August 2001

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 five-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, we 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’d confronted him with evidence that I was aware of his current affair as well as other past relationships, and that for my own mental health and wellbeing, 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 lightheaded dizziness. 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, that I had lived alone in hotels for months, while we looked for a place to live 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 was more irritable than ever. I repeatedly requested prescription changes, and the doctor could not grasp the concept that my husband’s frustrations caused me more anxiety than the pills alleviated. One day, while looking for a book to help Lou to cope with the stress of having a depressed spouse, one title popped right out at me: “Stop Walking on Eggshells”,[1] which Lou said he had to do around me lately. 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[2] 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. And I also knew from early on that I could not leave.

What I did not know was that these things were not normal.

From the exterior, we appeared to be 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. 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 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. Anytime 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.

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, I would become his #1 enemy. I decided to just catch him cheating red handed 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.

He said that if we divorced, it would destroy our daughter and that he would say 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 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 didn’t have to, and abruptly left the room. I heard him rummage through the main bedroom closet, but soon came back empty handed and flustered. When I checked in the morning, I found he had been through the box that stored several guns but did not contain any bullets. 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 a few people; they gave me phone support and helped me stay focused and strong. Despite my repeated suggestions, Lou refused to see a counselor on his own. I called his only close friend 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 intuition that Lou was going to intentionally crash the plane with all of us in it.  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, certain 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 talked to a domestic violence counselor and finally gained the nerve to see a lawyer, who advised a restraining order. 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 keenly aware they were with the mace I had also stashed beside me in the center console. I got Anjelica into my vehicle for the separate drive and explained to her that Mom and Dad had not been getting along, that we had been trying to work it out, but she and I would be staying at a hotel to have some time apart. I added that Dad would not be happy about it. She understood and commented 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 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. 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 he asked Anjelica where we were, not wanting her to lie, I gave the ok to tell him. 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 checking 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 called hotels all night.

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. 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. About an hour later they called and said he’d resisted at first, but then got some stuff and left for a hotel.

The following morning, August 25, 2001, against the terms of the restraining order, Lou called my cell phone. I answered the call and immediately disconnected without a word. About 30 minutes later, the home security monitoring service notified me that the panic alarm in our main bedroom  had been activated. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity to get a call back, I phoned the police. They were relieved to hear from me, said my house was on fire, and that an airplane had crashed into it. They needed me to go to the site immediately to help them understand the layout of the 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 a few weeks earlier, Lou had mused that he sometimes thought about 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 responsible. I intellectually understand that is irrational thinking, but it still plays in my mind to this day.

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 additional labels define my co-dependent and enabling behaviors. I do know that our relationship was dysfunctional and unhealthy.

In this writing, I share many intimate details of our lives throughout the years. My hope is that by understanding our story, others may recognize themselves, loved ones, friends, co-workers or patients in our profiles and get help. I would like to think that with the right kind of assistance, and support from others, things could have ended better; I know they could have ended much worse.

[1] 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

[2] When Someone You Love Is Depressed, by Laura Epstein Rosen and Xavier Francisco Amador, Fireside, September 1997

What follows is a diary of my memories…
the names may not be accurate;
the stories are just as I recall them