Dear Elaine,

Do you remember the time we were at a breakfast buffet in Virginia Beach? You were chatting with us about the breakfast offerings and detailing what you could and couldn’t eat because of your medical condition. That’s when Jim cut you off with a humiliating tirade about your “goddamn bitching” and then told you to “shut the fuck up”. I remember the awkward silence as we sat around the table staring straight down at our plates. I was embarrassed and angry for you.

John told me that Jim used to park the station wagon in front of his favorite bar and leave your babies there while he went inside and indulged in a few drinks. He claimed that you told Jim you’d leave him if he didn’t stop drinking and that Jim never touched another drink after that.

Knowing what I know about your son, I have a feeling that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Did Jim hide bottles of liquor all over the house and in the car? Did he sneak down to the basement every half-hour so he could indulge when you weren’t looking? Did you know, but stay willfully ignorant, like me? Or did you confront him every once in a while about his behavior, also like me?

If he was toxic enough to verbally assault and humiliate you in public that one time, how many other times did he vent his rage on you? Did he ever push you? Restrain you from leaving? Kick down a door? Did he throw things at you? Did he threaten to kill himself or you?

I know the Catholic narrative all too well. Suffer in silence like a good girl. Don’t set him off. Be submissive and you’ll be safe. You survived, Elaine, but I wonder if you would do it over again. I wonder if you know that I knew your secret. I wonder if you knew mine.

You were a good mother-in-law. I’m sorry it had to be like this. I am sorry that you have to spend the rest of your days carrying the burden of toxic masculinity. I think about you every day and wonder how you remain so stoic. I think about the night before my wedding, when you got the call that your best friend was shot and killed by her husband, my teacher, in the library parking lot. You handled the shock and trauma with such grace and dignity, but you must have been dying inside.

Your close friend was a domestic violence victim. And I believe you are a survivor.

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