This is an essay detailing my personal encounter with domestic violence.
|This is a story I wish didn’t exist. But it does. And for so many others. Writing has always been my refuge, so I hope to find my foothold here, and perhaps others will find the courage they haven’t been able to see in themselves yet.
I grew up sheltered, and despite my railings otherwise, pretty much a romantic idealist. So I did what any young woman seeking strength and independence would do: found a career that would give me that. I became a police officer. I chose to get involved in the field of family violence and sexual offenses. I wanted to help women especially. And I did whenever the opportunities arose.
I never had much of a dating life, but always wanted to find someone to share my life with. I met James online and we clicked instantly. It was a whirlwind romance and life was just perfect. We were inseparable. We found a new apartment six months later and shortly after that, the rose-colored glasses started slipping off my nose. We both had strong personalities, so it was a difficult transition from a happy relationship to an abusive one. James was very good at manipulation. It took me a long while before I saw the signs. But I denied them for a long time. I was a police officer. A strong person. I was not the type of person that got abused. Cops especially aren’t victims.
It started with little things. Arguments over the silliest things, like shower curtains. I never had enough time for him, never mind the fact that I was finally finishing my degree, which he initially supported. I went fulltime and worked and managed the household. He used to help with the laundry or the dishes. He would program the coffee machine and make me muffins. Then slowly, he began making me feel guilty. My grades fluctuated because I wanted to make him happy. I also volunteered to help more with his son, whom we had every other weekend. I loved his boy and he loved me too; he even called me mom every so often. He was five when I met James.
Things continued to go south, but I was still oblivious to the changes in him. I was so busy, and struggling to make everyone happy. The irony was that the more I tried, the less time I had with my family and friends. I just couldn’t seem to win. My cooking was never good enough. He told me I should spend more time with his mom learning to cook. I never hung up his shirts just right. I was less and less adequate in the bedroom. The list went on. I would try to initiate more romance, especially when he stopped kissing and hugging me altogether. One morning I got into the shower with him, and he peed on me. He thought it was funny, and said he was marking his territory. It never occurred to me at the time that it was degrading. That is how badly he had conditioned me by then.
My friends made comments to me, especially when we would all hang out together, James included. My boss at the time approached me with his concerns after meeting him briefly. I protected James. I defended him. I made light of everything, hiding my shame. Even from myself. I truly believed I was the flaw in the relationship. So much that when James demanded I go to anger management counseling and take antidepressants, I blindly obeyed. I had attempted to ask for help with the housework or that we get take out as opposed to me cooking so often, because I was stressed with work and school. Asking, pleading, begging, yelling … nothing budged him. I was the problem. So I continued to keep trying harder, becoming resentful all the while. I kept up the charade of being in a healthy and loving relationship. Out of the blue he also began a routine out of catching me by surprise and putting me in a choke hold, and squeezing until I was unconscious. It was never violent, but I hated it. Especially when he taught his son how to do it. And he was too young to see this as anything other than a game. Later, he tried to get me to use illegal drugs, drink more, among other things. He also let me know frequently how and when he would flirt with women he met on his lunch hour, and led me to believe he was going to buy a prostitute when he attended a bachelor party once. If I got upset, a fight always ensued. So I worked hard to avoid the fights. There was no escape from them.
When we moved into a house he wanted to buy, I had this false hope that things would get better. We would have a fresh beginning. And it seemed to work at first, almost like a second honeymoon. Or perhaps I was just really good at deluding myself. He made me get rid of my two cats, never mind that I had them before we ever met. He bought me a lot of nice things after that, and we even took a vacation with my parents together. That was a monumental failure. After I tried to help him with his diabetic device, he got angry and told me that he would rather be dead than spend the last day on the ship with me. I still stayed with him, even though he never apologized to me.
It was no wonder that I became severely unhappy and depressed. I cried a lot. If I cried at night, he would kick me out of the bedroom. I usually left my pillow and a blanket down by the couch, it happened so often.
