The Aftermath Can Be Ugly
I don’t know why I fell in love with David*. He was not particularly handsome, sexy, intelligent, or even interesting. He was convenient because we worked together and the company had a very nebulous finger-shake against fraternization. Their solution to discovering we were dating was to call us both in the office where the manager tentatively said ‘You are not going to have a messy break-up now, are you?’
We assured him that we were not, and that was that. But that was very early on and we were both still starry-eyed.
I ignored David’s controlling behavior. I ignored his un-woke opinions. My excuse is that I was young, and I didn’t know how to assert myself then. While I didn’t believe any of the things he said about people, places, and things, I didn’t know how to shift his perceptions or change his mind. Eventually, I learned that people like him never reflected on their opinions or actions; that trying to change his mind was like trying to empty the Sahara of sand with a teaspoon. I grew ashamed to have him as my boyfriend.
We were living together, not because this was what I wanted but because he had nowhere else to go. I was raised in a household that taught me in no uncertain terms that what I wanted in any situation was simply not going to happen anyway. My mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told her ‘Oh, I want that Barbie Doll!’
She’d reply, ‘You don’t want that! You don’t like that kind of doll, besides you are too old.’
I was seven. I got a cheap ballerina doll that my brothers immediately destroyed. ‘Do her head come off?’
I learned then that I could never ask for what I wanted and my experiences following throughout my childhood just confirmed what I had learned. This understanding also informed everything else in my life. This abusive boyfriend wanted to live with me. I ‘loved’ him, didn’t I? Therefore, I should acquiesce to what he wants, shouldn’t I? What I wanted was of no consequence and besides, I didn’t even really know what I wanted, did I?
I’d been married before to the childhood ‘sweetheart’ who took my virginity at sixteen. My mother thought he was ‘romantic, Byronic’ and would give me ‘an interesting life’. When I was just eighteen we married because I was pregnant with my first child. My ‘Byronic’ husband abused me, dropped out of his doctorate program, didn’t work, and smoked cannabis all day long. I went to work in a service station pumping gas to support us. The final straw was when coming home from work, I found my eighteen-month-old daughter sitting in a puddle, slurping up the mud while her erstwhile father sat inside the house so stoned he’d forgotten he had a daughter. We divorced with a pretty high level of acrimony but I survived it and proceeded for the first time in my life to build some ‘independence’. Then, I chose David.
Ironically, both my first husband and David had the same name. I wonder if there is something there. David-1, the husband, slugged me once, giving me a black eye and a sore jaw. I never forgave him. I informed David-2 that if he ever raised a hand to me we were in that instant, quits. I’d heard rumors that he was ‘rough’ with former girlfriends. The fact that I even considered such a man gives me absolute shudders today. I truly didn’t know better then. It took me years to know better. David-2 swore up and down that he’d never harm a hair on my head.
We had a little over a year in which the noose he’d made tightened around my life and my freedom. I had to ask permission for everything. He’d sleep with his arms wrapped in a choke-hold around my body, ensuring a growing panic and no sleep. He frightened me while he swore he loved me, telling me that if I ever left him he’d kill me. ‘You’ll never know where you’ll never know when. No matter how many years pass or where you go, I’ll follow you and you will be dead.’
I wanted to go and see a friend, stay the night, and go fishing with my then five-year-old daughter, in the morning. Then I’d be home. But I needed a break, please. ‘No’, was all he said.
In a terrible fit of frustration and anger, I threw my ice-filled coke all over him as he lay on my newly purchased sofa. I was immediately shocked at myself and dismayed by the damage done to the sofa. For a second I forgot to be frightened then he erupted, threw me against the wall, and put his hands around my throat. My back screamed and I began to see black edges around my vision and popping stars as the breath refused to enter or exit my body. Before I completely passed out he threw me again, this time on the wet sofa, and proceeded to try and rape me. There is nothing about rape that is about sex except using it as a weapon. But before he could rape me, my daughter called out and he let me go.
I gathered my things, my daughter, and my little dog, and out the door I went. ‘You are coming back tomorrow.’ He said with certainty as I left.
