Always Google Your Date
You never know what you'll discover and save yourself from in the process.
It's amazing and funny to me how we can all have such different stories that sound so eerily alike in some ways. My story, for example, is the same as so many other survivors of domestic abuse; and yet, it's totally and entirely unique to me and my perspective. The way I've processed my trauma and moved my life forward is so astoundingly different from any and every other person who has ever been through what I have.
I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones honestly. I have a wonderful life now with a loving husband and family - both that I was born to and that I've selected myself - and I truly couldn't ask for anything more in my life. Except maybe a winning lottery ticket, but who wouldn't want that one? All the time I think to myself how lucky it was that it happened to me and not someone else. Because someone else might not have made it out alive.
It feels like it was eons ago and yet it's only been a handful of years. Strange how you can come to a point where you don't even feel like your trauma happened to you. Like it happened to someone else. Because in a way, after you've processed and moved forward, aren't we all innately different?
I hate to admit it, but I was young. And I was so dumb. I've admitted it. I've accepted it.
I met him on Tinder. Yes, I know. Tinder. He was a little older than I was. For the sake of his identity, I will not be going into details regarding his name or any distinguishing features. Let's go ahead and call him Bobby.
Bobby was hot. Covered in tattoos, worked a lot with his hands, just the right touch of ruggedly handsome. Working a lot with his hands and also enjoying the gym, you can imagine why sometimes I enjoyed just looking at him. Oh yeah. I was about it.
Bobby and I were chatting back and forth on Tinder for a week or so before we finally decided to exchange numbers. At that point we were talking about when we would want to hang out for the first time in person. I was so excited. He wasn't just a pretty face either. I actually liked this guy and he seemed to really like me too. At this point, Bobby had actually just gotten sick. Pre-COVID sick so just a generic cold. But like a lot of men I've met in my life, one cold and they're down for the count. Bobby had to cancel hanging out with me because he was sick. Being the kind of woman I am, I asked him if he needed anything. Soup? Tea? Anything I could do? He laughed it off and said I was sweet, but that I didn't have to do that. Wanting to hang out with him so much, I insisted. And so, dumb young woman walked right into the lion's den. The lion which she had only ever spoke to online or over the phone.
Like I said, young and dumb. Keep moving, people.
As most would say about their abusers, it didn't start right away. The controlling, violent behavior didn't start for a few months of us being together. In those couple of months together, we told each other everything. At least, I had thought we did. He told me about the problems he had with drugs in the past, but he was clean. He told me about how much he loved his son who he had with his ex wife. We talked about all the silly stories behind his tattoos. We would sing silly songs together and talk about how we wanted to build a happy home.
Three and a half months into our relationship, I was spending more and more time at his place. So much so that I was really only stopping by my own apartment once every couple of weeks for clothes. I was working at a specialty food store in a ritzy part of town five days a week and the nights were starting to get more and more demanding. Bobby typically worked early in the morning and would get off anywhere from 3 to 6 PM. As I started having to work more and more nights and weekends, he started to get agitated. "When are you coming home? C'mon you can leave early. Just come be with me."
After a few weeks of his complaining, he started to get in my head that I didn't need a job. That he would take care of me. I didn't notice at the time, but I had been neglecting spending time with my friends and myself for so much time during these few months as well.
So I quit my job.
How does a predator trap it's prey? It stalks it slowly, separating it from the rest of it's kind if they're around. And if no one's around?
Every day I was home. My job was to cook, clean, take care of the dogs. Bobby was lucky that we lived close enough to his work that he could walk every day and come home for lunch. So everyday I would make sure to have food ready and waiting for him at 12:30 PM and 7 PM.
I didn't notice the drinking until it was already too late for me.
At first it was just some Fireball whiskey and a couple bottles of Corona Light. Then it became a six pack. Then it was cheaper just to buy them in the larger packages.
