Updated: Jul 1, 2020
| This is the 294th story of Our Life Logs |
Growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, in the 1950s was what my tomboy dreams were made of. I grew up making mud pies and racing as fast as my little legs could take me on my metal-footed pedal car. That’s what my early life was like, and it was bliss.
As a teenager, I dated guys but I never let anyone tie me down. I was just having fun. My relationships never got serious until one drizzly July night in 1971. I moved to be near my sister, Gloria, in Virginia when I was 18 years old and began working at a power plant. My other sister, Susan, later moved to Virginia too. She and I became thick as thieves, and one day, we were sitting in the parking lot of a local burger shop.
We noticed a truck drive by us several times then eventually pull up next to our car. Two men our age rolled down their window to talk to us. One guy was named Gary, and I was immediately drawn to him and his dashing smile. After chatting a bit, they asked us to follow them to a church parking lot down the road. I turned to Susan, as we pulled out behind them, and said, “I’m going to marry him.”
The street lamps shimmered in the darkness. Gary and I sat down together in the grass, and we talked for hours. That night, I swear, I fell in love with that man. I just knew we were meant to be. We got married on Christmas Eve the same year we met.
Our marriage was full of sweet kisses and giggles for the first few months. Then, things shifted after a party at a friend’s house. Everyone was drinking and the music was bumping in the background. Gary and I were sitting on the couch talking to some friends, and I was laughing at something that was said. I felt Gary pinch my leg, but I ignored it at first. Then he kept doing it. I could tell he wanted my attention, but he was being childish about it, so I kept swatting his hand away and continuing the conversation.
But when my swats didn’t stop him, I grew angry. Loud enough for all to hear, I turned and snapped, “Why do you keep pinching me?!” Silently, he got up from the couch and walked out of the room. I turned back to the conversation, thinking the entire ordeal would be forgotten.
As the night wound down, and almost everyone else had left, I got up to use the bathroom. Gary followed me in and shut the door. I turned to ask him what he thought he was doing and he punched me right between the eyes. Blood began pouring from my nose down my lips. I screamed for help. Two of our friends came in. While one pulled Gary aside, the other helped to clean me up.
Gary admitted that he didn’t like that I was having so much fun and being the life of the party without giving him any attention. He was jealous. I didn’t call the police because I thought he was just having a bad night. However, I realize now that it was his way of punishing me.
As the months went on, Gary began drinking every day. I began making sure dinner was hot and ready on the table when he got home. I made sure the house was immaculate. I greeted him with a smile and a kiss. When he brought people home with him, never letting me know beforehand, I greeted them with warmth. I always wore makeup and dressed nice, even if I didn’t leave the house. I made myself available sexually, but Gary would turn me down.
I took all this turmoil in stride, thinking I just needed to try harder to be a better wife. If I was better, maybe Gary wouldn’t be so angry all the time and we’d get back to that magical night in the July grass.
It’s easy to stand on the outside and give advice, but when you live in the day-to-day abuse, it changes how you view the world and how you see yourself in it. And it may be hard to believe, but not every moment spent with Gary was bad. Under all the alcohol, I knew loved me. Sometimes, the old Gary would sneak out. He’d blow me kisses from across the room no matter who could see. He’d grab me by the hand and dance around the room with me. He’d smile at me with the twinkle in his eye that made me swoon. That man was always in there.
Thankfully, my heart was soon filled by having my beautiful children. We welcomed our baby boy, Kevin, in 1974 and our baby girl, Natalie, in 1980. I was thrilled to be a mother and vowed to give them as carefree of a childhood as I had. Of course, that was easier said than done.
Shortly after having our kids, Gary made me quit my job because he was jealous of the men I had previously dated at the power plant. When our kids started school, Gary allowed me to work at his shop as a receptionist. He’d started his own business as a mechanic.
On the outside, he looked like a hard worker who took care of every single need his family could possibly have. He’d work on cars, drink beer, laugh with friends, and toy with me when he was in the mood. In front of customers, he’d be loving and affectionate. He’d wrap his arms around my waist and kiss me softly. Then, when we were alone, he’d call me a whore, ugly, fat, and stupid.
He would tell his friends I was crazy and that I was making his life hell. When we’d ride home together, he always drove—usually drunk—then we’d fight all night. Sometimes he’d hit me, sometimes not. I never knew what to expect. But, I could always count on him telling me that I was worthless and ruining his life. I began to believe him. Years passed and the abuse continued.
Over the years, I have had friends, and even family, ask me why I didn’t divorce Gary. I had thought about it and even threatened it. I did fight back once, hitting him with a sock covered 8-ball I’d stolen from a pool hall. After that, the physical abuse stopped for a while.
So again, why did I stay? If I’m being honest, I didn’t know the first thing about making it on my own. I’d never even lived by myself. And I felt so unsure and broken. I still had a hard time believing in myself.
We’d had many rifts in our marriage, but one night in particular, it nearly broke me in two. We’d finished at the shop and Gary was so drunk he could barely stand. He wouldn’t let me have the keys to drive home, and I refused to ride with him.
As I walked down the street to a payphone, I heard our car start up behind me, assuming he was going to leave me. Instead, he tried to hit me with our car. I fled from the road back to our shop, but he beat me there. He got out and punched me in my right temple. I went down, but only for a second. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, I popped right back up on my feet. I am certain God pulled me up and helped me to get through that doorway and to the phone to call 911.
When the officers arrived, Gary told them I was crazy and had attacked him. “You need to lock her up,” he yelled. I was calm and clear-headed as I told the officers what really happened, so they took Gary away to sleep off his drunken stupor. Shortly thereafter, I learned that his punch had damaged the nerves in my right eye so badly that it was irreparable, and it had to be removed.
Losing my eye was a setback, but I decided I could either feel sorry for myself, or I could get back up and keep going for me and my kids. So that’s what I did.
In 2005, Gary eventually developed liver and kidney failure due to his alcoholism. He was on dialysis for years, continuing to work until he was too weak to stand. He finally quit drinking and became bedridden. He lived out his final months in a hospital bed in our living room.
In his final moments, Gary asked for forgiveness from God and from me for all his wrongdoings. His last words to me before he passed away on July 8, 2013, were, “You were right about everything.”
Instead of a happily-ever-after, I gained wisdom and empathy. I am who I am today because of what I’ve gone through in my life. It’s hard for me to say that I’m glad for what I suffered but good did come out of it. I became closer with my daughter and son, and have found a state of mind where I finally feel that I can be my true self.
Sometimes the ones who hurt you teach you the most valuable lessons in life. I’m grateful to have learned those lessons, even if it took a lot of hurt along the way.
This is the story of Shirley Blakley
Shirley grew up in Mississippi in the 1950s and had a carefree childhood. However, the innocent age of happiness had to come to an end. After she got married, Shirley endured years of physical and mental abuse from her husband. She stayed with him despite the abuse up until his death in 2013. Shirley found healing and happiness through her faith in God and the love of her family. She has found a way back to a healthy mind and does her best to smile every day. Shirley spends her time with her daughter, Natalie, and grandsons Chase and William, cooking and laughing as a family.
This story first touched our hearts on February 22, 2019.
| Writer: Stacy Clair | Editors: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |