Indentured Servitude

I first met my first husband, Brian, when I was working as a maître-d’ at a high-class steak restaurant in Champaign. Table for 3? Great! Come in and sit down. *smile* Here are your menus. Your server tonight will be Kyle. My future husband had shoulder-length blond hair worn loosely around the face. From behind a shy wall of hair I heard, “Dew yew dew vegetarian meals?” I said, Yes of course! Being a corn-few Illinoisan, and not one to ever turn away a paying customer, I thought Chef could find something without meat.

I sat them all down in the smoking section and went about my travels around the restaurant. By this point I’m dating a Naval Officer, have finished my Bachelors degree and am looking into teacher training schools. The best one at the time being in Eastern Illinois. I was still doing volunteer work at my old high school where my shifts at the restaurant permitted. I was still keen to teach, but I was so sweet on the Naval Officer that I would have followed him almost anywhere.

When the Naval Officer went to Pensacola for flight school, he broke things off with me saying “The Navy is no place for a woman.” For a few months I lounged romantically. I wasn’t in a particular hurry to get involved again. I introduced Brian to a few of my friends in the hopes that they would hit it off. No such luck. He appeared to be smitten with me and, in getting to know him a little, I decided to call him a friend. He was funny in a caustic sort of way. He was kind in a generous sort of way. Was I developing romantic feelings for him? If I’m brutally honest, I would have to admit that I didn’t feel for him romantically.

Brian invited me to come to England for a month and I jumped at the chance. When else would I ever see a foreign country than in my early 20s? So Brian (although we hadn’t yet slept together) paid for my airfare and I stayed in Southend-on-Sea for a month. It was glorious! A history nerd like me – I was in my element! I was taken to ruins. I went to London. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and all appeared right with the world.

When the month ended, I got back on an airplane and landed in the middle of my boring corn-fed existence. I found a job, thanks to a friend, at a retail shop near the mall in Champaign. I thought to myself “That trip was wonderful. I will never have another experience like that again!” and I went about my life as if nothing had happened. Except Brian wanted me to come back. “Really? I don’t have the money for that.” He would pay. So I thought “Why not?” I hopped on another plane and stayed in England for six months – the maximum length of a Visitor’s Visa.

While Brian worked, I did DIY to his newly-purchased house in Guildford. I stripped wallpaper (Woodchip is disgusting!), sanded baseboards, scrubbed, cooked, cleaned and basically became a girlfriend/housewife. Because we had “no money” between us, I couldn’t really leave the house. I didn’t know anyone. I had no social life. All I had was my boyfriend and endless tasks in the house to keep my hands busy but my mind numb. By the time I had stayed six months, I had missed Christmas with my family. For anyone who knew me, I was displaying signs of depression: I wasn’t sleeping, not eating, not cheerful. Although I genuinely liked Brian, I was truly ready to go home – I might not have much of a bright future there either but at least there I had friends!

So at the end of six months, I hopped on another airplane and I thought, “That was great. I will never have another experience like that.” I started looking for jobs. But Brian kept calling me. Why? Brian had had a meeting with a lawyer. If I wanted to come back to England, I would have to marry him. I said OK, as if that was the reason that he never wanted to see me again. I decided to chalk the relationship up to experience and my heart wished him well.

Instead, I received another frantic phone call a day later:

“I realised I didn’t ask you.”

Ask me what?

“If you want to get married?”

I was so surprised and shocked that I said, Um, OK. Sure.

A few days later, the gravity of being engaged began to sink in and, as I was visiting a friend in Champaign, her mother got out the Tarot cards… The cards gave my friend financial advice but told me – twice! – that I should avoid churches (i.e. Christenings, Funerals and Weddings). Avoid weddings? The cards were telling me what I had suspected. Getting married was a mistake. I broke it off with Brian.

Two hours later I got a tantrum of a phone call saying he couldn’t live without me and he loved me and …. Wow! I didn’t realise how much he cared. Looking back, I didn’t realise how much he cared because I didn’t feel the same way. But, at the time I thought, Brian must be serious. OK. Let’s do this!

The next memory I have is of being on another airplane – back to England. On the headphones was the Sting song, When We Dance:

I would love you more than life

if you’ll come and be my wife.

And I knew I was making a mistake. I sobbed. I wished someone loved me enough to sing that song to me. I wished that I was in love enough to deserve someone singing that song to me. Instead I was numb. The wedding took place a mere six weeks after I landed in England with my Fiancée visa and less than two weeks later I was at the British Embassy asking for an official change in my status so that I could stay another year.

I started looking for work and thus began another new normal. After the first year, I applied for Permanent Residency status and that was my official status for the next decade. I would like to say that Brian and I decorated his house together but, by the time I got back to England, his mother had put her stamp on the place and put a stencil in the dining room and bought Brian an iron Victorian bed. I didn’t hate what she’d done, but I did feel left out. Brian seemed to talk and make decisions that affected me with his mother and not me. When I mentioned this to him, he would still talk to his mother and take the decisions but he would do it without me in the room.

