It’s December 11, 2016 and I’m not quite sure how I made it here. All week long I’ve been overwhelmed with conflicting emotions regarding today’s date. It’s an anniversary of sorts, just not one that is happy. It’s date marked by trauma and in a sense, marked by the death of my previous existence.
In 2006 I got married. It was a quick engagement to a man almost 10 years my senior. While I do not necessarily regret getting married, I do deal with the emotional repercussions from that relationship daily. My husband was a talented man who had mounds of potential but he could never see that in himself. His own self-doubt led him to be an abusive presence in my life. As many people do he chose to deal with his own sense of self worth by turning those emotions onto others. If he felt unworthy he bolstered his self worth by doing what he could to convince me that I was actually the worthless one. He spent years whispering lies about how I was inferior in every way. That not only was I less than him but I was leagues lower than my siblings. He would tell me he heard my sister and brother talk about what an embarrassment I was to the family. That out of all of us, I was most assuredly not up to par and frankly, I didn’t deserve the family name.
My husband convinced me to drop out of school because the dreams I had could never work with the life he envisioned. And as he would say, I was young and idealistic, of course he knew what was best. He was the one with real experience. My input was never valued. The first year we were married while I worked two full-time jobs. He got a job as a singing waiter but he felt that was beneath him. So, he worked for about two weeks and then quit. He didn’t tell me until six months later. That year he stayed home and spent all of our savings on electronics, DVDs, and alcohol.
Years into our marriage I realized that his alcoholism and abuse were not the typical behaviors for a husband. Too many times I got a call from the jail after he was picked up for a DUI. Too many days I came home to a man so blinded by self-hatred that he could only respond by being a drunk; a mean, violent, and often disgusting drunk. A man whose violence contributed to the loss of our unborn child. A man who would scream at me and bring me knives urging me to slit my wrists because I was an awful person. A man who would be so lost in drunkenness that he frequently couldn’t make it to a bathroom. A man who told me that my illness was a sham and it was my fault his life was so unbearable.
It was not a life. It was purgatory. I had no idea how to be who I needed to be. It was so dark and so lonely I could not begin to imagine that life could ever be good again. As I did everything I could think of to get my husband help our relationship shifted. No longer could I be a wife. I suddenly had to keep watch over him. I needed to make sure he wouldn’t drink and drive. I needed to make sure he wouldn’t get violent. The responsibility was crippling and it nearly killed me. His response was to look for someone else that didn’t feel the need to manage his behavior. That led to him to look for a younger woman who was as naive as I used to be. Unfortunately, he didn’t find a woman. Instead he found an underage girl. He manipulated her and started a sexual affair with her.
I was sick from my own physical health complications, exhausted from his constant abuse, and worried over his alcoholism. Perhaps I was too wrapped up in my own trauma because I did not see the affair. Had I known I would have called the police myself.
So five years into our marriage on December 11, 2011, after finally decorating our apartment for Christmas we both went to bed. A few hours into the night I was awoken by a loud commotion outside. I could hear dogs barking, men yelling, and an unrelenting banging at our front door. I was confused and disoriented. What in the world was going on? I woke my husband and he froze in terror. I pushed him out of bed and still he just stared at our front door terrified. I went to open the door when suddenly the door literally flew off it’s hinges and police and dogs flooded our apartment. I was immediately handcuffed as was my husband. The police separated us and sat me in a patrol car as they started searching our apartment. They asked so many questions none of which I could make sense of. Did I know this girl? Did I participate in a sexual affair? Did I help try to cover it up? Did I know my husband had done this? They asked me all of this and what I remember most clearly is seeing my husband on his knees handcuffed under a tree as rain poured down. I couldn’t think. I had no way to process all that I was seeing and hearing. I was in complete shock.
I watched as they drove my husband away in the rain. After what felt like hours, the police slowly emptied out of our apartment, released me, and then thanked me for my cooperation.
Pouring rain, a door that no longer stood, a trashed apartment, and me. That’s all that was left.
I had no words. I had no understanding. I remember calling my parents who lived states away crying. Dad asked me if my husband got another DUI and I could only say. “Oh Daddy, it’s so much worse.” I couldn’t stop crying. I don’t remember much else of our conversation. I know my Mom called my local pastor and my uncles who showed up. They put the door back on as best they could. We put a small overnight bag together and I spent the night at my uncles house. Unable to sleep, I spent the night silently crying and raging.
How in God’s name had my life become this? What did I do to deserve this kind of existence? I did all I knew to save my marriage but you can’t save something if the other person is determined to destroy it. I could not see any hope left. I was a shell of a human being and there was no reality in which I would ever be okay again.
Most of you know the rest of the story because a lot of you were there. My Dad flew down and with his help and the help of my church family we packed up my apartment in one night. Which was good, since my husband had been arrested on the property, that violated our lease and I was evicted.
My sister and brother, the ones my husband told me hated me, they both immediately went to my parent’s home and helped prepare a space for me. Together my siblings and Mother made a lovely apartment-like room for me. Dad and I drove back up to Nebraska and for one night it was just the five of us. The five of us that made up our original family before marriages and the birth of more children.
I sat in the living room with everyone and I don’t know if it hurt more or comforted me more to realize that my husband really had been lying to me all that time. That in fact, my family loved me more than any one person deserved. That my siblings never once would have ever seen me as less than. The grief I felt over losing what could have been wonderful years of relationship with my family was overwhelming. Yet, here they all were. In my deepest, darkest, and most critical moment every single member of my family dropped what they were doing to come and carry me through.
The sorrow that my brother and sister felt for me was almost a tangible presence. Together my family stood by me and did all they could to mend what had been so broken in me. In no uncertain terms my family reminded me daily if not hourly that they loved me. They reminded me of who I was. They showed me how to be strong. They led me to the Holy. They cried with me, found ways to laugh with me, and more than anything else they believed in me.
Today I will have spent as much time out of my marriage than I did in it. Five years later and I hardly recognize the girl I was then. So much of me had been put aside to make room for a man who never would have made room for me. These past years have passed so quickly. The years I spent in my marriage felt so much longer and like another lifetime. The days grow excruciatingly long when they are shared with abuse. It’s a tragedy that life seems to move so fast when your days are shared with abundant love. I’ve learned to savor that love as much as possible. Life still isn’t how I envisioned it would be but it is so much better than that girl in 2011 could have imagined.
Everyday I wrestle with the lies I was told. I fight to remember that I am worthy, that I am loved, that my dreams matter, and that I can always keep moving forward. No matter how bad the circumstances are somehow the Divine will pull me through. It’s the only explanation I have. It’s the only way I can explain how the people who make up my family are who they are. They could only be this good, this amazing, this beautiful, this steadfast, this loving, this powerful…they could only be those things because the Divine lives in who they are.
Five years ago, living in that aftermath, I was at once relieved and ashamed that my last name wasn’t Wiles. The idea that I could have tainted that name was a heavy burden. There was no way I could have ever believed I would be worthy to share in that name again. Yet, that’s not how my family saw things. If anything they reminded me how much I belonged to our name. There is not much that could be a greater gift than that.
It’s December 11, 2016 today and once again my name is April Beth Wiles. I still worry. I still have trouble seeing how I could possibly deserve to carry that name. The healing continues and is administered by those who share that name with me. It is so hard and yet so easy to be a Wiles again. It seems too quaint to say this but I have no other words than these. Praise be to God. I’m a Wiles once more.
Thank you Dad, Mom, Missy, and John for being all of who you are and giving meaning to our name. To be your daughter, your sister, and the aunt to your children is the greatest gift I have ever known. I wish I had better words but these will have to suffice. I love you. Thank you.