Warning: This story series contains descriptions of physical abuse.
by Tess Willoughby
At Regent University, I had lots of role models. Sweet-tempered women were submitting to their husbands, keeping their student apartments immaculate, and having babies right and left. I learned to buy wheat berries from the local co-op and grind them to bake bread. We were Stepford Wives, only hugely, proudly fertile. We grew herbs. We read books on natural childbirth. We prayed for God to make us more meek and submissive. And we prayed for our dear darling hubbies over at the Christian law school who were going to usher in a new American Revolution and turn this country around. “Shh! Quiet! Daddy’s studying!”
It was a total time warp. Everywhere you looked, it was Ward and June and Wally and the Beav and Wally and the Beav and Wally and the Beav and little Chastity Grace Mary Martha Hope Cleaver.
I got right into the spirit of the place by watching the “700 Club” and getting pregnant. I still didn’t have the right lingeré—speaking of which, for some odd reason, pornography was being mis-addressed to our mailbox with my husband’s name on it. This was a sure sign that we were under Satanic attack. “I swear, honey, Nate swore, aghast, “I don’t know how they got my name. “That needs to be destroyed. Give it to me.” And with eyes brimming with tears at the sorry sinful state of the world, Nate went off to destroy it. Oh, that devil was a wily one, but nothing could deter my husband from his calling in the Lord.
By this time I was free to have a little girl. Nate had two sons. Or, as Nate had begun fondly calling our babies, two “little tax deductions.” I had become something of an expert at making Nate happy. He never had to use physical force on me again. I could read the danger signs and capitulate in plenty of time to avoid violence. If paperwads were picked up before Nate spotted them, I wouldn’t be dragged by the arm. If crying babies were kept out of the room where Nate slept, I wouldn’t be full-body-slammed against furniture.
Nothing appeased Nate quite like the prospect of another child. He was crazy, just crazy, about the two little tax deductions he had already. He was determined to make great Christian leaders out of them and quoted the Scripture often about how the devil is in a child and the rod of correction will beat it out of him.
I lived life in a stupor, flat and smiling and lifeless. Whatever Nate said was law. His voice mesmerized me. I called him between classes during the day so that I could hear him talk. Beginning in early 1994 all the way through the separation seven years later, I have memory gaps lasting for months. One night in 1994, I woke up in the playground in our student apartment complex underneath a jungle gym. It was very cold and my head was bleeding. This is my only memory of that entire season (fall of 1994). I have no memory of getting pregnant with Moriah or telling anyone the news. I do not remember how I got underneath that jungle gym, how I got injured, or what happened when I got home.
There was a disconnect in my mind and heart where emotion links to rational thought, as if something vital were unplugged. My brain was like pieces of a shattered mirror with every piece reflecting Nate. My husband’s voice reverberated in my mind until I didn’t need to call him between classes any longer. I could hear him all the time, present or absent.
I knew facts, but could not draw conclusions or make decisions. When the boys were bruised on the bottoms when I removed their diapers (and later, pulled down their little pants) I knew their father was responsible. To ordinary moms, the leap between knowing someone has hurt their babies and taking swift, protective action seems automatic, like breathing or swallowing. With the battered and brainwashed wife, it isn’t that simple. Nate had destroyed the part of my mind that could accuse him, challenge him, defend my babies against him. I took the same approach with Daniel and Jack as I took with protecting myself from assault. I read the warning signs—Nate’s tone, body language. I tried to keep them quiet and out of Nate’s way. I offered to spank them myself sometimes—though this was tricky, because Nate might insist I use an implement or even stand behind me, holding the hand that was holding the wooden spoon or strap, making sure it struck hard enough to suit him.
The book recommended by the Great Commission elder who married us, “To Train Up a Child,” insisted that spankings must be followed by “reconciliation.” Toddlers had to swallow their sobs and hug Nate’s neck and say, “I love you, daddy.” When I had no choice but to spank them, I was unable to follow this step. It seemed hypocritical and made me sick. As usual, I thought this was a flaw in me, not in what I had been taught.
The Bible promised these spankings would drive the devil out of the boys—the very devil whom we had come to Rev. Robertson’s complex to escape. Instead of leaving us alone, however, Satan was everywhere. Satan was in the newspaper and on TV and in the outside world in general, but he was also in the mailbox, trying to lead my husband astray. Satan was in me and in the babies, making all of us rebellious. All we had to do was to obey every single one of Nate’s orders perfectly and without complaint every time. The devil was making us fail. In this holy, Christian place. Clearly, I needed to pray harder.
God knows He heard from me a lot during my thirty-hour labor with Moriah. Boy, did I pray. This was my third home birth. Moriah had her elbow up next to her head, which was the reason for the hold-up. My midwife called it “dystocia.” I called it torture, akin to the rack and the iron maiden. Nate watched a lot of TV and used the computer a lot, but he checked up on me from time to time. Daniel and Jack, ages 3 and 21 months, were frightened by all of my screaming (until I no longer had the strength to scream) and not much reassured when their father told them that after all, boys, what did God make women for?