanted to show the very complicated relationship I had with my mother, and I hope that it comes across how very much it was like my relationship with Nate. That is, the good parts of her kept me from letting go of her completely. I relied on her to catch me when Nate let me down, even as I had relied on Nate to catch me when Mom was at her worst in my earlier years. Basically, I bounced between the two very unhealthy relationships.
I still love my mother very much, despite all the things I did not write about here (but have chosen to in the new book), but when I drove away from that cemetery, I only left one toxic relationship behind. My relationship with my mom continued for many more years, and it wasn’t until my mid-30s that I finally made the cut once and for all. The guilt of that decision is one of the things that finally landed me in counseling (though I didn’t know it at the time). We have not talked in over 5 years.
One thing that often happens is that readers are disappointed that I wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger, or that my story doesn’t end more dramatically, like I was shot but I lived. I don’t tell my story to lead up to a big dramatic ending. I tell it to help others avoid even just a beginning that hurts. I tell it because someone else needs to know that abuse isn’t just getting punched in the face. I tell it because too many people don’t understand what it’s like to be sucked in so deeply, you can’t get out.
Another big question people have is, what could someone have done to help? In my new book, I’m talking about some of that. In fact, I am writing about some of the people who did try to help, but I didn’t really see them at the time, not truly. I was in too deep. The somewhat very real answer is, you might have had to take me at birth, before I bore witness to violence, before I was hit the first time, before I was told how ugly and worthless I was the first time. But since that wasn’t possible, other options would have been early intervention. However, in the 80s, everyone looked away too often.
I think some could have done more in my middle school years, and certainly at some point in time or another, social services could have done more. I don’t really know for me. But I do know that today, today we can do more than stand by. Today we can do more than gawk at these situations. We can reach out and be there for people in ways we never were before. I can walk a journey through darkness via texting, social media, or email. Once upon a time, that wasn’t even an option. We have so many ways to connect now, there should be no reason anyone is left on their own.
We can stop looking away. We can decide we’re not too busy to check in on the people we say we care about. We can ask hard questions, even if we are lied to. We can see past the lies and love the person anyway. Few ventured into my darkness, but I remember them to this day. I will never forget they tried.
Domestic Violence 1-800-799-7233 http://www.thehotline.org/about-us/contact/
Child Abuse 1-800-422-4453 https://www.childhelp.org/hotline/
Sexual Assault 1-800-656-4673 https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline
Suicide Prevention 1-800-273-8255 https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
What are YOUR questions? Comments?
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!