The date was August 21, 2001 – our daughter Anjelica’s 8th birthday. It was a beautiful, sunny day, perfect for the trip to the dentist from Nashua, NH to Wilmington, DE in our favorite family vehicle: a Trinidad TB-20, a 5 passenger single propeller airplane that was reminiscent of a DeLorean sports car with its sleek lines and gull wing doors. Anjelica amused herself in the backseat, while I sat silently in the co-pilot’s spot beside my husband, Lou, mentally plotting exactly how to kill him.
As a result of my promotion at work, we had relocated from Delaware to New Hampshire the previous summer, but Lou, who was not happy about the move he had approved, held on tight to some old ties in Delaware: one being his personal bodybuilding trainer, and the other our family dentist. He had scheduled the cleanings without any consideration for Anjelica’s birthday, and I really didn’t have a say in the matter. We were at a pivotal point in our twenty-year marriage; everything had taken a significant turn for the worse since my job change. I wanted to divorce, and he did not.
In June, I had confronted him with evidence that I was aware of his most recent on-going affair, that I knew about his other past relationships, and that for my own mental health and well being, I was no longer willing to stay married. I told him that I only needed enough money to get set up with a small place to live in the same town, that he could keep the estate-like home that we had just built, and that we would share joint custody of our daughter. What I did not say, was that I was scared to death of him, and that my actual reason for divorce had little to do with his extramarital activities.
I had seen a doctor at the beginning of the year because I was having episodes of heart palpitations and light headed dizziness. Cardiac issues ran rampant in my family history, so I assumed I was next in line for a heart attack, despite the fact that I was fit, exercised regularly, ate healthy food, didn’t smoke, and rarely drank alcohol. When we sat to review the results of all the medical tests that had come back negative, the doctor asked what was going on in my personal life. I explained that I had recently gotten a new job where I was managing a big project, that I had lived alone in hotels for months, while we looked for a place to live that was acceptable to my husband, had finally built a new house and moved, and that my husband and I had been fighting a lot through the whole year and a half long transition. I was diagnosed with depression-induced anxiety and sent to a psychiatrist.
Lou didn’t like the sexual side effects of my medications, and he was more irritable than ever. As a result, I repeatedly requested prescription changes; the doctor could not grasp the concept that my husband’s frustrations caused me more anxiety than the pills alleviated. One day, while waiting for a new prescription to be filled, I wandered down the strip mall to the bookstore to find book to help Lou to cope with the stress of having a depressed spouse. As I scanned the shelves, one title popped right out at me: “Stop Walking on Eggshells”[i], which is something Lou had said he felt like he had to do around me since I had become so sensitive. As I browsed the pages, I read a checklist of questions… and the answer to each was “YES”. Only I was not reading about me… I was reading a description of my husband, and the traits of borderline personality disorder. I literally sat on the floor in the aisle and read most of the book. I bought it (along with When Someone you Love is Depressed[ii] to give to Lou)… but I hid the Eggshells book in my desk at work.
I knew he was picky. I knew he had an explosive temper. I knew I could not do many things I wanted, and I constantly bit my tongue rather than disagree with him. I knew to ask his opinion before making decisions. I knew our daughter had to behave perfectly. I knew my house needed to be spotless. I knew he did not like my family, so we rarely visited and did not spend holidays with them … he didn’t even speak with his own family. I knew he needed everything to be perfect and the best we could buy. I knew we had empty bedrooms and yet not a single place for guests to stay. I knew he had trouble maintaining work and personal relationships. I knew he got revenge on anyone whom he felt crossed him – which happened a lot. I knew he cheated on me, and put little effort into hiding it. I knew from early on that I was unhappy and I had cheated on him, but I made sure he had no reason to suspect… And I also knew from early on that I could not leave.
I constantly ran interference between him and the rest of the world. I helped him cope when he lost jobs because of his arrogant behaviors, including sexual harassment. To support his bodybuilding, I made carefully weighed and measured foods and we all ate his diet. Every time I complained about or questioned anything, he turned it around and convinced me that I was the one who was wrong. Since age 16, I had lived my life trying to keep him happy and stable.
What I did not know was that these things were not normal.
From the outside, we appeared to be very content with our marriage and successful in life. He was an outgoing and quite charming self-employed management consultant with an MBA from Duke University, and I was a quiet finance manager at a large corporation with an MBA from Wharton. We had accomplished a lot together through the years. But, I finally realized that it wasn’t love, but control, and emotional and mental abuse that held our marriage together. I was physically and emotionally separated from all of my family; I had very few friends and those I had left were all from my work, so my contact was limited. Over the past two decades, I had become both physically and emotionally isolated from any meaningful relationships apart from my husband and our child.
