Michele Weldon had a doting boyfriend in her 20s. So doting, in fact, that he wanted to know where she was every second of the day.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, he really cares about me,” says Weldon, an award-winning journalist and author, about that time in her life nearly three decades ago.
What she knows now, of course, is that her boyfriend’s persistent regard for her was actually a way to control her. What some call devotion, others see as controlling.
Four months after the couple married, Weldon saw that power and control side of her husband come to a violent head. It was New Year’s Eve and they had just gotten home from a dinner out when something set him off. He came at her, shoving Weldon in her chest and pushing her to the ground.
“He just left me down there. I was completely stunned,” she says. “That was the first time I felt like I might be in danger.”
The next day, Weldon set up an appointment with a marriage counselor, unsure about the future of her marriage but sure about one thing: This was not her fault.
“I know some women feel like, oh, I must have done something [to cause the abuse], but I always felt like this was his problem. This was about him, not me.”
We Can Fix This
Advocates say that survivors often echo the sentiment that they don’t necessarily want the relationship to be over, they just want the abuse to stop. Weldon was in that boat.
“I thought, I love him and want to have a better life. If things can start once, they can end once.”
Their marriage counselor saw the couple together and, not surprisingly, her abusive husband, a lawyer, manipulated each session to his benefit. Through nine years of marriage counseling, the length of their relationship, Weldon felt like no one warned her to get out. “I’ve since learned we should have been seen separately.”
Meanwhile, Weldon’s husband continued to try to erode her self-esteem. Weldon remembers a time when she was asked to give a talk to a large group of people. Her confidence soared as she stepped off stage afterward amidst a standing ovation. She sat back down next to her husband and was met with disapproval.
“He leaned over to me and said, ‘You talk too fast.’”
Another time, her husband got home from work to a dinner Weldon had thoughtfully prepared for him.
“Without saying a word, he took the entire plate and scraped it into the garbage. It’s like he was saying what I do is garbage. I had no value.”
Like so many abusers, Weldon’s husband was one person in public and a much more sinister version of himself in private.
“He always overdid it in public,” says Weldon. “He’d give these great toasts to me, and people would say, ‘Oh, your husband is so great.’ But it was just so insincere. I’d have to get up and leave the room.”
Her husband physically assaulted her at least once a year, Weldon says, but his psychological abuse was more frequent.
‘I Was Tired of Pretending’
It was the 4 th of July 1995, nine years into their marriage, when Weldon decided she’d had enough. They were staying at her abuser’s parents' summer house in Wisconsin for the holiday weekend. Weldon had just put her sons to bed, who were now 6, 4 and 1 years old. She dared to tell her husband she didn’t appreciate a joke he’d made earlier about her.
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“He threw me against the wall and grabbed me by the jaw.”
Weldon screamed, knowing his parents, who were visiting, were in the next room.
“I was tired of pretending,” she says. Her scream brought his parents rushing in, only to confront Weldon. “His mom asked, ‘What did you do to make him mad?’ I thought, this is crazy. It’s so illogical even now.”
Weldon filed for an order of protection. “For three weeks, he couldn’t be near me or the house.” A few days before the order expired, her husband filed for divorce, moving the case from criminal court to divorce court.”
“He wanted to be in control of the situation,” says Weldon.
Writing It Down
After escaping, enduring a divorce and counseling her three young sons through their trauma, Weldon channeled the after-effects of her ordeal into words. She says she took a long time with it—it was vital she got all the details correct, she says, and she also doubted her choice to go public with it. Two years later, the book was sold. She just had one hurdle left—her abuser went to court to try and block its publication by claiming she could not write or speak any disparaging comments about him.
“My attorney [showed the judge] everything I wrote was backed up by a document,” she said. The judge would not approve her abuser’s motion. “He never sued me or tried to argue the veracity—he just didn’t want it to come out,” says Weldon of her ex.
But it did come out. I Closed My Eyes: Revelations of a Battered Woman was published in 1999 and went on to be printed in seven languages. Weldon found herself on the Today Show and Oprah Winfrey Show, nervously talking about the years of abuse few knew had ever occurred.
“It strengthens a person to stand in your own truth. It marks you, definitely, in a way, but it also gives you a core strength.”
She worried about her children, though, whom she fought to raise by herself after the divorce. Her abuser never disputed her petition for sole custody.
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“My oldest, now 28, is the most affected by it. He still has this real longing for the father he wanted. My middle son always felt belittled by him. And my youngest, who was 1 when it happened, doesn’t really know him.”
In 2015, her book Escape Points: A Memoir was released. In it, she talks about raising her sons alone while also facing a devastating cancer diagnosis in 2006.
“I think [domestic violence education] should start as early as kindergarten. Young boys should get the message from the very beginning that females are equal. You don’t insult someone by saying ‘You run like a girl.’” She says her own boys are now outspoken about violence against women.
Weldon’s next book will be a collection of essays called Act Like You’re Having a Good Time. “They’re on life, love and finding meaning—how to find purpose in your work and your life.”
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