The Life and Times of Minerva Sue (names have been changed to protect those involved)
I grew up as the youngest of four children in a suburb of Los Angeles, in Southern California. We were a conservative Catholic family. My siblings and I attended parochial school and we attended church every Sunday. I can still remember sitting in the back of the church with my brother closest in age when we went to confession, trying to think of sins to tell the priest. Seriously, exactly how many sins does a kid have to confess? The nuns in our parish were a stern bunch. Somehow, I don’t think any of them even liked kids. I was a socially awkward, homely kid and school was pretty much torturous. I’m not even quite sure how I survived my school experience.
Sometime around middle school, my parents became born again Christians. Back then, being born again in the Catholic Church was a new concept. My parents found acceptance in the Catholic Charismatic movement with other born again Catholics. I remember going to Charismatic mass and prayer services. We even went to mainstream Charismatic meetings, faith healing services and conferences. When I was in high school, my parents left the Catholic Church for a large, conservative Protestant church. We were raised to fear God and my parents believed in strict rules. My dad, in particular, was firm and when he became angry would rage. The belt was the discipline of choice, usually when my dad was angry. Thankfully, after they became Christians, it did get somewhat better. I think my two oldest siblings got the brunt of my dad’s anger. Even so, my goal in life was to get out of the house for good.
I got married young and moved out with my new husband. I wish someone had told me back then that I did not have to get married to leave home. But, that’s what I had been taught. As a woman, my goal in life was supposed to get married and have kids. Our marriage was never easy. We were both young and I was terribly naive. I didn’t have the first clue about how to handle the difficulties that come with marriage. On top of that, my husband could never hold a job for long and I was thrust into the role of provider. A role which I was ill prepared for. Somehow, I always thought that my husband would take that role. Thirteen years and three kids later, I discovered that my husband was gay. I was a mixture of devastated and relieved. His homosexuality was really just the straw that broke the camel’s back. There were so many other issues. But, here I was given “biblical grounds” to leave with a clear conscience.
When my kids were still very young, I remarried. I felt grateful that any man would be interested in me and take on my kids. I still remember people commenting on how lucky I was that my husband “took on” my kids. However, shortly after we were married the real nightmare began. My Christian husband who rescued me and my kids had a whole other side to him. He would have rages that were terrifying. He never hit me, but used his full arsenal of verbal, emotional and psychological abuse against me. I never knew what would set him off. Indeed, it could be the smallest thing. My life, and my kids’ lives, became centered around trying not to make him angry. This was an impossible task. But, I was taught that the only legitimate reason to divorce was if my husband was sexually unfaithful to me. So I stayed and prayed for God to soften his heart. We were separated twice and twice I went back on the advice of Christian counselors and pastors. Not once were the words “domestic abuse” used.
After over a decade in my abusive marriage, something happened inside me. I started to question what I had been taught my whole life about the roles of women, specifically wives. I started to wonder why God had compassion on even the lowliest people in society, but not for wives. No, His answer to me was “You made your bed, now lie in it”. What kind of God was that? Was I worth less as a human being because I was a woman? Specifically, a Christian woman? I was supposed to choose between hell in this life by staying with my husband or hell in the next life by leaving him. Finally, I asked my daughter’s counselor for a referral to a counselor and ended up with one who specialized in domestic abuse. For the first time, here was someone who validated that I was a worthwhile human being and did not deserve to be abused by my husband. It was a whole new concept to me. To save myself and my kids, I had to turn my back on what I had been taught my whole life. I left my husband and started my life all over. This tenuous, scary and uncertain life. But, you know what? It’s also exciting, exhilarating and joyful. There’s no turning back!