“I really like you, Amy. Don’t ever marry my son.” With that, my future father-in-law Merrill Jr, his bourbon and soda in hand, shook his eldest son’s hand and left the room. Merrill Jr’s wife Laura* apologized for his brusqueness, gave me a hug, and escorted us to the door. As “meet the parents” adventures went, it was the most odd I had ever had.

I really should have paid more attention.

Merrill (the third)’s younger brother Jack introduced us in January, 1986. At the time, Jack was in a serious relationship with his planned-to-be-fiancée. Meanwhile, I was spending a great deal of my free time trying to seduce him. To get rid of me, Jack pawned me off on his older brother with firm instructions: “dip your wick and drop her.”

From our first date, Merrill and I were inseparable. I didn’t recognize it then, but I was a nineteen-year-old woman in a full-blown manic state – the perfect girlfriend. My only goals in life were sex, money, good food, and shopping. I went to my job because it was a paycheck; it got no effort. Merrill was eight years older than me, adored the sex, adored my energy, adored me. He would cook me these elaborate main dishes instead of taking me out to dinner. I moved in with him almost immediately. My mood quickly plummeted, but it was ok. He took care of me. He was needed. Round and round the relationship went.

Seven months later I was fired, hired, married and pregnant. Within weeks I was thinking divorce.

My new husband had a small problem with anger management. Ok, “small” isn’t the right word for it. Once he accidentally locked himself out of our new apartment. Rather than call me at work, or even call the building manager, he punched the door down. Places that we lived in always had holey walls.

Merrill also suffered from a severe case of irrational jealousy. I was a natural flirt in an up mood; this was long before my diagnosis and I simply went where my passions dictated. I was faithful to him to the very end, not that he believed it. He was still convinced I was out fucking everyone from one of his brothers to the maintenance men I worked with.

The first time he was physically violent with me, I was out with my coworkers after a particularly bad day at the insurance company where I worked. Merrill stormed in, ranting about how no wife of his was going be a slut. He grabbed me and yanked me out of the booth (spilling my beer). Still ranting, he pulled me out of the bar, out into the street. I was dragged all the way back to our apartment, nearly half a mile away. Our relationship was less than ideal after that.

We’d had one child, a beautiful son I named after a college sweetheart what my Mom would have originally named me. I changed jobs again, making (for the time and my education) gobs of money. I started making my plans to leave; I knew I could make it on my own, even as a single mother.

Having been denied admission to the Master’s in English program at the local university, Merrill decided he wanted another child. He needed to be needed; he needed to be loved unconditionally and he’d burned his bridges with me.

He said he didn’t have to use protection. He called it my “wifely duty.” He said it was his right.

I slept on the sofa after that. A few weeks passed; I knew I was pregnant without the pee-stick. Faced with the decision, I choose to keep my wonderful second son, whom I named for myself (the ultimate in hubris, I knew). I also insisted on permanent sterilization. I was 23 years old and I never wanted to choose again. There would be no Merrill (the fourth) from me.

It was more than a year after my second son’s birth before I was finally free of that marriage. Along the way I lost my job again, went back to school (his idea), and met someone new. I eventually learned that loving someone didn’t have to mean jealous rages and damaged goods. I still have a lot more to learn about loving myself.

I don’t ask victims of domestic violence and/or emotional abuse why they stay, why they don’t just get out. I know it’s far more complicated than that. Sometimes loving someone means never saying “I quit” even when that’s the only way to survive. It means never saying “I hate you for that” even when it’s true.

Loving someone means never saying “you were right” when you talk to your future ex-father-in-law at that last family dinner.

*some names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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