Questions poured in when readers suspected “The Lesser of Two Evils”, labeled a fictional biography, is based on a true story. Fueling the debate over the book’s inspiration, it’s only fitting that Sullivan herself answers some of those questions.
Q. One of the most frequent questions I receive: How do you cope with everything you’ve been through?
Sullivan: I don’t think my answer to that question satisfies people. After reading the book, there are people who assume I drink or smoke pot to cope. I haven’t smoked pot in almost two decades, and I might have a drink or two once a year. Maybe. I don’t have any bad habits like that. Some assume I’m in therapy. I haven’t seen a therapist in about a decade. I just keep moving forward and try not to look back. How do I cope? I don’t have any other choice but to keep going, and that’s just life. I still have people to take care of, so that’s what I do.
Q. People wonder if you harbor hatred for the ‘monsters.’
Sullivan: I am often asked that, and my response varies. While I was relaying the story, it dredged up quite a bit of emotion. There were indeed times where I loudly professed my hatred as I mentally relived it, but, honestly, that’s not who I am. I’m not wired that way. Chapter One. Self-hatred is more common for me.
Q. You’re saying you don’t hate these people?
Sullivan: It’s hard to explain, and I’m sure it’s even harder to understand. Do I hate them? I have a very strong disdain for him. Strong enough you could call it hate. I have absolutely no desire to even be in the same city with him. But, the other…it’s more complicated. That’s where people get confused.
Q. Are you talking about Mary?
Sullivan: Yes. It’s more complicated with Mary. I’ve been told over and over again that hating her would be justified, but it’s conflicting. Again, I’m not wired that way.
Q. Twice you’ve stated you’re “not wired that way.” Can you explain?
Sullivan: I’m not wired to hate. Anyone who has read the book knows what I mean. I’m wired to be a caregiver…to help others. I’m wired to feel empathy and sympathy on a level that, apparently, isn’t within the norm. When it comes to Mary, I feel bad for her. I know that sounds odd, and even I struggle with how I feel about it. As easy as it should be to plainly say I hate her, and I have said it, that’s not entirely true. I feel sorry for her.
Q. Okay, the readers are really going to be confused now. Why do you feel sorry for her?
Sullivan: When I first told my story for the book, I felt a lot of different emotions. There was a lot of pain I felt with the same force as I did back then, and I used the word ‘hate’ many, many times. I find myself going back and forth, because as much as I would like to decide I simply hate Mary, I can’t.
Q. How do you feel about Mary?
Sullivan: (takes a deep breath, hesitates) It’s hard to explain because people don’t seem to think the same way I do. Before the book was released, I was bashed. I told others around me the blustering was really the calm before the storm. I knew it would get much worse. It did, but I found myself feeling sorry for the people who publicly bashed me.
Sullivan: And others.
Q. Readers are definitely going to ask, so I’ll go ahead and ask you now. Why did you feel sorry for them?
Sullivan: Well, I really rocked their world. People say it was justified, and it was. I really believe it was. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel bad for them. That’s just who I am. No matter what people say — and they’ve said some pretty nasty things — that’s not who I am. (flips through the book) Chapter Eleven. If people want a sense of who I really am, they can find it in Chapter Eleven. I’m that girl — the girl who takes care of others. Even those who hurt her.
Q. You say you rocked their world, but readers will argue it’s justified. And…
Sullivan: And they’re still people. As much as I have referred to them as monsters, and they are, they are still people with feelings. I exposed them, and it hurt some people’s feelings. I feel bad about that because that’s who I am. There were people who were shocked to find out things they didn’t know about, and they were hurt. I shouldn’t feel bad about telling the truth, but I struggle with it. I feel bad for the bystanders who were hurt when the facade crumbled. It’s kind of like when the curtain is ripped down exposing the wizard in Oz. How do you come to terms with discovering things were not what you believed? How do you come to terms with finding out what you believed was true is a lie or what you believed was a lie is true? There were people who were genuinely shook by these revelations, and I feel bad for those people. Others don’t understand this, but I have always worried about others more than myself. Telling my story for the book was the first time I put my feelings first. It’s hard for me to do that — put myself first. I feel guilty for putting myself first. People find that strange, but it’s true. I just feel bad for them, no matter how much I shouldn’t. I hate admitting that because it will likely be seen as a weakness and there will be someone who will try to take advantage of my guilt. But I feel sorry for them.
