One of These Days These Boots are Gonna Walk All Over You

Prüm Air Station, 1980s

When we arrived in Germany, Monica was about two months old. She didn’t start sleeping through the night until she was nearly a year old. Rocky wouldn’t get up in the night with her because he said he had to work and I didn’t. He wouldn’t get up on the weekends to give me a break either. because he didn’t want to break his routine. I couldn’t make him understand that, outside work or not, I was up with him to take care of Nick and I went to bed at the same time as he did because I had to stay up until the babies went down. He said that wasn’t work. I couldn’t sleep in the day because, well, YOU try to get two babies to consistently nap at the same time.

I was a walking zombie from lack of sleep. I started co-sleeping with Monica because I had to sleep. Rocky objected because he said co-sleeping is dangerous: you could roll over and smother the baby in your sleep. I asked him what his solution was because I HAD to sleep. He had no solution. If I left Monica in her crib and let her cry in hopes of making Rocky get out of bed, he’d yell at me for letting her cry and waking him up. She slept on my side of the bed with me curled around her. I’d wake up in the mornings stiff from having slept in the same position all night, but at least I slept.

When Rocky left for work in the mornings, he’d tell me not to let the kids play in the street. This could have been a silly joke between parents, but it was not. He’d tell me not to let them play on the stairs or not to let them play outside alone, or whatever it occurred to him to worry about that day. He’d give the warning about whatever and I’d say, “Damn! That was my plan for the day. Now what are we going to do?” Rocky would tell me I wasn’t funny and I’d tell him I wasn’t trying to be and ask if he thought I was an idiot. 

Nick had been a placid baby, content to sit and watch as long as he could see me. Monica felt she needed to be attached to me and would wrap her hands in the ends of my waist-length hair and hang on as hard as she could. I learned to do a lot of things one-handed. Where Nick was content to sit and play and didn’t walk until he was over a year old, Monica needed to be moving and exploring. She was walking by 10 months and crawled basically as soon as she could hold her own head up. She also had to see things for herself. If you told her to stop doing something because it would hurt, she’d have to do it to see if you were right. Come to think of it, she’s still this way as an adult with a child of her own!

Monica would crawl to the edge of the couch or bed or wherever she might be, then pause to look back and make sure I was watching. I’d tell her, “that’s far enough; you’re going to fall.” She’d smile and plow forward, tumbling to the floor. Rocky would flip out and run to her. He’d grab her and sweep her up into his arms and check for broken bones, kiss her all over her head, and then shout at me for letting her fall. I’d tell him I didn’t LET fer fall. I PUSHED her over the edge. I tried to tell him that his over-reaction was what made her do it. Monica wasn’t mean. But every time she tumbled off something she got all this attention from her daddy. It was a fun game to her.

Of course Rocky wasn’t amused by my smart ass answers. But I wasn’t amused that he acted like I wasn’t watching her and I was stupid, and I wasn’t amused that he kept encouraging her to continue by reacting the way he did. Monica also discovered she could steal Nick’s toys and cry when he took them back and Rocky would make Nick give her the toy. In fact, it soon became very apparent who the favorite person in the house was. Monica could do no wrong and Nick and I were blamed for everything she did. I started thinking that if I didn’t get Monica away from Rocky, he was going to turn her into a monster.

Monica was the golden child and Nick couldn’t do anything right. According to Rocky, Nick wasn’t tough enough, he cried too easily, he was too attached to me. Nick was three years old. I told Rocky I thought he was expecting an awful lot from a three year old and he told me I was turning Nick into a mama’s boy. Nick went through a picky eating phase at that time, as many toddlers do, and only wanted to eat peanut butter sandwiches. This made Rocky furious. He said Nick would eat what I put in front of him. I checked with the pediatrician and he said as long as food was offered, a child won’t starve itself. Eating peanut butter sandwiches for a month or two wasn’t going to hurt Nick. He’d grow out of it. I told Rocky this. He said he didn’t care, Nick was going to eat what I’d cooked.

Rocky either wouldn’t let me give Nick a sandwich or he’d take it away. Nick wouldn’t eat. One night, Rocky yanked Nick out of his chair by one arm and spanked him all the way to his room. Nick was three years old and took after me–he was tiny! Rocky was a full grown man who lifted weights for three hours a night. I couldn’t even begin to dream of wrestling Nick away from him. I began feeding Nick before Rocky got home and preparing a decoy dish of messy, half-eaten food smeared with ketchup so I could show Rocky that Nick had eaten ‘real’ food before he arrived.

