Jane knew it was time to leave when she saw this. It was her car, sure, but he had paid for it. That was what he told her when she complained. It wasn’t hers.
Nothing was hers. She had no reason to complain. She should be grateful he even accepted her, even allowed her to stay with him as long as he had. And that was part of why she stayed. He’d convinced her she couldn’t survive without him, had no worth outside of his company.
She spent so much of her adult life with him that she had almost forgotten what it was like to not be with him. Now that she thought about it, she remembered asking him if she could get a tattoo, or even color her hair. He grudgingly agreed to both, but with restrictions. How many other expressions of her self had she suppressed?
When she mentioned to her friends that she was thinking of leaving, they said “But you should be grateful you’re in a relationship” or “Think of those people who have it worse and they stay” – like any of that mattered. It did, for a while. For a while she was fooled into agreeing with them. For a while she thought she was wrong, or crazy, or ungrateful.
But then the day came when she could no longer ignore the messages her body was telling her, but she tried. Back and neck so tight she had to get massages twice a month. Nightmares where she was trapped, waking up punching or kicking. Heart palpitations. She realized she was taking three different anti-anxiety medications just to get through the day. And still it wasn’t enough. But she ignored it, pretended she was fine. Everyone else she knew just seemed to accept it as normal. She even ended up in the hospital thinking she was having a heart attack but it was just anxiety. Even then he didn’t believe her, made her bring letters from the doctor, notarized, before he would be grudgingly accept her back.
She became suicidal in September, the life drained out of her. His response was to say she wasn’t the girl he had picked, had graced with his attention. He said she better pick herself back up and be cheery again or he’d kick her out. Never did he imagine that he was the reason for her despondency. That if only he had treated her with kindness and trust she would’ve blossomed instead of withered.
Maybe she should’ve left then, but she didn’t. Maybe she felt she couldn’t afford to live without him. Maybe she had gotten so used to feeling second rate and third class that she even agreed with him that there wasn’t any point to complaining. Maybe everybody in her position felt the same way and she should just accept it and not hope for better.
But then it happened. The day she never had even dared to hope for – that awful beautiful day when everything became crystal clear and her path lay before her. Stay, or die. He had made the decision for her with this message. She knew if she returned to him her life would be forfeit. It was no longer merely uncomfortable or difficult to be there, but deadly. A few phone calls and she was gone. She never looked back.