September 26, 1999
For those of you embroiled in the ugliness that is a verbally
abusive relationship, beginning my story with this kind of facetious title
might seem as if I am mocking your pain.
But, I am not. Let me
share a recent experience I had with “Kali” (as in “Kali-Shiva”, Kali the
Goddess of Death, and Shiva the Destroyer).
We are divorced, sharing custody of a great little five-year-old
boy. Kali had signed me up
for a PTA fundraiser. To make
it on time, I had to leave my new job early, but it was something I was
willing to do for my son.
So, I make it in time. There
is Kali, looking very attractive, with my son. We have our meal, I play a bit
with my son, and Kali wants me to walk out to her car with her. Since he would be staying
with me that evening, she wanted to give me his overnight stuff. As we are walking, Kali decides to talk to me about how
I pay for our son’s childcare.
A little quick background: When
working out the divorce, I let Kali have the house and everything. First,
she had worked for and paid for most of it.
I was unwilling to stand on my “rights” just to be difficult. Second, I saw no profit in
depriving my son of the house he had spent his entire life in. The only thing I was legally
required to do is pay for the childcare.
Unfortunately, right after the divorce, times were tight for me. There were some months that I was
unable to pay anything toward the childcare. Kali, a lawyer, was able to pay
it. She did not like it and occasionally shrieked at me about my failure
to do so. When my economic
situation began to improve and I was able to pay up to 80% of the cost of
the childcare, Kali still let me know, often at the top of her lungs.
That was then and this is now. I have been paying all the childcare
costs fully and regularly. However,
walking out to the car, Kali is telling me she wants me to pay her the
childcare money once a month (paying her has to do with some tax issue,
don’t worry about it). I explain that given the status of my bills, and the fact
that I am paid weekly, it is easier for me to pay her weekly. She complains that it is a real
hassle to keep track of the checks, to go to the bank every week to cash
them. I explain again that it
is more convenient for me to do it weekly.
She snaps, “Just pay me once a month, Tex!” I decide not to respond any
further. I collect my son’s
belongings, and as I walk away with him, Kali says, “I can’t think of
any reason you wouldn’t do it except that I asked you to.”
My “bitch-meter” immediately dinged. I kept walking. I thought about it. It was such an ignorant and
unnecessary thing for her to say. Completely
in character, and bitchy too! And
then I began to laugh:
First she complained that I wasn’t paying. Then she complained it wasn’t
enough. And now that I was
paying…I WAS PAYING IT WRONG!
That’s when I realized that for Kali, I am the Great Satan. I am the author of all her
Enough time has passed (and I’m not in the middle of another
senseless verbal onslaught from her), and I am able to be a little more
objective about the dynamic between us. I haven’t always been able to be
We met in
college. She was a grad
student, a last minute replacement for one of my teachers. She had been a lawyer for 8 years
when she decided to return to school to pursue a degree in creative
writing. At 30, I
was one of the oldest students in the class. At the end of the semester we
went out for lunch, and she asked me on a date. We were married about 8 months
later. I figured we
were both older and knew our own minds, knew what we wanted, and would be
able to work our way through whatever storms arose.
However, I forgot how easy it is to fool myself. I did that a lot in those days. I was the son of an alcoholic
father and I’d been going to ALANON for a couple of years before I met
Kali. While I had learned a
bit about myself, I hadn’t learned enough. I hadn’t learned enough about my
own fear of being alone, nor of how I discounted my feelings and intuition
because I “knew” I could make something work. I was still living the “Wrestle
Life to the Ground and Stomp on It” delusion, unwilling to admit that
all this attitude got me was stomped on.
I had no relationship with anything greater than myself, except
with antagonism. I was
a victim. I bet my attitude was one of the things that attracted Kali
to me. Looking back, I
believe that she needed a man to feel both superior to and subjected to. It would justify her view of the
world and justify the simmering, unresolved anger she had towards men in
general, and towards her father in particular.
Kali presented a great package.
