Unlike many survivors of domestic violence, it didn’t take me multiple attempts to get away from the man who abused me. The difference with me is that it took over four years for me to seize an uncommon window of opportunity to make my exit. Simply because after four years and three months, I think he grew arrogant and overly confident that he had me permanently trapped.
Like most of us, the beginning of the relationship was good. For some, maybe it was spectacular. The abuser always starts out caring, attentive, kind, gentle. Little by little, they slowly shape-shift and move fluidly back and forth between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so adeptly that we do not see the monster sneaking up behind us in plain sight. This is what happened to me, and once he changed and became physically violent, often sadistically so, all peace was gone.
What began with being thrown against the bathroom wall and choked until I began to lose consciousness (deemed appropriate punishment for wearing makeup to work), turned into regular beatings, sleep deprivation, threats, and verbal assaults. The first time I truly felt an urgent sense of my own mortality was when he dragged me out of the car in the middle of the night during the month of March, with no coat, no phones. It was 20 degrees and snowing, but he sped down country roads into a wooded area where he pulled off the road, turned off the car, and forced me out. The last thing I remember before losing a thirty six hour chunk of my memory was him walking up to me in the cold, stiff air with a tire iron in his right hand.
After this, he regularly beat me and stole my money for drugs to get high with other women. Eventually, after three evictions and nowhere to go, he began working as an informant for a drug agency in the next town over, just across the county line. He became their pet, as he netted over two dozen crack dealers for them in one weekend. All agencies involved got a lot of good press and a few got some promotions. They guarded him like a naïve, exposed child. Further, after a few years of harassing me to buy a firearm almost weekly, he suddenly stopped. It was no coincidence that he was working with the ATF doing weapons sales at the time. Not long after this, he shoved a handful of bullets in my face as a warning. I have the three that are missing the casings as my one souvenir to remind myself how dangerously close to death I was a year ago.
It was a lengthy game of cat and mouse that lasted for about ten hours. Of all things, it began over an argument he started over a piece of pork that he was eating and abandoned when his dealer came to pick him up. I was asked to put it in the fridge for later, and even though there wasn’t much left I complied. This is the ridiculous thing that started the last night of my life with him. The short version of this includes being threatened with a hammer, punched repeatedly in the head, hit with a knife sharpener, more blows to the head, him telling me to take a shower which ended abruptly as the neighbors called the police (who stood in the hall and didn’t seem to think anything of the fact that he was standing in front of me). Once they left, he started right back up, backing me against the wall and repeatedly hitting my head with a can he had grabbed from the kitchen. I was also hit in the face with a shoe, dragged around, threatened with a 2 x 4, and finally, after ten hours, it ended with a knife at my throat and a punch to the head. (I discuss this in some detail in The Great Pork Rib Caper on my blog).
I made a split-second decision to sneak my pay card out of his wallet while he was barricaded in the bedroom. When he came back out, he threw old food in my face, threatened to commit a graphic sexual assault (that I refuse to repeat), and punched my head hard enough it bounced off the wall. I knew it was time to leave, and I walked out the door as calmly as I could so he wouldn’t suspect that I wasn’t planning on coming back home after work. He called me several dozen times at work that morning, threatening me to come home so he could “handle” me; when I asked what he was going to do he simply said I would find out when I got there. I spent several hours with the advocate at work calling shelters and getting things in some kind of order. During this entire time, I later found out that he was harassing the girls in my department in addition to repeatedly calling the security desk. I spent the afternoon of December 14, 2012 filing paperwork for an emergency order and letting a female family member take pictures of the bruises. He was served just before 5 p.m. that night, because the woman who filed my paperwork pushed the clerk to put it through so I wouldn’t have to go through the whole weekend worrying about him showing up anywhere.
For the weeks leading up to the hearing for the regular order, he repeatedly harassed my mother by texting her. Instead of him having the nerve to call my dad on his own, he had his nephews call, saying they were friends of mine and they were concerned. He also had his friends and nephews calling me at work, which is why I requested the judge add a clause stipulating no third party contact in the regular order.
Like I said in the beginning, it only took me one try to leave. The key is that it took so long to find a way out. He made it impossible in so many ways: working from home (when he actually DID work), having people watch the house when he was gone, having people watching me when I was out, monitoring the texts and calls on the house phone and cells by comparing the numbers in the phone with the online account listings, reading my emails, opening my mail. He knew where every financial document was, and once, when I converted my pay stubs from paper to electronic format, I was interrogated for several days about my intentions.
This and more made it impossible for me to plan to leave. He was always there, watching me like a hawk. He had cut me off completely from my family and friends so I had no one to reach out to for help. I eventually learned that they blamed me for this, and the few times I was able to get a second alone with a phone to try to call them, they would not answer and they would not call me back.
When I left I did not feel safe enough to call the police and have him arrested. The agencies in the next county over became his buddies, and every time he got into trouble in our county, they reached their fingers across the county lines, manipulated a few things, and got him out of trouble. They even did this when he was brought in for an AUO charge on top of an assault charge for hitting my stepmother when he tried to rip the car keys out of her pocket. The female snitch they always let out of jail because she was so conscientious about her work with them… the one I had a protective order issued on her in my behalf (and extended twice) without me having to show up at court to even sign one piece of paper, because she tried to back over me with her car after arguing with him about money he owed her for drugs. The same one who was allowed to repeatedly violate the order I had against her. I also remembered his friends in the ATF and so felt forced into silence, because I knew they wouldn’t protect me.
I regret not trying to plan to at least somehow smuggle financial documents and family photos out of the apartment before I left. In reality, I know I really had no opportunity to do so, but it has made things so difficult on me in the year following my departure. In order for me to get away, I had to leave my entire life, property, financial documents, clothing…everything, in the apartment with him. I have started over with destroyed credit, no car, no place of my own, no furniture, had to replace all my clothes, debt collectors screaming for their money. This said, I would not change anything about the way I left, even if I was able to. I have learned how strong and perseverant I can be under the most difficult of circumstances, I have learned I can rely on myself, but most of all, I have come away with a deeper appreciation for life and the little things.
In eight days, my order is due to expire. The laws in my state do not allow for a family order to be extended, and if you do not have serious enough violations (he left a box for me at my dad’s old job in October), they also dissuade you from filing for a new order. I am becoming nervous about the fact that he will be able to walk around free to do as he pleases. The clerk at the court was kind enough to tell me that I pretty much had to wait for him to come after me before I could do anything. We shall see soon enough if he is back to his old games or if he fades away. I am never naïve enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, and my safety isn’t worth it.
Follow Amy’s story here: Picking Up The Pieces
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