The following is an excerpt from Candid Cocktail, the autobiography of acclaimed journalist, Mad Mad Judy.
If Love is blind then surely Hate has eyes
One evening I was summoned to my in-laws’ home for a very awkward nighttime meeting. We seated ourselves in folding chairs on the deck overlooking their backyard, and the setting, although peaceful, felt like a twisted malignant version of the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet. My in-laws sat in line with their son, and I sat across from the three of them. It was an interrogation, trial, and sentencing all wrapped up in one.
I had received a call from my ‘Romeo’ earlier in the day, saying he wanted me to meet with his parents. I thought this an odd request and inquired as to why. His answer? To plead my case. Those were his exact words. To plead my case. What case needed pleading? The case I was trying to win. Three years prior I had cheated on my husband, immediately quit the job at which it occurred and now had finally (and foolishly) gotten up the nerve to tell him about the old situation. His reaction was to run around as a sprinkler, spouting off news of my infidelity to everyone we knew. After a month he calmed down and now I wanted him to come home instead of hiding out at his parents’ place.
I didn’t think this an odd request. We had already discussed reconciling and had sealed the deal with make-up sex. So why this meeting? He said it was to set matters straight with his parents.
What the hell did they have to do with our marriage? Nothing, absolutely nothing. During the nine years we’d been together they’d rarely involved themselves with our lives other than on mandatory holidays.
But wanting more than anything to put our relationship back together and seek professional counselling, I sucked up my pride and arrived at their house for the meeting where we sat… in silence. Marlee Matlin could’ve heard a pin drop.
I waited for my father-in-law to say something—he didn’t, nor did my mother-in-law. Neither did my husband, who sat still, apparently waiting for me to run the show. Sure, I was used to manning the driver’s seat in interviews—as a journalist, that’s my job. But my husband had arranged this wretched thing, why didn’t he start it off?
I called on my old professor’s training, tucked my right foot behind my left ankle and remained as calm and poised as possible, pretending the situation was just another interview. First I stated how sorry I was and wanted to make it up to my husband however I could. Then I gave them some intimate tender details of my life and childhood in hopes of touching an emotional core to have them go easy on me.
It didn’t work.
For some reason my father-in-law chose the opportunity to denounce my religion. “I know for a fact that all those of the Jewish faith think it’s okay to lie!” he barked out of nowhere.
Of course I disagreed, but he wasn’t hearing it. He obviously thought he knew my heritage better than me and all of us Jews were liars. During this denouncing of my lineage, I glanced at my mother-in-law and wondered if she’d been forced to go through a similar meeting years prior when she herself had been caught having an affair. Had my father-in-law gotten her together with his parents? Is that where my husband had gotten this stupid idea?
I wanted to tell my father-in-law that prior to my cheating, I had gone to his son seeking help regarding the situation. I had told Romeo I was attracted to someone else and was scared, at which time he took it less seriously than a hangnail, laughed it off and informed me that, “It’s normal to be attracted to people you work with. You see them every day.”
My father-in-law next asked me how I could do such a thing to a man who had rescued me, and didn’t I feel grateful for such rescuing? This was thoroughly confusing and for the first time I caught a glimpse into the archaic ‘noble knights and distressed damsels’ perspective this ultra conservative man held on reality. I informed him that when Romeo and Juliet met, Romeo was on unemployment and living with a cocaine addict who blew all their rent money on drugs. Juliet, however, had full time employment and her own apartment into which she welcomed her new beau three months later. So, dad, let’s get a reality check on who exactly did the rescuing.
Next my father-in-law shook an accusatory finger in my direction and shouted, “What he did to you, he at least did to your face. What you did to him was behind his back so it was worse!”
When referring to my face he meant the times when my husband had been physically abusive. The budding violence just so happened to coincide nicely with the start of his porn and online-gaming addictions. There were more than a few incidents, some of which included: throwing me down and choking me in front of his friends; tossing me into the street, causing an injury to my right arm which I couldn’t bend straight for a month; and knocking me face first into a wooden post of our four-post bed during a New Years’ Eve party we were hosting.
