When Pam Kress-Dunn was younger, she was in an abusive relationship. She wrote about it in a memoir titled “Love and Fury in a Plastic Box” which Passager published in Issue 66. Here are some excerpts from that memoir.
The first time, I grabbed the kids and drove to a friend’s house. Within the hour, he’d called and asked Joan to put me on. Eyes wide, she held out the phone. He told me evenly, “If you come back tonight, the neighbors will never know.” Right, I thought. I can’t let them in on our secret. The shame of anyone knowing I was a Battered Wife was worse than anything else I could think of at the moment. I reloaded the car, explaining to the kids that Daddy really missed us, so we wouldn’t be sleeping over with our friends after all.
The second time was more dramatic . . .
The day I called and told her I was sorry to bother them, but it really did seem he was getting ready to kill me, she told me they would send enough money so I could fly myself and the kids out to stay for a while with them. Our friendship went all the way back to junior high . . .
Minutes later, she called back. Chris picked up the mail, she reminded me, and would surely rip open and rip up anything from them, and the jig would be up when he saw the check for airfare. So instead, they had already paid for tickets. Two seats: one for me and my toddler son, one for my five-year-old girl. We had to be at the Denver airport by three o’clock.
Was this me? Was I really doing this? I felt as coerced by my friend as I’d felt with my husband, though I knew she was trying to save me. Unable to save myself, I could only respond to others.
Husband: “Don’t even think of leaving.” Friend: “Get to the airport now.” Husband: “You will regret the moment you try to break up this family.” Friend: “I love you; I want you alive.”
As for Chris, I was sure he loved me, but just as certain he might kill me, purposely or not. It could happen — a miscalculated punch, a thrown thing landing too bluntly on my head as I ran down the hall. He could set the house on fire after too many beers and a flicked cigarette, all the windows and doors locked tight: a murder-murder-murder-suicide . . .
I found a temporary job at my hometown library . . .
As autumn loomed, I began to waver. The temporary job at the library was ending, and no permanent positions magically opened. Allison had completed kindergarten before we left, and now it seemed terrible to make her start first grade in an unfamiliar school. This was my hometown, not theirs. I could not think straight, and the cracks in my confidence let all of Chris’s words, both sweet and enraged, take over my head, unfiltered . . .
We weren’t even halfway home before it started up again. As I sat in the passenger seat, watching the green fields of Iowa and Nebraska give way to the brown, crouched weeds of eastern Colorado, I knew I was making a horrific mistake. As the kids sat silent in the backseat, he berated me all the way home for the ways I had damaged our family . . .
Maybe things would be better . . . Surely I’d shown him how good I was, how worthy of his trust.
No. I never thought that. I knew he’d soon be throwing me against walls, making me pay for all I’d put him through that summer . . .
That was the year I started calling women’s shelters. When someone asked me if the abuse was “severe,” I was nonplussed, half-laughing, “Severe? No, I don’t think so.” After I described what was going on, she told me, “This is what we call ‘severe.’”
. . .
Excerpts from Iowa writer Pam Kress-Dunn’s memoir “Love and Fury in a Plastic Box” from Passager Issue 66.
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