The first indication that my new marriage was in trouble came when my husband, Lyle, locked me outside in the cold one morning when I took the dogs out. I was wearing only a light robe. The temperature was in the low 50s. When I tried to open the sliding door to go back inside, it wouldn’t budge. I looked at Lyle as he stood just inside, smiling at me. I asked him to open the door, but he only continued to smile at me. After several attempts, I told him I was going to a neighbor’s house and get the spare key they kept for us. As I turned to leave, he opened the door and asked if I’d like to come inside. “It’s very cold out there,” he said. He didn’t say he was sorry.
I asked why he would do such a thing, and he said “Gema, it was a joke.” I told Lyle that I didn’t find it funny at all, and I spent the rest of the morning avoiding him. It was the day after our wedding .
Our friendship began in April of 1994. We were both senior citizens. He was 62 and I was 59. We were attending grief support sessions when we met, both having lost spouses to lung cancer in the same hospital just weeks apart. Those grief meetings were often painful, and after the moderator left, many of us stayed to talk with each other about our feelings.
Lyle began teasing me in a friendly way after a couple of these sessions, and it did a lot to ease the tension. After the meetings we talked about our lives, and how difficult it was to find ourselves so alone, especially at mealtime. After a few more weeks Lyle asked me to join him for lunch, explaining that he knew we would neither one ever find love again, but we did need to eat. I agreed that I would enjoy having someone to talk with, instead of eating by myself.
During our meals together, Lyle was kind, and constantly made jokes to try to lift the mood. Occasionally one of us would be reduced to tears over a memory of my Alan or his Maddie, or the mention of an anniversary of some sort. We grew together, enjoying the companionship we’d found.
As we approached the anniversary of our losses, we began spending more time together at one of our homes, often overnight. It wasn’t love, but it was a good friendship, and that was enough for us.
Lyle suggested we should marry after the one-year anniversaries, and I agreed. We had a lovely patio wedding with both our families in attendance, and I moved into Lyle’s home. No sooner had the wedding taken place than the ugly side of Lyle’s personality began to surface.
I was spending a lot of time administering a rapidly growing therapy dog program at a large nearby hospital. I owned three poodles, standards named Ice and Alegre, and a little toy named Bingo. They were the foundation dogs of the program. Lyle readily accepted the dogs, and he seemed to approve of the beneficial work I was doing. From time to time he even accompanied me on visits with the dogs. With my beautiful white standard poodle in tow, he got lots of attention – something he was very fond of.
Bingo, my little toy poodle, didn’t like Lyle, but I had thought he was just missing Alan. One day I found out the real reason. Lyle always insisted the dogs be locked in the laundry room when we were gone, and since Bingo could easily jump over the puppy gate, he had to be crated. I went along with it, since the laundry room was cool and roomy for the bigger standard poodles, and the crate was comfy for Bingo. One morning as we got ready to leave, Bingo seemed reluctant to go into his crate, and Lyle picked him up to put him in. Bingo growled at him, which set Lyle into a rage. He raised my little dog and slammed him to the floor. Although Bingo was stunned and fearful, he seemed unhurt and apparently nothing was broken. From that moment, I made it a point to keep Bingo away from Lyle.
I had kept my own home after our marriage, and now I found myself escaping to the peace there more and more often when things got out of hand. Lyle wasn’t always difficult, and he could be a kind and funny companion most of the time. I assumed that time would change his behavior, and I was determined to stick it out. I wasn’t afraid of him, and I had no notion that he would ever harm me.
Lyle began to monitor my phone calls, staying close to me so he could listen to the conversation. Then, after I got off the phone he would question me about what the other person had said. I had to sneak off to make calls to my friends if I wanted any privacy.
A few months later I sold my house, and we pooled our funds to buy a home at the beach, which sat high on a bluff, facing the ocean. It was right on the coast highway with a spectacular view, and we could see for miles. I loved the house, and also loved being able to live somewhere other than at Lyle’s house, even on a getaway basis.
The morning after we moved in we were eager to take the dogs for a long walk along the beach. Lyle took Ice, and I took Alegre. We left Bingo behind. Lyle started across the coast highway ahead of me. As I prepared to follow him I looked up just in time to see a very large pickup truck the instant before it hit Lyle and Ice. I didn’t see the impact. Perhaps my brain blocked it out. I did see them flying through the air, landing several car lengths away. Lyle’s attempts to get up made it clear he was injured. Ice was terrified, but apparently unhurt.