I (stupidly as it turned out) thought that Brian would be more interested in being physical with me once we were married but the incidence of intimacy quickly dried up – from once every couple of weeks, to once a month, to once every couple of months, to twice a year… At one point, I was trying to get him to be interested one night in bed, I curled up against his back and stroked his thigh. He pushed me away and said “Sometimes I wish you weren’t so masculine.” I was so shocked I just rolled over to my side of the bed and stewed.

At one point one July afternoon, I managed to discuss the physical side of the relationship… I said, You remember the last time we were, you know, intimate?

“Yes”

It was nice wasn’t it?

“Yes”

Do you remember when it was?

“No”

It was in February.

“Oh don’t talk to me about that! You know I have had problems that needed sorting out! Why does it always come back to sex with you anyway?”

Do you remember the time before that?

Pouting, “No.”

It was in September.

Brian turned to me and said, “Oh, I’ve been neglecting you, haven’t I?” Although he now knew that he’d been neglecting me, things really didn’t change. He always found an excuse to not be physical. When we were physical, he would immediately run downstairs and take a shower – as if the act itself was unnaturally dirty. He didn’t even look at me during the physical act. I felt as though he wanted to be with someone else – anyone else… The only time I could remotely interest him was when I talked about other women…

After Brian and I finished decorating his first house, he started looking for another house to “do up” and his mother found an ad for a house in Godalming at a stupidly low price… His mother went to see it with him before I did. Ultimately I did see the house before Brian put an offer in to buy the place but it was after his mother was needling him to buy the place and asked what I thought. Brian said:“Jade’s opinion doesn’t matter! I’m the one with the money! I will decide if I buy the house!”

This attitude, in my mind, just reinforced my feeling that I was an irrelevance. I could have been anyone. I toyed with the idea of becoming an alcoholic but I just didn’t have the taste for it. I began looking for times when I could leave him. Every time I thought I had found a good point, something would happen, either with the structure of the new house, Brian being fired, Brian looking for another job, my taking on more work at work for extra money coming in, Brian wanting to host Christmas for all his family, more structural problems with the house, Brian breaking a bone in his foot… There never seemed to be a good time where I could just say “You know what? I’ve had enough.”

Brian was ambitious and moved job and position often. He worked 12 hour days. I rarely saw him when he was not thinking about work.

During my 10 year marriage with Brian, I had a number of dreams which, in hindsight, I interpreted as “escape”. One such dream has stayed with me. I was in an underground airport – the runways were on top of the subterranean structure. I arrived, like everyone else, riding the escalator down to the duty free shopping area. At first I was content to just look around but, once I realised that the police were gathering groups of people through a set of looked double-doors – never to be seen again. I began looking for a means of escape. I gathered together some people in the same boat – they thought they were on borrowed time by missing round-up after round-up… I talked to a woman who worked in the diner – I asked her to come with us but she couldn’t. Her top half was human but her bottom half was attached and hard-wired to the space behind the counter – as if her lower body was a diner stool- chrome and clean but welded to the floor. She cried and thanked me for the offer but wished me luck. Then, I motioned to my colleagues and we barrelled towards the only available means of escape: up the down escalators and into the bright lights…

(Aside: an old friend more recently commented that all the dreams I characterised as “escape”, I’m actually rescuing others. I will consider this in more detail at some point.)

Of course the longer I stayed, the more the odd, barbed comment from Brian pierced my soul. When my family came to visit it “Couldn’t have come at a worse time!” When he and I went away for a few days, the break “Couldn’t have come at a worse time!” When I was in pain (with what transpired to be Endometriosis but, at the time, I didn’t have a diagnosis), he said “You’re always in pain!” as if I had planned to be in agony. He didn’t even take me seriously when I said I was suicidal.

I think it is a reflection of how I couldn’t talk to him that, when I suffered my miscarriages, I did so alone. It happened three times and each time, in the middle of the night, I felt that he would simply not want to take me to hospital anyway. As if I had imagined it. As I was an irrelevance. I was alone. The only time that I felt as though I had been *together* with someone was DJ, and that was just the first six months/year of that relationship. I realised I’d been alone living in the same house as Brian for years.

Being unable to carry a pregnancy was what finally made me wake up one morning and think “Why am I doing this to myself??” I got myself to the doctors, had surgery, got a number of diagnoses and lost weight as a result of following a better diet for my conditions. Brian arranged for my family to come to visit that summer and I put off leaving him until after my mom and sister were safely back in the US and away from him. My plan was finally in motion.

Published by Jade Hammer

It is in the deepest night that I have contemplated all the things I have thought, said and done. Why these things come to me at night probably says a lot about how the mind belittles and magnifies aspects of the personality. In sleeplessness, you see nothing, you also see everything: life themes, life lessons, ways to better approach your own thoughts, words and deeds. My name is Jade Hammer and these are the life lessons that have kept me up at night.

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