I am a coward. I hear a lot of talk of my courage, my bravery, my integrity. But the fact of the matter is that I lie to the most important person in my world on a regular basis because I am afraid.
I love my son. Telling him “there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you” is not entirely false, but when it comes down to it I have avoided doing one thing for the last five years that could either save him a lot of grief or get one or both of us killed. It is the possibility of the latter that scares me into submission regularly.
Have you ever had someone threaten your life? Not your sister who finds out you ruined her favorite sweater then chases you around the house screaming “I’M GONNA KILL YOU!” Have you ever had someone repeatedly, and with nonchalance, mention in conversation that if you ever cheated on him he would kill you? Have you ever heard someone say “if you ever humiliated me like that I would kill you” And have you heard those words uttered without a shred of humor or sarcasm but with absolute commitment?
Let’s take it up a notch. Have you ever heard the words “I will kill you.” Not would, but “will”. And have you heard those words spoken by a man who slammed on the gas and wove in and out of Friday night traffic when you asked him to slow down because he was going 90 on the New Jersey Turnpike? Accelerating, braking, turning, swerving, accelerating. A man who on multiple occasions threatened to stall the small plane he was operating just so he would have the chance to see the sheer terror in your eyes because he knows that you are afraid of heights. The same man who another time did stall the plane and let it free fall because the fear he’d instilled and the power he had gained was enough to send tears streaming down your face.
I didn’t mean to tell him I was pregnant. I wanted to wait until a doctor’s appointment confirmed the multiple brands of home tests and I had a better idea of when conception might have been. There was a chance that not only was the baby not his, but could belong to the man who still had my heart at the time. When a heated clash erupted one night and he grew physical very quickly, charging around the apartment, throwing things, I blurted out “I am pregnant” as he turned toward me. It was my hope that doing so would stop him from putting hands on me or changing his aim in my direction, which it did. He left. And when he came back several hours later I was told “You’re going to have this baby and I’m going to be there.” There was no conversation. No happiness. Just directives.
Four days later I found myself in my OB/GYN’s office by myself. When she came in and told me “you’re really pregnant!” I didn’t know what to think. When I told her there was a question of paternity we talked about it. Based on the due date given by the sonogram she said it was possible, but not plausible that this other man was the baby’s father.
I was scared. I was scared that I was pregnant and there were options for paternity. I was scared that after years of being told I couldn’t have kids that I was about to have one and I didn’t want to with this man. I was scared because the man I had just moved in with had taken control of and threatened my life.
It didn’t matter whether or not I had found comfort with someone else and whether or not he would find out. What mattered was I was miraculously pregnant and living with a man who I was afraid would kill me. The first moment I saw that little gummy bear’s heartbeat I knew I would do anything to protect them. At the time I thought that meant marrying the man I was afraid of and having “his” baby.
We have been in ongoing litigation for three years now. He tried to take my son from me. He told the courts I was not fit to be a parent and the fear is there that maybe he is right. What kind of a mother questions the paternity of her own child, could save her son from the clutches of a sociopath but does nothing because she is paralyzed with fear?
Well, this one does. Why? Because there is still, and maybe even more now, the very real likelihood that my life and that of my son could be in danger if I pursued it. But what if the real fear, the reason for holding on to the secret for so long and not getting a definitive answer, is knowing without a doubt that the man mentioned before is not only the father of my child but will always have me trapped in the passenger seat while he drives my life away with reckless abandon.
I have put so much energy into NOT KNOWING over the last six years and I just can’t do it anymore. I have to believe that things will work out as they should and my son and I will be safe. I owe it to my son, to a possible father, and to me to know the truth. It is not too late to build a better life for all of us.