I truly wish I could count how many times I cleaned the couch of drunken vomit and urine each time he passed out on it. I just kept telling myself that he was just going through a hard time at work and I had to support him. So I shook him awake each night and moved him over to the bed. Each time, he had something colorful to say. One night it could be all about how dumb I was to stay with him. Another night it could be a stream of consciousness about what stupid wh*re I was accompanied by some spit in my eye and sickening laughter. Eventually, for a short time in my life, I started to believe it. As time crawled on, he made me feel more and more sick to my stomach about who I was at my core and convinced me I needed to be someone else to be acceptable.
And I used to crawl into bed and sleep next to this man. Every night. Despite how many times he managed to wet the couch, he wet the bed in his drunken stupors as well.
I cleaned that up, too.
The first time he got physical with me, I don't even remember what he was angry about. I remember being pushed against our bedroom wall, one hand around my throat and the other feeling like it was breaking my wrist. The spittle was flying from his mouth onto my face and the smell of alcohol was making my stomach flip. I was crying and screaming, but no one came to help me. He called me so many disgusting names that I couldn't even begin to remember them all. When he decided the argument was over, he grabbed me and threw me onto the bed, trapping me against the opposite wall. He told me to go to sleep. So I did.
Here's one of the reasons I call myself one of the lucky ones: I have a switch. That imaginary switch in my head allows me to compartmentalize my emotions. It makes me go into survival mode. Fortunately and yet quite unfortunately all at the same time, I learned this very valuable skill from my family. Going so many years in a household that doesn't understand you and refuses to even try does have it's perks.
Will I ever claim to be the sharpest tool in the shed? No. But I got myself through this experience alive.
I'll never forget waking up the next morning, laying in bed and staring at the new bruise on my wrist. You could only make out two, maybe three fingers on it if you really looked. I felt like I was looking at someone else's arm. Could this really be happening? To me? At this point, I was trapped. I knew I had to leave him, but I didn't know how. I didn't feel like I had any friends or family to turn to. I felt isolated. I had played directly into his hand, whether he intended for it to be this way or not.
When he got home from work that night, he didn't drink at all surprisingly. He asked me what happened that night. So I told him. He cried and said how sorry he was. It would never happen again. He loved me so much. That's when I found out some more things about him that I should've known before. When your friends tell you to look your date up online, you should really listen to them.
Bobby was a felon. He was incarcerated for a few years for assault, battery, etc. But the worst part was what he wasn't in jail for. He used to be a member of a very violent gang. In said gang which I will not name, he told me that he was the guy who went in and punished those who didn't follow the rules. The things he told me that night are to this day something that I can't even comprehend, much less speak of. The amount of violence he inflicted on others was absolutely mindboggling. I was very much aware that he needed help. Real help. The kind of help you got from someone with a PhD.
Bringing up therapy is not an easy thing in any relationship. Trying to convince your very unstable, controlling, violent and jealous boyfriend that you think he needs help with his mental health is not exactly the safest way to go for one's physical health. But I did it anyway. Because in my own way, I loved him. I wanted him to be healthy. I knew there was a good man in there, not because of the pretty words he said to me sometimes, but because of all of the times he made me laugh and feel like I was the most beautiful woman in the world. Because of how much I could tell he wanted to take care of me. He just really didn't know how.
Over the next few days, I convinced him to let me get a part time job at a local gift shop and he even started to consider therapy. It was a good way to put away the money I needed and it allowed me to get out of the house a little. I told him we could start small with therapy by maybe going to some local anonymous meetings to see if being around other people he could relate to was helpful.
He never went.
I had this job for a total of about four months. During those four months, I learned very effectively how to part my hair a certain way to hide the bruise on my forehead from the bowl of mac 'n' cheese that he threw at me. Or the marks on my neck from the necklace he tried to choke me with. Scarves, ladies and gentleman. Concealing secrets for many years and will continue for many years to come, I'm sure. I even learned what clothes I couldn't wear to hide the bruises on my hips from when he decided he wanted me and didn't care if I was in the mood or not. It's truly sad to think about that I had to think through the clothes I wore every day, not because I wanted to look nice. I had to think about the bruises that I didn't want the rest of the world to see. I had to consider my extremely jealous and controlling boyfriend who wanted to keep me under lock and key and who had a history of violence, both documented and undocumented.