Q. Even the people who bashed you?
Sullivan: Especially the people who bashed me. Their reactions were caused by shock. Disbelief. And I understand why there are a few people who don’t want to believe these things. It’s a hard truth to hear, and it’s even harder for some to accept. That’s okay. I get it. I get why people lashed out, and I understand what emotions sparked their behavior. I mean, how do you cope with finding out things like this? It’s painful.
Q. You’ve dealt with plenty of pain. Why would you feel bad about telling your story? Do you regret it?
Sullivan: No, I don’t regret it. If I could go back, I would do it again. I’ve wondered if I should have had some tough conversations with a few people before the book was published. I did have a tough conversation with one person. I wonder if I should have had more, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t have mattered. My pain? Doesn’t matter. Everything led me where I am, and I’m happy with where I am in life. What bothers me is knowing people were hurt enough to act out the way they did. Make no mistake about it. It was a display of their pain. It was not anger. I’m not going to say I’m sorry, because that implies I did something wrong. I didn’t, and I’m done apologizing for things that aren’t my fault. I feel sorry for Mary because she has her own pain to deal with in all of this. The public displays just illustrated how much pain she has. It doesn’t matter that it stems from truths. I still feel bad she is in pain. That’s me. That’s me worrying about others, even if I shouldn’t. Mary is a product of her own pain. I won’t pretend to know her struggles, because I don’t. But I do know there is pain there. It’s what drives her, I’m sure. And for that, I feel bad for her. Whatever she suffered to cause her pain, I feel bad for her.
Q. Even if she hurt you?
Sullivan: You know, I’m not going to say I understand everything about people and human interactions. I know about pain. I know how it can lead people down different paths. I could talk to a dozen people whose stories mirror my own, and I would find they’ve taken twelve different paths. You never know how things will affect a person. Everyone is different. What I can say is I understand she’s in pain. She’s had pain. People handle pain in different ways.
Q. The question people ask the most…
Sullivan: I know this one. I am asked one thing over and over again.
Q. Who is the lesser of two evils?
Sullivan: That’s for the reader to decide. It’s not the answer people want to hear, but that’s my answer.
Q. So, you’re not going to label one worse than the other?
Q. Readers want to know who Laura thinks is the lesser evil.
Sullivan: It’s really not for me to decide. That’s not a question for me. If readers want to know who hurt me the most, that’s a different question. Unfortunately, even I can’t answer that question.
Q. Okay, flat out — do you hate Peter or Mary?
Sullivan: Hate? Things I hate…domestic violence, emotional abuse, sexual assault. I hate deeds. Do I think people can change? That’s a better question. Yes and no. One of them will never change. Peter will never change. I had hoped he would be someone better for the sake of the children, but that’s not going to happen. He is who he is, and that’s just not going to change. Mary? She could. That’s for her to decide.
Q. Do you think you could be in the same room with them after all of this?
Sullivan: I have been. There are various social functions where we must be around each other.
Q. And you’re okay with that?
Sullivan: I’m not bothered by it. Don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely no situation in which I would feel comfortable being alone when Peter is less than miles away. But, Mary? People need to consider this: I’ve been around her for decades after all of this occurred. We have interacted in a friendly manner for many, many years after all this happened. Outsiders would have never known anything was amiss without the book. We got along well. I’m not that person. If you read the book, you should understand. We went on like nothing happened, Mary and I, for years. I have no problem being in the same room as Mary…at all.
Q. Has anything happened since the book was released?
Sullivan: Absolutely. Unless I outlive everyone else, I don’t think I will ever be able to say everything stopped on this day or that day. I don’t think it will ever stop completely. Decades later, things still happen. We live in a very small town, and I hear everything that is said, like it or not. I’ve heard what Peter has said he would like to do to me.
