domestic violence, Ex

The lightbulb moment…

This morning, I woke up to shocking news. First of all, several friends tagged me in a news report about The Trellis restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia. That restaurant, where I spent among the toughest 17 months of my life, has permanently closed. It opened in 1980, when my eldest sister was attending the College of William & Mary. She worked at The Trellis when it first opened– at least until she graduated from college. Then, a few years later, she joined the Peace Corps and launched a successful career that pays benefits and includes a lot of exciting travel for work.

I, by contrast, joined the Peace Corps and went away for two years, only to land at The Trellis after my return home. It was a significant time in my life, for a lot of reasons. It was also a tough time in my life that was hell to get through, but ultimately propelled me to bigger and better things.

In 2009, the original owner, Marcel Desaulniers, and his partner, John Curtis, sold the restaurant to Chef David Everett. On Tuesday, Chef Everett decided to close The Trellis. I heard the restaurant had become a very different and reportedly inferior restaurant than it was when Marcel was running it, so it’s probably for the best that he finally closed it. Plans are to turn it into an Italian eatery, which will open next month. I read in an article that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which owns the building the restaurant is in (before it was a restaurant, it was a drug store, for all you trivia buffs), had wanted an Italian restaurant for some time. The emphasis will be on less expensive, high quality food, and more of a family atmosphere. I also read that the restaurant will now have fewer seats and one side of it will be turned into retail space.

A lot of my friends knew I’d worked at The Trellis, so several of them tagged me in news articles they posted on Facebook, but I had already been discussing the restaurant with other former workers a couple of days before the news broke publicly. I’m actually surprised it took so long to close The Trellis and turn it into something else. Marcel had turned that place into an institution (some would say a “mental institution”). He’s a famous chef who’s written a lot of books and hosted cooking shows for years. Why Chef Everett thought he could fill Marcel’s shoes, I’ll never know. Not to say Chef Everett isn’t a good chef, but he’s not Marcel. The Trellis was Marcel’s baby. I think Chef Everett should have changed the restaurant from the beginning.

Then, I read about how the United States is going to shut down travel from Schengen Zone countries in Europe starting tomorrow. Trump, in all his dumbassery, is making his usual stupid decisions and comments, as usual. Coronavirus isn’t a joke, of course. I don’t necessarily believe that it’s wrong to shut down travel to prevent its spread, although I don’t understand why it’s okay for Brits to come to the USA (Coronavirus is in Britain), yet not other Europeans. I did read that it was because Britain is an island and supposedly stricter about its borders. But I still think Trump is a bumbling idiot, and I’m kind of hoping his fuckery regarding handling the virus will be his downfall… much like our investments have downfallen lately. I’d like to drop kick the orange turd out of my life, once and for all.

And finally, there was a revelation this morning. Bill got an email from his daughter, responding to a note that Bill had sent, thanking her for seeing him and letting her know he’d made it back to Germany (thank God his conference ended last week instead of this week). Younger daughter, once again proving that she’s Bill’s daughter, sent him a link to an article she thought would help him. It was an article on domestic violence, specifically about when an abuser leaves the victim, rather than the other way around. Sometimes, in domestic violence situations, the abuser chooses to split from the victim, and that’s ultimately what happened in Bill’s case, although I don’t think it was Ex’s intention. Younger daughter had somehow figured out on her own that Bill is a victim of domestic violence perpetrated by her mother.

Bill told his daughter about what happened when he and his ex wife had decided to divorce. They were visiting Bill’s dad’s house for Easter. They had the kids with them. Bill’s dad and stepmom took the kids out for ice cream, while Bill and Ex stayed behind to “talk”. Ex accused Bill of being a violent pervert who hates women. She demanded that he go into “counseling” with his LDS bishop in Kansas– that was where Bill was living at the time, since he’d rejoined the Army. Ex was living in Arkansas with the kids and her boyfriend, now husband, who was shacked up in Bill’s house. Ex said that if Bill refused to acquiesce to her demands, they would get divorced.

Bill asked, “Don’t you think I’m a good husband and father?”

And Ex said coldly, “Maybe you would be to another family.”

In a moment of clarity, Bill realized that Ex’s demands and accusations were preposterous. He isn’t an abusive person, nor is he a pervert. And he also knew that even if he complied with Ex’s demands, there would later be other demands that he may not be able to meet, nor should he have to. He’s a good person, and shouldn’t have been expected to change who he is and admit to things he didn’t do simply because his ex wife demanded it.

Bill hadn’t wanted to get a divorce, mainly because he worried about the children. His own parents had divorced, and he went through a lot of pain because of it. No, he didn’t love Ex, but he did love the children, and it devastated him to think that he’d have to be separated from them. But he also knew that for his own sanity, he needed to agree to the split. So he started crying, then said “Okay. What do we have to do?”

Ex was not prepared for that. She’d only meant to threaten Bill, not actually start divorce proceedings. This was intended to be an act of taking control and humiliating Bill. But, because she’s stubborn, shortsighted, and stupid, she simply went into the guest room and cried for hours. Then, on Easter morning, she came out of the room. Bill took her hand and held it as they drove to the notary that Ex had found. There they stood, on a major religious holiday, signing paperwork in front of an older couple who consoled them on the death of their marriage. They set the wheels in motion for the divorce on Easter. I’ve always thought of that action as a very powerful symbol… it was like Bill resurrected his life, even though in the short term, he went through a lot of agony.

The children were somehow oblivious to this drama that was going on at the time. Younger daughter was surprised when Bill told her the story last weekend. She said, “Wow, that must have been humiliating.” When Bill told me that, I realized that she really does get it.

A few years later after the divorce showdown at his father’s house, Bill and I were newlyweds. One day in 2003, we were driving back to Virginia from Tennessee, having visited Bill’s dad and stepmom. Bill was talking about other yucky stuff that had happened in his first marriage.

Suddenly, a lightbulb went on in my head as I listened to Bill’s words. I said, “Bill, I think you’re a victim of domestic violence.”

I remember the look of shock on Bill’s face when he said, “Was I abused?”

Relying on my recently acquired master’s degree in social work and a bit of common sense, I said, “Yes, you were. If you were a woman, there would be no question that you’re a victim of domestic violence.”

He started crying. But ultimately, he realized I was right. He hadn’t realized that he’d lived through domestic violence because, like a lot of people, he’d falsely believed that men can’t be victims of abuse perpetrated by women. But, in fact, he had all of the symptoms, and he went through the same type of stuff many abused women go through, including sexual abuse.

For years, I’ve encouraged Bill to see a third party– a qualified counselor– to discuss these issues. I am not a substitute for a therapist, and even if I were qualified, it wouldn’t be ethical for me to counsel him because I’m his wife, and not objective. When Bill was in the Army, it was dangerous to his career for him to seek counseling, mainly because the military is dangerously shortsighted about mental health issues among the troops. Although things are better than they once were– like, servicemembers are no longer assumed to be dangerous if they need psychological help– it’s still very risky to get counseling if one has a security clearance. It may be the case for civilians, too. But even younger daughter suggested therapy for Bill… and for herself, as well.

I am, yet again, dumbfounded by how insightful and kind younger daughter is. She’s as concerned about Bill’s healing as she is about her own. It’s too bad that they lost fifteen years to Ex’s poison, but I feel pretty confident that their relationship is going to heal. I never thought things would turn out this way, but it really is gratifying to see it. It’s like a miracle.

Here’s a link to an article about domestic violence against men, though it’s not the one younger daughter sent (I couldn’t find it). In the spirit of Bill’s daughter’s actions, I’m sharing it in case someone out there reads this and also needs a resource that will help them heal.

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