For those of us who are pet owners, we all know that our pets are members of our families. Most of us treat them like they're our own children. I know that I'm no different, spoiling my dogs beyond belief. In our small little house, we had three dogs, one of which was with me before the relationship and is still with me now. We'll call her Roxy. The other two dogs were siblings, Bonnie and Clyde.
I'll never forget the day Roxy spoke to me. The day she begged me to leave and never look back. She looked so scared, staring at me with eyes that I swear were screaming without making a single sound.
There was a day when I was working late. Bobby was clearly unhappy about that. Dinner wasn't ready when he was hungry and he didn't feel like cooking. He was already past the point of drunk by the time I got home from my shift at the gift shop.
From the moment I stepped in the door, he was in my face, telling me how worthless I was. I ignored him and went straight to the kitchen to start making dinner. Still yelling, Bobby went to go let the dogs out into the backyard, unaware that the gate leading to the front of the house was open. When I walked outside and realized that Bonnie and Clyde had started to make their way to the front of the house, I started running to catch them and Roxy started running with me. She was and still is the smartest dog I've ever known.
Bobby, hearing me call for Bonnie and Clyde, comes stumbling outside to see what was going on. Roxy ran all the way to the street and froze. I dropped Bonnie and Clyde on the inside of the gate and closed it and then I turned to go get Roxy.
"Where the f*ck do you think you're going?" Bobby screamed at me. "If you try to leave me, I'll slit this dog's throat!" He had grabbed Clyde by his scruff and held a pocketknife to his throat. The look in his eyes was what I can only define as utter madness.
I begged Bobby to put him down. He was just a puppy. I was just going to go get Roxy. I would come back as soon as I got her, but please don't hurt him.
"You're mine," he said to me. "You're never leaving me."
As soon as he put Clyde down, I turned to Roxy. It was like time stood still in that moment. Her, standing in the middle of the street, staring at me. Waiting for me. Begging me to come. "Come on, Mom. Let's go!" her eyes screamed at me.
I went to her and took off. I ran and ran and ran until eventually we found a bench to sit on to just breathe. My neighbor happened to find me at that point as I sat on a bench hyperventilating, not knowing what to do. I had to go back. I had nowhere else to go right now. What was I supposed to do? he would kill me if I came back. Or worse. He would kill the dogs. I couldn't let that happen.
I have no idea how long I sat on that bench, holding Roxy close to me. My neighbor had gone to my house to go check on Bobby and figure out what was going on. Before I knew it, it was nighttime all around me and Roxy and I made our way back to the house.
When I walked in, Bobby was in the bathroom. I didn't think anything of it. I thought it was actually probably better this way because then I could just go lay down and pretend I was sleeping.
Then he called out to me.
Making my way over to the bathroom, my whole body tensed, not knowing what to expect. What I came across was the last thing I was expecting.
Bobby was huddled on the floor of our very small shower, holding that same pocketknife he threatened Clyde with. It was touching the skin of his wrist.
"You can't leave me," he begged through the sobs wracking his body. "I can't live without you. I'll kill myself if you leave me. I'll do it! I'll f*cking do it, dam*it!"
I couldn't even believe what I was seeing. I knew he was violent towards others, but I never would've even considered this...
There was nothing else I could have done. The only course of action I could take was to comfort him. I couldn't bear the thought of that happening while there was some way I could have prevented it.
Sitting on the floor next to the shower, I laid my hand gently over the knife. And I lied. I lied like my life depended on it, because I felt like it truly did. I told him how much I loved him and that I was never going to leave him. That I was here for him and nothing could change that. That we were going to create that happy little family we had talked about so many times and get married, all that jazz.