Someone called 9-1-1, and an ambulance arrived. As soon as I was sure Lyle was being cared for by the ambulance attendants, I took the dogs back into the house where we’d left Bingo and followed the ambulance to the hospital.
Lyle had a shattered femur and kneecap. The doctor told me he might not walk again without assistance. He was in surgery for four hours, but they used pins in an attempt to repair the many bones that were broken. After five days we came home with an immobilizing device that kept his knee in motion for ten hours a day, keeping him bedbound. Then began my full understanding of just how difficult this man could be.
At first, I was sympathetic, as I knew he was in pain. However, I didn’t expect to be trapped at home for weeks, taking care of a bedridden, angry man. He wouldn’t allow anyone else come to the house, and the only time he would let me go out was to go to the grocery store. I was his captive.
Finally Lyle recovered without any disability. We planned a cruise to Alaska to reward ourselves, and I was looking forward to seeing the beauty of this land I had never experienced. Unfortunately, I was to see little of it, as Lyle expected us to stay in our tiny room most of the time, leaving only for meals and a couple of shore excursions. One day, growing very bored with this arrangement, I told him I had to get some exercise. I left him brooding alone in our room while I walked the decks of the ship. Everyone was outside watching huge chunks of ice falling from glaciers into the sea, and I joined in. However, it was not long before Lyle was at my side telling me it was time to get ready for dinner…in the middle of the afternoon! I went back inside with him, and realized that this was going to be the pattern for the rest of the cruise.
Our lives became directed by Lyle’s moods. He was often happy and eager to get out and enjoy life, but just as often we were limited by his rages and controlling behavior.
Lyle loved to humiliate me, thinking it was very funny. One such event happened at a lovely patio restaurant after we’d finished a leisurely lunch on a summer day. I had asked for a specially made salad, something quite different from the way it was listed on the menu, and it was delicious. When the waiter came by to ask how it was, I said, “That was so good you’re just going to have to put it on the menu and name it after me.” Lyle looked around to be sure he had plenty of attention, and said, “Who’d want a salad called Old and Ugly?” I wanted to disappear. I was in tears by the time we got to the car. He asked, “Gema, what’s wrong with you? When I tried to explain, he said, “everyone thought it was cute.”
That evening, after I’d calmed down, I again tried to explain how painful the experience had been, but Lyle began to get angry. I knew I’d better drop the subject before he went into another rage.
These incidents happened more and more often, and I was wondering how I was going to live with the situation.
The next time Lyle’s anger got out of control, he began throwing things. I tried to get away from him and go to the beach house, but he locked the cars and hid the keys from me. After putting up with his rage for several hours, I went to the back of the house and called the sheriff’s office, telling them I needed to get away from my angry husband. I asked that they send someone to help me.
I told Lyle what I’d done, and he quieted down when they arrived. They asked what was wrong, and I explained that I just wanted to leave until Lyle was over his anger. At this point, Lyle brought out the honorary badge he’d received when he retired years earlier as a volunteer police officer in a nearby city. When the officers saw the badge, they apologized to Lyle for bothering him, and told me I could leave before they did.
I took my three dogs and went to his daughter’s house. I was afraid if I was at the beach house alone Lyle might follow me and make things even worse. Lyle’s daughter had grown up with these rages, and was kind and sympathetic. She called her Dad and told him I was with her, that I was going to the beach house, and that he should leave me alone. I suppose knowing she was aware of his behavior made him agree. He called me later that day and asked me to come back, and foolishly, I did.
One spring about seven years after our marriage we drove a couple of hours east to the desert area where my daughter Ann and her family lived. While there Lyle suggested we look at some golf course properties. Ann told us about a great country club just a couple of miles from their home that was having open houses that day. We went, we looked, and we fell in love with a pretty little condo. Lyle said “Let’s buy it. It will be perfect for weekend getaways.”
We intended to spend a few weekends a month in the new condo starting in October, when the desert weather cooled down from summer temperatures of 110 degrees or more. Meanwhile, it was a very difficult summer for us. In addition to our personal problems, all three of our poodles were getting quite old and had many health problems. Two died within weeks of one another, and when I had the last one put down in late summer Lyle said “It’s time to get another poodle.”