During the last year of the relationship, things had escalated. One night we argued over something I cannot even remember. But I decided to stop because I could never go to sleep upset. I turned over and he continued to brush his teeth in the bathroom. Then suddenly he came out and rushed to my side of the bed, where I was silently crying. His hands went around my neck. This was unlike those other occasions. This was violent and terrifying. I was now on my back and completely unable to fight him. He was a foot taller and outweighed me by over a hundred pounds. After I realized fighting him was futile, I relaxed some, my body tingled and my arms went numb. I truly thought he was going to kill me. And while I’m not proud of it, but after he released his hold on me, I admit a part of me wished he had killed me. He never apologized for hurting me; instead, he tried to make me believe it was my fault. He minimized it by claiming he was just trying to get my attention.
There were other things that screamed inside my head, exhibiting all the signs of abuse that I see in other women. It is quite another to see these things in your own world. When I asked him to treat me with respect, like an equal, the response I got was, “What makes you think you’re my equal?” This was amidst the cold claims that I was nothing without him. When I complained about the lack of affection, I was told that I disgusted him. So he no longer wanted to hug or kiss me, much less make love. It irks me that I stayed. I know not everyone understands why I stayed. It is hard to fully put into words the emotions that go through your mind in this type of relationship. The son knew I was upset and always sought to make me feel better. He hugged me and told me he loved me. I just felt I had to keep trying. In vain I believed that this was just a rut. Once he caught me looking at apartments on my laptop (a gift from him), and he swiped it from the desk and smashed it to the carpet. My schoolwork was on the hard drive. So I had to wait for him to order replacement parts and repair it. I was still being strangled on an almost weekly basis.
Then in early May, everything changed again. After another argument, I left the bedroom, slammed the door and went downstairs as always. This time he followed me out and from the stairs told me to get out. It was two o’clock am on a Sunday morning. We had played this game before. But it was different somehow this time. Usually he would just go back and we’d sleep apart, to rinse and repeat days later. I called the police for a civil standby; this is a request for an officer to stand by for the person’s safety while that person gathers some belongings. I did not disclose his behaviors but the numerous empty bottles of beer made things clear to the officers. He had flushed his small stash down the toilet before the police arrived. So that was that. I left.
I went to a partner’s home and stayed with him until I could procure my own place. Shamefully, I tried to re-establish the relationship, even after he bragged about the women he had in and out of the house. Our home. He changed the locks, and I had to make appointments to try to pack and move my things. I had help every time. But he limited the time we had in the house. Five weeks later, and I barely had anything. It was also during this time, my depression had escalated to the point where I was placed on administrative leave, and my duty belt was stripped from me. They allowed me to keep my badge, but it was horrifying to deal with on top of everything else. I had to undergo mandatory psychiatric evaluations as well as continued counseling after I was given my job back. I was forced to fight when I was at my absolute lowest point ever. And everyone knew it, too.
On father’s day, my friends and I were allowed to make another trip, and we were hoping to get it all that day. We were forced to leave, again with hardly anything packed or moved out. Later, I tried to negotiate to make a final trip to end things, once and for all. He tells me he will toss my things in the trash and on the curb for me to pick up. It was raining so I begged him not to. Granted, it was just material possessions, but my childhood treasures were still in that house. I drove over an hour to try to save my stuff, planning on calling the police again for help. He refused to give me entry, even when the police asked on my behalf. He stated he was going to leave in a few minutes.
