I'm sharing with you this letter I sent to a close friend, whose situation is familiar to many women.
So your husband beat you up again, for the seventh time, you say? That is seven times too many! Strange that you’re actually keeping a tally. Is it because you are giving him a limit before you start doing something about your marriage? Or are you still trying to convince yourself that being your husband’s punching bag seven times in eighteen years of marriage is not too bad? What about the constant put-downs, the verbal abuse, his infidelities, don’t they count too?
Claire, how much longer are you going to take this? Look intently at yourself in the mirror; don’t you see a frightened, haggard woman, old beyond her years staring back at you? What happened to the feisty lady who could stare down military goons and dirty old men? It pains me so much to see you now, you who were always the wisest and most mature in our barkada.
I know we should be asking ourselves what happened to our youthful dreams and illusions, but I won’t get into that because right now I am seething with anger. At what’s-his-face for killing your spirit. And at you for taking it and conjuring such ridiculous excuses to justify your staying with him. Okay, I know you’re feeling miserable right now but I want to remind you of what you used to say when he decorated your body with bruises. Ready?
“I deserved it.” Of all the idiotic statements that you ever uttered, this is the most pathetic. Nobody deserves to be beaten up, Claire, even if you did something wrong (which you didn’t). If he is angry about something, you and he should talk. Like adults. If that’s too hard, then get a third party to mediate. But he has no right to take out his aggressions on you.
“He hasn’t done this for a long time.” What? Does this mean that if he limits himself to one beating every three years, it would be okay? When will it not be okay, when he does it twice a year?
“He’s under too much stress.” Okay. Do you beat him or your children up when you are stressed out? Does he think a marriage license entitles him to use you as his punching bag? Stress is a given and if everyone deals with it by beating up their spouses, then we would all be dead. Intelligent, mature people listen to music, talk it out, do meditation, watch a movie. Stupid lowlives take it out on others.
Claire, years ago, you told us that his verbal and physical cruelties have wiped away any joy left in your marriage. And he has always broken his promise of not hurting you again. At that time, we still were not sure which prospect was scarier, suffering another beating or growing old alone. But that was then, when we didn’t know any better and the unwritten rule for Filipino women was that we should stick with our marriages, no matter what. (Remember how somebody “advised” me to just hang on, wait it out, let my philandering husband “sow his wild oats” because he will, in the end, come back to me, his real wife? Wasn’t that the height of absurdity?)
I know that the major reason you are choosing to suffer through what you yourself say is “a dead marriage” is that you believe it is best for the kids. Parenting books, priests and our elders have brainwashed us about this. Claire, they lie. Children are worse off when they see their parents constantly quarreling, when there is no love in the marriage.
Neither is it true that children of broken homes always become messed up. Such children can and do thrive, even – or maybe especially – in a single-parent household so long as the main parent is strong and steadfast. And you are that kind of parent, Clarita, if you take away the fear that petrifies you now. Besides, by allowing yourself to be victimized, what kind of example are you giving your daughter?
As for the fear of growing old alone, remember what you told me ten years ago, when I was confronted by my then-husband’s betrayal? “Don't worry,” you said, “we will live out our lives like the Golden Girls.” You can’t imagine how that prospect sustained me through my difficult years, Claire, and I’m talking to you now as a survivor. It is lonelier to be in a relationship that doesn’t work than to be actually alone. Trust me on this.
You know what really scares me? It’s watching the light slowly die in your eyes. I want to see the Claire that I grew up with, not the depressed, defeated (and bruised) woman that you have allowed yourself to be. Let go, dearest friend. Come back to life!
First published in Filipinas Magazine, March 1998