I needed to be a better role model for my daughter, and for my own self worth, I had to get out, but from all my years with him, I knew that if he didn’t want to end the marriage that I would become his #1 enemy. I decided to just catch him red handed in a cheating situation and say I wanted a divorce for that simple reason. I suggested he would be happier with the girlfriend. He did not want a divorce. He would not allow me to move out or discuss a separation agreement. He said I had better not dare go to a lawyer or I would not like the outcome. His behaviors grew increasingly erratic as it became apparent that I was not changing my mind about splitting up. He called my cell phone constantly. At work, he would have me paged if I did not answer the phone at my desk. If I did not answer the page, he asked the department admin assistant to find me.
We went to a few counselors, whom he raged at when they showed me any support or understanding. One actually stood by and watched Lou order me to leave with him after he had reduced me to a sobbing mess crouched in the corner on the office floor, berated by his false accusations and threats to take our daughter away from me as an unfit mother.
After one of the counseling sessions, he took off his wedding ring and agreed to let me buy a bed. I slept in an otherwise empty separate bedroom and we talked daily about our issues, as I tried to get him to come to an agreement on the terms and the entire concept of divorce. He would not allow for us to tell our daughter anything was wrong in our relationship, and explained that I slept in the other room because he snored. He said that if we divorced, it would destroy her and that he would say that it was my fault because I cared more about my job than I did about her and my family. He frequently came into my bedroom sanctuary in the middle of the night to convince me to change my mind or offer me sex. During one of those late-night visits, he said he could not handle me leaving; when I said he would need to get used to the idea, he got a distant look on his face, said he couldn’t and abruptly left the room. I heard him rummage through the master bedroom closet, but soon came back empty handed and flustered. I changed my tone to be more soothing and relaxed, despite my internal panic about what he might be doing. When I checked in the morning, I found he had been through the box that stored several guns, but did not contain any bullets, which I had packed separately when we moved. I immediately hid the weapons. He never directly threatened me with anything, but I instinctively felt both my daughter and I were in danger. I found the courage to honestly reach out to one of my sisters and a couple of my friends, who gave me great support over the phone, and helped me to stay focused and strong. Despite my repeated suggestions, Lou refused to see a counselor on his own. I called his only close friend, told him what was going on with our relationship, and asked him to come. Lou almost convinced him that I was literally crazy, but he was with us long enough to witness many troubling events, and when he was leaving, he told me he felt he had just experienced Hell.
While on that August 21st birthday flight to the dentist, I was overcome with a strong feeling that Lou was going to intentionally crash the plane with all of us in it. Nothing had been said or implied… it was just intuition. I sat in the front passenger seat scoping out the area around me for what I could use as a weapon to blind and then kill him; I then stepped through how to normalize the plane from a dive or spin and how to radio for help and land the aircraft. I stayed calm, but ready to take the actions I had imagined in detail. We landed safely, and I was overly friendly throughout the day. On the flight back, I silently cried in the dark, knowing that he was happy and we were safe that night.
Over the next few days, I prepared to actually leave him. I knew I had to be especially careful and stay safe until he got past the initial rage from my departure. I finally had the nerve to see a lawyer…who advised a restraining order. I stopped off at the local police station to tell them I was planning to leave my home and take our daughter with me to a hotel, and that I wanted to be sure it was legal and that they were notified. Oddly, Lou insisted that he pick up Anjelica from camp that day, which he had never done before, and it threw off my exit strategy to just leave from camp. I met him at the end of the still soft, freshly paved 1000-foot driveway to our house. We had planned to bring his vehicle in for service, and would be driving two cars to drop one at the dealership. He had somehow noticed that the spare keys to my car were missing from the kitchen drawer; I claimed to not know their whereabouts, but was very aware they were with the mace I had also stashed beside me in the center console. I said I would follow his car, and managed to casually get Anjelica into my backseat, and lock the doors. On the drive, I explained to her that Mom and Dad had not been getting along, that we had been trying to work it out, but I had talked to several people who said the best thing to do right now was to have some time apart, and so we were going to a hotel. I said that Dad would not be happy about it. She said she understood and that it would be better to have divorced parents who were happy than ones who were together and unhappy.
