I hated the thought of another divorce, but my awakening sense of physical danger was the final straw. He was leaving me no choice. I couldn’t risk my kids being hurt.
I had to leave.
I called Denise before I went upstairs to let her know I had decided to follow through.
“I’m ready,” I said, filling her in on the details of my call with Dave. “It’s scary, but I finally see I have no choice.”
“Good,” she answered, “I was hoping I’d get this call. Call me as soon as Dan leaves for work in the morning and I’ll drive you to the sheriff’s office.”
I just had to make it through the night without incident, without letting on to Dan or the kids that we would be gone when he returned from work the next day. But how was I going to make it through the night calmly and safely?
Memoirs have a reputation for being rather sedate reading experiences. Sure, there's fun with gossip or tell-alls, but it's not the same as, say, reading a thriller or a mystery.
Kathleen Pooler does something very smart right at the beginning of Ever Faithful to His Lead: she turns it into a mystery. The story opens with her confirming the worst: that her second husband Dan was capable of inflicting serious, even life-threatening, injuries on his wife and immediate family when he was displeased with them. After a difficult conversation with her friends, she decides to leave Dan and take her children (his stepchildren) with her. Pooler very effectively conveys that just because she wasn't in the midst of a dramatic, Hollywood-style escape doesn't mean it wasn't terrifying. Even though the reader knows she must have survived and become free enough to write this book, there's a wonderful amount of suspense generated. As a reader, you want to know how this happened and what happened after the first night of leaving.
The rest of the story is told more chronologically, starting with Pooler's childhood, moving on to her education to become a nurse and her first marriage to another abusive man. Pooler's history makes her an interesting case study: she was raised in a large family by loving, mutually respectful parents. She has a strong work ethic, is well-educated, and worked as a hospital administrator. This memoir's existence explodes many myths about abused spouses: that they're ignorant, that they grew up with abuse and normalised it, that they don't have any income of their own. Pooler's career path meant that she was formally trained in how to recognise victims of abuse, yet it didn't seem to help her with her own abuse until she was extricated from the toxic relationships and had the space to reflect.
There was one story in the memoir especially that gave me pause, when Pooler's first husband comes home drunk and discovers a finished copy of a course paper she's written on domestic violence. Enraged, he crumples up all of the pages and strews them all over the floor. The next morning, he claims he has no idea why he did it.
I glanced at the books and papers scattered across the kitchen table; time to tackle that paper on domestic violence that was due in two weeks. We had discussed the cycle of abuse in class during the week, and it all had seemed eerily familiar. The abuser apologizes profusely for any wrongdoing, and the victim takes him back, always hopeful the abuse will stop.
Still, I told myself, Ed didn’t really physically abuse me. I didn’t have bruises all over. He never really apologized because he never remembered what he did. He just drank too much at times. And I knew he was stressed about working in the family business and not making as much money as Shawn. He needed my love, not my judgement.
Pooler recounts relatively little physical violence compared to other abuse cases, but her memoir makes it very clear that constantly walking on eggshells takes its own toll. The physical violence wasn't entirely absent, either: hair-pulling, threatening, insistence on beating her children as punishment they "deserved" all happened. Her second husband's habit of calling her "incompetent" if every little thing wasn't exactly as he imagined it should be done gave me a chill; I was called the same in a previous relationship.
The best part of this memoir, for me, is that it doesn't just stop when it circles back to the suspenseful escape described in the beginning. There's a thorough and fascinating analysis, and Pooler describes how she learned what to watch out for when dating someone, and points out the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. I appreciated that she did this all using common, everyday terms, rather than the more clinical ones she no doubt knows from her medical background. It's one thing to discuss these things in a classroom or professional setting, but something else again to spot them "in the wild."
Ever Faithful to His Lead is a thoroughly engaging, readable memoir. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in learning about healthy and unhealthy relationships from a first-person, grounded, and educated point of view.
About the Author
Kathleen Pooler is an author and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, was published on July 28, 2014. Both it and her work-in-progress sequel, Hope Matters: A Memoir, are about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.
She lives with her husband Wayne in eastern New York.
About Ever Faithful to His Lead
Ever Faithful To His Lead : My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse is a memoir, a true life tears to triumph story of self-defeating detours and dreams lost and found.
A young woman who loses sight of the faith she has been brought up with attempts to find her way in the world, rejecting her stable roots in lieu of finding adventure and romance. Despite periods of spiritual renewal in which she receives a prophecy, she slides back, taking several self-defeating detours that take her through a series of heartbreaking events.
When Kathy's second husband, Dan's verbal abuse escalates, Kathy finally realizes she must move on before she and her children become a statistic.
How does a young woman who came from a stable, loving family make so many wise choices when it came to career, but so many wrong choices when it came to love, so that she ended up sacrificing career and having to flee in broad daylight with her children from an abusive marriage? What is getting in her way and why does she keep taking so many self-defeating detours?
The story opens up the day Kathy feels physically threatened for the first time in her three-year marriage to her second husband. This sends her on a journey to make sense of her life and discern what part she has played in the vulnerable circumstance she finds herself in.
She must make a decision — face her self-defeating patterns that have led to this situation and move on or repeat her mistakes. Her life and the lives of her two children are dependent upon the choices she makes and the chances she takes from this point forward.