We contacted several poodle breeders, and after much research we narrowed our search to just one, a reputable woman who expected a litter of silver standards soon. When we went to pick up our new puppy, I saw Lyle fall completely in love. Although he had loved his late wife, and did love me in his own peculiar way, I believe this was the only time in his entire life he experienced unconditional love. Our new puppy Gaze was with us when we went to our condo in the desert in late September for the first time, and became an important part of our family. Never once in all the years which followed did I ever see Lyle show anything but love for this sweet dog.
We were spending more time in the desert, and after a few months we looked at a larger home, one with a nice courtyard, big enough for Gaze to have a place to play. Lyle joked that it was the first time he’d heard of anyone buying a house for a dog, but that’s exactly the reason he wanted us to buy it. We bought the larger condo just three months after we’d first purchased in the desert, and our old condo was sold on the same day.
A few months later, I had foot surgery, and afterwards Lyle and I went to the desert where it would be easier for me to keep up the smaller house. I was walking Gaze up the street one evening when I tripped on a curb and felt a terrible pain in my ankle, on the same foot as the surgery. I was sure it was broken, and asked Lyle to take me to the emergency room to have it checked. He refused, telling me to take myself. Finally my daughter picked me up and took me. My ankle was just severely sprained, but very painful.
As time went on, Lyle and I seemed to have more and more periods of conflict, seldom agreeing on anything. I’d finally reached the point where I found the inner strength to disagree openly with Lyle and his many demands. This speaking up for myself was new territory for me, and he became angrier each time I refused his demands.
The first time Lyle left his mark on me was over something so trivial that I can’t even remember why it happened. I had gone to the hospital where I volunteered several days a week, when one of my friends there noticed the large bruise on my wrist. She asked how it happened, and I admitted Lyle had grabbed me when he was angry about something the night before. It wasn’t long before my friend and our supervisor were both trying to talk me into pressing charges against Lyle. I told them I couldn’t do that, but they insisted on taking pictures for the record in case it ever happened again.
Living at Lyle’s home now, we were both making an effort to get along, and it did seem to be working well. One Saturday we had spent the afternoon looking through antique shops, a thing we both enjoyed. It had been such a nice day, and I decided to run to the market to get a steak and prepare a special dinner. I even bought a bottle of champagne to go with it.
As I was preparing a salad I remembered something I wanted to get out of the car, a desert I had bought that Lyle was very fond of. When I went down the hall and out into the garage, I found the overhead garage door open. Looking outside to see if Lyle was in the yard, I saw him coming out of the house behind me, through the garage. I said “the door was open, so I assumed you were out here.” He began screaming that I had left the door open and the rats were going to get to an expensive antique car he had stored there. I said, “I may have left it open. I’m sorry.” Nothing I could say would calm him down, and his anger began to get frightening. Going inside, I said “I’m going to the beach house until you calm down. Call me when you feel better.”
Lyle grabbed my arm and pushed me against the wall. I said, “You’re hurting me, let me go.” He began shouting about what an awful person I was, using filthy language that he saved for such occasions. I told him, “If you don’t let me go I’m going to call the sheriff,” and reached for the cordless phone. He grabbed the phone out of my hand and threw it across the room, breaking it in several pieces.
I ran into the bathroom and locked the door. My purse with my cell phone was there, and I dialed 9-1-1. I told the operator that my husband was screaming at me and wouldn’t let me leave. I asked if they could send someone to help me get away from him. Lyle heard me, and again, became very calm, although obviously still very angry. He knew he must appear in control of his temper when the officers arrived. He got out his retirement badge, and stood with me in the driveway to wait for the sheriff.
Two officers got out of their cars and asked us what the problem was. Lyle said, “She just gets carried away and starts a fight every time she turns around.” One of the officers noticed me holding my arm where Lyle had grabbed me. He asked if he could see it, and when I showed him the large purple bruise, he asked me to tell them what had happened. I gave them the details as best I could remember, and then told them I just wanted to leave and go to our other house until Lyle calmed down. I saw Lyle start to bring out his badge, and said to the officer, “He’s going to show you his badge now, and I suppose you’ll just tell him you’re sorry to have bothered him, then you’ll leave.” I pleaded, “Please help me get out of here before you go.”
“No ma’am,” the officer said. “When there is physical evidence of any kind of domestic abuse, we have to make an arrest.”
