I continued with medication and therapy sessions for quite some time.
I think it was two years with the same therapist. All during that time, I was painting. My inability to keep my mind steady showed in my paintings. I was not formally trained as a painter, and almost immediately recognized I had no talent for it. It felt good to do it, to smell the paints, feel the brush in my hands and do something that resulted in a product. Something tangible. The conversations I had with Dawn, my soulmate and artistic advisor over the phone, helped me to begin experimenting with the medium, though I see them now as feeble attempts at art. As I mentioned in an earlier post, these paintings were not conscious in terms of how I chose my subject matter. I took inspiration from the neighborhood surrounding the cottage where I was living (pink house) and the cover of an LL Bean catalogue. My skies were unnaturally curved, the light was all wrong on both but I was so proud of the white picket fence I made surrounding the black house. I remember using a matchbook cover to make the lines straight and as even as possible. It took two weekend sessions for me to complete the fence alone. The third painting here shows a mountain top from an odd perspective. I can’t help but feel now, that I want to see what’s on the other side. Is it more land or the ocean? Maybe another house? I have no idea what I was thinking then or why I created that image, but it seems I could not see beyond the trees literally and metaphorically. Looking these paintings now, I notice the solitary stance of the houses, the emptiness of them and the unnatural stillness that hovers over the trees and houses. I suppose this is what I was feeling at the time, but could not articulate that. I was painting my solitude and fear. I see that now.
There were numerous incidents with my estranged husband that left me vulnerable and bruised internally. There was the time I left work to find my car was not where I had parked it. I went to the precinct which was next to my school building to report it stolen and they informed me it had not been stolen. The car had been towed for over $1,500 in parking tickets and other violations I did not know about – obviously from Tommy’s misuse of my car. I had to borrow money from a colleague to get my car back the next day – almost $3,000 because it was impounded by the city and there were other fees. Another time, there were papers I received from New York State Motor Vehicles Department informing me that I needed to pay to re-register my boat. Well, yes, the boat was registered to me but with all that happened, I completely forgot about it. I went to look for the boat one weekend. On the drive down to Long Island I remember thinking that if Tommy were to see me driving into town he would probably kill me. I was prepared to die. I thought to myself, Things are so complicated and difficult for me now. I can’t possibly get myself out of these messes alone; money, cars, boats, the endless abyss of loneliness and crippling fear – If you’re going to take me this way Lord, let it be quick and leave my body in a state that my mother can still bury me in one piece. I parked, walked up and down the slips where boats were docked but my boat was no longer at the slip where we had kept it the season before. I walked to the red dock house and asked the Dock Master where it might be. He simply said “It’s your fucking boat, don’t you know where it is? It’s kinda hard to lose a boat”. Embarrassed and angry at once I told him my story. He simply said “Yeah, I know who you fucking are. I recognize you. Go ask Tommy where his boat is. I don’t know where your boat is. Get the fuck off my property”. I ripped the registration papers into a million pieces and left. To this day, I have never found that boat.
* * *
I juggled my two lives fairly well. I was the devoted professional teacher by day and the tortured scared victim in the lonely walls of my little cottage. The high of having my own place, of having survived my husband’s insanity quickly evaporated and left me feeling paranoid, scared and alone. There were days that melted into nights and then into new days again without a moment of sleep. There were endless cigarettes and sporadic eating and overeating. There were dreams I daydreamed while lying on my bed ignoring the sunlight just outside my door. And there were the day long phone conversations with my closest friend Dawn, the only person who knew absolutely all of this at the time. She talked me through it and listened. We laughed, we cried we talked about her writing and my fears. We talked on the phone so much that we killed batteries in cordless phones and got neck aches and red hot burning ears that lasted long after our conversations ended. We ate meals together over the phone and I painted while she read me her latest pieces of writing. There were many important relationships with friends I had during that time but Dawn was different. I told her every minuscule detail of my day, which is a good thing because I have since forgotten (blocked out?) so much. She knows all my warts. All my successes. Our bond was intense and immeasurable. Thank God, it still is.
* * *
One day, I was home alone in the cottage. It was sunny Saturday afternoon when the phone rang. It was Tommy.
I never thought he would find me but somehow he did. My heart pounded furiously in my chest at the first sound of his voice. My face grew red, ears were burning. My chest grew hot with fear. My mind was swirling with disbelief and confusion. Surprise, I found you, triumph in his voice. He told me he would never pay to divorce me. He said he would find me or my mother and one of us would pay for my leaving him. He called me a variety of names and threatened me. Of course I was shaking – was he near the cottage, in the driveway? How did he get my number? Why couldn’t he just leave me alone? If he knows the phone number does he know where I live? – I told him I couldn’t afford to pay for a divorce. He asked where I was living, what I was doing but I did not tell him. I asked for his contact information so I could serve him his divorce papers when I did get the money to divorce him. He refused to give me an address, a phone number, anything. He told me I would always have to look over my shoulder and wonder where he was. He said he could appear at any moment and destroy me. I believed him.
When he hung up, I ran around the cottage, peering out each window carefully to see if I saw any sign of him. I tried to calm myself, took a Klonopin and sat down on the corner of the bed. I could not relax, so I took another pill. I was scared to call anyone, thinking maybe the phone line was tapped. Then it occurred to me that maybe someone I knew gave him my phone number. Who would do that? When? How? I was becoming delusional. My thoughts were running in circles and twisting into themselves. How could he still turn me inside out? Over the phone no less? Why was I allowing him to have this power over me?
That’s when it hit me. I would have to face my fears and begin dealing with things. Fight the dragon. Slay the dragon. If I survived his beatings and the words he spat at me, then I would have to make a real life for myself and stop hiding in my little cottage. No more hiding. No more fear. Cars, boats, credit issues, divorces… all these were changeable. I had my life. I had my life.
That’s when I decided to grab life by the balls and turn things around.