The Boston Bomber’s Widow and Abusive Relationships…

Reading about Katherine Russell/Karima Tsarnaev, the widow of Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, reminds me specifically of two woman. The first was an old friend who married a seemingly wonderful man too young, had his children, then watched him transform into a controlling and abusive “devout” Muslim.
The second woman was me.

Sarah.

My friend “Sarah”* met her husband in college and fell quickly in love. Sarah was a cradle Catholic and her husband, “Hassan”*, was a Muslim but not practicing. He was Americanized, having been born in the US, and even showed interest in her faith. After they married Hassan started attending RCIA and was in the process of converting to Catholicism. Then she got pregnant and suddenly everything changed.

His parents refused to have their grandchildren be anything but Muslim and other family members stepped in and begin intimidating her with threatening phone calls and emails. But as long as she stayed in Virginia* near her family Hassan could never have a complete hold on her. That’s when Sarah disappeared.

A few weeks before she moved away she confided to me that she was expecting twins and the prospect scared her. I believe her husband latched on to this fear to emotional manipulate Sarah and get her to agree to move away. She was moving to New Jersey*, she told me, to get away from meddling family, his and her own. Her parents wanted her to leave Hassan because they were concerned about his dramatic changes in behavior since her pregnancy- he no longer wanted to convert to Catholicism and quit RCIA, started practicing his religion and demanding Sarah convert to Islam. She wasn’t allowed to hang out with us any more or go to mass. She started wearing a head scarf and stopped returning our calls.

And like that Sarah was gone.

Four years would pass before I heard from her again. She and her daughters moved back in with her parents and Sarah returned to the Church. When she called me she sounded happier and freer, but very very tired. She proceeded to tell me a very familiar tale; one of isolation and abuse.

Hassan couldn’t keep a job because of his militant views and prosthelytizing at work. He was violent and quick tempered and didn’t allow Sarah to leave the house without him, quoting from the Koran to justify his abuse. It wasn’t until they had been evicted from their apartment that Hassan allowed Sarah to work outside the home because they desperately needed the income. Her new job just caused more problems as he grew jealous and suspicious of the non-Muslim friends she made at work. He was humiliated that he had to ask her for money and to make himself feel better started beating her and sleeping with other women.

The final straw was when she threatened to leave. Enraged, Hassan said if she tried to divorce him he’d kill her and their children before he’d allowed that to happen. She knew then the man she loved and married was gone, if he ever truly existed. There was nothing to salvage from their marriage and for her children’s safety left him when he started working again. He came home from work one evening and she was simply gone.

Thankfully, his threat proved empty. He simply moved his new girlfriend into their old home and his focus was turned elsewhere. He never hunted her down or attempted to make good on his promise of harm other than a few angry calls to her family’s home. Once the number was changed that was the end of Hassan. They lived on edge for a brief while but it soon became clear Hassan could have cared less that she was gone. He was only interested in Sarah and the children as long as he could control them.

It was always about control. Not about religious differences or meddling family. It was all just about control. Sarah could have been telling my story, just change the names of the characters and rewrite a few minor details and *bam* … they narrated story of Kat. That’s why we remain close to this day.

Me.

I was already isolated from my family when my now ex-husband first met me through a group of mutual friends. It made the job of deception that much easier for him accomplish. He never had to face parental scrutiny and probing questions by a grim scowling father and suspicious mother. There were no dinners with the folks. He was outgoing enough to charm all my friends but once we got married that charm vanished – almost immediately.

We no longer entertained friends at the house and girl’s night out was halted. Then we moved three states away and no one ever saw me again, also for several years. My phone calls were monitored and he intentionally did not have long distance added to our land line phone plan. If I wanted to talk to my family and friends I had to wait for them to call me. When they did I wasn’t allowed to take the call in another room. He sat right at my side listening to every word said.

Oh he was so clever about it too, disguising it as concern for my emotional well being because he knew how much my family and friends hated him and wanted to turn me against him. They were jealous and wanted to break up our marriage, he said. He needed to “protect” me from their deceitful influence, he purred.

I actually believed him. Just like Sarah believed her husband had her best interests in mind when he made her move away. I’m sure Katherine Tsarnaev felt the same way about her Boston bombing husband.

In two short years the man I married was completely gone. In his place was a jealous, controlling, emotionally manipulative monster who threatened and intimidated me. He wore me down to a raw little nub of a woman who actually believed she was worthless and deserving of the abuse. Then one day he came home from work and I was gone.

I’m not sure what my point is. I know I had a point to make in here somewhere. Maybe the red flag was my point. The blaring, beeping, alarms going off red flag that should set any woman on high alert whenever a man tries to isolate her friends and family. Ladies, men do this because they know they can fool you, in the gooey haze of loooooove, but they cannot fool both your entire circle of friends and your family. Don’t be let them talk you into being “whisked away”. It’s a trap.

Gosh, that’s sounds silly to write. It sounds so common sense. But the heart plays tricks on our common sense… that damn deceptive internal organ. Stupid, stupid heart.

[Jeremiah 17:9] The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it?

I remember refusing to talk about the situation of my divorce for years. Years. I still don’t like to go into the depth the level of abuse I endured. Mostly because it makes me look like a desperate fool and pathetic judge of character. My friend feels the same way. We’ll talk about it to ourselves and she supposes one day she’ll to explain it to her daughters so they don’t make the same mistakes… but yeah. It’s not something you share freely or brag about. “So I was this stupid young girl and feel in love with a con man” is never polite conversation.

