Published on October 15th, 2021 | by Dodie Davey0
To Stay or Run Away
The baby is sleeping. I am awake, wondering (again) if I am crazy. I have Googled “how to tell if you’re in an abusive relationship” and “how to tell if you’re in a codependent relationship.” I spent the better part of the day fantasizing about leaving my partner: renting a studio apartment, packing the cloth diapers, putting the baby into the car seat, and leaving just like that.
I searched “studio” on Craigslist and was overwhelmed by the options, none of which I could afford, many of which were surely scams. Sort of like my relationship. From the outside it held the promise of something beautiful — natural light, hardwood floors, a balcony — but once inside you realize the photos were edited. The floor smells of cat piss, there is only a thin stream of light during one golden hour of day, and the balcony looks out onto the thrumming freeway.
I decided to call my mom to vent. It was a compulsion, really. My mother is sometimes all I have. We take turns, she and I, crying, listening, coming up for air.This time, it was my turn. I was really letting it out, the unabridged version, because I was too tired to censor myself, because maybe I was truly losing it and someone should know so they could take me someplace where people go to get help. I am too stoic at times, but also often in tears. I am afraid to let anyone know how deeply I’ve plunged.
I wasn’t jogging (I never do) but I was pushing my toddler fast in the jogging stroller because that is what you do when you’re on the phone with your mom, crying. I said the words “abusive relationship.” It was a red flag, apparently. She probed. Her voice lowered an octave. Tell me more.
I said I was being controlled. That he wouldn’t let me come visit her, wouldn’t let me take our baby away from him for longer than a single-digit chunk of hours. That he made fun of me and wouldn’t stop. That he belittled my feelings, of which there were many.
We had become codependent and mean and cynical, and we hadn’t had time to heal any of it before the baby came. It was easier when we were apart. We fought in front of the baby, my rage like an arrow from deep inside my bowed body — targeted and unstoppable. I would run out the door, down the street, so my fury-filled body would not touch my baby.
I didn’t say that I’d had another rage attack and slammed the pot of oatmeal on the ground, pushed him when he refused to get out of my room. I didn’t say that I had told him he burnt the sweet potatoes, said it cruelly. I was trying to understand what makes a relationship sicken. How two people who once claimed their forever love for one another can’t stand to be in the same room, throw oatmeal on the ground, push and curdle. How the only thing keeping them together is the toddler-baby. And capitalism, because what single parent can afford a studio apartment? And I am wondering if I am the problem. I am wondering if I am crazy. I am wondering if I will ruin my toddler-baby’s sweet toddler-babyhood if I leave my partner. Or if I already have, by staying. I am wondering what will move me to make a change, if not everything that has happened between us already — the fights, the ridiculing, the loss of power.
My mother’s concern is potent through the phone. There is a long pause like a spring coiling. She is shocked — This is not okay. I had no idea. She wants to buy me a plane ticket. I realize I have said too much, or too little for too long, and remember why we don’t talk about things like this. I don’t want this worry, this judgment. I wonder if I have exaggerated, or if I’m in too deep to know what’s real. Probably both.
I shouldn’t have called. This is not helping. There is nothing anyone can do from outside. We get to the playground and I tell her I have to go.
The other day I stopped at the grocery store before work to get a snack. Before I brought home the half-eaten guacamole container I tore off the price sticker. It was seven dollar guacamole. I couldn’t tell him that. Of course he noticed that the sticker was torn off. Of course he asked me to tell him how much it was. Of course he said he could find out. Of course I told him. Of course he said it was ridiculous. Of course I agreed, that is a fucked up amount to spend on a green dip, but really I just wanted one little thing for myself. One little container of guacamole freedom.
Venting is easy, and for how little I jog, running is simple. I am good at running away. I have packed all my belongings in the night and been gone before the sun could convince me otherwise. We have spent the better part of the past five years running together. Hitting the road over and over, this time will be different. New town, new job, same pattern, let’s go. The hard part is staying still and resisting the urge to paint a new life before trying to remediate the one I’ve got.
I am not good at slowing down. I am not good at feeling my feelings, of which there are many. I am learning, and it is slow and tenuous.
It is easy to blame him. It’s hard to see his hurting, the parts I am responsible for and the parts I have no control over: my molten rage, the wildfires burning his beloved coast. It is harder to see my own hurt and to hold its gaze. The powerlessness of it, like a crying child hiding under the bed, still hiding and running. Harder still is to re-parent ourselves, remediate a curdled relationship when we have never been taught how. Every day is an uphill battle. It is the hardest to be willing to go through it. Not away, not around.
During the depths of labor, before my baby crowned and I had no proof that my immense effort was doing anything, my midwife said, “The only way out is through.” She was right. Here I am, in the depths of labor again, with no proof that this effort is doing anything. There is only the whisper of a voice I hope can be trusted, the wisdom from someone who does not run away, who is midwife to the pain that is inextricable to creation. The only way out is through — let’s go — this time, through.