*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by my mother, who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission.
My mother’s friend chose abuse over poverty
My mother told me about a close friend she knew in her younger years. This woman and my mother had a lot in common. They were both in their early twenties. They were both married to troublesome men. However, my mother’s friend had it worse than my mother. Her husband was physically and mentally abusive to an extreme degree.
One day, my mother approached her friend and asked her why she didn’t just leave him.
“He might be a terrible man,” my mother’s friend told her, “but he keeps my refrigerator and my pantry full.”
It was the early 1960s. Many women couldn’t find opportunities to work outside the home. If they were married, they were expected to take care of their husbands, their homes, and their children. For many of the women from this era, having a career was a dream that they didn’t even dare to consider.
My mother’s friend was no exception.
Through no fault of her own, she had no education, no skills, and no opportunities. What she had was a husband who worked hard in between bouts of drunkenness, treated her poorly, and brought home the only paycheck in their household.
If it weren’t for him, she didn’t know what she would do.
My mother’s friend passed away a few years ago. By then, she was a widow living on her husband’s pension. Even in his death, he kept her refrigerator and her pantry full — but at least she didn’t have to suffer his abuse anymore.
One day before I got married, my mother pulled me aside and sat me down for what would become one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with her.
“I want you to remember something very important,” she said. “You are not like other women in this world. You are special. Every girl is born special. But some girls don’t know it or let people tell them that they aren’t special anymore because they got married, because they had children, or because their husbands mistreat them.”
I didn't heed her warning.
When the time came for me to marry, I married a man who mistreated me, just as my mother and my mother’s friend had done decades earlier. I didn’t learn from observing their marriages as I was growing up, and that’s one of my greatest regrets.
I didn’t have any suitable role models for relationships when I was a child. It wasn’t just my mother and her friend. I watched my aunts and uncles fight and make each other miserable, too; and while my maternal grandfather died when I was still very young, my paternal grandfather was a cruel man who made my paternal grandmother’s life incredibly difficult.
“I want you to remember one thing,” my mother said to me just before my wedding. “You can do anything that you want to do in this world if only you believe in yourself and work hard enough for it, and you do not need a man for anything.”
I didn’t listen then, but I understand her words now. If you rely on another person to support you, then you might find yourself in a situation that you can’t afford to leave. That will not be my story.
If I want to keep my refrigerator and my pantry full, I can do it myself.
My mother’s friend chose abuse over poverty. I’m choosing self-sufficiency instead.
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