Esther Perel once infamously tweeted at me that my chump story “went beyond infidelity.” I’d fed some execrable article of hers through the Universal Bullshit Translator, got cheeky, tweeted it at her, and she essentially gave me a nice pat on my head.
Apparently, I can’t pawn myself off as an expert at chumpdom, because my ex was a psycho — not one of those enlightened cheaters on a quest for aliveness, who Perel writes about. Mine wasn’t JUST a serial cheater, He Went Beyond. An overachiever douchebag, he threatened to kill me.
My blog isn’t much about me. This isn’t a first person confessional where I tell you all the breathy details of my failed marriage. I tend to prefer supporting others with snark and cartoons. But today I’m making an exception — I’m going to tell you about the guns.
I hesitated to write about this (because, fuck, who wants to prove Esther Perel right?) But I feel emboldened after participating Saturday in Washington D.C.’s #MarchForOurLives. I do try to mostly keep my politics out of my blog (if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook however, all bets are off). I might vehemently disagree with you on everything from Betsy DeVos to organic butter, but if you’ve been chumped, I want to help you. I don’t care what political stripe you are. Heck, I’ve found my site recommended on gun lover forums.
“I just walked in to find my wife fucking some other guy.”
“Dude, check out Chump Lady.”
All to say, we’re family here. Meaning you probably have Fox News on and would like me to know that if I stood up straight, I’d lose 10 pounds. I love you too.
Anyway… guns. I was so impressed with these badass young people marching on Saturday and telling their stories. (Only one puked! I SO would’ve puked in front of a crowd that size! Heck, I would’ve peed my pants too!) They reminded me of you. They’re changing the narrative. They’re telling their painful stories. THIS is what THIS feels like. This is what THIS IS LIKE to be on the RECEIVING END of this bullshit. They refuse to sit down and shut up.
And I thought if they can stand there and tell their scary stories, well, I can too. Nearly six years of blogging and I haven’t talked about the guns. I’ve talked around them in code, like “Protection From Abuse order.” I haven’t cast my chump story as a domestic violence story, because I’m so hip and educated and can draw unicorns. Who’s a victim? Not me. No sir.
So, some caveats, before I puke and overshare all over your shoes.
1.) I’m not anti-gun. My Texas husband was a gun owner. My father has a rifle. My grandfather was an avid hunter and was a proud member of Fur, Fin, and Feathers, of Elmira, New York. This post is not going to devolve into some diatribe about the Second Amendment. I marched for common sense gun reform and background checks.
2.) I’m still embarrassed about what I’m going to relate. I shouldn’t be, I’d tell you not to be, but I am. In the grand scheme of things, this relationship was a blip. A brief period of insanity that has scabbed over. It takes a woman on average 7 tries before she leaves an abuser. It didn’t take 7, but I’m still mortified that it took more than one. The only thing I can say in my defense is that my brain was fogged with his manipulation and my hopium. I had sunk costs and I was exhausted.
If you wonder why I still run this support site, why I wake up every morning and write an 800 word essay before I go work — it’s because I remember the mindfuckery. It kept me stuck. If I can decode it for you, maybe I can help unstick you.
I’ll start with the nightmares. I still have them occasionally. In my dreams, I’m married to my husband and my cheating, abusive ex has bought the house next door. It’s a grand house, with turrets and white clapboard. But its windows can see into my house and he’s spying on me. I know he’s going to kill me.
Sometimes the dream is just the anxiety that he’s going to kill me. Other times he’s chasing me with a gun.
He had a lot of guns. A dozen? 20? They were spread over three locations (our home, his former house he still owned, plus a cabin) and his cars. I didn’t have an exact count, but I had to specifically request that they be confiscated when I got the protection from abuse order.
I got the PFA when he threatened to kill me. That was after the quick succession of D-Days 1 and 2, when his double life was revealed 6 months after our marriage. I’d spoken to his ex-wife and he was furious. He wished her dead. He wished her baby dead. He said he was going to piss on the baby’s grave. He said if I told anyone what he did, he would hunt me down and burn down my house.