As I just mentioned, Rocky lifted weights for 3 hours every night. So he’d get home after 5, eat, and go lift for three hours. By the time he was done, the kids were bathed and ready for bed. He’d spend maybe half an hour with them. I started thinking I might as well be a single mother–I was doing everything anyway, and if I was single I wouldn’t have to lie so much. I asked Rocky to lift every other day, or after the kids went to bed, but he said his routine was important. I told him I might as well be a single mother. He told me I could go home if I wanted to, but he was never giving up the kids. This became a common threat when we’d fight: I could leave, but I couldn’t have the kids.

Rocky was irritated that I wouldn’t clean up the kids’ toys until they’d gone to bed–he said I was lazy. I told him it didn’t make sense to clean up until they were done playing; they’d just make another mess. Rocky said that was stupid–I might as well not make the bed either, since we’d just mess it  up again at night. OK. I stopped making the bed. When he complained about me saving all the day’s dishes to do at night after the kids were asleep, I stopped doing dishes for a week.  I didn’t clean the bathroom for a month after he complained about water on the floor. Rocky would come into the bathroom when I was bathing the kids expressly to pour water over Nick’s head because “He has to get used to it.” Nick would panic and scream and cry. I started locking the bathroom door ‘by accident’ and I couldn’t walk over to unlock it until they were safely out of the tub. Why, they could drown if I turned my back for a second. 

Rocky started coming home from work late. He said he was stopping for drinks with the guys. He wouldn’t call to tell me he’d be late. When he got home he’d be angry that dinner was cold. If I waited for him to get home before starting dinner he’d be angry because dinner wasn’t ready when he got home. I told him if he’d call and let me know when he’d be home, then I could have dinner ready when he arrived. But he said he never knew when he’d be leaving. I couldn’t win. I began hoping that Rocky would drive off the side of a mountain driving home drunk in the dark. I tried to figure out what my reaction should be when they came to tell me he was dead. I couldn’t let them see how happy it would make me. Should I faint dead away? Was that too dramatic? Would hands over my mouth and silent tears be enough, or should I wail and rend my clothes? Maybe stunned silence? Hysterical denial?

I realized this was an awful line of thought and tried not to wish him dead. Maybe he’s not out drinking? Maybe he’s with another woman and he’ll leave me for her? I would be free! But he would try to keep the kids. So him dying was still the best option. 

I called home. I wanted to talk to Joyce and get some advice or sympathy or help. Before I could get into my problem, Joyce launched into a story about her health. She told me she had diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is when small pouches form in your intestines and then become infected. If the infection becomes too severe or a perforation of the bowel occurs, medical intervention becomes necessary, with a bowel resection, or a resection with a colostomy. Joyce said hers was very severe and she was going to have to have the resection with colostomy. But she said she was thinking she wasn’t going to have the operation because she didn’t want to live with a colostomy bag. I told her I’d rather have a live mother carrying around a bag of poo than a dead mother. Joyce said she had time to think about it. I said goodbye without telling her my problems, feeling that her health was more important.  I told Rocky what Joyce had said and told him I wanted to go home and see her. He said I could go, but I couldn’t take the kids. I didn’t go.

Larry came to Germany for something to do with his service there before he retired. He asked if he could come meet his grandchildren. Lynne wasn’t with him. I reluctantly said yes. I told Rocky to beware of Larry. I said Larry was mean and a liar. Larry came and had dinner and stayed overnight, leaving early in the morning. He and Rocky sat at the kitchen table talking long after I and the kids went to bed. After Larry left the next morning, Rocky started shouting at me, telling me I was a liar and a terrible daughter. He said Larry was a good man, a godly man who would never do the things I claimed he had. I realized in that moment that I was truly done with Rocky, that I disliked him intensely and I wanted him out of my life. 

I started intentionally falling asleep on the couch. Tonia wrote and said she was getting married. She asked if I’d be her maid of honor. I didn’t answer. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to say yes, but I didn’t think Rocky would let me bring Nick and Monica. I couldn’t leave them with him, not even if I was coming right back. I was afraid he’d beat Nick. I was afraid he’d steal Monica.

The person who was in charge of the little store Donna and I worked in was a German man called Frank. He also ran the base exchange. He had a problem with boundaries, always standing way too close and saying questionable things. Frank decided to throw a Christmas party for all of his employees and their spouses. There were maybe ten of us. He reserved space at a restaurant downtown and said he was buying dinner and the first round of drinks.  I asked Nick and Monica’s daycare provider to watch them for the night so I could go; I knew Rocky wouldn’t ‘babysit.’ Since I’d found childcare, Rocky figured I meant for him to join me, so he did.

