Violence — physical, mental, emotional — is almost impossible to shake off. Sure, you can (and should) escape it, get over it and be lulled into temporary forgetfulness. But it’s lurking. Like a mosquito bite, it sneaks up on you. You don’t notice the venom until you’re safely at home scratching that speed bump on your arm, angry at yourself because you didn’t see the bug coming and decimate it with a slap.
I heard the familiar annoying buzz recently. Catching up on “Katie” for the first time it was just my luck that the entire show was dedicated entirely to dating/relationship violence — domestic violence in a non-married situation. On the show were the families of young women who’d been abused by men lacking the years to even call themselves such.
I got the itch when I heard Yeardley Love’s family tell their story. Yeardley was found dead in her apartment in May 2010, murdered by her ex-boyfriend. They were both student athletes at the University of Virginia. Yeardley’s ex had sent threatening texts, emails and had even assaulted her in the past. But her family never knew the extent of it. Yeardley’s mother said her daughter told her she could handle it.
I remember a similar conversation I had with my mother when I was 21.
By the time I was a senior in college my ex-boyfriend, my first love, was effectively terrorizing me. He stalked me, randomly showing up on campus at places he knew I’d be even though he had graduated two years before. He called me six times in a row just to say, “Hello.” He claimed he was cool with me dating again, coaxing details about new guys out of me, but then started following their every move on Migente.com. (I went through a Latin phase.)
Eventually our relationship would hit whatever’s six feet under rock bottom. He pushed me down a flight of stairs (I caught myself mid-way) when I showed up to the apartment we once shared to collect some pictures he soaked in water. Then he threatened to cut off the offending arm that had pushed me — romantic. A few months later, he spit at me, arguing that it wasn’t so bad because it landed near my feet, as opposed to on my face.
During all this, I clung to “fine” like a life jacket. When my mother asked if everything was all right, I told her I was “fine.” Is anyone ever?
I was a grown woman, according to me, and as such I should have been able to handle an ex-boyfriend who had a dark side he repeatedly claimed was all my fault. “It’s just because we’re not together,” he explained more than a year of harassment later. Thankfully I was smart enough to reject that twisted logic, but not smart (or confident) enough to just ask for some damn help.
All my friends knew. Guys offered to handle it with an unmarked white van. My mom suggested my uncle — the crazy one — come for a “visit.” But I was still clinging to fine. “I mean, this isn’t the movies,” I told a friend once. “It’s not like anything’s gonna happen.” But isn’t that where movies come from, real life?
I finally called the police after he started calling me on the job, disguising his voice to get past the receptionist and then cursing me out when I picked up the line. Fucking with my money? That was the straw that broke the broke-ass camel’s back. It’s also when I realized that he’d never just go away. This was beyond a love hangover, it was a pathology. He was parasite. I needed professional intervention.
Nothing says it’s over like a restraining order. That, of course, didn’t stop Nutty McNutbag from calling me nearly five years later. I’d moved to Washington, gotten my first real job, and my own apartment. For weeks, I kept getting these rando calls from a blocked number in the middle of the night. Whenever I picked up, whoever was on the other line would do nothing but breathe. I knew it was him.
After screaming, “Hello. Hello? HELLO!” every time I answered, I decided to try a new tactic. The next time he called, I’d just out him.
Ring, ring, ring!
“Hello. Hello? HELLO! Listen, asswipe, I know it’s you. Stop calling me you pathetic piece of monkey –”
“Nineteen-Oh-Two Ninth Street Northwest!” he yelled. It’d worked. I got him to say something. Unfortunately, that something was my home address.
I hung up and called my mom as my stomach plummeted to floor.
Apparently he’d read a MYSPACE POST I wrote about crazy ex-boyfriends and wasn’t happy. My mom called his mom — as if he’d just pushed me off the monkey bars and hadn’t been scaring the shit out of me. They talked and, in the end, I was chastised for “putting it out there.” That of course didn’t stop me from writing about the whole thing in my book or here. Because that’s the only way I knew how to soothe the itch — scratch it, then count the scar as a lesson.