Q. Since the book was published? What was said?
Sullivan: Nothing nice. I’ll leave it at that. I’ve heard the talk. I’ve seen the looks. Over the years, he’s done lots of things. Before the book, he went back and forth from telling people he still loved me to talking about how much he hated me. Love. Hate. He tortures things he says he loves, and he strangles things he says he hates. I do hope the book settles him on hate. My skin crawled every time someone told me he said he still loved me.
Q. That brings me to another question. Why now? What made you decide to tell your story?
Sullivan: A chain of events triggered anger. I’m human, and I get angry when it comes to the people I love. There were a number of things that happened in a short period of time that needed to be addressed. When I spoke up, I was met with bashing on a level I had not experienced in years. There was a statement made that was so absurd it made me decide it was time to put my story out there. Decades of being bashed, publicly and privately, and I sat back and took it on the chin. Things that were said this time…the way I was spoken to for daring to be angry about something I had every right to be angry about…I said that was it. No more. I have a right to voice my feelings, and I will not be silenced like I was during those years. That’s when I decided my story needed to be told. I was tired of people spreading a false narrative and, essentially, telling a fictional version of my life. I wanted the truth to be told. Decades wore me down and that final straw sparked the desire to have my story told. I wanted people to know my side. And I needed some people to know the tactics used to silence me so many years ago wouldn’t work, because if it worked that would give someone power over me. It would give Peter power over me. No more. It was about taking back the last piece of me and showing him he no longer had any control over me.
Q. Readers have called your journey inspirational. How do you feel about it?
Sullivan: I get that comment, too. I don’t think anything I did was inspirational. I merely survived. I’m not looking to be an inspiration. Aside from setting the record straight, the book wasn’t meant to be anything more than letting others know they can get out of a bad relationship. My hope for the book is that it lets people know they’re not alone. I want people to see there is hope for them, no matter the situation. Life can be different and they can get out and live a better life. That’s my hope.
Q. Some have said this was a ploy for sympathy. How would you respond to that?
Sullivan: Sympathy is the last thing I want. Sympathize with those who need help escaping these situations. Reach out and help those who need out of dangerous situations. My troubles are over, and my life is good. Feel bad for people still trapped, still needing help. I don’t want sympathy for me, but I do hope to shed light on the horrors of domestic violence and encourage people to help the men and women enduring abusive relationships right now. Seek out organizations in your communities that help victims and find out how you can help. I guess you could say the book should indeed be a ploy for sympathy — but not sympathy for me. Sympathy for those currently trapped who need our help.
Q. Do you have any regrets? Do you wish you could change any of your past actions?
Sullivan: There was a time when I said I wish I had never met him, but my life wouldn’t be the same if I hadn’t. I can’t say I regret it. James and Leann wouldn’t exist. My life could have been much different, and I likely wouldn’t have ended up where I am right now. I’m happy with my life, and that was the journey I had to take to get here. I wouldn’t change that, so I think of it all as necessary delays on a trip to a good life. I took a bunch of rotten detours while finding my way along the way, but it taught me which paths to avoid. All of it came together to make me…well, me. And I’m happy with who I am. I kinda like me. My journey led me here, so no. No regrets, and I wouldn’t change anything.
Q. Do you think forgiveness will ever be an option for Peter and Mary?
Sullivan: I could say you need to forgive others or they have power over you, but I don’t believe that. What took power away from Peter was me not allowing him to make me afraid or manipulate me with outrageous stories. Forgiveness played no role in that. Peter will confess what he’s done, but he has no remorse. He doesn’t feel bad about it. Forgiving him would only empower him, and I refuse to do that.
Q. What about Mary?
Sullivan: That’s a tougher one.