Maybe the point of this post was just an exercise in catharsis. I’m not entirely sure. I just know that reading about Katherine Russell certainly stirred up a lot of past emotions that needed to get out. I feel sorry for her and what she is going through. Everyone knows she married a bad guy and everyone is secretly wondering what was wrong with her to marry him in the first place. And I can relate to that. Every woman in a shitty abusive marriage wonders that about themselves… what is wrong with me? That’s why women stay or it takes them awhile to pluck up the courage to leave. Because they are scared and it takes a great deal of courage to admit to yourself and everyone else in your life that you made a huge, ginormous foolish mistake. The finger gets pointed squarely at the abused wife.

When a woman is abused I suppose we can all share in the blame, maybe a little. I could have tried harder to get Sarah to stay, warned louder, even at the risk of our friendship. We think, oh that person is a grown up capable of making her own decision, she must be with him because she wants to be, is stupid, or is addicted to the drama. Again, the victim is blamed. Sometimes it is easier to stay and hope things will get better than leave the situation and face all the finger wagging and told-ya-so-s.

So, yeah. Maybe this post has a dual nature … mullet post. Red flag warnings in the front, mercy in the back. Whatever. I just feel better for having written it.

Resources.

Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Domestic Violence and Abuse- The Signs

Sts. Rita & Monica, pray for us.

*names and locations changed for anonymity.

About Katrina Fernandez

Mackerel Snapping Papist

  • Christian LeBlanc

    “Every woman in a shitty abusive marriage wonders that about themselves… what is wrong with me?” My mom was a controlling abusive nut, and us kids used to wonder the same thing: what is wrong with me? We were in our late teens and early 20s before we all realized there was nothing wrong with us.

    If you aren’t in it, it’s hard to imagine.

  • Jana

    I too suffered in verbally abusive relationships. Thankfully, I never married the man. I believe it is the woman’s emotional and caring nature that blinds her and she falls prey to the tricks of abusive men. Without a trusted friend or family member outright, bluntly stating that such and such action is abusive, she won’t see it that way. Human nature is vulnerable. Sometimes I wish formal matchmaking and living with family were in vogue. It seems like a lot of abuse would be mitigated.

  • tj.nelson

    “I could have tried harder to get Sarah to stay…”
    I don’t think it would have done much good. It just reinforces what the other has been saying – “see – everyone is trying to break us up”.

  • nitnot

    The advantage Katherine Russell has is that her jerk is dead and won’t come after her or the child. Poor thing gets a completely clean slate now; she could even rename the little girl if she wants to. May God bless her and heal her.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fr.frowin Fr. Frowin Reed

    Kat – thank you for writing this. You’re in my prayers. God bless you!

  • Helene E. Wood

    My family was thrilled when I finally moved out of my marital home. My brother summed it up the best when he said: “Hot Damn! I didn’t think you had it in you!” My guilt over leaving him — and wondering how he was going to take care of himself, and do his laundry, and balance his checkbook, and cook his meals — was thankfully overshadowed by my complete sense of elation and freedom and strength. And my mother-in-law thought I was horrible for leaving her darling son, which I considered icing on the cake.

  • AMoniqueOcampo

    You are really brave for writing this, Kat. I recently got out of an abusive friendship. By the grace of God, my parents intervened before I went down a darker path. And as a reward for being such a brave lady, check out the cover photo on a Pope Francis facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/PopeFranciscus?fref=ts

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

      Oooo La la… zut allors!

  • http://twitter.com/gailfinke Gail Finke

    Kat: That was such a great post. But don’t give yourself all the blame! A friend of mine was abused by her husband. We could all see that he was a jerk but we never dreamed it was that bad. I don’t know the details but I do know he made her feel that everything he did was her fault. Altogether, of course, it was ridiculous. But each particular thing, when it was happening, seemed to her at least plausibly her fault. These guys are good at what they do, and good at finding someone they can do it to. Most people are trusting, they don’t say off the bat, “is he manipulating me or does he mean it?” I don’t think that someone who hasn’t experienced it can get it completely, but having seen it happen I know it is a weird, twisted thing. I feel sorry for this woman too. He was probably a jerk and manipulative and controlling and maybe physically abusive but… geez, he was a terrorist too.

  • Stefanie

    Never have I experienced such behavior…but I certainly know women …and men…who have. Thanks, Kat, for proper focus.

  • Heloise1

    I stayed for 37 years. Because I want to honor my vows or sheer stubbornness, I still don’t know. My children paid the real price. My daughter, trapped for 12 years with much the same and my son….
    Lost to God, himself and me. I confess this betrayal of my children over and over. You never get past it. God forgive me.

  • http://profiles.google.com/christinehebert65 Christine Hebert

    Kat,
    When I separated from my first husband I was terrified, as a Catholic woman, to tell my Catholic friends. We don’t get divorced. My most Catholic friends were my greatest supporters, though. They had been watching and were afraid for me, but they didn’t want to alienate me. I didn’t expect, “Oh thank God!” when I told them, but that is what I got. It was years before my girl friend confided to me just how worried they were for me and my 2 young children. I couldn’t see how bad it was. The straw that broke this camel’s back was when he started picking up other women in bars and not coming home. It is amazing how much we will put up with, isn’t it?

  • Renee Poudrier

    I’m not trying to blame the victim, but, in my experience, trying to reason with a person who is ‘in love’ and has already been manipulated to look at the relationship as ‘us vs them’ usually doesn’t change things. I do think that concerned family members and friends should try to convey their concerns as honestly as they can. To all the ladies who have had the courage to leave abusive relationships: you are amazing people. God bless every one of you.

  • sam

    That”s why you don’t marry a Muslim!!!!! One Australian woman married a Muslim man, she wasn’t allowed to have any contact with her family, or have any friends, her freedom was gone!!! at the end of the day he took his child to visit his family overseas and has never returned back and the wife never seen her daughter again.

  • roberdine

    Yes, and it can also happen to men….