(By Tricia Harris) It started like any other marriage – two young people who started dating in high school and thought they were in love enough to get married five years later. It started pretty happily, moving to Iceland and getting settled in a new country. We lived in Ytri Njardvik, a village near Keflavik, Iceland, where he worked on the NATO base a couple of miles away. Because he was part of the Admiral’s staff we moved on to the NATO base a couple of months after I arrived, and things went as well as it can for a newlywed couple. That is until one morning about two and a half months into the marriage. The alarm went off, and I got up to start my morning routine to go to work, and nudged him telling him to get up.
As I put my makeup on I realized he wasn’t up yet and went in one more time “Pete, it’s time to get up, you have to be at work in a little while.”
To my horror, he opened his eyes and very hatefully said, “What the “F” are you calling me Pete for? My name is Walter!”
Oh great I thought, it’s going to be one of “those” days. Lately he’d had a nasty, hateful tone, and I’d just blown it off as the “getting adjusted to married life, working long hours, and getting used to the days of darkness in the Icelandic winter.”
But that attitude continued several weeks until he fell and sprained his ankle. He was in pain with that, had a cast on his ankle, and again I attributed the nastiness to the pain. He seemed to get a bit better before Thanksgiving, got the cast off, but then three days later was run over by a car trying to help push it up an icy incline. Couple more days in the hospital, another cast on the leg, and more pain killers, but the bad mood actually seemed to disappear.
That was my introduction to “Walter”, someone Pete became in the fall, who was very grouchy and obviously didn’t care for me very much.
Life continued on for a few years, a few bumpy roads when he hit the “Walter Phase” every fall, and I learned to dread the end of September – the rest of the year Pete was fun, thoughtful, and a pleasure to be married to. We eventually moved back to Texas and he got out of the Navy and we both started working for Datapoint, and relocated to Columbia, South Carolina. I worked much longer hours than he did, and of course that fall, here comes the “Walter Phase” again; with a new viciousness. He was having blood pressure problems and our doctor put him on blood pressure meds; of course I made yet another excuse that, “Oh it’s just the blood pressure meds affecting him.”
Because of the long hours I was working, and having to put up with “Walter’s” moods, I ended up in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. It had apparently ruptured several days earlier, and by the time I went to the doctor, it was as bad as it could get without it killing you. Of course being in a hospital is no fun, but when you add being strapped to assorted IVs, plus having “Walter” around, it was a horrid week. I got out of the hospital the day before Thanksgiving and we were to go over to the home of one of his employees for Thanksgiving Dinner.
We stopped to get gas in my car and when I looked for $20 in my purse to pay for the gas, there was no money in there – when I went into the hospital, there was over $200 in my purse (gas money for work). I asked him where the money was he went into a rage and slugged me in the mouth. My lip started bleeding, I started crying and said let’s just go home, I’m not going over there now. Needless to say, we fought all the way home, and when I went up the steps to go in the house, he was ahead of me and slammed my hand in the door and I was coming in. Not too much longer, our friends called and pleaded with me to come, so I cleaned up my face, put a bandage on my hand, the bruises were beginning to show along with the cut on my lip, cheek, and hand now.
As we arrived the wife looked at me and said, “Must have been really rough in the hospital the past week. Come on in. Pete has a special meal for you.” They had come to visit me in the hospital a few times over the week and knew I didn’t have a bruised face and cut lip. Pete/Walter had a special meal for me alright. Gerber’s strained Potatoes, Gerber’s strained Turkey, and Gerber’s strained Peas. Some “Thanksgiving” meal and it wasn’t very funny after what I’d been through. Funny thing, though after Thanksgiving he was back to being Pete as usual and didn’t remember anything about the Thanksgiving Day fight. That was the first time he hit me.
But we got through it and moved back to Texas the next year. Come forward a couple of years and we are living in Dallas and some very dear friends called and asked if the husband could come stay with us a while and look for a job. Sure, why not. The next week I was laid off of my job, and the following week Pete was laid off of his job. So now we are on unemployment with a friend living with us. Things are tight but we are managing, until “Walter” emerges the end of September again.
The friend’s husband was having as hard a time finding a job as we were, and in a few weeks, the friend came to live with us as well so she could look for a job. Things went from bad to worse. I came home from a job interview, there was “Walter” and the friend’s husband, sitting on the couch drinking beers and the house was a disaster. They had done nothing all day but drink and watch TV. The fights were getting worse and that day ended with the second time he hit me and the first time he threw me against the wall. Another excuse – stress of both of us looking for a job and having friends living with us.
Thanksgiving approached, we had a very small Thanksgiving dinner and helped our friends move out. The wife had found a secretarial job and the husband had found a job as an assistant manager for a fabric store so they were able to afford an apartment. I’m sure they were equally tired of the fighting and “Walter’s” viciousness. Again after Thanksgiving we both found jobs and went back to work and things returned to normal again. Pete was back, and “Walter” was gone.