I was the leaseholder. I paid the rent but I couldn’t get him evicted. The police said it wasn’t convenient for me to make this man homeless. It was just a lover’s tiff, right? Why can’t you get along? But I filed charges anyway and then added stalking, about which there was only minor mention in the law, when I drove around town and found him following me. It made me angry, beside myself furious in fact, to see him there in my rear-view mirror. I channeled all the anger I was not allowed to express all through my life at the way people hurt me, dismissed me, took advantage of me and expected me to just let it happen. I screamed at his image, gave him the finger and even stopped once and stomped up to his car in the middle of traffic. As I stood there looking at him, something shifted and suddenly I didn’t care. I calmly walked back to the car and just drove off.
The court date required me to take time off work. I got to the Court House about 20 minutes early because I have a horror of being late. The District Attorney’s secretary looked surprised to see me and made a phone call, her eyes never leaving my face. The DA came out of his office, looking a bit harried, talking about a plea deal that I’d never heard of. ‘It’s really inconvenient for you to be here now. We’re about to agree (to what was basically just a slap on the hand).’
I was dismayed. It turned out the DA had decided that I wasn’t going to testify without confirming with me. I quietly demanded my right to be heard. ‘Alright,’ he said. ‘Betsy* here will take you to sit outside the courtroom where the judge will hear the case. We’ll call you when we need you to testify.’
The DA went off and Betsy took me by the arm and led me to a bench. I waited and waited. More than an hour went by. Then the DA came outside and started at seeing me. ‘I thought you went home!’
‘No, of course I didn’t go home. Betsy seated me here. I’m waiting to testify.’
‘Well, it’s not convenient for you to see the judge right now. The case is over.’
The shock on my face prompted the DA to explain that it wasn’t a serious case, that the attempted rape charge wasn’t even considered because we’d been living together and that implied some form of consent. Assault and battery were similarly thrown out because despite the bruises on my body, the physiotherapy needed for my back, and the choking marks on my neck, nothing ‘serious’ had happened. But, I was assured, David-2 would not be allowed to follow me all over town. The judge told him that he had to stay 100 feet away from me at all times.
To ‘celebrate’ this tiny win, I took my daughter camping. The little lake was centered in a wilderness campground with limited amenities. It was one of our favorites. Not many people chose it, but a couple of tents were scattered in the tall trees. I pitched our tent and built a fire for a soup and bread dinner. It was just about ready when David-2 walked up. ‘Smells good,’ he said. ‘Where’s my bowl?’
My daughter sat looking at him and then at me. She wasn’t frightened but neither did she like that he’d broken into our celebration. ‘You aren’t supposed to be anywhere near me,’ I hissed.
‘Don’t be like that,’ he said. ‘We’re just family together, aren’t we? You don’t want to disturb the other campers. Besides, it doesn’t go into effect until Monday.’
I didn’t want to upset my daughter. It was getting dark and I needed to get her fed and then to bed. I fed him too, foregoing my own meal. I hoped that once he was fed he’d just leave. Instead, he shoved his way into the tent after she’d fallen asleep. ‘Don’t make any noise,’ he said, threatening me. ‘If you say no, I’ll just have your daughter then, won’t I?’
The horror of the rape and the possibility that he’d assault my daughter kept me silent.
Once I was certain he was asleep I left, sleeping bags, the tent, and camping equipment, all left behind. On the way home, my daughter crying because her camping trip was canceled, the dog whining and my certainty that he’d made me pregnant, all pounded at me. I shut down. I know we got home but how eludes me.
When the pregnancy test I took for confirmation came back positive I didn’t hesitate. Abortion was legal. I did not intend to have this hateful man’s child. I would not have him in my life, not in any way.
I saw him one more time. When the restraining order against him expired after six months, he found me again. I marched up to his smirking face. ‘I was pregnant from that night.’ I told him. ‘But as you can see, I am not pregnant now.’
The blood drained a little from his face and the smirk disappeared. ‘I would never bring a child of yours into the world,’ I said and I walked back toward my house. ‘Don’t bother me or my daughter ever again or it will be inconvenient to let you live.’