Frank’s employees were all women, the wives of active duty station personnel. Some of their spouses joined us but most did not. Dinner was served at a giant round table that we could all sit at and face one another. Frank got very drunk very quickly and started telling very crude stories and jokes that involved urine, excrement, menstrual blood; just terrible and disgusting anecdotes. All of us women at the table responded in the way we’d all been taught: smile and nod and don’t antagonize the scary man. We each made our excuses and left as soon as we could. 

Rocky and I picked up the kids from the sitter’s and started home and that’s when Rocky laid into me. He said I had disgusting friends and he was ashamed I was his wife. I said Frank was NOT my friend; he was my BOSS and I didn’t like him at all–I’d already told Rocky that several times. Rocky said I obviously thought Frank was amusing–I’d sat there and laughed while he said all those disgusting things. I wasn’t laughing; I was being polite and careful. Rocky called me a liar and a terrible mother. I climbed into the back seat to get away from him and he just kept going, shouting, saying he was leaving and taking the kids.

I put my hands over my ears and started screaming. Nick started screaming. Monica started screaming. Rocky slammed on the brakes, threw the car in park, and leaped out. He opened the door next to Monica and started unbuckling her car seat, saying he was taking her and leaving. I could go back to my disgusting boyfriend. I wrapped myself around Monica and Rocky pulled us both out of the car together. I was standing in the street with Monica in my arms, unable to run because Nick was still in the car. I was crying and screaming at Rocky to calm down; I didn’t like Frank, swear to god. I will quit my job tomorrow to prove it, just please please please stop and let’s just go home. 

Rocky tried to take Monica from me and I turned my back to him, shielding her with my body. He put his hands on my shoulders and shoved. I went down, twisting as I went, trying not to land on Monica. I landed on my right forearm, the arm holding Monica. I kept my elbow and shoulder stiff, so my weight wouldn’t fall on her. I felt a jolt of pain run from my elbow up past my shoulder, and I knelt there in the street, on my knees and one elbow, holding Monica’s head off the ground with my other hand. The pain was so enormous I didn’t know if I could get back up. I wondered if my arm was broken. 

Suddenly a light turned on and a man’s voice started shouting in German. Rocky lifted me and the baby up by my waist and pushed me into the back seat. We went home. He went to bed alone. I slept on the couch with the kids. In the morning, Rocky acted like nothing had happened. My arm was sore, but unbroken. 

I wrote Tonia and said I wanted to be maid of honor but I needed a big favor. I needed her to write a letter saying she wanted Nick and Monica in the wedding ceremony. She didn’t have to actually have them; she just needed to write it so I could show Rocky.  Tonia wrote back and said she was going to have AJ stand up with her and she wanted Nick to be the ringbearer and Monica to be the flower girl; she asked me to make them outfits. She sent fabric swatches and a dress for me to alter and wear. I showed it to Rocky. He agreed we could go, but he was coming too. 

Ok. Ok. Well, at least I’d be home and I could get Jerome and Sean to help me. Tonia wrote and asked if I could come a month early to help her prepare the wedding and stay for two weeks after and watch AJ while she went on her honeymoon. That was excellent; it meant Rocky couldn’t come. 

I started preparing to go. I tried to figure out how to bring the things that were most important to us: Monica’s Jammie Pie was easy; she didn’t go anywhere without it. What about all of Nick’s cars and his Staypuft Marshmallow Man, my books? I figured I could take some toys to keep the kids occupied on the plane. The rest? We’d have to deal. I said goodbye to my books. Again. I thought about all the books I’d left in Florida, escaping from Lynne.

One day Nick was trying to change VCR tapes and he managed to freeze the machine with a tape halfway in. He came to get me. I couldn’t get it unstuck. I unplugged it and plugged it back in. Nothing. I pushed all the buttons. Nothing. I imagined Rocky spanking Nick. No, I’d have to say I did it. I squatted down to Nick, took him by the shoulders. “Show me what you did so I can undo it.” Nick started crying. I think he felt my terror. “No, no, it’s ok. Mama will fix it.” I took the VCR apart, got the tape out, put it back together. It worked after that, nasty thing. I looked at Nick crying and thought about how afraid I’d been and knew without a doubt we had to get away. Nick was almost four. I realized he was chewing his nails until they bled. I told myself it would be over soon. Just one more month and we’d be gone.

Rocky came home and told me he’d signed up to extend our stay in Germany for another two years. I said, “You didn’t even ask what I wanted.” But I stopped at that. I was done fighting. Rocky said he’d invited Dave over for dinner, so I better make something edible. I went to make spaghetti. I really liked Dave. He was a fun guy who treated me like a friend. But when he arrived I stayed in the kitchen.