Every year around the same time, “Walter” came around and things were bad. The fights, the cussing, the making me feel like I was a worthless piece of crap, his drinking, and the screaming. We took his dad and step-mother to Hawaii for a vacation and to celebrate his dad’s 60th birthday. From the time we got on the plane, he started drinking and when I asked him not to start that, he was very cruel and nasty saying he wished I wasn’t along anyway. And so it started. Eight hours of brutal jibes directed at me, and me crying the entire flight, and ten days in Hawaii with a vicious and cruel husband telling me there was nothing I could do right and he wished I’d never come in the first place. I tried to hide it from his dad and step-mom as best I could and did everything I could to encourage him to go play golf with his dad, or go fishing with his dad and just let me and the step-mother go shopping or sight-seeing. It was so much better without him around. He stopped short of hitting me several times there because I reminded him his dad was in the next room and if he hit me again, I was going to tell his dad THIS TIME!
Finally, the following year, I’d had about all I could handle. “Walter” was bad enough, but now he had started calling himself “Peter” on occasion and he was far worse than “Walter” had ever been. I missed the Pete that I married. The sweet, thoughtful, fun guy that I had dated in high school and through college, and married.
The fights got worse, his memory got worse, his mood swings were unbearable, and finally he went to a doctor who diagnosed him as “Manic/Depressive.” Well that explained the severe mood swings, but not the “Walter” and “Peter” parts. A friend of ours committed suicide shortly before this time and Pete began threatening suicide too. A friend recommended a doctor for me to take Pete to regarding the suicide threats, but when we got there “Peter” was in full vicious and hateful mode – worse than I had ever seen him before.
The doctor wanted to do the MMPI and psychological testing on both of us because “Peter” kept saying how stupid I was and that I couldn’t remember anything, and was always accusing him of doing things he never did and forgetting things frequently. Bottom line, we both took the test, and the doctor called me in to speak with me alone. Of course, I thought it was because I was really as bad as “Walter/Peter” kept saying, but it turned out there was a reason he was “Pete” at times, “Walter” at other times, and “Peter” at even different times. Based on the testing, he was diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder.
It explained why he “lost time” and the other “people” that he claimed to be, as well as why he swore up and down I had neglected to tell him something when I KNEW I had told him. It explained the violence and viciousness and hatefulness. The doctor explained that MPD was from childhood abuse. Turns out my husband’s mother sexually abused him from the time he was about two years old, and coupled with the physical and mental abuse, plus the threats that if he told his dad, she would kill his little sister or brother.
We tried to get him to go to therapy, but “Peter” was in full charge now. I learned to tell their voices apart when he got up in the morning as to who he was going to be that day. Finally, on New Year’s Eve, I found out about all the prostitutes he was picking up, along with the prostitute from Maine that he was taking on business trips with him, and we got into a huge fight. He hit me once, and brought his fist back to hit me again, when I stopped his fist in mid-air with the palm of my hand, and very calmly said “You better make this good, because if you hit me one more time I am going to make you dead.” He looked into my eyes and knew that I was going to snap and kill him if he hit me again, and he walked out the door. I’d had enough! I’d reached that final point.
We filed for divorce, it was nasty because the prostitute from Maine was a big part of the picture now. It took 18 months for the divorce to be final, with lots of fighting and him moving to New York and moving the prostitute in with him there – even though we were still married.
The divorce was finally over in June the following year, and a week after it was over, “Walter” called me screaming saying he was going to kill me. My dear friend in New Jersey and my cousin in Houston both called between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. two mornings later with a premonition that I was going to die if I went to work that day and tried to talk me out of going to work. They described the guy who was going to kill me, a dress I was wearing, and exactly where my car was parked. I told them both I had to go to work because I was teaching a class, but we all agreed if I wore a different outfit the outcome would change.
I wore another outfit, but the guy they both described was standing by my car when I started out of the building. I went out the opposite end of the building to get the security guard and when the guard talked with him he said, “A man named Walter had hired him to teach Patricia Harris a ‘permanent’ lesson,” and he had a gun. The police were called, no charges were filed because the guy was hired over the phone and couldn’t identify “Walter.”
I rented a car, stayed with some friends, bought a wig and some new clothes and continued to try to work each day and live through this. Three months later he married the prostitute from Maine and now he is on a permanent restraining order the rest of his life, and under orders to not come near me or contact me.
Life goes on, and many lessons were learned those 15 years we were married – isn’t hindsight great? Had I known about the child abuse before we got married, would I have married him anyway? Probably. Had I known that child abuse is generational and he would continue the abusive actions, would I have married him anyway? Probably. Had I known about the MPD, would I have married him anyway? Probably, because during the counseling I realized I knew “something was wrong” from that first “Walter Phase”, but blamed myself (by then everything that went wrong was my fault anyway) and because “if I loved him enough, I could get him through this and fix him”. It took several months of counseling before the counselor got it through my head: “I wasn’t the one who broke him. I couldn’t be the one to fix him.”
Generational abuse can’t be fixed until the person is aware of the abuse, and realizes they are following the same footsteps and actions of the abuser and stops! Best advice, when someone begins acting weird (and specifically calling themselves other names) … GET HELP. The abuse will start no matter how good the original person seemed to be. Whether it’s Multiple Personality Disorder, Manic/Depressive, drug abuse, or alcoholism – none are good signs in any person. The best thing to remember is to keep looking forward and not in that small rear-view mirror to re-live the past, but do remember the mistakes of the past and the lessons learned and refrain from repeating them again. Above all, don’t look for excuses to rationalize their behavior – recognize it for what it is – ABUSE!