He never saw the blow coming because he was driving at highway speed. She hit him as hard as she could in his right temple and sent his glasses flying onto the dashboard. Out of the corner of his eye he saw another blow coming as he hit the brakes and steered the car toward the shoulder. He instinctively threw his arm up to protect himself and deflected the blow; she would claim later that he had "backhanded her." She flung the car door open. Called him every name in the book as she walked away. Still seeing stars, he searched for his glasses. By the time he found them she had disappeared into the night. He knew when she spoke to her family next that it would be he who initiated the fight, he who "hit her" and made her walk in a dangerous area at night. It was important to her to never be seen as the one who was abusive. He had told her how he had vowed to never hit women because he had grown up seeing his mother beaten regularly (until, that is, he and his brother came of age and protected her). She would use that knowledge throughout their relationship.
The first time she hit him, and most times after that, she became enraged over something that he had done for one of his kids, particularly when it involved spending money. He paid his child support regularly as clockwork but she believed that anything extra was out of "her money" too. She refused to even meet his children.
She had become enraged again on Christmas Eve because he had exceeded what she thought he should spend on the kids. He took at least two dozen blows and kicks and did the best to protect himself. He knew that to even restrain her would result in claims that he had "attacked her." These assaults had taken place at Christmas three times in five years. Twice it occurred at her parents’ house. They must have heard it, but no one said anything. He knew the routine. As he wiped his bloodied nose, he got his jacket and keys and headed out the door. She would be drunk when he got back and probably lethargic from the legal narcotics she took every day. At least that made her mellow and apologetic—sort of. The arguments seemed to excite her and she would make it up to him physically when he got back, unless she was passed out.
She had been taught somewhere to use her sexuality to control men. During arguments she would tell him that she had dated some of the most handsome men in Indian country and had five engagement rings to prove it. He suspected that she had had affairs. Sometimes she would even hint as much. She also told him she dumped most of her boyfriends because they had abused her. He had punched one of them in a bar one night. When the guy asked, "What was that for?" he responded, "You know what you did." She was gleeful when he told her what he had done. He came to realize that if the guy had hit her he was probably defending himself.
At first, she had told him that he was smart, handsome and intelligent. Later, though, she said that if it was not for her he wouldn’t know how to do anything without her help. "When are you going to put me first?" she asked constantly. This confused him, as he thought he put her before everyone else, even his children. He came to believe that what he had thought about himself—that he was a kind person, good father, good husband—was not true, particularly since he had left his family to be with her. He believed his sins justified the "occasional" reminders he got from her about how bad a person he was.
His children were never mentioned and he was allowed to keep photos of them only on one wall in the basement where they could not be viewed by company. If they came to visit, she went to a hotel. If he went to visit them, he had to call her several times a day and she would do the same. His time with them was constantly interrupted as his attention was diverted from them to her.
He finally realized he had to get out when she refused to go forward with the baptism of their daughter because his older children planned to attend. When they had a chance meeting in a store and his kids walked over to greet her, she walked away without speaking. He waited until they got back to the hotel room with her mother and father present before he told her he was leaving her.
For this he paid the ultimate price. Ten years would pass before he was allowed to spend any significant time with their young daughter.
The day after he left her, he went to the Sundance Lodge and begged for help to quit the alcohol he had used for years to medicate the hurt he had inflicted on his family, and to be reunited with them.
Gee-she-monitou answered his prayers.
Note: Although based on true anecdotes, the characters depicted are composites and do not represent particular individuals.
Harold A. Monteau is a Chippewa Cree attorney who resides in Albuquerque and was the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission in the Clinton administration.