When I called them to the table, Dave asked why I hadn’t come to the living room to talk. Rocky said I was pouting because he’d extended our tour. Dave asked why he wanted to stay in Germany. It’s so far from home. No decent TV. He himself couldn’t wait to get back home. Rocky said it was better to raise the kids in Germany because the crime rate was lower. Dave said that wasn’t true. Well Rocky had looked it up and there were fewer violent crimes in Germany than there had been in the US last year. Dave shook his head. “No. Per capita, the US crime rate and the German crime rate are practically the same.” Rocky said no. He’d looked it up and there were, let’s say, 15 violent crimes in Germany while there were 150 in America. Dave said, “Rocky. Per. Capita.” Rocky started explaining how Dave was wrong and I said “Rocky. There are fewer people in Germany than there are in America. There may be fewer actual crimes, but the crime RATE is the same.” Dave smiled. “Per. Capita.” Rocky shrugged it off, got him and Dave another beer.

We finished dinner and I started washing dishes while Rocky walked Dave out. Rocky came back upstairs and told me, “Don’t you EVER do that to me again.” “What? What did I do?” He said I had embarrassed him by disagreeing with him in front of his friend.  I couldn’t help myself. I laughed in his face. I told him I was an actual adult person, separate from him, and I was allowed to have opinions and ideas that weren’t his. He said I could think whatever I wanted but if I ever disagreed with him publicly again, I would pay. I pushed past him and asked, “What are you going to do? Beat me up for having a mind of my own?” I was walking into the living room where the kids were and he shoved me again.

I fell into the living room and actually skidded, he’d shoved me so hard. I hit my head on the coffee table. I stood up and looked at my skinned hands. I touched my head to see if it was bleeding. It wasn’t. I told Rocky I needed a cold cloth for my head so it wouldn’t swell. He followed me back into the kitchen, yelling that I’d humiliated him and I was going to learn to be a good wife. I didn’t say anything; I got a dish towel and ran it under the water. Wrung it out, walked back to the living room. I got inside and realized Rocky was still standing in the kitchen door, shouting. I slammed the living room door shut. As it was shutting I saw him jump forward to try to stop it, but I was faster and before he could get to the door, I turned the deadbolt knob.

Rocky went insane. He started pounding on the door, then through the frosted glass I could see him hitting the door with his shoulder, trying to break it down. He was shouting and swearing and threatening. The kids were clinging to me, screaming and crying. I picked up the phone and called Donna. 

I started crying as soon as I heard her voice. I told her Rocky had pushed me down and I needed her to come and get me and the kids. She could hear Rocky screaming and banging; she could hear the kids crying. She asked if I was ok. I said I was fine; I was just scared and wanted the kids out of this. Donna said, “Ok. Ok. I am coming, but I’m not coming alone. I’m bringing Mike. Do you want me to come and bring Mike?” I understood what she was asking. Her husband Mike was a cop on base. He wasn’t Rocky’s friend. He was an MP who took his job seriously. If he came to our house, Rocky was likely going to spend the night in jail. Depending on how Rocky behaved when Mike arrived, it could be the end of Rocky’s career in the military. I thought it over long enough for Donna to ask if I was still there. I asked her to let me call her back. I would try to calm Rocky down before I asked for Mike. 

Donna wouldn’t let me hang up the phone. She told me not to open the door. So I laid the phone down and spoke to Rocky through the door. I told him he was scaring the kids; couldn’t he hear them crying? I told him I wasn’t coming out while he was upset. I said I thought we should just spend the night in our separate rooms so we could cool off.  He finally stopped. I heard him go into the bedroom and lock the door behind him. I told Donna I thought it was over. She told me to sleep with the phone and she’d sleep with hers and they would be over the second I called. The night passed without further incident.

In the morning Rocky said I wasn’t going to the wedding. I said I was. He said I wasn’t taking the kids. I said I was taking the kids and if he threatened it again, I would take the kids and go stay at Donna’s until it was time to go to the wedding. I said if he kept threatening to keep the kids, I wouldn’t come back. I told him I was sorry for disrespecting him the night before. I promised it wouldn’t happen again. 

Two weeks later, Rocky got us on a standby flight to North Carolina. He’d have to come with us as the active duty military member, but he couldn’t stay; he’d have to get a standby flight back immediately. 

So we went back to Minot. Rocky stayed overnight with me at Joyce and Jerome’s. He tried to kiss me goodbye in the morning. I let him kiss my cheek. I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t watch him drive away.

Prüm Air Station as it looks today.

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