“I told Chad when I met him I wanted to go to college and get my degree,” said Kelly, 25, who has been married for four years and has an 18-month-old son, Charlie. “I want to do it not just for me but for all of us. But Chad’s always got some reason why I shouldn’t. He says a degree is just a piece of paper, you don’t need school to learn what matters. I’ve been given that kind of discouragement since I was a kid.
“My sister, Kim, and I were adopted together when I was 2 and she was 4. Everyone in our small town thought our parents, who owned a grocery store, were fine churchgoing people. But they were abusive, physically and mentally. One day when I was 8, for example, I was dancing to music on the radio. My mother apparently told me to stop, but I didn’t hear her. So she hauled off and smacked me so hard my ears rang for days. That was typical. My parents had three biological children who were several years older than Kim and me. It was like two different families — the ‘real’ kids had phones and carpeting in their bedrooms, participated in loads of extracurricular activities, and didn’t do chores. Kim and I shared a tiny room and weren’t allowed to do anything except go to school and work in the store. We fantasized about running away, and when Kim was 16 she left to live with a friend’s family. About a year later I went to live with a friend, too. Mother threatened to call the police. ‘Tell them I’d like to talk to them, too,’ I replied. There was no way I was going back.
“The next few years were harder than I ever imagined. I moved countless times and supported myself by waitressing, cleaning house, or working as a salesclerk. Then I met Chad. I answered an ad for a receptionist at his landscaping business and he hired me. He was divorced and his two teenage sons were the light of his life. I was touched by his love for them, as well as by his generosity and kindness toward me. He treated me like a princess! Before long we fell in love, and I found myself telling him my story — something I’d never done with anyone. I was 21 and Chad was 35 when we got married. The age difference raised a few eyebrows but it didn’t bother us.
“Having another child was not part of his game plan, but I’ll admit Chad’s a good dad to Charlie, who comes to work with us every day. Chad worries constantly about money and how he’s going to expand the business since he also pays alimony and child support. His ex calls him morning, noon, and night and he feels obligated to talk to her and help her start her car or fix an air conditioner. I wish he treated me that well. When I talk about why I want to go to school, he’ll cut me off and tell me what I should be thinking instead. He also criticizes me in public. Last week he claimed I gave customers incorrect information about their new hydrangeas — which I didn’t. He gets jealous if I have dinner with my girlfriends, and I have to twist his arm to watch Charlie so I can go. I get so frustrated I lose it, and we’ll have a horrible argument, with Chad freezing me out for days on end.
“Even though I’m now the office manager, I stopped getting a salary when we got married. So every week, I have to ask Chad for money for groceries, gas, or drugstore expenses that are really ‘ours,’ not just ‘mine.’ He even gave me a hard time when Charlie was sick and I needed another $10 to cover the doctor’s copay! I do love Chad, but I need to feel good about myself, too. That’s why I want to go to school. I’d like his support, but if I can’t get it, I’m prepared to go it alone. I did it before and I’ll do it again.”