Everything you are about to read is true. Everything was experienced by me. This is only one night. One night in the story that changed me forever. At 23. I look back and WhiteFlag could have given me the outlet I needed. I do not sit here and say that WhiteFlag could prevent every domestic violence situation, but I completely believe, from someone who sat through it, that the conversation WhiteFlag could have offered could have changed the course of events you are about to read. A single thread of messages could have given me the confidence to leave.
This is my story. Part ONE. This is not the ONLY night. This is the LAST night.
November 13th, 2018.
5:00pm: I sit down to dinner with 3 coworkers. It is my first year as a high school teacher. At 18, I moved 9 hours from home to start college. Worked hard to create a life for myself, graduated with my Master’s Degree in Teaching in June of 2018, and was proud of the life I had created for myself at 23 years old. I was what I considered “normal”.
5:00pm: Incoming Call
I don’t answer.
5:01pm: Incoming Call
The all too familiar feeling creeps up the back of my neck. My appetite is gone and we have not even ordered yet. My ability to conceal the emotions on my face is a skill that has dwindled in the last few months, and my coworkers can see the falter in my face. I meet their gazes with a smile and a change of subjects, focusing on the session of venting that will inevitably follow another day in the education profession. Crisis averted.
5:10pm: Incoming Call
5:11pm: Incoming Call
I apologize to the girls for having to take the call, get up from the table, and walk outside. He and I had just talked 20 minutes earlier about my plans — plans that have been in place for 2 weeks. I make sure to turn the volume down on my phone because there are families around. Knowing how this conversation will likely go, it will not be appropriate for the children around to hear.
I was correct.
I am immediately inundated with yelling, being cursed at, and accused of being out drinking with other guys. The dumbfounded tone to my voice only adds fuel to his anger. I go quiet for a moment and realize that in the last 3 months, I had only done something socially without him one other time. Once. I now remember what had encouraged me not to. I assure him, yet again, that I will be home closer to 6:30 instead of 7 (maybe 30 minutes less would calm him down). He ends the call.
I uncomfortably make my way back to the table with the girls. I attempt to slide into my seat and keep the ongoing conversation going, discussing what just happened would be too difficult to explain. Success. They move on quickly.
5:30pm: Incoming Call
5:31pm: Incoming Call
5:32pm: Incoming Call
I apologize again, slide out of the table and stand outside, ignoring the looks passed between my friends. I take a breath before calling back. The quiet anger seeps out of the speaker of my phone, into my ear, and turns my stomach, all simultaneously. I know that anger all too well, the inflection on certain words in his voice — it’s going to be a long night. This particular phone call is much the same, this time adding how wrong it was of me to be out getting dinner, when he doesn't even have enough money for a pack of cigarettes.
I was the only one of the two of us with a job.
I apologize, promise to get him some on the way home and to make the rest of my dinner quick.
He hangs up without another word.
I sit back down at the table and this time understand that avoiding the questions is going to be next to impossible. Not only are these my coworkers, but these are my closest friends. They’ve seen this pattern before since I began working in August. The look of concern on their faces hits me in a way I struggle to process; Am I embarrassed? Annoyed? Angry? Appreciative? I cannot even begin to determine the answer.
I sit through another conversation about me needing to be happy. Listening to these girls tell me that I should be able to make it through dinner without fielding numerous phone calls from the guy that says he loves me. They’ve heard some of the stories of the strained relationship — none of them have heard it all. I’m tired. Tired doesn’t even really describe it. I am exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Dinner ends without any further interruption and I am back in the car by 6:15. A silent win as I know that I will be home by 6:30. Maybe I can salvage the rest of the night.
I pull onto the street and see him walking down the sidewalk in the rain. He is moving in the direction away from the house we live in together. We have lived there for one month and 13 days as a result of a hurricane displacing my initial home that I shared with a roommate. Someone else. A buffer I did not know existed until it didn’t. He has no car. And no license.
I pull my car to the side of the road, roll my window down, and ask him what he is doing. He ignores me and continues to walk. I pull forward and ask him again, in which he curses at me and mentions something about cigarettes. I tell him I already got them and ask him to get in the car and out of the rain.
We sit in silence as I pull up to the house, unload my bags from work and make my way up the stairs of the front porch. He is already in the house. A sinking feeling fills my stomach–a feeling that has become the norm every time my hand grasps the knob to the front door. As I shut the door behind me, the blinds on the door clang together — a reminder of a particularly bad night the week before. I step over the tile in the kitchen that is cracked. I cross the threshold into the bedroom forcing my eyes to look past the four holes in the entryway of the room–a reminder of a particularly bad night the first week we moved in. I set my bags down and go to open the closet to change into pajamas, careful to hold the top as I slide the door open–damage caused from yet another particularly bad night. I can hear the wind outside pick up with the incoming storm, causing the bedroom window to creak where the inner pane is shattered–another reminder.
My heart rate picks up with the thoughts of these instances and all instances that left no trace. The bedroom door clamors against the wall as he stalks into the room. He is 6’8”, an entire foot taller than me. Yet somehow, his height and size seemed to multiply in that moment.
He tells me he needs my computer to message someone on Facebook. He has no phone. He has shattered 4 in the last month — 3 of which I had given him that were old phones of my own. I tell him I have lesson plans and grades to do. He tells me he wants someone to come pick him up and needs to message them. This was a repetitive game to him. I ask him why and he again curses at me with a rising level of anger — he is mad that he did not have cigarettes all day. I repeat that I have school work to do; grades that are due by the end of the day.
