When my husband and I got married, we had simple goals: Have a nice home; live peacefully among our neighbors; travel to exotic locations; see friends, enjoy delicious meals. Read.
What we didn’t—or couldn’t—foresee was that in our second year of marriage, our blissful, usually-compatible relationship would soon be ravaged by hostile intruders, first one, then 22 months later, another. They are distinct in their make-up, one is female, the other male. They have different methods of terror, though often work in tandem. But make no mistake: We are hostages.
It’s deceiving, it is, to see us all walking down the street, because we are usually holding hands with the very people who have enslaved us. Husband and I are tall, and our captors resemble us, in miniature form. In fact, we blend right into the fabric of our Brooklyn neighborhood; we’re hiding in plain sight. They can be charming and sociable around strangers, but once we’re behind closed doors, the cycle of abuse begins.
It goes beyond psychic and material abuse; Squeak and Tank also hurt us. Physically. The older one, we’ll call her Squeak, has the power to cry on command. It’s a piercing, wailing cry, not unlike a fire engine’s siren, and it can be set off by just about anything: Unhappiness over the food we’ve prepared, the inability to locate an article of clothing, a tangle in her hair. When Squeak isn’t crying, she draws us in with engaging conversation and affection.
These are the best of times, when we’re lulled into a state of serenity and hope. Husband and I might even share a happy glance, a glance that says maybe she’s changed! Inevitably though, her good mood will lead to an elated mood, which leads to an ecstatic one—accompanied by singing and free-form dancing. That’s when we share another glance, one filled with dread and despair, because we know the crash is coming. We will be punished in tears and rage.
The younger one, we’ll call him Tank, can also distract us from his evil, for he is the shape of a plush, cherubic weeble. Unlike his comrade, he has no sharp corners or pointy edges, just warm flesh that’s soft to the touch. What’s more, he makes us laugh, often enough to make us forget that before long we’ll be smelling a foul odor and dragging him to the lavatory, for a physical struggle over the state of his underwear. It’s not that Tank can’t relieve himself in the proper place. It’s that he won’t.
Tank has been sent to us to destroy our way of life. Our freedom, our sanity, our things. Husband and I, as I mentioned, took perhaps too much pleasure picking out items we found appealing in our home: A Danish Modern dining table, for example—is now scratched, indelibly, by a fork dragged by Tank. He loves dragging sharp objects across wood furniture from any era.
They’ve bashed their heads against my chin, knocking my jaw out of alignment more times than I care to recall. They routinely lean all their body weight on tender parts of our bodies—my breast, Husband’s groin—causing us to cry out in pain.
I wish I could say our captivity has brought us together, but we are divided, then conquered, again and again. Husband believes that his height advantage and deep voice will intimidate our captors. While I hold fast to my belief that these domestic terrorists can be reasoned with.
I pore over behavioral psychology books, and try to analyze the origins of their sadism. Perhaps they’re just misunderstood, perhaps they’re crying out for affection.
Perhaps we’re both fools. Or just terrible hostages. We try to reclaim what was good and decent in our union, but even our attempts to converse are thwarted, usually by Squeak, who eavesdrops on our every word, and peppers us with intrusive questions.
So we save our confidences for after our captors are asleep —mercifully, they fall asleep before us—but by then we are so drained that we forget the very stories we’d looked forward to sharing. Let alone have relations.
By now you’re probably wondering why, if Squeak and Tank are so helpless, we haven’t found a way to subdue or abandon them? The answer is simple: Stockholm Syndrome. Like Patty Hearst, Elizabeth Smart, and so many others who’ve survived captivity, Husband and I have developed deep feelings of attachment to our captors. Love, even. However dependent they are on us for their survival, we’re doubly reliant on them for the sporadic doses of pleasure they administer.
The unsolicited hug, the endearing giggle, the innocent question, the clever observation. We know we existed before them, thrived even, but as time passes, the memory of that life recedes.
The question I am most haunted by is this:
Will our marriage survive this ordeal?
I can only hope. It’s been said that this type of invader can grow large enough to become restless and move away.
The two of us would be alone again, as before. Of course, we’ll never be exactly as we were but my hope is that our marriage will by then resemble our Danish Modern dining table: Fork marks and all, it’s still a damn nice table. ❑
Photo by Stefano Pollio