This post is by our guest, Leah.
He is getting his temple recommend renewed. He has his humble face on. He has paid up his financial obligations to his children. He is going through the outward steps of repentance again, assembling the props he needs to act the perfect husband. But this time it is not for me, it is for her.
He is telling her that he wants the white picket fence, the family and a dog. He couldn’t have told her how the most significant times when his abuse became physical were when I was pregnant. I don’t think he has drawn that connection, himself.
Nor could she know that after he kicked the cat into the wall in front of my child, I knew I would never own a pet again. Or how he let me believe for three months we were trying to get pregnant again, when he had obtained a vasectomy a year and a half before. Or of the last time, after his reversal surgery worked and I was pregnant again. How that time I stood my ground and refused to leave the house and my other daughter alone with him when he was angry. How I then knew I could never dare to have another baby. Nor could she know that he left me, and I, in agony, decided not to let him come back. He believes now that our divorce was entirely my decision, that the years of his threats are merely my imagination.
He has gone through his “full-disclosure” phase with her, I’m sure. She can’t know that it is a smokescreen. He uses honesty as just another tool. I wonder if he told her the same things he told me. I would guess he’s only disclosed the things that he knows I am aware of. That way, he is inoculating her against future revelations. Anything he does not think she will find out on her own is still safe behind his silence.
I’m sure he has told her that he stole from me while we were married, siphoning off marital funds towards his hobbies since he has admitted that much to me. He could not have told her the extent of it; he doesn’t know I know about the thousands of dollars over the course of just a few years. Nor could she know how often I went without because our finances were so tight, how my daughter wore ill-fitting second-hand shoes because that was what we could afford. Nor that most of my “extra” money now goes into the money pit fixer-upper house that he wanted and left me with, half undone and unsafe for children.
He has told her that I am intelligent and a great mother. He has no right to tell her that, not after the years of lies told to the people who could have been my friends. He told them then I was mentally unhinged, unsafe for my daughter, suicidal. What right does he have using me to make himself look good now? What a wonderful person he is to speak so highly of his ex-wife. Never mind my loneliness because of the picture of me he painted for the world. Forget the confusion and desperation I felt when I tried to make friends only to be treated like a nuclear bomb about to go off. Never mind the public record that shows he thinks me an adulteress, a psychopath and a lawbreaker. Now, he can use my virtues to exalt himself to her.
Should I tell her how when I dressed up and tried to make myself attractive, his Internet or movies or car were more interesting? It was when I felt my most ugly or ill that he used me. Or perhaps I could tell her how he would pressure me into doing things that made me feel dirty and cheap, how he would spend hours on the Internet researching how often sex should be done in order for me to be a good wife.
Would she want to know that if he does not get enough sex, his aggression builds up? Perhaps I should mention the unutterable pain I went through every time, until childbirth made it easier for me. The pain that he used to convince me I was an utter failure as a wife. The pain I squashed down so that I could perform the way a wife is supposed to perform.
She sits across from me, confident, smiling. To her, life is still a series of decisions that she can make. She hasn’t yet faced a life that will always be tainted, somewhat, with another person’s choice.
I used to wonder why liars were listed with murderers and adulterers. Now I know. Now I see that for him, lying is not a behavior, it is who he is. His lies penetrate so deeply under his skin that even he does not know what is truth any more. That is part of why he is so believable: he is always, utterly sincere.
I look at her and my heart tears. One part wants to scream at her to run away while she still can. The other part, rational, knows that she will never believe what I have to say, and sees that she will make about as good of a stepmother for my girls as can be hoped for. That part also reasons with my emotions, pointing out that by telling her what I have lived through, I weaken the shield I have carefully built out of his ignorance. If he begins to see how much I know, he will realize he can no longer lie to me, and my children and I will be in danger again. For now, while he is pursuing her, he is satiated and happy, and has no reason to attack me and mine. For now, there is some level of peace.
The rational part wins. It wins a lot lately, despite the rampant strength of my feeling side. As she hints around aspects of my relationship with him, I tell her that before I talk about it to her, I want her to go and pray and find out by the Spirit if she really wants to know.
She wants to get to know me, to offer the olive branch because, as she says, we are sisters in Zion. After she leaves, I begin to realize that by making the first move to build the bridge between us, she can know what a wonderful person she is. She and he are the magnanimous couple, having used the Atonement to wash away their sins, benevolent in their cleanliness, bestowing blessings on the poor, foolish, damaged ex-wife. She does not know the raw pain of the Atonement for me, or the hard lessons the Lord has been teaching me as He helps me put my life and myself back together. She doesn’t know how much happier, stronger I am now, and wiser, though I have so much more to learn. She doesn’t realize that I always intended friendship with whatever girl he ends up snaring. She will need a friend when he puts the props away and begins to act himself again.
Readers, what is your reaction to Leah’s story? How can we balance the principles of forgiveness, repentance and the Atonement when faced with a person wielding unrighteous dominion?
How can we help those around us who are victims of misplaced gospel principles (such as family, the temple covenants, unity and selflessness in marriage, priesthood, honesty, forgiveness, etc.) especially in cases of abuse?
What does it mean to truly repent and forgive? How can we allow the Atonement to heal us when we have been (and are being) seriously wounded by another’s exercise of agency?