He steps towards me and shoves me hard enough that my head connects with the wall, leaving an indentation near the holes from the first week in the house and causing my knees to buckle just enough to have me on the ground at that moment. He slams the bedroom door hard enough that the walls seem to shake. I take a centering breath and pull myself up. I reach into my purse and slide my wallet in between the mattress and box spring. If things got bad tonight and he truly left, he wouldn’t want to go empty handed. It had happened before. He knew my debit card PIN number and my bank account information–keeping the card hidden would slow down any financial damage he could do tonight. It wouldn’t be the first time that my bank account had been drowned below balance because of him.
The door opens again and I steady myself. He asks for my cell phone. Says he needs to call someone if he can’t use my computer. I fear that one of the girls from dinner will attempt to continue the conversation from then. If he saw that, things would be bad. I agree to hand over the computer but that I will still need it for work soon.
THE SWITCH. Something I know far too many have seen and something I wish no one would ever have to experience. The switch in his eyes. It is in that moment that any color in his eyes has seemingly evaporated. All that is left are eyes devoid of all color. A shade of black that is indescribable. This switch signifies all that I need to know about the remainder of the evening — it will not be good.
He stares at me as if I was a stranger, takes 3 steps backwards out of the bedroom, raises the laptop above his head, and sends it splintering across the kitchen tiles. I freeze as a devious smile spreads across his face. As materialistic as it sounds, this was devastating. This laptop contained every item I had created in college, every lesson plan I had painstakingly written during my student teaching, all of my grades and assignments from the beginning of my teaching career. I had no other way to do work, to access the documents that determined my career at that moment.
Anger begins to build within me. But the anger is quickly body slammed by fear. Tears well in my eyes as I look at him. With so many emotions fluttering around inside of me and a definite inability to process my next statement, I hear the voices of the girls from dinner in my head. I was done. I had to be.
“You have to leave. Now.”
A statement that I immediately regretted. He knew I meant it. He was not going to go down without a fight.
Without another word, he closes the gap between us, yanks my phone from my hand, and sends it tumbling to the kitchen tiles, meeting the same fate as my laptop. I start screaming. I am unsure what, if anything, was actually being said.
The next few hours sit in my mind veiled in a fog of sorts. The terror and pain being the only aspects that remain with clarity. The landline phone was pulled out of the wall, preventing the last manner in which I could call for help. A knife was pulled from the kitchen, sliced through the cushion of the couch and flashed towards me in a way that signified a promise. There was one way in and one way out of the house. I was held from making any moves towards that door. The first time I thought I had a clear path, I was met with large hands picking me up, slamming me into the tile with the same force that my phone and laptop had been dealt with. His expansive body sat straddling me as a vicious smile grew on his face. Pinned underneath the expanse of his body, his hands wrapped around my throat, stopping all entrance of air and sound.
I don’t know what possessed him to stop. I can honestly say that it was not out of concern for me or my well-being. Self-preservation is what I truly believe made him release my throat from his vice-like grasp.
I regained air with a sputtering of coughs, a sound that caused him to step back a few steps. In a flurry, a memory I have not yet entirely processed, I sprinted to the door, ripped it open, and ran like hell. I had nothing with me. No wallet. No keys, as he had taken those and hidden them. But it did not matter. I ran. I sprinted in the rain down the stairs and once my feet met pavement, I took off. I was barefoot and the nicks of the pavement cut into my feet, a feeling I would not process until hours later when the adrenaline rush subsided. I recognized the reality that I was attempting to outrun a man that was 6’ 8”. A single stride of his equated to 2 of mine. I did not want to know what the consequences would be if he caught up. I glanced behind me just in time to see his body flail as he slid on the wet pavement. He had found time to put shoes on and as a result, he lost traction that my bare feet had provided me. I praised the God I believed in at that moment for not having shoes on my feet and for encouraging him to take the time to put his on.
Seeing him hit the pavement fueled my determination. I did not know where I was going but I refused to stop moving. I screamed “stop” at the top of my lungs. I saw a porch light on in the distance and with hope inside, I ran, faster than I think I ever had, with hopes of finding someone.
And I did.
A woman was sitting on her porch. I’m sure I looked crazed, eyes swollen with tears, soaking from the rain, barefoot, and with a t-shirt on that was now ripped around the collar. It did not matter. I slid onto her porch and begged for her phone, with no explanation beyond that. As I looked behind me, I no longer saw him. The woman and her husband, who exited his home at the sound of my cries and gasps, stood next to me as I placed a call to the police. This was the first time I had ever dialed 9-1-1.
When the operator started asking me questions, he emerged from the darkness towards me. I took a step back but continued feeding the information to the operator. I remember being ridiculously conflicted over how to describe the “who” that did this. This was my boyfriend as of a few hours ago, but I choked on those words, and remember telling the operator that he was now my ex-boyfriend. Inconsequential to the operator on the phone, but a monumental moment for me. He looked at me from the patch of grass that he stood on, unsure what to do, but with a look on his face that told me everything I needed to know — I was lucky. Lucky beyond belief that this woman and her husband had been there because this was not going to stop. He put his hands in a praying motion — something I will never know the intention behind. Something I still question 4 years later. Begging me not to call the police? Or daring me to do it in a show of threats for what my consequences would be if I did continue the call?
In a moment of… I still don’t know what to call it — I typed and erased 7 different verbs here and I could not decide on one to sum it up — I continued the phone call while looking in his eyes, telling the address and that assistance was needed as soon as possible.
He heard that.
He took off on foot.
It took 2 years for him to be arrested.
He was NEVER held accountable for a single hand he laid on me.
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