When his car took the highway exit, I followed him part way up the ramp, but then at the last minute, when he was unable to turn back, I darted back onto the highway and headed south. He immediately called, asking if I had missed the exit. I said I just wanted peace and needed some space on my own while we work through filing for divorce. I said I had called a lawyer that day and suggested that he do the same. He said I had better get home right away and that he would let it go that I had done this. He kept calling, and I repeatedly told him I just wanted peace; Anjelica repeatedly told him she was fine. We got to a hotel near my office in Massachusetts and I explained that I would not tell him where it was because I just wanted some peace and knew he would not let me rest. He spoke to Anjelica again, and she told me he wanted to know where we were – I asked her if she knew, and she answered, “yes.” – “Then tell him,” I said. We left without checking in, and I drove back north to find another hotel, and eventually landed not far from home. I told the clerk to mark my room information as confidential, and to be sure to tell others that if anyone asked, I was not there. He finally stopped calling me after I said I was checked in somewhere else, and would have to turn the phone off if he didn’t let me sleep. I later saw on the phone bill that Lou had spent hours that night calling hotels.
The next day, I stood before a judge to request a temporary restraining order. He was not convinced that there was any rational reason to grant it, but did so based on my professional, but obviously fearful demeanor, and suggested that I would need to “beef it up” before the actual hearing. My sister was concerned and drove from NY with her husband to support me. That night, after taking angry calls from Lou all day long, I was contacted by a police officer who was about to serve the restraining order, and wanted to know about weapons in the house, etc. I told him where I had hidden all the guns from Lou. I warned the officer to be careful and said that if Lou takes a “you are going to have to make me leave” stance, that he means it. The officer basically laughed me off, saying they do this all the time. About an hour later they called and said he’d resisted at first, but then got some stuff and left for a hotel. I only planned to go home briefly to get some clothes. He could have the house and everything in it.
The following morning, August 25, 2001, against the terms of the restraining order, Lou called my cell phone. I didn’t want him to get in trouble, I did not want to talk to him, nor did I want him to have the opportunity to leave me another long hateful voicemail message, so I just answered the call and immediately disconnected without saying anything. About 20 minutes later, the home security monitoring service called to notify me that the panic alarm in the master bedroom of our house had been activated. I said nobody should be there, but that if Lou set that off on purpose, then it is a serious situation. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity to get a call back, I phoned the police to find out what was going on. They were relieved to hear from me, and said my house was on fire, and that an airplane had crashed into it. They needed me to go to the site right away to help them understand the layout of home, which was fully engulfed in flames. I took a deep breath and a Valium, as my sister drove the short distance to my neighborhood. I worked my way through the emergency vehicles and personnel, and already present media cameras, down the now-scarred driveway to the ruins of what had been our custom built home secluded in the middle of an 11 acre treed lot. It was overwhelming, but not the least bit surprising to me. I waited anxiously for them to find a body. I was not afraid he was dead. I was afraid he was not. Eventually, the dental records from our trip to Delaware that week proved his identity.
Some people I called to inform had been on the phone with him much of the night before. I learned he had been up all night in his hotel room calling everyone who might know where I was. When they could not tell him, he told them a lot of bad stuff about me. His best friend talked to him several times, and then exhausted, finally had to stop taking calls. Before the funeral, that friend told me that while he had been at our home visiting just a few weeks earlier, that over a couple beers, Lou had mused that he sometimes thought about just taking the three of us up in the plane and crashing it into a mountain or something. He had brushed it off as implausible.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I watched the horror unfold on TV as the planes crashed into the buildings. I felt guilty and responsible for what was happening that day. Sure, terrorists hijacked airplanes, but using them as a weapon to crash into buildings had not been done before Lou’s dive 17 days earlier. I intellectually understand that is irrational thinking, but it still plays in my mind to this day.
I survived, but still struggle with PTSD symptoms, which kept me from returning to my job. I re-married in 2005 to my new next-door neighbor, whose personality is polar opposite from Lou’s, and in 2009, I finally went back to work. But, I stay fairly secluded within a bubble of people I trust, and am otherwise very quiet, to avoid questions and conversations that may result in anyone learning that I am “that woman”.
I don’t view Lou as the villain and me as either the victim or the heroine. I don’t know if he could be diagnosed as having borderline or narcissistic or any other personality disorder, or if he was just difficult and, at the end, very troubled. I have no idea what labels would define my co-dependent and enabling behaviors over the years. I do know that our relationship was dysfunctional and unhealthy.
Although the concept terrifies me, I have come out of my self-imposed shell to help educate others about relationships such as ours. In this writing, I share many of the details of our lives throughout the years … hopefully to save other lives, as people recognize themselves, loved ones, friends, co-workers or patients in our profiles and get professional help. I would like to think that with the right kind of assistance, things could have ended better; I know they could have ended much worse.
What follows is a diary of my memories…
the names may not be accurate;
the stories are just as I recall them
[i] Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder, by Paul Mason and Randi Kreger, New Harbinger Publications, Inc., July 1998
[ii] When Someone You Love Is Depressed, by Laura Epstein Rosen and Xavier Francisco Amador, Fireside, September 1997