Pornography affected my husband by reverting him back to a juvenile state in which his hand was a more thrilling physical partner than his willing, living breathing wife—a woman whose importance he’d reduced to that of a mere appendage to his existence.
I wanted to tell my father-in-law, a former Marine whose American flag proudly flew from a tall pole in the center of his front yard, that thankfully the United States judicial system didn’t agree with him—adultery is not viewed worse a crime than assault, and had I called the police after each incident charges would’ve been pressed, hence landing their family name in the papers. I wanted to tell him that perhaps his opinion would be more welcomed in a place such as the Middle East where chauvinism ranks next to Muslimism, but I kept my mouth shut. What was the point? He wouldn’t have listened, and all I wanted was for my husband to come home.
Next both my in-laws began an anti-drinking lecture. Were they kidding? Romeo & Juliet were in their thirties and neither had any DUI’s, so what was their point? Slowly it dawned on me that their son had tattled regarding my drinking habits without informing dear old mom & dad of his own. I wanted to tell them how much he drank. I wanted to remind my father-in-law of the time two years prior when he received a frantic late night call for help (from me) because after a fight Romeo angrily took off driving drunk around town. Dad had been more upset at being rudely awoken than by what I had had to say. He didn’t go out looking for his son; instead he went back to sleep.
Unbeknownst to them, Romeo had started smoking cigarettes at age fourteen and had been smoking pot, drinking alcohol, and taking hallucinogenic drugs since sixteen. I also could’ve broken the story about the girl he had gotten pregnant when he was seventeen and they knew nothing about. She had a miscarriage but he kept the picture of the sonogram in a memory box in our house. I could’ve driven home, plucked it from the box and shoved it under their noses… but I didn’t. I kept my lips zipped. They wouldn’t have believed such things of their precious suburban-bred angel, and all I wanted was for my husband to come back to me.
Eventually the meeting ended and I went home to bed. My husband came back three days later and we started marriage counselling with the very councilor my father-in-law recommended. We continued counselling for 18 months, during which all the things my husband asked me to do in penance for my cheating, I did indeed do.
A moment occurred during an early counselling session that proved to be a valid summation of our relationship. My husband announced to the councilor his belief that most of our marital problems stemmed from my drinking too much.
The councilor turned his attention to me and asked, “Is that something you’d be willing to talk about?”
I replied, “Absolutely. I’ll gladly discuss my drinking at length, exploring its many facets including origins, quantity, frequency and physical effects. I’ll even draw pie charts and graphs if needed. I’ll do this on one condition—that in turn, my husband discusses his drinking as well.”
The councilor turned his attention to my husband and asked, “Is that something you’d be willing to talk about?”
The silent response given involved the pursing of lips into a frown while closing his eyes and slowly moving his head back and forth.
As the councilor’s brainwaves wrapped around this ‘a-ha moment’ I smiled and said, “Well then, I guess I don’t have a drinking problem after all!”
A year and a half after the balcony scene, Romeo violently beat Juliet over his losing a bet regarding the brands of beer in the refrigerator. He punched my left eye so hard it disintegrated its contact lens and to this day when my eyes are taxed and tired I see white splotches in my peripheral vision. He then punched me in the back of my head, knocking me to the floor in the hallway of our home, just beneath the sharp tip of a sword he had hanging, displayed against the wall. He stood over my crouched form and continuously pounded my skull along with fracturing my left cheekbone while screaming, “You’re nothing but a fucking whore!” over and over again.
A death wave washed over what was left of my consciousness and I knew I was going to die if I didn’t take action. So with my right hand I reached upwards and grabbed every bit of his Romeo-package and tried ripping it from his body.
His pounding on my head thankfully stopped. He left our home doubled-over in pain then drove to a friend’s place where he sat, face buried in his swollen bruising-knuckled hands, seeking sympathy over his being victimized.