I told the marriage counselor we saw that week. I told him about the threats, the dead baby, everything. He told us we needed to “learn to dialogue.”
Let me back up — I didn’t know I needed a PFA. Even though he had threatened me, I was scared of what he might do in a rage… to himself. I called the police. The dispatcher told me to get a PFA. I went to the courthouse.
I sat in a room next to an Amishman who was paying his taxes with all his receipts in a shoe box, a Puerto Rican gang member, and another woman there for a PFA. Apparently she was an old hand at PFAs. She brought her toddler son with her and he was playing with the Thomas the Tank engines in the waiting room. I know my Thomas the Tank Engines, so we were chatting. “This is Percy! Oh, is that Diesel? Where’s Sir Toppenhat?”
At some point during this wait, the grief and the absurdity broke me and I started to ugly cry. I went into the Ladies room and that mother — a very haggard looking, poor woman — comforted me. “Don’t let the bastard get you down!” I felt so grateful to her. Whatever my lot, hers looked a million times worse. She had bruises on her face. And she was comforting ME?
Next, the gang kid asked me why I was there. I told him. And I will NEVER forget his kind sincerity — “Do you want me to push him out of a window for you? I could do that.”
I politely declined. A few hours later, I got the order and went home to wait for a constable to serve my abuser.
He got home before the constable. He must’ve suspected something was up. I had my useless, non-enforceable order (because he hadn’t been served yet). He flew into a towering rage. I ran. He chased me.
There were guns in the house. There was a gun in his car.
I grabbed the phone and called 911 and as I was on the phone with the dispatcher, he tore up the PFA in front of me. I ran outside to the driveway, scared out of my wits. He followed me, screaming “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!”
By the time the cops arrived, I was hysterical, hyperventilating trying to choke out the words that he destroyed the court order.
The cops looked at me with something like amusement. Like I was overreacting. They did their job, however. They told him he had 5 minutes to collect his stuff in a duffle bag and get in the back of the cop car. One guy escorted him through the house, another stayed with me.
His rage abruptly ended as soon as the cops showed up. The channel flipped to charm. This was all a misunderstanding and I was being ridiculous. He made sure they knew he was a lawyer.
“There’s a handgun in the wheel hub of his car!” I told an officer. “GET THE GUN! Please GET THE GUN.”
I only knew this detail because the gun was unregistered in the state we’d just moved to, so he hid it.
Sure enough, the cops found the gun in the wheel hub. They asked him if he had a registration for it. He did not.
I asked the cop if they were going to report my abuser for having an unregistered handgun. The cop declined.
“I think he has enough problems on his plate today.”
During the relationship, I excused the gun collection. He’s from a part of the country that hunts. (I never saw him hunt.) He’s outdoorsy. Okay, it’s not my thing, but I should be accepting. Just because someone has a pile of guns, cross-bows, and knives doesn’t mean he’s abusive… right?
He wasn’t a thug. He was a guy with three advanced degrees — two in engineering and one in law.
How can you say I’m abusive? I never hit you. I never pointed a gun at you.
No, he never did. He “joked” once and put a belt around my neck. He’d get an inch from my face and scream at me. But no, he never pointed a gun at me. He didn’t have to.
I had zero guns. He had an entire arsenal of guns. Nothing was ever a fair fight. Every rage came with an unspoken threat — there’s a gun here. In the closet, hidden above the acoustic ceiling tiles, in the car.
Under my bed.
We were separated and I had a fervent desire to burn all the linens on our marital bed. I went and got all new ones, replacing even the dust ruffle.
As I was lifting the mattress, I saw it. Another handgun. I’d been sleeping on top of a loaded handgun for months. How long had it been there? Since we were married? Did this mean every time we’d had sex, I’d fucked literally INCHES away from a loaded gun? WTF?!
