WASHINGTON, December 29, 2012—Inspired by recent TWTC stories (i.e., Can Facebook help us heal?, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not harmless behavior, and Domestic violence victims are speaking out, handing out a dose of reality), a reader reached out to this columnist asking for advice on sharing her story.
“I don’t want to be silenced. Validation, I believe, is part of the healing process. I’d like to be able to help someone and make the last two years of my life count,” writes the reader who wishes to remain anonymous.
“Indefinitely.” This was the last word I uttered in his presence. Not in the romantic sense. No, not this time. We were past that. There was no going back. No amount of “I’m sorry” or “I love you” could erase the memories…they would only bleed through again. I sat in the courtroom, the Judge directly in front of me, him to my left. I had on a new dress, nothing too flashy or tight. I’d been trained to do this in my years as a paralegal. “Neutral colors, nothing that makes you memorable. Judges don’t like red.” I’d been given this advice at my first office, the day before I was to accompany my boss to trial. It’s funny what sticks with you.
He was glaring at me; I could see him in my peripheral vision. I tried not to make eye contact. I’m good at that, pretending to be unaware that someone’s gaze is following my every move. I thought I was prepared; I had coached myself. I made sure I was dressed the part. That’s the first rule. The second is to show no emotion. I was sure the only way I was going to achieve that was by keeping my mouth shut.
I had a stack of papers with me; some typed out notes, copies of emails, text messages, and private Facebook messages sent to me, my mother, and my friends. He had a stack of papers too; his were in a plastic bag. Beneath his papers, the corners of the framed tickets from our first date were visible from where I sat. I didn’t realize until I saw the familiar silhouette that he’d removed them from the wall when he left. The tender words of love written in silver on the back were obscured, I didn’t need to see them again…I had them memorized.
My notes were all carefully cataloged so that I could refer to them quickly; Judges don’t like to wait. “Don’t fidget, sit up straight, pretend you’re interviewing for a job…at the Vatican,” I reminded myself. I wished I had taken a tranquilizer, but I didn’t want to run the risk of looking medicated. The Judge can see everything from the bench. There’s a lot of psychology that goes into designing a courtroom. You never realize the amount of effort it takes to be nondescript until you’re in a situation that requires it.
He was the reason we were here; it was his unrelenting anger and jealousy, his violent outbursts. He engulfed me; I became more like him and less like me. He would never admit to that. The blame, as he saw it, rested firmly on my shoulders. I was a willing participant, I was free to come and go as I pleased. I was the problem. It was me that was crazy.
Everything was carefully orchestrated, crafted; this vignette would be no different. It would only reinforce his feelings; he was the one being victimized. The system had failed him, again.
We were together a little under two years, as the relationship progressed I got the sinking feeling that he had been through this with someone before. I had no proof; he didn’t share a lot about his former self, pre-me, pre-us. There was no one to ask. He was so adept at twisting, molding, intimidating…this game; he played to win. He made strategic errors every so often, but covered them up effortlessly. No one dared go against him, except the author of the anonymous handwritten notes left on my car. I wish they would have had the balls to sign them; just a name to go along with the bubbly script…but I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. After witnessing his retaliation and vengeance, I’d be stupid to bring that upon myself. It’s a lifelong ordeal. I would just wait for him to end it, but he wasn’t going to do that. Being the bad guy, that was my job.
He reminded me that he had witnesses to my misconduct. No matter how many times I apologized, how sincere I was…it was never good enough. Nothing ever would be; he found fault with everything. It was no way to live, but I wasn’t living. I was dying; it was a slow painful death.
His unforgivable behavior always took place in private. There was no one around to observe or opine, no one to verify the exact sequence of events. It was the way he wanted it. It made it easier to pretend it hadn’t happened at all, or worse, it could be minimized and rationalized. He could say I made him act that way. Words were chosen, almost scripted, to induce the maximum amount of damage. They bounced around in my head long after the arguments were over, ripping my sense of self to shreds. They’re still with me now, long after this…this love affair?
It was in early September when I realized that our relationship was a lot of things…but it wasn’t loving. We had only lived together a few months. I had been doing a very good job of convincing myself that everything was fine and we were a normal couple. We weren’t.
There wasn’t anything normal about the way he and I interacted. Laughter and comfort didn’t last; they were replaced by a toxic silence. It was deafening. Affection and praise, when they were doled out, were quickly retracted. Guilt became a bargaining chip. I felt isolated and grew fearful. Nothing could come between me and fear. Fear was dragging me around by the nose, it dictated where I slept, what I ate, and where I went. It was debilitating.
Sure, I had text messages that said he would never harm me, but I also had ones that said he would spend the rest of his life trying to destroy me, everyone hated me, and I was a loser. I didn’t know which to believe, I suspect that this was on purpose. He pulled the strings. I was kept in a constant state of uneasy confusion, never knowing what was a fixture and what was fleeting. This is the worst kind of abuse.
I know what I wanted to believe; I know what I wished for. The fact that I still had the will is somewhat baffling to me. Hope must be the last human emotion to crumble. I hoped that my name wouldn’t be associated with phrases like petechial hemorrhaging, blunt-force trauma, and autopsy report. I hoped that the last time my parents saw me it wouldn’t be lying on a slab in the morgue with a neatly written tag dangling from my big toe. But, I knew if I let this go any further it was a very likely end.
This is Part I of a two-part story. Read Part II here.
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