by The Q
So, there I was. Two important and extremely confusing relationships crashing down around my ears while my religion was being lost and my family disbanded. Nothing made sense. It was both exhilarating, and completely terrifying.
One evening, a friend of mine that I knew from another congregation in the area invited me to go to a concert with him and a small group of people I’d never met before. He introduced me to his new roommate, a Witness guy who had just moved up from New Mexico and was working with him at a software company. I actually found his roommate to be a pretty funny guy, and really, really smart. During the show he asked me if I wanted to go walk around for a while. We wandered around a bit, found a bench and plopped down. An awkward conversation ensued in which we both ‘felt each other out’ enough to reveal that we were both jonesing for a cigarette.
Smoking was a huge no-no for Witnesses. It was impossible to remain in good standing in the congregation if you were smoking. I’d covertly smoked for at least a year, having taken it up as point of rebellion, and by then I definitely had a strong habit. As soon as I found out he was in the same boat I was thrilled. I bummed a smoke from a random concert-goer who was walking by and he and I shared it, completely content with our newfound partners in crime.
And that set the tone for our entire relationship. We were both raised by devout Witness families, and both of us were fed up with religion. We didn’t want to piss anyone in our families off, but we sure as hell weren’t going to live the straight and narrow. That meant a lot of sneaking around, which was much more fun with someone else. We became fast friends.
Neither of us really fell in love, but definitely in lust. In 1994 we got married. Originally we planned a wedding but we decided that we’d just get married at the JP in downtown San Jose and save our money. We stayed at a B&B in San Jose overnight and I officially lost my virginity at the age of 20 to my husband, just as God intended. We both had a cigarette afterwards.
My new husband and I were both working full time as contractors at big tech companies making really good money. Each of us bought a new car. We had lots of disposable income and went out all the time. Sometimes we’d just sit in the back yard and smoke cigarettes and talk for hours about all kinds of bullshit. Our parents would regularly call us to make sure we were getting along, and to make sure we were going to the Kingdom Hall regularly, which were weren’t. We spent the first year of our marriage completely avoiding all Jehovah’s Witnesses.
One night, a couple months after we were married, we had a fight. I was drunk and furious and I punched the wall. He freaked out and ended up throwing me down on the bed and choking me. It was the first time he showed any sign of being violent with me, but it wasn’t the last. When I asked him why afterward, he told me I had reminded him of his mom when I got mad.
A few weeks later he came home and announced that we needed to move to New Mexico to be closer to his family. His work as a contractor was starting to look like it might be on shaky ground and I think he was nervous about having a wife and all kinds of grownup responsibilities and not having a secure position. I’d met his family once before when they came up to visit us before we got married. They seemed nice, and he assured me we’d be fine in New Mexico. They were well established and had a family-owned business. So we wrapped up our work, packed up our stuff and left for a town I’d never even visited three states away.
Within two hours of following him on the road, he lost me in his car and I drove the rest of the way alone.
The move to New Mexico was difficult for a few reasons. First, I was out of my element. I knew no one there all my contacts and friends were back in the Bay Area. The town we moved to was very small and everyone knew everyone else’s business. The anonymity I was used to in California was gone in an instant. That included the accessibility that my in-laws now had to us. We were used to sleeping in on Sundays, smoking whenever we wanted, and not having to answer for how we spent our money. Now, we had a bunch of people in our lives asking questions and giving unsolicited advice, and we immediately had to start going back to the Kingdom Hall three times a week and going door-to-door to keep up appearances.
Within a couple weeks of us moving there he got violent with me again. Over the course of the next year it became a fairly regular occurrence, which became much harder to hide after the night our neighbors called the cops on him. There was slapping, choking, hair pulling, dragging me across the floor, kicking me while I was down on the ground, and throwing things at me. It wasn’t even all physical. He was also verbally abusive about my body, my ‘lack of intelligence’ and my family (which he considered far beneath his own). He told me that if I ever got pregnant, he would leave me. He didn’t want children, and ‘accidents don’t just happen’ he said. His parents seemed worried, but their main concern was that we find a way to stay together and preserve our marriage. God hates divorce, you know.
After a year in that small town, he decided that we should move to Albuquerque which was a couple hundred miles away. I quit the two jobs I was doing at the time and went along without an argument. His dad obligingly bought him a business maintaining grease traps at grocery stores and restaurants. It was gross work but we only had to do our service route once a month, which means he had plenty of time to do whatever else he wanted. I got a job at a restaurant close to our apartment to help pay for my half of the bills. He always insisted I pay my own way, even though I usually went along to help out with the “family business.”
Once we were settled in ABQ far away from his parents, we immediately resumed our chain-smoking, non-church-going habits. But our relationship was compromised. Each time there was a violent episode I would cry, freak out and try to figure out what I should do, only to end up ‘making up’ with him and hoping it never happened again. I found myself getting more and more detached. Finally one night, after he physically picked me up and threw me out the front door and locked me out, I decided I’d had enough.
I got back in the house, threw a bunch of stuff in a bag and called one of my co-workers–a guy I had befriended at the restaurant where I was working. He invited me over and listened to my tale of woe, and told me I could stay there as long as I needed to. Within two weeks I had moved out with my husband and was paying rent at my friend’s house.
The sheer feeling of relief after I left my ex was palpable. I had no idea how oppressive that relationship was until I finally broke free. I was dirt broke, far from home, and totally demoralized, but I felt better than I had in a long time. That’s really saying something.
Coincidentally, my dad had gotten a job in ABQ around that same time and had moved to town, so I went to see him and ask him if he could help me out while I tried to get on my feet away from my abusive husband. He declined, but encouraged me to keep going to the Kingdom Hall. My mom had moved to Europe with her new non-Witness husband and they were happy. My brother was lost in NorCal, battling his own demons. I hardly ever heard from him. I was on my own.
I quickly developed a relationship with the co-worker I’d moved in with and got a second full-time job detailing cars during the day, so that I could still wait tables at night. It was a strange time for me. So many things had gone wrong in such a short period of time, and I was working my ass off, but I was free. Free from a horrible marriage, from my family, and completely free from religion. There was nothing left for me to be obligated to, and for a long time, I found that I liked it that way.