The call came in early on a Saturday morning. My ex-mother-in-law was crying on the other end of the phone, yet she was talking so fast it was hard to understand what she was saying.
“… hit by a train… identified the body… making arrangements…”
Once I put all the pieces together, I recoiled in shock. She was talking about her son, Micah, my former husband and abuser. She told me a train had struck him the night before and killed him instantly.
“Look in your local newspaper,” she said. “It’s in there.”
Time stood still in that moment. I could hardly believe the man who had made my life miserable was suddenly out of my life for good. Despite all his demons, I always thought Micah would outlive us all. He was far too mean to die.
His mother was still sobbing on the phone yet trying to be brave. I got myself together and told her how sorry I was to hear the news. What can you say when somebody’s son dies unexpectedly in such an insanely tragic way. I felt guilty that the job of telling me had been left up to her. We weren’t exactly close, and she’d written me off a long time ago as the cause of Micah’s problems. She thought I drove him to be so mean because of my “crazy” behavior.
Micah once told me that he’d grabbed his mother’s shoulders and shook her hard during an argument. I’d been the victim of the same thing, but his mother was elderly. The story made me furious, but by then I was already afraid of him and didn’t yet know how to get away. Still, his mother was his biggest supporter, and in order to make him good, she had to make me bad.
I knew she called me with the news because Micah and I shared a child. Our daughter was eight years old and lived with me full time. When Micah and I divorced, I was granted full custody of her with only supervised visitation for him because of his abusive history.
He bugged me constantly to see his daughter. A few times, I arranged for them to meet at the food court in the mall. My daughter told me afterward that all Micah did was pump her for information about me. She was a pawn in his misguided quest to win me back. I hated him more for that reason than anything else.
After Micah’s mother hung up, I searched the internet and found the story about Micah. There was a picture at the top of the page of the train tracks with a body bag lying about 20 feet away. I spotted empty beer cans and wondered if he’d been drunk and fooling around on the tracks. The thought of him doing it on purpose was one I wasn’t ready to deal with yet. I felt like I was in shock, and I didn’t know how I would tell our daughter when she woke up. She hadn’t really wanted to talk to her dad much lately.
“All he does is yell at me and make me feel bad,” she confided in me.
I told her she didn’t have to take his calls if she didn’t want to. I knew what it was like to deal with him, and I didn’t want him to try to manipulate her with lies and promises. It made me angry that Micah played mind games with our daughter. He ignored her the rest of the time, and he never acted like a real father. Still, I worried that the news of his death would make her more confused about her feelings than ever.
I divorced Micah about a year before he died, but he remained a constant thorn in my side. Unwilling to accept the end of our marriage, he’d call me or email me several times a day to harass me. He tried to make me feel guilty about leaving him. The day I walked out of our marriage was the bravest thing I’d ever done. He had me so mentally beat down that I barely knew my own mind anymore. I was like a robot on pause waiting for my next command from him.
All the other times I tried to leave had failed. I tried moving out of town, across the state, and halfway across the country to get away from him, but he always found me and persuaded me to come home.
“What man is going to want a 40-year-old, twice-divorced woman with kids?” Micah would ask me. “What happens when the guy finds out you’re crazy?”
He said he was the only one willing to love and take care of me. It kept me in line for longer than I’d like to admit.
When I told my daughter that her father died, her reaction was both sad and strange. She cried softly for about a minute, then suddenly stopped and asked me what we were having for dinner. Even though she hadn’t been close to her dad, I suspected she was in shock with some misplaced guilt just like me. She had no reason in the world to feel guilty, but Micah’s manipulation got to both of us. She was a perfect little girl whose father was simply hurtful. I wished for so much better for her, and that’s when my tears finally fell.
I remembered an email that Micah had sent me about two weeks before he died. We’d been arguing back and forth about visitation with our daughter. She decided she didn’t want to see him anymore, but Micah was trying to force me to bring her to the mall. I wasn’t willing to put her through that.
I know I seem mad all the time, he wrote, but sometimes I miss those days when I’d come home after work and give you guys great big hugs. We’d make dinner and play music and dance around the apartment. I really miss that.
I didn’t respond to the email. The part of my life that included Micah was over, even if he couldn’t accept it. It had taken every ounce of strength I had to get away from him in the first place, and there was no way I was getting caught in his trap again.
Micah had been the biggest part of my life for nearly a decade. He influenced every decision I made and practically every breath I took. I honestly believed I couldn’t make it without him back then, but taking a stand made me stronger. I knew if I shared even a sliver of my life with him, he’d infect the rest of it.
Micah’s death left me with a lot of angry feelings that I’d been holding back for years. I couldn’t even yell at him and curse him for the things he’d done. It was important to remain strong for my daughter, but I became angrier the more time that passed. The thought of unleashing all of it scared me. What if I couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle and poisoned myself and my daughter with my negativity. I’d worked too hard for my happiness to let anything jeopardize it.
It wasn’t until I got some therapy when I was able to process everything and had a safe space to vent. I also began writing about that time in my life, and getting it all on the page healed me in ways I can’t even explain. Micah wasn’t part of my story anymore, and it was time to let him go for good.
I used to believe Micah was pure evil and that our relationship was toxic, but that was wrong. I still had our beautiful daughter, and I loved her with all my heart. It’s been a long time since Micah died, and I’ve learned so many lessons that are still part of my life today. I became a woman who stands up for herself and her loved ones. There’s no way I’d ever tolerate abuse of any kind from anyone ever again.
For a long time, I had trouble believing in myself because Micah kept putting me down. Today, I trust myself and my strength, and those are things I’ll never give up for anyone else again. Best of all, I am the woman I remember being before he came into my life, and I’ll never take her for granted again.