Editorial note: this is Part 2 of an essay series that started with When mothers love their children more than Crazy. “Crazy” meaning the crazy man in a woman’s life.–DE
Not everyone believes us mothers when we say that our greatest concern during our relationship with Crazy was the welfare of the children, but that’s okay because we are all too used by now to outsiders not believing a word we say and, besides, there is probably very little objectively identifiable evidence that we were.
We did everything wrong, didn’t we?
Yes, we probably did, but we didn’t mean to.
My husband, Kathleen, was brought up by Crazy as his father and had to watch his mom being beaten up by his emotionally day-in, day-out, sometimes feeling forced to take on his father on his mother’s behalf at an age – like five – when everyone should have been taking care of him, not vice-versa. As far as he is concerned, his mother was collusive with his father by hanging around being attacked when she should simply have walked off, as he begged her to.
“Go, Mom, please go.”
It wasn’t that he didn’t love her; he loved her very much. It was that, by standing there taking all the punches, she was putting him in danger. He was terrified and distressed by the constant arguing, and Crazy tried to involve him in his reign of abuse against his mother whenever he saw an opportunity. Once Kathleen was so outraged by his father’s machinations that he set fire to him.
What should his mother have done, according to Kathleen?
She should have taken hold of Kathleen’s hand, whatever time of day or night the dispute was taking place, and told Crazy, “I will not have arguments with you in front of our son, ever,” and then taken Kathleen to a public place, like a bar, where preferably the revelers would inevitably have asked her what her five year old son was doing with her in a bar at eleven o’clock at night. Shouldn’t he have been in bed?
… and then his mother could have told them, and Kathleen would have confirmed her side of the story.
He bets that his father would never have attempted to argue with his mother in front of his again. Crazies hate having their antisocial behavior made public. And if his father had tried to beat her up again verbally in front of him, she should have taken Kathleen to the bar again … as many times as it took to make his father shut up.
The trick would not have been in his mother walking out and going to a bar – she did that plenty of times anyway – it would have been in taking Kathleen with her. Who believes a gal in a bar bleating about the abusive behavior of her husband? No one. Who believes a tiny child in a bar late at night confirming that his mom is telling the truth? Everyone. And a few people there, or who subsequently heard about his having been there, might well have been moved to do something about it.
I wish I had thought of that … or I think I wish it. I doubt, in Britain, picking up a small child and taking it to the local pub would work – not enough community, unless we happened to be living in a small village where word would get around in seconds, but we didn’t live in a small village. I could have taken the children to my family, but I am not sure that would have had the desired effect, either; your own family would be considered too partisan, and Crazy’s family was five thousand miles away. To a friend’s house? That might have worked, especially if I had taken the girls to the house of one of Crazy’s friends. That could really have hit the mark, and as Paul Elam argues, it is the absolute duty of the sane partner to protect the children because we are effectively their only hope.
Would that have been it? Would Crazy have stopped abusing me?
No, of course not, Crazies have to abuse in the same way as sharks have to swim forward, but it would probably have stopped Crazy abusing me in front of our two girls in the house. In the car, with Crazy driving, that would have been a different matter. My Crazy ex-husband loved to trap me as a passenger in the car he was driving, with the two girls in the back seat. He once started eleven different arguments with me under those circumstances during a fifty-four minute car journey, and several times I got out of the car I was driving and walked home because Crazy, as a passenger, wouldn’t stop shouting at me in front of the children.
I have learned over time that one of the big tricks of Crazy, as it was of my ex-husband “Rafaella, is to define “us” as him and the children vs. me as “your mother.” That maneuver worked even in my absence. So, “What are you doing to us?” means “What are you doing to me?”; “You are not listening to our needs” means “You are not listening to my needs”; “You have no interest in us as a family – I am a single parent” means “You have no interest in my needs – and if you want to point out what you are doing for the children, I am the only parent who matters here.”
Early on, Rafaella was very aggressive toward the children too, but that soon stopped when he realized that the children were more use to him as allies than they as targets, in other words that they were more useful in his camp than mine. Thereafter he focused on brideing the girls’ affections all the way by giving them everything they could possibly want, even things they never knew they wanted until they were offered them by him. A particularly successful trick of Crazy’s was to buy the girls daily presents – quite big ones – in the knowledge that I would soon object to the cost of this exercise, which was anything up to $50 a day, and $1,000+ on special occasions if I didn’t take the bait at $50. So he became the parent who really listened to his children and got them what they craved, whereas I was the one who said, “No. We can’t afford to buy that.” My nickname for the longest time was, “Mama who always says no.” The converse trick was that he would demand that I take away something the children wanted, like staying up late, and when I complied just to keep the peace between us, he would turn around and say that of course the children could stay up late tonight, we could all watch a movie together or something.
As anyone knows who has been in this type of abusive relationship, the games, tricks, out-maneuvering and gaslighting are like a fog all around you. You haven’t a clue what is coming next, only that something is coming next because there has been peace for a few hours. “It’s too quiet around here …” is a thought that informs domestic violence movies too.
One of Rafaella’s masterpieces was to summon “the jury of the children,” my description of the technique, not his. He would secretly agree a course of action with the girls behind my back, then he would summon me to hear what “we” have decided. Anywhere sufficed, but he had a particular penchant for persuading the girls to get into the bathtub with him and then summoning me to the bathroom for a “family chat.” Why are Crazies especially crazy and aggressive when they are naked? I have heard several abused women mention that. In Rafaella’s case he claims that he is a Merangel and that his primary element is water, but they can’t all be Merangels.
The other classic ruse is using the children as messengers – “Tell your mother …” Strangely, Rafaella didn’t use this technique very often. I think it would have been an insult to his sense of creativity. What he did instead was to sit down with them and tell them “Your mother…” stories, sometimes for hours on end, or once we had finally divorced and I had moved five thousand miles away, he would get the kids to Skype me, then hijack the conversation I was having with them in order to make his demands – yep, in front of them.
I don’t know if there is a single effective answer to managing Crazy. I certainly tried persistently for twenty years to find one, and I never did. Crazies are like the scorpion in the story where a scorpion asks a toad to give her a piggy-back across a river.
“But you’ll sting me and kill me,” protests the toad.
“That would be stupid,” counters the scorpion. “I would drown too.”
So the toad complies and starts carrying the scorpion on its back across the river. Halfway across, the scorpion stings her.
With her dying breath the toad asks, “Why did you do that?”
The scorpion shrugs. “It’s in my nature.”
Yep, most of Crazy’s statements don’t make rational sense, nor sometimes even strategic sense, but there is no question that viciousness is definitely in their nature, even to the unnatural extent of messing with their children’s psyches and consequently ruining their lives. In the end, the children are just tools after all. No wonder one of Rafaella’s favorite words was “instrumental.”