Q. What makes it tough?
Sullivan: I don’t think Mary fully understands her role in everything. Or maybe she does. I don’t really know. A big part of me wants to say I forgive her, but I don’t know. My life really is an open book now. It’s pretty much all out there. Have I hurt people along the way? Of course I have. I hurt a lot of people while I stumbled around. It’s in my head all the time. It weighs on me that I’ve hurt people, deserving or not. Mary is human. She has hurt people, but all of this has hurt her. You could argue all day about whether or not she deserves it, but she’s still a person with feelings. Anyone who really knows me knows I’m conflicted, justified or not. Does she deserve forgiveness? I don’t know. Would I say I forgive her? If it makes her pain less, probably. That’s just me. I’ve recently had private conversations with a few people about how conflicted I am because I go back and forth about feeling sorry for her. I’ve always been pretty good at standing up for others, and I don’t mind putting someone in their place for bothering someone else. It’s only been in recent years that I learned to stand up for myself, and I still struggle with it. I’m not sure if I actually answered the question, but it’s the best I can do.
Q. If you could say anything to Peter and Mary now, what would it be?
Sullivan: I think the last paragraph of the book sums up everything I would say to Peter. Beyond that, I have no desire to say anything to him.
Q. And Mary?
Sullivan: Mary…well, I…I don’t really know. After the book, everything has changed for me. I was able to get out things I buried for so long. I was finally able to say things I couldn’t bring myself to say out loud, and it’s hard to explain how much difference that makes. I feel different after all this. I expected the bashing I got right after the book’s release, and I wasn’t bothered. I knew what to expect. But, what would I say to Mary now? I guess it could only be one thing: I forgive her. I hope the book has had as big of an impact on her as it has me, because it allowed me to move forward after reflecting on it all and making peace with it. I hope it has done the same for her — allowed her to move forward after being confronted with all this. I dumped several decades worth of events to the world in an instant once the book hit stores. Imagine being forced to deal with the events of that many years in an instant. That’s a lot, and I know that. Still, I don’t regret it. It was time. It needed to come out. Why this many years later? I think…I think it would have been worse for some if it had indeed came out when all of it happened. The children were able to have as normal a childhood as possible with all of this buried. We were able to continue on with things involving them like nothing happened, and I think that was better for them. But, it needed to come out. The truth had to come out, no matter how many years passed. I really do believe it was better now than back then…for the children’s sake. I think she would agree with that. I don’t hate her now. As much as people tell me I should feel differently about her, I keep coming back to feeling bad for her. It’s just who I am. I know I keep saying that, but that’s the only way to explain it. Read the book, and you know who I am. I guess I would tell Mary I don’t hate her, but I hope she understands the pain she caused. And I hope she knows I do know how this has impacted her life and caused her pain. I know it and as bad as I would like not to feel this way in this situation, I do feel bad for her. But the truth needed to be told — the whole thing. Are my hands clean? Anyone who read the book knows they’re not. I wanted the world to know what really happened so people would stop vilifying me without knowing everything that happened. Now people can come to their own conclusions. They can vilify me for things I’ve done instead of things they think I’ve done. And I’m okay with that. Yeah. I didn’t cut Mary any slack, and even though it’s true I still feel bad for her. It sucks to be this person sometimes, because that’s what put me in a lot of bad situations — feeling bad for others. I just…I just am who I am and worrying about others, placing the needs of others before my own, is just who I am. But, yeah. I feel bad for her.
Q. Wow. You had a lot to say on that…on Mary.
Sullivan: There’s something about Mary. (chuckles) Looks like rain. Is it supposed to rain today?
And just like that, all seriousness left the conversation. Sullivan is someone completely different from what people expect after reading the book. She’s just a normal person living a normal life. I think that’s a real accomplishment.
Monsters are real. Find your breaking point.
“Well, I just don’t think there is anyone in this whole wide world that loves their babies as much as I love mine.”
Mary proved it to be true over and over by concealing Peter’s abuse and misconduct. She spent years weaving a fantastic web of lies and built a beautiful facade to hide the true evil lurking behind closed doors. It was easy to see where her son learned his manipulative ways. Mary was a master of deceit, and Peter had a lifetime of training from his mother.
Laura Bennett shares her experience with emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of real-life monsters. The harrowing tale offers an in-depth look at the horrors of domestic violence. Bennett’s detailed accounts will haunt readers for a lifetime.
The Lesser of Two Evils is also a testament of strength and resilience, offering a message of hope for victims of domestic violence.
Purchase “The Lesser of Two Evils” at any of these retailers:
Barnes & Noble
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