Texas laws are unique in some ways. I advised them, knowing them very well myself, that I was done being civil. They understood my intentions. I would wait for him to leave and break into a residence that legally was still mine, and remove my possessions. The police left. My parents were behind me with my dad’s truck. My dad thought he saw James drive off from the back drive, and I went to the front door. It was unlocked. Unfortunately, James was still there. I ducked underneath his arm and ran upstairs and started throwing my clothes and boxed items on the front porch. My mom came in also to help me. My dad started loading the truck. James was on the phone, calling the police back. Then he attempted to strangle me again. Somehow I was able to extricate myself quickly. I used my thumb on a pressure point on his throat and he released me. So I went back upstairs. Never in my wildest imaginings did I think that he would lay a hand on my mom. But that is what happened. He locked the door with my father outside. She was able to escape his grip also and unlocked the door just as the police arrived. I was still upstairs when I heard the commotion and everything happened so quickly that James was in cuffs by the time I made it to the stairs.
Everything slowed down in my head at that point. I was in shock. I was on the other end of the camera, being photographed, being handed my mandatory victim’s rights. And yes, despite everything, I still loved that man. I hated him, yes. But I loved him and I prayed for him.
I was notified when he was released from the county jail two days later, and initiated a chat online with him, to ask if he was ok. I was threatened and blackmailed. If I did not drop the case against him, he would retaliate against my mother and me. He also stated that he should have shot us both, among other just hateful things. So I took steps to call the local police where my parents lived to ensure extra patrol. I had to inform my own department, and everyone was given his photo and vehicle information in case he decided to retaliate.
I had a lot of really rough days and nights. I slept with the light on, and my gun became attached to my hand. It was never but a quick grab away when I slept and showered. I lived in constant terror. I lost weight and barely slept. There were many times I went out and just drove all night, or went to bars. Anything to keep from sitting in that apartment. It was not my home. A part of me still felt I belonged to him in that house. I did not get to graduate that semester. I failed all but one class, which for an honor’s student, devastated and humiliated me. It took everything I had to get up and go to work after that. Every single decision was agonizing, right down to picking out a flavor of cream for my coffee. I couldn’t take care of my animals. I was so ashamed and I just hated myself. My mother had never in her life been assaulted. Because I failed to leave when I knew deep down I needed to, she got assaulted. To see your reflection in the mirror and to despise it is one of the worst feelings in the world. I cried constantly, sometimes crying so hard that I stopped breathing and it was as if I were being suffocated all over again. I had overcome so much in my lifetime already. Two sexual assaults, a miscarriage from my first boyfriend, and none of it compared, which seems so backwards and bizarre to me. The pain of being abused and cast aside so maliciously without a reason is unbearable. Being an officer adds another complex and emotional layer to being a victim.
It was an end, but also a beginning. I still struggle. I am constantly running through the entire relationship in my head, in explicit detail to try to find answers I know I never will. I think of the good times a lot more than the bad, which is probably counter-productive, but I cannot control my thoughts. I have this desperation to know how much of the love I had felt from him had been real. There are reminders of James and his son everywhere. I cannot drive over the lake which used to be my way home without having to hold my breath or squeezing the steering wheel in a death grip. I still have nightmares. I will find myself waking up in tears and automatically move as if to walk downstairs to the couch before realizing where I am.
But here it is almost November and I am living my life. I am filling it with as much pleasure and joy as I can find. I have bought things I was told I never could afford without him. I am hopefully going to graduate this semester and move on to the next phase of my career. I wonder how coincidental it is that before James, my career goal was to be an investigator for the DA’s office in the field of family violence. The goal has only been further reaffirmed for me, I am taking care of my animals again. I am not ready to start dating quite yet. Maybe someday. I have picked up some of the pieces of myself that James shattered. Some of those pieces are lost forever. That’s just reality, I suppose. But I am closer to the person I used to be than I was even a month ago. I have already helped other women who found themselves in similar situations.
I have endured this. Perhaps not as well as some others have. Certainly not as gracefully as others. I have not healed as fast as my family and friends would have liked. Everyone has their own timeline to heal. And I still have a ways to go yet myself. I do not know why I was chosen to carry this heavy burden. And I cannot change the past. But I can write more stories. I just have to figure out which happy ending will be mine.