“He always said I was crazy.” Debbie cradled her head in her hands, waiting for her mental health crisis clinician Robin to come back with the cup of water she had asked for. Debbie’s mouth was dry with fear. The truth was, she couldn’t see a way through this slow heavy darkness that seemed to press down on her. Tonight, dying seemed the only way to escape its intolerable press. She couldn’t breathe. Nothing seemed to make it better. There was nowhere to turn, so she came to Crisis. “That makes me crazy, doesn’t it?”
When Robin handed her the water in a white mug, Debbie thought of her husband Andy holding up the coffee mug that had been her mother’s.
“Is this the one? Oh—too-bad,” he said, as he let it smash to the floor. When the kids rushed in to see what the noise had been, he explained, “Oh, your mother’s so uncoordinated, she is just dropping things again. You know how she is. Be careful you don’t step on any chards.”
When they left, he explained to her, “You see, no one will ever believe you. They know how crazy you are. I make sure they know you are a liar.”
And they didn’t believe her. Many years later, when their father died of a heart attack, the kids, now adults, mourned Andy deeply. After awhile, she tried to tell them just a little bit about the abuse she had endured from him all of those years. She tried to tell them that they didn’t deserve it when he would hit them or scream at them, but they wouldn’t, couldn’t, hear one word of it. When a person is intermittently loving and scary, we are bound to them even more tightly than if they were simply loving. It was one of the terrible barbs of her husband’s abuse that the children were bound so much more tightly to him, even in death, than they were to her. And he was charming. He’d charmed the pastor, the sheriff, the couple’s counselor and the neighbors. There was nowhere to turn.
Decades ago, Andy had stopped being even the slightest bit kind to her when not in public. The one benefit of this was though she had felt trapped by him, she hadn’t felt attached to him in the end. Today was the anniversary of his death. She and the kids had gathered at his gravesite, the way they have done for the past seven years. Today the kids were cold to her in that old, familiar Andy way. They left the cemetery and went their separate ways. She thought they might be gathering without her. Debbie’s thoughts turned darker and more painful as the evening wore on, until she reached out to the Crisis team.
“What’s on your mind?” asked Robin. Debbie held the mug with the water. She looked at Robin carefully, and then decided to try. It took awhile. She told about her life with Andy and the kids. She told about his death. She said the thing that she had not been able to say to anyone:
“I’m not sorry he died. I am so relieved. I am so grateful. I am so—happy—he’s gone.”
Debbie cried through a smile that grew wider as she spoke those words. Then, after a very long pause, she told her truth. She told story after story of the humiliations small and large, of the threats and the assaults. She didn’t rush. She deliberately opened every door and every window in the airless house with Andy where contempt had reigned. She talked and no one stopped her.
It was unlike any Crisis intake Robin had done, because sometimes–this time—the primary intervention is being the safe person in the safe place where the truth can be told and honored.
“And I don’t have to punish myself anymore,” laughed Debbie as she sipped her water. “I don’t have to die because I feel so glad he’s dead or because I’m telling you what happened. And you believe me?”
“I believe you.”
“I can tell.”