My Armenian Church Community
I wasn’t allowed to discuss our marital problems with anyone, because he was concerned that I would taint his image for others. By spring of 2017, I no longer cared about what I was allowed to do and spoke with clergy & a few confidants. I was desperate, because our Brooklyn apartment felt like a warzone and each day had its own battles. I think it was when my ex husband decided to ignore me for two weeks & try to kick me out of the car on the way to church a few times that I began reaching out in secret. Some of the clergy who knew my ex husband were very saddened by what I told them, but were also not surprised, because they had witnessed his violent temper while he was studying at St. Nersess Armenian seminary. They were very supportive and said that it was up to me what I decided to do, but didn’t give any advice as to what I should do. But I was looking for a way out without even realizing it, because I kept going to other clergy I knew to seek out help. Unfortunately, some of the clergy I sought advice from admitted that they didn’t think my marital problems were very serious, or that perhaps I’m not giving him enough sex. They didn’t see signs of abuse, they just saw an unhappy wife complaining about her marriage. After being married for six years and relying on the Armenian Church for spiritual support, as well as emotional and otherwise, I had to learn the hard way that the Church couldn’t help me or didn’t know how to help me. My teachers and friends from the School of Visual Arts, where I had studied photography and held a degree, were the ones who gave me the vocabulary to understand my situation as abusive.
They validated my experiences and helped empower me as a person. They gave me a place to stay and helped me to move out of New York to a safe and wholesome environment. I never considered that I was undergoing abuse before this because it wasn’t physical abuse. But I learned from my friends and school family that not all abuse is physical, and that what I was experiencing was verbal and psychological abuse. I still have close friends in the Armenian Church and other Orthodox Churches, but my trust has been shaken, because when I didn’t know what to do, my mentor and friends from SVA were there to help me. I had to look outside of the Armenian community for help, because I couldn’t find any inside the community. I wish the Armenian Church was equipped to look for signs of abuse other than physical abuse. Even those priests who supported me were against divorce and spoke against it. Armenian clergy, even in the diaspora, don’t consider that psychological abuse can be just as toxic and dangerous as physical abuse. Yes, I was never injured, but I was driven to the point of wanting to kill myself every time we had a fight. Is that not a product of abuse?
St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, New York, NY, 2011
In the first couple weeks of November 2015, my ex-husband got hit by a car while riding his bike from our home in Brooklyn to school in Manhattan. He blacked out during the collision and only remembers flying through the air and waking up on the pavement. We found out later that he had suffered a traumatic brain injury, as well as five herniated discs in his spine: in his neck and lower back. My ex husband had an excruciating amount of pain that no painkillers were able to lessen. From then on and for the next year and a half, I was his full time caretaker, as he was practically bedridden. I didn’t work, but instead stayed home to care for him. For six months, he was subject to monthly cortisone injections in his spine and when the injections lost their effectiveness, he opted for surgery to repair and replace a couple of his discs.
Things had already been tense between us, but the accident made my life with him go from being tolerable to a complete nightmare. Any goodness found in the marriage was slowly striped apart by what I had to endure while being his caretaker. More troubling than the pain he endured was his brain injury. He couldn’t remember where he had placed his keys after putting them down. He had slurred speech when he spoke for too long in conversation. Conversation was exhausting for him actually, because even when he didn’t slur, he would sometimes fall asleep. We later learned that in addition to a traumatic brain injury, he also had developed post traumatic stress disorder. I was already accustomed to his verbal abuse while he was in pain, but nothing prepared me for the psychological war he declared on me with these things happening in his brain. I was the brunt of projection and transference every day. In addition to struggling with day to day activities, he also was forced to address past traumas that had happened to him, many of which he had never worked through until this point in his life. For the first time in his life, he felt completely vulnerable. He was homebound, unable to work or study, and everything he had prided himself in being good at, was no longer something that came easily to him. He sincerely believed that there wasn’t a single thing he could fail at, that he was good at everything. This accident proved him wrong. The accident reminded him that he was human. That didn’t stop him from trying to be his regular self though, and every time he failed, he took it out on me.
It’s very difficult for me to write about these things. I’m forced to relive these memories in order to write about them. It leaves me really anxious and depressed- sometimes for hours and sometimes for days afterwards. The memories are so debilitating for me, but I am determined to continue writing and creating work about it, because bringing trauma to my mind’s surface forces me to deal with it & to work through it so I can heal and move on. In my day to day life now, these memories don’t come to my mind as frequently as they did before, because my life is much better now and looks very different. I don’t have to hold my breath while around my new partner or my friends and family. I can be myself without any consequences. This is extremely important, because my ex husband slowly stripped away at me by taking issue with every aspect of myself. My resistance was treated as pushback or as my refusal to have harmony between him and me. I wanted there to be harmony, so I did my best to comply, because I knew that compromise was an essential part of being in a relationship, but he didn’t do any compromising on his part. I felt so isolated during that time though and I remember taking walks and often screaming inside my mind- it took everything I had to keep from falling apart myself. I couldn’t fall apart then because I had to make the marriage work, and I can’t fall apart now, because I finally have a chance to live freely.
St. Nersess Seminary, New York, 2012
What made me decide to leave him? It was a number of things, the first of them being when he tried to kick me out of our home in spring of 2016. That was the first strike for me and the second one was when he started having meltdowns over little issues that were usually just things he didn’t like about me. The last strike came during our cross country road trip in June 2017. The car rides were full of so much verbal abuse and his aggressive driving.
He couldn’t stand being in close proximity with me for more than an hour without getting upset about something. Then in Colorado, he pulled over upon finding out that I was having trouble trusting him after he tried to kick me out the year prior. He then picked up his bag and said he was leaving to go live in the woods. I could tell he was not in his right mind when he decided this, and after much pleading, I threatened to call the police if he left. He threatened to divorce me if I did but I held my ground and we both got back in the car and resumed driving. He didn’t wear his wedding band for a week after that while in California, saying that without trust we weren’t married. Our first morning in Santa Fe, he started packing up his things and said that we’re going back to New York. I stood my ground and refused. After much back and forth, I did something I should have done at the beginning of this trip: I booked myself a hotel room and said he could go back without me. He was furious, but I made him promise that he would at least drop me off at the hotel. At one point he stopped the car and started taking my belongings out of the car saying that I could walk from here and that he didn’t want to take me anymore. I told him I didn’t want to get out of the car and grabbed my things. He continued driving and then suddenly turned the car around and announced that he was driving back to New York. I asked him to stop and take me to the hotel first but he ignored me. I began screaming at him, telling him to stop the car but he ignored me. By that point I just wanted to get out of the car and get away from him, but he wouldn’t stop driving, so I began pulling the emergency brake to force him to stop. He kept undoing the emergency brake each time I pulled the emergency brake, so I finally reached for the car key and pulled it out of ignition so that the car would stall. Only then did he come to his senses, began to cry, and took me to the hotel. It was only a week later that I told him I wanted a separate, and three weeks after that to tell him I wanted a divorce. It makes me sad that it took me fearing for my safety to leave him, but I suppose that’s what it took. I used to wonder where the line was for me with him, because I had put up with so much abuse over the years. It should have been much earlier in the marriage, but I always tried to overlook the negative and look at the positive in him. I made excuses for him and enabled him, because I saw the good in him, until I was so worn down that and he became so angry that I couldn’t see the good anymore.
The First Time He Tried To Kick Me Out, Flatbush, Brooklyn, 2016