I called my mother and told her what I found. She said: “Tracy, what are you doing spending money on new sheets?”
Now the embarrassing part. I took him back. He broke the temporary order. He had his sister call me, until I had the cops call her and tell her to stop. Even with the threat of jail, he did not stop trying to contact me. He judged me well — chump.
He was sorry. So, so sorry. He was getting therapy. He’d give me a postnup, if I’d only try again. I totally had it wrong about him and the other woman, that was over. He never should’ve done it. She’s a horrible person. A bipolar alcoholic and she just couldn’t let him go. He was weak, but now he realized everything he had lost.
Those rages? How could I believe for a second that he would ever hurt me? Those threats? He didn’t recall. Let’s not dwell on it. Did he mention he’s in therapy? Really, you can call the therapist and check. We could meet on neutral ground, at the therapist’s.
Tears. Sobbing. Regrets.
Perhaps I had overreacted.
I know, how could I be so stupid?
Well, what would you rather believe? That he was sorry — or that he was a con? That you were loved — or that you were in danger?
Yeah, Tracy, but the GUNS. It’s one thing to fall for his reconciliation bullshit, but you did it with loaded GUNS around! How could you ignore their DANGER?
How does anyone? How does my living with an arsenal make me different than millions of other American households? If I was fucked up, I was in good company.
Why should I take the threat of domestic violence seriously when a therapist didn’t take it seriously, cops didn’t take it seriously, and my own mother didn’t take it seriously?
Some sobering statistics. A gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that the woman will be killed. American women are 16 times more likely to be killed by a gun than women in other developed nations. Domestic abuser background checks save lives. States that require background checks on all handgun sales see 47 percent fewer women shot to death by intimate partners than states that do not have this requirement.
I’m lucky I wasn’t killed. And I’m lucky that in my darkest moments I didn’t kill him or myself.
Even as I type this sentence, I can hear my ex defend himself. That I’m crazy. That I’m painting him as some sort of monster. That I’m an idiot to believe he’d ever hurt me. I still half believe I’m that idiot. Who stays with such a person? Maybe that’s why I didn’t write about the guns for 6 years. I wonder what kind of self doubts all those dead women had.
Here are my regrets:
That I didn’t call the cops when he broke that first no contact order. The consequence would’ve been immediate jail time. Which could’ve eventually meant disbarment for him. Same with a permanent PFA and domestic abuse charges.
It could’ve gone on his record and spared some other woman. But I did a cold calculus. I dropped the PFA to get my divorce settlement. I figured an unemployed, armed psycho with a grudge was more dangerous than me eating the zero-legal-consequences shit sandwich.
Here is where I’m kidding myself that it would’ve mattered:
These assholes get hired anyway.
Rob Porter, case in point. Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby both testified to the FBI that Porter was a wife beater. Porter got his plum White House gig anyway.
I wasn’t surprised by this. I was surprised that the government talked to them at all.
Where’s my ex these days? In a high-level government job with a Q-level security clearance. I was his last ex-wife and no one interviewed me on his background check.
So, Esther, were you right? Does my story go “beyond infidelity”? Well yes, I don’t think every cheater is a psychopath with a gun collection.
I do think infidelity is a power trip, however.
One set of rules for you, another for me. I get an arsenal. You get zero. I get a smorgasbord of pussy. You get fealty to me.
There are so many ways to threaten and intimidate. Hide a gun under your bed, or tell your partner Schmoopie fucks better than they do. You love them, but you’re not in love with them. Do you want to keep this family together? Do you want to see your children again? You’ll go along….
Until you don’t. And that’s when things get dangerous.
800,000 fed up people marched on Washington last Saturday, armed not with guns, but with stories. Who knows how this ends? Maybe all the tiny-dicked gun nuts get to keep their arsenals, but it sure looks like they’re losing the narrative.
That’s when things get dangerous. That’s when things change.
Tell your stories. End the silence.