Thirty years ago, I sat all night on the sofa in my upper Shorewood flat, smoking Benson & Hedges, with my mother’s green and orange afghan wrapped around my shoulders, waiting for my addicted, unpredictable, and sometimes violent boyfriend to pull up in front of my house, get out of his car, and use the key I had given him by mistake to come in and kill us all.
After spending all night on the couch looking out the window at the intersection of Newhall and Kensington, I showered, dressed, got my daughter ready for school, and went to work. As if nothing had happened.
My fear had happened. My lonely, secret, gut-wrenching fear had happened – fear so deep that I was afraid to close my eyes even for a minute lest I be taken by surprise.
When this happened, I was finishing coursework for a Ph.D. I had a job at a human service agency. It didn’t pay a lot but it was a decent job. I paid the rent. I owned a car. I had a good upbringing with decent parents. No one had ever laid a hand on me in anger. No one.
But I was terrified of my boyfriend when he was ‘off’ which he wasn’t always. Just once in a while. The rest of the time, he was mellow and funny, involved in the community, tons of friends, devoted to me.
It was hard to tell what would happen — it was (now one of my favorite terms) crazy-making.
Women you know this very minute are in this situation. If they are really scared or, worse, physically abused, they can seek shelter, assuming they are willing and able to leave where they live. They can call hotlines and learn how to develop safety plans. Stockpile resources and make a run for it if things get bad enough. I never got to this stage. I believed I could protect myself – at least until one fateful night a year or so later – so seeking shelter, asking for help for my situation never occurred to me. I wasn’t the person with the problem.
And there wasn’t any help for him.
The question was — was I supposed to change? Change my life, my residence, uproot my child to be safe? He’s the villain and I’m the damsel in distress?
I should have retreated into shelter so he could find the next woman who would try, in vain, to convince herself that how mellow and funny he was outweighed how terrifying he could become every now and then?
I didn’t think so then and I don’t think so now.
Stay tuned for Men We Love: Part 2.