At one point I didn’t think I was ever going to post this. It was far too dark. Not really in keeping with the tone I had established. Even when I talked about some of the shadier moments of past relationships I tried to keep it relatively light. But after a week conversing with a myriad of women who had similar experiences, I felt more compelled to share my own more publicly. One of the women I spoke with had no idea anyone else could possibly go through what she did. And one is still in the midst of it. It was her story even more than the others that prompted the release of this material. Because I know she represents thousands of other women who are still in it and I feel I have a responsibility to share anything I can to encourage them to get out before it’s too late.
More than two years ago I extricated a monster who infected my life for just a moment too long and yet was gone just in time. The memories have faded after months of burying them and then months of therapy uncovering them long enough to release their hold. Still, despite the hours of emotional work poured into loosening his hold over my psyche, the remnants of the damage resurface in unexpected moments. Prompted by small reminders. Some expected. Others sneak up in the same manner as his insidious grip once did.
Stories of domestic violence shift the foundation of emotional health I labored to build after he had been forcibly removed.
A friend discusses a budding relationship of her own that has already begun to exhibit eerily familiar warning signs. A gorgeous televised foodie’s panicked look belies emotions I can understand more than I care to admit as her husband exhibits his control over her right to breathe. Yet another millionaire athlete escapes consequence after leaving a woman broken and unconscious with bruises that will heal. And scars that won’t. Because she’s still alive. This time.
These stories infect my news feeds and, soon thereafter, my conscious. The urge to click is compulsive. I need to know what these women have experienced. I feel a connection I can’t quite explain. A shared ordeal that transcends race, income, education, favorite author, passport stamps and a million other commonalities that are typically required when connecting spirits of the kindred.
Immediately after I scratch the click, a thin layer of perspiration squeezes its way out of every pore in my body. My stomach begins to twist around itself. I feel angry hands tighten around my throat. Vile taunts burrow back into the dank recesses of my mind. I see flashes of rancor disembodied from any person. Just a heinous presence I can’t make out. I swallow hard. A pool forms in the crease between my brows as I struggle to transform the memory into a fiction. An experience not my own. One of the accounts on the screen before me. Not my own.
But it feels like my own. They all feel like my own. Every narrative of an untouchable man abusing his power. Marking his hatred on the body of someone he loves. Walking away. Walking away. Walking away.
It’s the walking away that smolders. Forces the chapter open long after the story has come to an end. Instills a paranoia. Leaves me acutely aware. Catches me in a backward glance. There’s a panic that accompanies the reality that he suffered nothing for his actions. That his life continues unaltered. That he has nothing to fear while I’m left inexplicably uneasy. Anxious at the remote prospect of crossing paths. Anxious at the sight of a vaguely familiar emaciated frame or meticulously styled crew cut. Anxious at a completely dissimilar male gait.
The anxiety gives way to indignation and ire at the broken system. The creature who desecrated my peace escaped on a technicality. My order for protection was never served because he wasn’t home. The charges were lost somewhere in the shadows between St. Louis Park, Hennepin County, Anoka County and the land of “We don’t give a shit, lady.” My case is an unimportant blip, because she’s still alive. This time.
We always hear about powerful men eluding the system. But my monster was not powerful beyond the four walls of my home. He was of little consequence in nearly every conceivable way. Unemployed. Living with his mother at 30 and beyond. Didn’t have a dime to his name to pay for any respectable level of defense. And yet, he slithered free like hundreds of significant men.
In both circumstances the victim is robbed of her voice. It’s drowned out by an indomitable rich/famous/talented man whose voice is far louder than hers could ever be. Or, it never registered above a whisper because it isn’t rich/famous/talented. And she’s still alive. This time.
Telling nightmares force me to live this silent existence in a real, literal way. I’m under attack. I’m trying to escape. I attempt to call 9-1-1. My fingers can’t/won’t dial. I attempt a scream. Silence.
In reality I escaped. I’m in a safe space. Likely irrelevant to and forgotten by the beast. But what about the next woman? Predators don’t simply cease the hunt. Their instinct is to prey. To victimize. To seize power at the expense of the powerless.
Every time a ravenous wolf evades consequence leaving a bloodied lamb it its wake, I anguish over the next time. The next woman. The space between she’s still alive and how did we miss the signs?
The system is broken, so the abused can’t afford to be. No matter how much we’ve earned our right to be. We need muster what little strength we have to get the hell out. While we’re still alive.