In September 2013 I got married in Las Vegas. I was already married .. but I’m certainly not a bigamist. My then husband and I wed in Sydney in November 2000. Thirteen years later he persuaded me it would be fabulous if we did it again. In fact, the Vegas adventure seemed to be the main focus of the American holiday he wanted so much. Since my subsequent divorce people have asked me why on earth I did such a thing. He did not possess the reputation of a good man or a good husband. I had already left him once some four years earlier when his abuse hit a climax that saw me physically and mentally decimated.
In truth, the relevant question is not why did I marry him again and smile through another ceremony. An occasion that had all the trappings of happiness and success. A kitschy vacation spectacle splashed across social media.
The relevant question is …why didn’t I refuse …
Rosie Batty famously once said, “I want to tell people that family violence happens to anybody, no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are”. She also said, “What I want people to take from this is that it isn’t simple. People judge you, people tell you what you should do. You do the best you can”. I was certainly judging myself on the morning of 9th September 2013 as I sat on the edge of a huge bed putting on silver stilettos in a luxury suite at the Bellagio. I had wondered if I was doing the right thing when I married him in 2000. I absolutely knew I was doing the wrong thing having this sparkly ceremony at a famous little chapel on the other side of the world thirteen years later. I had the nice house, I had the glamour career, I purportedly had intelligence and I had the jewelled shoes to wear with the cute rental dress. What I didn’t have was the freedom and safety to make my own choices and say no.
So, as Rosie Batty has imparted, I did the best I could and walked down the aisle to greet my abuser for a second time.
Memories of the occasion are quite bizarre some seven years later. I immersed myself in the fun aspects of that day. A ride in a limo, an Elvis impersonator, a tiara and veil, a ‘bridal lunch’, playing the slots in full garb, having well meaning hotel guests yell “CONGRATULATIONS!”. Just as it was in 2000 as a much younger woman, I ran a mental tape that this meant I was loved. This meant he was sorry. This meant he would do better. This made him happy by showing the world he was prosperous, desirable and I would now choose to marry him for a second time.
It was a test I passed by my willingness to participate. He was exuberant that day and raced back from the chapel before the bridal lunch to post images on Facebook. He was happy. I had made him happy. I was rewarded with smiles and laughter and declarations of affection. He seemed proud of me and I actually felt pretty that day as I walked around the casino capital of America on his arm. Living as I did, it was worth the charade to embrace the bubble of satisfaction this had caused in him. I was anxious but relieved. Bubbles burst of course and this one was fragile. It sparkled temporarily in the Nevada sun and then was gone.
One of the myths about domestic violence is that the circumstances can’t be too bad because things look fine. In many ways the shinier the facade the higher the odds the victim is in a prison with very high walls indeed. I look back at September 9th, 2013 as an occasion that encapsulates real helplessness. I have sometimes pondered what my fate might have been had I said I did not wish to remarry him that day. It doesn’t really bear thinking about. Refusal to be part of the mirage is a crime the perpetrator will make you pay for until you are on your knees begging their forgiveness. No matter how nice your house may be or how sparkling the intellect you possess; the world must be shown a flawless image whatever the cost. Your public acceptance and support of the person beside you gives them the shield to continue on their path and ensures that although they are beside you in the images, you are really standing completely alone.
During this pandemic with its isolation we know that the plight of all abused people is a grim one. I am sharing my second wedding day those seven Septembers ago to bring to the fore a very old adage. You cannot judge a book by its cover. People do what they must to keep themselves and those dependant on them as safe as they can. Those choices can seem unfathomable to others on the outside. Victims acquiesce to their abuser with monotonous regularity to buy themselves time and safety. It is a vicious cycle that is poorly understood by those who have not lived it. It is worth taking a moment to stand in those shoes and envisage an unhappy and frightening world where there is seemingly no exit and no free will of your own.
“Family violence is an entrenched epidemic that we’ve lived with since time began, so we’ve got a long way to go. But I do believe the tide is turned. It’s no longer a subject that only occurs behind closed doors”. Rosie Batty
I last stood in the shoes of my old relationship in early February 2017. I most certainly wore them in Las Vegas on 9th September, 2013. Those ones did have some pretty fabulous glitter. xx