Leaving an Abusive Relationship: My Independence Day
I can still hear those defiant words blaring from the radio in my mother’s Volkswagen sedan. She knew the lyrics well, as if she’d written them herself. Sitting alongside my mother as we scurried about the streets of our town, running our usual gauntlet of errands, I remember her singing along without missing a beat. She sang with the passion of someone who could relate to the woman described in the song…with the passion of someone with newfound freedom and independence.
From the frequent fighting that had unfolded between my parents before my eyes, I knew “Independence Day” was more than a just a popular country song that summer of 2002.
It was the music of enlightenment and power, the music of freedom. For my mother, it was the music of courage and self-confidence. For me, at the formative age of 14, it became the music that turned my world upside down. The song’s lyrics told of a woman’s response to domestic abuse, seen from the point of view of her eight-year-old daughter. On Independence Day, while her daughter attended the local parade, the woman started a fire in the house, and she and her abusive, alcoholic husband, whom she tried to leave unsuccessfully, both perished in it.
My interpretation of the song was that it had double-meaning in that the woman was finally gaining her freedom from her abusive husband – thus, it was her “Independence Day” – and the events occurred on the Fourth of July. Its message suggested that what the woman did was neither right nor wrong, but was the only way she could ultimately gain her freedom, and, at the same time, protect her daughter from that violent home.
“Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing. Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning.”
Those were the lyrics my mother sang with the deepest passion. Though taking measures to the extreme of the woman in the song never crossed her mind, the lyrics describing freedom and independence couldn’t have resonated any deeper. My mother left my father that summer and never came back. A teenager at the time, I was initially angry about their separation. I didn’t want to spend time with the woman who whose decision forced me to live in another house, to ride another school bus, and to endure the financial limitations of a single-parent home.
As we continued about our errands that afternoon, I remember glancing over to the person who’d delivered me into this world in an attempt to see beyond the middle-aged woman my teenage self had begun to resent. With her long red hair, petite figure, sculptured face, and deep brown eyes, my mother truly was a picture of beauty.
Although she seemed a bit overbearing and protective at times, she was my strength and admiration. But she had been increasingly down on herself. Beyond the radiant beauty was an increasingly broken, weary, and sad woman. The years with my father had taken their toll.
As I watched her sing, I began to gain an understanding of why that song was so meaningful for her. And I came to realize how much her freedom and her independence really meant. I began to gain an appreciation for the sacrifices that she made, not only for her own survival, but for mine as well. Her courage and strength allowed us to live in a home free of fighting and abuse. Her decision allowed us to no longer live in fear.
It’s been nearly 12 years since the day I watched her harmoniously sing along to “Independence Day.” I no longer use my headphones to block out her singing, but there’s one thing that hasn’t changed since that summer day in the passenger seat – the significant impact the song’s message has on me. From that day forward, when I heard the words, ‘Independence Day,’ I didn’t always think about the fourth day in July, the Red, White, and Blue, or America the Free. Instead, I saluted those brave men and women who, like my mother, had the strength and the courage to make difficult and painful changes in their lives.
Changes that have confronted me as well. In the summer of 2010, when I left my alcoholic husband, for the first time I knew the same kind of pain my mother experienced just eight years earlier. Pain that caused me to cry with my head buried in my knees in the bathtub; pain endured by the judgements I received; pain that caused me to go to bed scared; and pain that caused me such severe loneliness that I often contemplated going back to an unhealthy relationship. I experienced the some of the same feelings of emptiness; the same guilt, shame, and
fear; and the same heartbreak. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the lessons of my mother, the lessons of my upbringing, and the frequent anguish of my childhood. But perhaps I was destined to follow in her footsteps, to feel her pain, and to develop her courage, strength, and independence.
Coincidentally, I left my husband on July 31, 2010, exactly eight years to the day my mother left my father. I know she had never wanted me to, but it was then that I knew. It was then that I understood. And as soon as I was able to “roll the stone away,” I had my Independence Day.
Every year, mom has a small celebration to mark her new beginning. Newly remarried, I’ve never seen her smile so big as she does when my stepfather walks into the room. It’s beautiful proof that second chances do exist. Not long ago, I came across that song while driving myself to the store. Like Mom always had, I turned up the radio and sang along with passion. And for once that day – probably even that week – it didn’t feel so bad to be
Let Freedom Ring.
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- Treasure in the Hidden Depths - May 11, 2016
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