There were a few things that made it different this time. He should have known this, but he has such a strong defense mechanism that allows him to quickly absolve himself of all responsibility and to deflect it onto others, in the face of overwhelming evidence that he alone is accountable. In November and December of last year, there were 3 occasions when my amazing 13 year old daughter felt afraid of her dad. His rage had reached such a peak that she was certain he would strike her or knock her down. During one of these incidents, she felt she had to run from the house, which she did, and she sat on the curb at the corner, sobbing, waiting for her friend to come so they could walk to school. Her friend knew something was wrong, but my daughter wouldn't tell her what had happened. The second time, my daughter tried to stand up for herself only to feel afraid, so went to her room with the door closed and refused to come out. On the third occasion, my son was listening from another room and when he felt sure his dad was about to harm his sister he ran in, shouting at him to stop. I was never home when these things happened but heard about them afterwards. My husband's story was always radically different from the one the kids shared with me, and his changed and evolved over time while theirs stayed exactly the same with each retelling. But the most telling thing is my daughter's description of her father's face during these episodes.
He has a look that he gets so very rarely, only in times of intense anger and rage. I saw it once when I was 8 months pregnant with my son. It was a terribly hot day, and my husband had refused to put in even a window air conditioner. I was exceedingly uncomfortable in the extreme heat and in my very enormous, bloated state. I commented on how hot I felt, and he said in a very provocative tone, "really? I think it's a glorious day", and he maintained his gaze waiting for me to respond. Unfortunately, I did - I said something about how insensitive he was that he could say that to his pregnant wife. He flew off the handle and hissed at me through his teeth, "how dare you say that to ME!" His face was truly frightening. The skin along his jawline did this very weird thing - it shook in waves, like gills in rough water. I'd never seen anything like it. It frightened me enough that I ran from the house and drove around in the car for several hours, afraid to go home. When I did arrive back, he was angry with himself for frightening me, but continued to say that I should not have provoked him because I should have known how much he loves the hot weather.
Eight years later was the next time I saw that look, and this time it was directed towards my 71 year old mother. Leaving our children's piano recital, he had been angry with me for chatting with the teacher (having been our much loved teacher for several years, she was moving far away and I wanted to wish her well and thank her for all she'd done for our kids) so when we drove home, he was driving way too fast and taking corners so that the tires squealed. My mom said, "Whoa, be careful" on one particularly bad turn. He shouted back at her, "I can take one of you bitching at me but I won't stand for two of you". My mom was instantly in tears, and my dad, sitting next to my husband in the front seat, clenched his fists in his pockets and bit his tongue. We reached the driveway and my husband stormed out of the van into the house, slamming the door and leaving the rest of us in the van. My mom was afraid to come in, and by this time was crying uncontrollably. We all went in, in the hope of sorting this out so they could leave with things resolved. In the kitchen, my mom sitting in a chair, my husband berated her for speaking to him in that way. When he leaned right in to her, the gills vibrating on his face and pointing his finger at her, I watched my lovely mom close her eyes tight, and hold her arms up around her head, ducking, certain that he would hit her. All this time, my daughter was watching (she would have been about 6) and my son was crying in his room, my dad there to comfort him. After my parents left, I tried to calm the two children down and reassure them that everyone was okay. My son, crying, asked, "are you going to get a divorce?" As much as I could have at that moment, I said no. My husband was on the computer. When I approached him, he started shouting at me, "what do you want me to do? what do you want me to do? kill myself for that? okay I will" and he proceeded to punch himself hard in the stomach. It was bizarre and frightening. He ran out of the house and disappeared for 4 hours. My mom called after 3 to say he had just been at their home to apologize, and that he was better and was on his way home. Then she asked if this had happened before and if we were all safe. I reassured her that we were.
So when my daughter described this vibrating skin along his jaw, and the purple-red colour of his face, I knew she was completely accurate in what had happened. My husband's incredibly watered down version, which firmly put the blame for the "minor conflict" on my daughter's behaviour, had no credibility at all. I knew then, when my beautiful daughter was afraid of him, that I could not stay married to this man. And I knew I had to find a way to separate from him safely.
Another difference this time around was in something my son said to me, and which I shared with my husband. After a music lesson, my son and I sat in the car and he would not get out. He began to cry, not a common thing for my nearly 17 year old to do. He begged me to make things better. He said, "mom, I probably only have 2 years left at home before going off to university. I want home to be a place I can't wait to come back to, not somewhere I just want to get away from". When I asked him what needed to happen for things to feel better to him, he said without missing a beat - "you have to make dad leave". I shared with my husband that our son had pleaded for things to be better at home (but not telling him our son's idea for a solution), and his comment about wanting it to be a place he longed to return to. He said, "Ridiculous! He would never say that".
A few weeks later is when I saw the scars on my beautiful son's leg, those marks of sheer desperation, and I had to something and soon. I had to spend the next months taking care of my husband as he imploded, and with a trial separation I knew needed to make one last ditch effort, which we did by going to see a therapist and by having him move back home. But nothing changed. His feeling is that everything changed, that he was transformed by the events of the year leading up to our trial separation. I felt that on the surface, he knew the right words to say, but his actions and words did were not in synch at all. Under a paper-thin veneer of "gratitude and love", there simmered an anger that flashed here and there, but so quickly caught that you almost had to wonder if you'd just seen it. But the more it boiled over, the more obvious it was that it couldn't be held to a simmer for much longer. He had always been the one in control, and for once, this was not within his grasp.
How on earth could he have been surprised?