That was the end of our marriage. And yes of course the police and the court system were involved. Charges were filed, a guilty verdict was given, and compensation was made, but its judicial end is not why I decided to include this footnote from my life in this autobiography. Nor is it to share my story from the perspective of a survivor—that word is over-used. In my opinion it’s synonymous with being a perpetual victim. Was the experience horrible? Yes it was, but my life is hardly defined by it. My reason for its inclusion in these pages is to let others be aware that abusers are not born, they’re made. They oftentimes come from an over-permissive set of circumstances. What words did my husband have ringing in his ears as he pounded his fist repeatedly into my skull? Perhaps his father’s:
What he did to you, he at least did to your face. What you did to him was behind his back so it was worse!
I cannot count the number of times at holiday gatherings when Romeo was praised by his mother for being ‘a perfect child’ and ‘a kid we didn’t really have to worry about.’ They would play home movies of him sitting in his high chair, blowing out birthday candles and his taking his first steps. Funny, Romeo’s own account of his childhood was that in which his parents were more concerned with their own work and personal lives than with him. He played by himself a lot, and although not necessarily ignored, he was definitely left to his own devices plenty enough to learn how to get into trouble without getting caught. There were no home movies of their juvenile dropping his first hit of acid or the first time he puked from drinking too much.
His parents possessed a strong desire to view him as a perpetual infallible child, and so that’s what they saw. They ignored what he had grown to become: a competitive, entitled, brazen bawdy man who easily gets pissed off whenever he loses at something, isn’t the center of attention, or doesn’t get his way. Like Krusty the Clown, he puts on a boisterous personality when placed in front of an audience but once the cameras are turned off he bemoans his ill-perceived, self-perpetrated-drama-induced lot in life.
Instead, mom and dad chose to see a perfect little angel who reflected their own perfection as caregivers. Even the balcony meeting itself was in retrospect, just another form of abuse—abuse by proxy. My husband wanted to place me in front of authority figures and be punished as if I were his sibling who needed to be disciplined while he sat back, wearing an ‘I-got-you-in-trouble’ younger-brother grin.
There’s nothing domestic about violence… it’s just violence.
My mother and my friends came to the subsequent hearings. Even my editor was there. Romeo’s parents, however, weren’t, which didn’t surprise me. They’d also never attended any of the performances of his band in which he played guitar. The shows (which took place over the course of a decade) were in smoky bars and the lyrics to the songs had certain words mom & dad only spoke under their breath while they thought no one was listening. Guess too much reality of their angel’s true personality would have been unsavory to stomach. They weren’t at the hearings because they didn’t want to listen to any ill words said against their precious baby, nor did they want to know factual details of what he’d done.
The safe fantasy image they sought to preserve was that of a sweet innocent boy coming home every Thanksgiving, sitting at their dinner table, saying, ‘Pass the potatoes please.’
The last words I heard from my mother-in-law were yelled through the phone regarding my grabbing her son’s manhood. Sorry, lady, was I instead, supposed to let her precious do-no-wrong angel have his spoiled way and kill me? What did she think would be the final result from his repeatedly bashing the bones of his wife’s face and skull? I wanted to tell her that instead, she should be shaking the hand that had grabbed his manhood, thanking it profusely, for if it weren’t for my glorious right hand she’d probably be visiting her son in prison for murder—if she’d ever lower herself to enter such a place. But I couldn’t get out the words—my concussion was killing me as it settled in for a two and a half month stay.
That ill marriage was many years ago, and whatever adulterous guilt I once felt has greatly been abated by the confessions of his friends to me of the times when I had suspected Romeo of cheating, and indeed, he had.
Some of the happier memories of my first marriage involve of all things, poker. Romeo and I used to host games at our home and play in a league. Overall it was a blast—a way to meet others while sharpening our strategic card-playing skills. I still play poker, winning my fair share of hands, and you’d better be on your best game if we’re going heads-up.
Many wonderful things have happened in my life since husband number one. I’ve experienced a new, happier pair, three of a kind, and a subsequent full house. My career’s been unpredictable and exciting, keeping me royally flushed.
In actuality, all my ex really accomplished on the day we played our final hand was beating me with a lowly high card. He caught me off guard while I clung to the two of hearts. The card he held wasn’t even an ace—perhaps a four.