The author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous.
It was him or me. I was not going to die today. And certainly not at the hands of this mad man, the monster my fiancé had now become.
He threw me on the bed while I was holding my 8-week-old baby and began to suffocate me with his hands over my mouth as I struggled to breathe. I saw the demonic look in his eyes. He wanted to kill me. NOW, my mind screamed. Fight back NOW.
I began shaking and kicking to get him off of me, hyper conscious of my baby still being held in my arms, terrified that my child would be hurt during this. As he continued to hold me down, I bit him. Really hard. Feeling like my life depended on that one move, my bite was so vicious that it immediately drew blood on him. He looked shocked that I fought back and screamed, “You bitch!” and moved just enough so that I could break free. Extremely conscious of my baby and keeping my tight grip on his tiny body, I ran and locked us in the bedroom.
That day began the worst nightmare of my life. It was the descent into the dark, secretive, isolating, terrifying world of domestic violence and mental illness. It was literally watching a man with a master’s degree, who once made over six figures at a top advertising company, now waving a knife around in the kitchen, threatening to stab himself and then swallowing an entire bottle of anti-psychotic pills and having to page psychiatrists at 2 AM to tell them that he was trying to kill himself. It was about being shoved, grabbed, pushed, having my hair pulled and being told he wished I were dead and that he was going to kill me. It was seeing a man who had always been charming and in control now morph into a man who had become erratic, angry, and dangerous — a shell of his former self.
I was watching my fiancé cascade down into the dark world of Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and blind rage, and I was always plotting my escape. Every day.
During this time, I felt as if I were living in a surreal nightmare, constantly stopping to ask myself, Is this really happening? Most of us should know that domestic violence crosses all socioeconomic barriers and can happen in any community, but it is still shocking when you now fear the man you planned to marry.
I was not a naive woman who had grown up around violence. I was an independent woman with a close knit family and a master’s degree, and now I was plagued with thoughts of How did I end up here? When the lies/double life he had been leading began to crumble down and each layer of his past was more terrifying to hear, I was left with one chilling thought: He is capable of anything. What added to the torment was never knowing exactly what was true and what was a delusion coming up from his dark, twisted mind.
The elusive myth that surrounds domestic violence had become a reality for me. People always ask, “Why don’t you just leave?” It seems so simple. Just get out. Except it’s not. Not when you think a person is capable of murder.
The challenge of leaving is about something much deeper, something that is rarely covered accurately in stories and research on domestic violence. How and when you leave, especially when children are involved, almost always comes down to the primal need to protect your child at all costs and knowing, with total certainty, that no one will be able to do that for you.
When the family court system relies heavily on criminal records and the man you are trying to escape has managed to evade law enforcement for years despite his violence, then you can’t prove in court his propensity for violence, and that means this mad man could likely get unsupervised visits with your child if you end up leaving him and he seeks visitation. So it is up to you to prevent that by any means necessary.
Leaving is also terrifying because you know it is always possible that he may hurt your family and retaliate against them, and for those of us who have been stuck in this living hell, it is impossible to explain in a way that people can really understand, even though we all see the brutal reality of domestic violence all the time. Every day abusers kill their partners or go after their partners’ families in revenge. Every damn day. Even when people constantly say, “Why don’t you just get a restraining order?” The elusive paper we somehow convince ourselves will offer some form of protection against the whim of a mad man but in reality offers nothing. Abusers’ intent on hurting their victims is not deterred by a piece of paper, no matter what that paper says.
I am not suggesting, for one second, that anyone stay and live their life in fear — only that “leaving” is never as easy as it seems. And even when you do go, you never get to really leave. You may be separated by different buildings and homes, but you always live with the fear of what they will do next.
I did finally get out one beautiful, sunny spring morning with my family and the movers waiting in the car. That day I knew I had “crossed over,” but I still never felt like I could breathe a sigh of relief. He was always out there…somewhere.
There was the time, after I left, when he told me, ”Don’t think I won’t hesitate to come over there and kill you, bitch.” When something like this happens, you find yourself printing out an application to purchase a gun, something you don’t even morally believe in, but you start to feel that it may be necessary. It is about calculating if he broke into your home, what window would he try to smash? And then alarming the whole apartment. It is about having a GPS tracker in your child’s backpack in case your ex ever tries to show up at your child’s school and pick him up.
Surviving domestic violence and the “cross over” period can be a dark world where you can never fully rest.
As the weeks, months and years went on, my life went on, and I began to stand up to him even more. There was that pivotal moment where I yelled, “Your reign of terror is OVER,” feeling liberated and fearful at the same time, but all I could do was just keep going, keep trying to put as much time and distance between the present and the days when we were together — the days when I hid in that bedroom.
But no matter how much time goes by, no matter how much your life changes, you can never fully forget. Every time you have to interact, you are still overcome by that feeling of what it felt like that day, years ago, when you saw that demonic look in his eyes.
That day when you saw him look at you like someone intent on killing you.