Eventually I got him out of the shower and into bed.
It was only a few more weeks before my entire world imploded.
On one of Bobby's days off, he drunkenly decided that because I was working, that I was actually ignoring him. So he stumbled his way into the gift shop I was working at. Luckily there was no one in the shop and I was working alone that day so no one saw him, but from the moment this happened, I had the absolute worst feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew this day was going to be a bad day. For the remainder of my shift, I was wound up tight, knowing that when I got home, it was going to be bad.
Coming home that day, I'll never forget how the house was in such disarray. In a fit of rage, he had destroyed the whole house. The front door was off it's hinges, laying on the floor. There were shoes and clothes - both mine and his - strewn about the yard. The coffee table was on it's side and all the dogs were laying together in the back room. Shaking like a leaf, I made my way to the bedroom where I found him.
Bobby was sitting on the bed totally naked. His back was to me so I could see four long gashes bleeding down his back. Concerned, I rushed over and asked him if he was okay and what had happened. As I went to turn around to go and get the first aid kit, he swung around and shoved me through the bedroom door and into the living room. Stumbling, my forehead slammed pretty hard into the tile floor, although I wasn't bleeding. Certainly felt like I should've been. Bobby was yelling something at me, but I didn't really hear him. There was a roaring in my ears.
It's strange how some moments pass us by in a flash and yet others feel like they go on for forever. Certain sensations we can recall with such vivid detail and then some things are a total blur.
The first thing I always recall and feel in my nightmares is the feeling of the cheap red carpet we had under my fingernails as I tried to claw my way free. And then I can't breathe as he increases the pressure of his knee in the middle of my back. Before I can try to flip over, one hand is buried in my hair, wrenching my head back at an unnatural angle and another is holding a knife to my throat. I know I'm screaming and he's yelling and yet, I can't hear anything over the dull roaring in my ears. I'm going to die. This is it. There's no way out.
Bobby shoves my head down to the floor only moments before I was sure I was going to pass out. Still yelling and stumbling, he goes to the bathroom. Without another thought in my head, I grab my purse and my keys and stumble out the door. He must've heard me open the car door, because he came running out, still totally naked and chased my car as I drove away.
The next day, I called my neighbor and asked him to keep an eye out for when Bobby had left. I told him that we had gotten into a huge fight and I was leaving.
I pulled up to the front of the house and immediately ran inside to start packing my things, praying to every higher power in existence that he not see me, not come home. I had deliberately come when I knew he would be busy in the morning before his lunch break.
My prayers went unanswered that day.
As I was packing my things, in walks Bobby. He's drunk, I can tell. I've had more than enough experience with it at this point to see it. How his boss hadn't seen it yet while he was working, I had no idea.
Immediately, he grabs one of my bags and empties it out on the floor. The yelling has started, but I don't even hear him. I just quietly tell him the same thing over and over again.
And I continue to pack. I repack the bags he keeps pouring out without looking at him or acknowledging him. I know he's sobbing and angry and begging me to stay, but yelling at me for abandoning him. He's too drunk to have a conversation anyway and we're way past the point of trying that out. It's time for me to go. At one point, the house goes totally quiet as Bobby has to go back to work.
Finally, after months and months of a nightmare, it's over. Driving away from that house, looking at Roxy sitting right next to me, I knew I was free.
To this very day, sometimes I still need to take the time to process it again. I still get nightmares, although not nearly as frequent as I used to. Nightmares I've found are a way that the brain keeps us from making the same mistakes that caused past traumas. It's a warning. A reminder to us that this path we took was no good so let's not go there again. Nightmares are also like scars on our psyche. No matter how much times has passed or how well you've healed, there will always be a scar where you were once deeply wounded. Betrayal where trust once resided.
But we are no longer victims. We are survivors.
The journey of recovery and healing - for me and many others like me - is one that has no end, only a long, unending road with plenty of mountains and valleys along the way.