She was educated, articulate, attractive, and sexy when it suited
her, great in bed (again, when it suited her). We talked and she seemed to
like that I was a writer. I
was pursuing a degree in one of the writing fields. She read my stories, was suitably
impressed. Who would not want
to be around her?
There were some disquieting events.
For one, I kept a journal then. Once I realized that she read my
journals during the first year of our marriage, I quickly got out of the
journal habit! I can see that I knew - I knew in my deepest gut - that this
relationship, the particular synergy between us was not good. Unfortunately, most of the
un-goodness was revealed only after we were married.
Part of the problem was my self-delusion, certainly. Part of the problem – honestly -
was that I’d never been around someone like Kali! When she flared up and reacted
loudly and illogically to something I’d said, I was willing to excuse
it. “Everybody has a bad
day,” or “Everybody has things they are sensitive about.” But, part of the problem was Kali.
What examples can I give! There
was a time we were talking about men and women. She asked me a question about the
differences I saw between the sexes.
In my best ALANON manner, I offered my opinion. “It seems to me…,” I was
careful to add, knowing enough to own my opinions and not suggest they
were fact, “It seems to me that women have a fundamentally different
experience of the world than do men.
They can have children; they can create life. That’s an
experience men can’t have.”
I may have been planning on saying something else, but Kali
exploded, “That’s bullshit!! That’s the same kind of crap men say to justify keeping
women from being part of society, from being artists! That’s just bullshit!”
My initial reaction was, “Huh?”
Nothing I’d said was oppressive to women because they give birth! I became annoyed that she took
something I’d said that sounded vaguely like something else, and twisted
it to something that was nothing like what I’d said! And moreover, she’d asked
for my opinion! I didn’t
state my opinion as Gospel, I merely offered what I’d thought - I’m
arrogant, but not arrogant enough to think I know how the whole world
I pointed this out to Kali. She
settled down after a bit, and apologized for the strength of her reaction. Looking back, it seems to me as if
she sailed through life always on guard, ever vigilant for evidence to
prove her paranoia about men was true.
It’s a human tendency to look for things that only confirm our
prejudices. Kali would look, but never admit her prejudice against men.
It was a weird moment. Novel
for me, nevertheless I excused it.
However, in time, it became abundantly clear that Kali would
(consciously or not) twist what I’d said to fit some preconceived notion
she had about me, or about men in general.
For instance, when the Rodney King video was first getting play, I
happened to walk past when she was watching the one ten-second clip that
was being endlessly broadcast.
Kali was a proudly self-proclaimed liberal and a feminist with her
own “Enemies List”. The list began with men, and cast suspicion on
various institutions of our patriarchal culture, such as the police. Anyhow, she was watching this
crummy, fuzzy, shot-from-200-feet-away-at-night video clip of Rodney King
on the ground, being hit by guys with nightsticks. Ten-seconds worth was all I saw. With tears in her eyes, and asked
me, “Isn’t this terrible?” (My brother is a cop. Did I mention
I said, truthfully, “I don’t know what could have lead up to
this.” Meaning: I didn’t
know if this guy had a gun he wouldn’t relinquish, or if he was hiding
something with his body. What
was the context of what was happening? Nobody knew anything about the details of the event, and it
seemed to me just as reactionary to presume “Oh, this poor innocent
man!” as it would be to presume, “Oh, the evil police got up this
morning looking for a person of Color to beat on for no reason.”
This reaction was not what Kali was looking for. Later, during marriage counseling,
this very moment came up. She
was talking about how different we were, how our values were in such
conflict. “And when you saw
the Rodney King tape,” she said to the me and the counselor, “you said
he deserved it.”
I hotly replied, “That’s a f*****g lie.”
I was stunned then, and am still
amazed at her ability to completely overlook what I had said, and
to twist it into something that painted me as some sort of ghoul
one step below a child molester.
of Dr. Irene Matiatos and "Tex", CopyrightŠ 1999. The material
on this website may be distributed freely for non-commercial or
educational purposes provided that author credit is given. For commercial
distribution, please contact the authors at Doc@drirene.com