Survival In Domestic Noir
Writing about abuse is fraught, just like navigating the experience, and possibly more so. Putting the particulars into a sentence invites parsing and uninformed examination. There were no emergency room visits or "falling down the stairs" in my situation, just the slow relinquishing of everything. It's hard to explain the gradual collapse of your world through unspoken contingencies. The front yard became off-limits until we were married. My graduate program was a threat, so he criticized my work and left me at a theater. Reading in the house slowly became impossible because he demanded constant attention. There is no way to relate this without also disclosing that after an evening at the library, I came home to the cat throwing up some foul smelling oil. The cat threw up a lot, but only after I had gone out alone.
When describing abuse, there is no end to necessary context, and there is no appropriate audience. You will need to escape the way you need to leave a moving vehicle, with enough force to throw yourself out of its way. Your boss will falter, your instructions will be contradictory, your job will become inconsistent, and you will be afraid to leave part way. You will try to sleep in your car and realize he has followed you. There is no relief in telling your family that he stalks you and calls you later to tell you about it when your family does the same thing even now. The exertion will leave you empty and hopeless at the inevitability of the circumstances you have found yourself in. You will completely depersonalize and watch yourself bleakly maneuver to safety. New acquaintances will mistake this for a trait. You will sleep in other people's mother's houses when the time comes.
My story threatens to gain theatricality in the retelling. Leaving a relationship like that is more of a process; I'd gathered all the business paperwork I could, my electronics and jewelry, and had moved them out bit by bit. Any sudden move would mean disaster. Cleaning had come to include boxing up my things and hiding the boxes under towels. My work clothes went to the dry cleaners and would stay there until I had another place for them. Relationships were made with victim's advocates, the police department, and lawyers. I messaged people I hadn't spoken to in years, rebuilding whatever support network I could after years of isolation. Walking out, of course, is still an event. I left one day for work with an over packed purse, my computer bag for work, and a gym bag full of toiletries. I don't know why I picked that day, but I must have had my reasons.
I had abandoned the cat and devised to see my ex at a street festival. A man shouted down his wife's friend as she watched. "They want him to act that way," my ex explained to me. Alone with him back at his house I threw myself into a panic attack and ran away with my cat in my arms, claiming loneliness and confusion. The important paperwork I'd kept out on a dresser and could not be moved without some retaliation. The arithmetic of an abusive relationship is delicate. Some weeks after leaving, one text I answered less than deferentially, and the locks were changed. I needed that paperwork suddenly. Again, there is no end to necessary context. He agreed to give me a few hours in the house to "pick up a bit" that I had insincerely negotiated in the terms of a reconciliation. His insistence upon mixing our belongings together might have at the time come across as intimate or untidy, but it left me desperately throwing random shit into laundry baskets.
An escalating series of text messages that afternoon confirmed that this was the last time I could safely be there. A friend came and loaded up my car but had to leave for a birthday party. I started making desperate calls for help and more people came, borrowed cars materialized, nylon ropes. Everything I owned was covered in dust and crammed under the bed or in corners, loaded on top of borrowed cars by sympathetic near strangers. A text came that the deadline had changed, he'd decided to come back sooner. They sent me away to finish packing on their own and pulled the heavy furniture into the yard. One tried to make me laugh and I stared back blankly in the rain.
Nobody at my work seemed to notice anything, or if they did, they didn't say anything. My office job gave me a considerable freedom to leave for a long lunch and file for an emergency protective order downtown. My income bought me a lawyer, new clothes to replace what I had lost, and a new apartment with private parking. None of what I have now would have been possible without a substantial amount of money. It could easily have gotten me a prepaid phone, if I had needed that, but I used my office line for calls to police offices in two states and several advocacy groups.
Shortly after, Human Resources announced the elimination of my position from the company. It was nothing personal, they offered me other positions, but the job I had was over. That day after work, the ex texted me, demanding money. In theory, he was charging rent for the month my things were locked in his house. In reality, he just felt like he could. He needed some money and now I had some. That week my roommate went on a bender and moved somebody else into my room to communicate my eviction. It was a shitty week.
Leaving the company was similar to leaving my relationship, in that it was a process. I arranged for a moving truck and a storage facility on my company phone, for convenience, as I worked. A new resume was drafted and sent out to other agencies. There was some time allotted to close the accounts and I used this time to save contact information for software purchases, gathering negotiated rates for various funding sources, and collecting intellectual property like policies and contract templates. I saved these into generic file types and uploaded them to different servers, they weren't going to use them. I took a long lunch break to go to court, was granted a Domestic Violence Order good for three years, and then finished my day at the office. On my last day, I filled a child size backpack with office supplies and took it with me when I left.
Competing agencies called back for interviews, sample work, and references. They explained their terms. They were warm, competent, and professional. They would tell me what to do from now on. (They would not tell me what to do from now on.) From my desk, I filed the paperwork and fees for a new LLC, my company. A colleague agreed to help me with credentialing and other bureaucratic activities, working off the books. The man who had tried to make me laugh that day in the rain found me a new apartment. An old friend arranged for a laptop and a printer. I had a home office now and moved my clients over to new contracts, starting work before I could be paid for it. I filed for unemployment and called another acquaintance for help when the checks didn't come. I used my credit card a lot. My hair fell out on my pillowcase, thinned, and had to be mostly cut off.
It was harrowing, but it worked. I read a lot now, my business is still running, and my hair is growing back. Sometimes I walk around my apartment and just look at it because it is mine. My lawyer is in my women's business group. This is not a tidy ending-- years later now, I have nightmares about men outside the house. Financially I may never recover. It's still better, but it's different. I will never again own more than I can move in one day. My documents are securely stored in redundancy. People find the business impressive, but it's not, it was a necessity and is mostly office work. In some other setting, I would be hiding the ashes from my campfires or rationing out bread in winter. The tedium of inputting data, managing enrollments, filing claims, all of that-- this is how I will survive.
by: Spooky Fitzgerald