This upset me, and I had mixed emotions. Lyle was an old man, and the idea of having him arrested was shocking to both of us. I asked them not to do that, but was told they had no choice.
After they left with Lyle, I called his daughter and told her what had happened. She said she’d bail him out and bring him home the next day, and that she would come over and help me get my things out before he got back.
Exhausted, I collapsed into bed, relieved that I could at least get a decent night’s sleep before having to deal with this mess in the morning. Early the next day, I packed everything I could fit into my car, intending to stay at the beach until I could arrange my affairs and leave Lyle. I left before he and his daughter arrived and went to the beach house.
Lyle called me as soon as his daughter dropped him off. He told me that he was sorry and that it would not happen again. “I promise you,” he said.
Once again, I agreed to try to work things out. As a condition of his release from jail, Lyle was scheduled for a domestic abuse hearing. At that hearing the court ordered him to attend anger management training, which he did. When he returned after the first session he openly admitted that he was responsible for all of our problems because of his uncontrolled anger. I was hopeful with his positive attitude each time he returned from his meetings. After about six sessions I was asked to accompany him, and was directed by the counselor to repeat all the angry things he’d said to me, including the profanity. That session did not end on a friendly note, as Lyle was furious about my telling the therapist the things he’d said to me and the terrible names he’d called me.
Our relationship deteriorated rapidly after this last episode. Soon it was evident to me that we were not going to be able to reconcile. I began to quietly move as many of my possessions as I could to a friend’s home without it being obvious what I was doing. Lyle had always insisted that my retirement benefits be put in our joint checking account. I was able to change that, and started saving my income at another bank, knowing I would need funds if I were to be able to escape.
Memories of those last months are painful, as I remember so many of the hurtful things Lyle said to me. “I hope you hit a tree and die,” was one of the things he repeated over and over again.
The day finally came when I was to get my chance. Lyle had a friend over visiting, and while he was there I began taking the remainder of my things to my car, which I had parked up the street so Lyle couldn’t keep me from leaving. It was August 8th, 2007, and as I drove to the desert alone that evening I was terrified. I was a 72 year old woman, frightened and very alone. I was also determined I was going to make a new life for myself. I didn’t have any idea how Lyle was going to take this, although by this time we both knew it was coming. We just hadn’t discussed when and how.
I called his daughter as I was leaving town, and told her what had happened. With mixed emotions and concerns for Lyle, I told her I knew he would be devastated, and I asked if she’d contact him. She assured me he’d be OK as long as he had his beloved dog, Gaze. Leaving our dog had been heartbreaking for me, as I loved her as much as Lyle did, but I realized that he needed her more than I did.
I was fearful of what Lyle might do, as I knew that he was stressed out and unpredictable. I also knew he had a houseful of guns, as he was an avid collector.
Fortunately Lyle maintained his distance, and we began to talk on the phone about how we were going to manage our divorce. His anger got the best of him many times, but I finally began to believe that he was going to leave me alone.
The divorce was difficult, but we managed to get through it. It took nearly a year. I filed from my home in the desert, and we put the beach house on the market.
Lyle and I became friends again when the divorce was over. He had remarried his first wife, the mother of his daughters, and said he was happy. When we talked it was pleasant, and I looked forward to those occasional phone calls.
The last time we talked was Valentine’s Day, after Lyle had a very serious abdominal surgery, and surprised everyone by surviving it. He said he was going home to live his life with his wife, and enjoy each day of it. Near the end of our conversation, he said, “I destroyed our marriage, the one thing that mattered most to me, and I’m going to have to live with that. I’m so sorry.”
Lyle’s daughter called the next morning at five-thirty to tell me Lyle had died during the night of an internal hemorrhage. It was a painful loss of a dear friend, and as I cried I realized that I still cared for him after all we’d been through.
Until I started writing about the thirteen years I lived with Lyle, I had memories only of a few bad times. Now I realize there were many more than I realized, and I can see how many mistakes I made along the way.
I should have removed myself from the situation when it first occurred, but I didn’t recognize a pattern of abnormal behavior. I kept thinking it was “just this one time.” In hindsight, I know I also should have kept our finances separate, instead of letting Lyle bully me into putting everything I had into joint accounts.
If my story helps just one woman escape from a situation of emotional and physical abuse, embarrassment and humiliation, the pain of writing about this dark period in my life will have been worthwhile.
© Gema McLean, all rights reserved
© Gema McLean, all rights reserved