It went on like this for a couple of years. Long periods of calm interrupted by longer moments of panic and terror.
I remember….a long night watching my boyfriend sleep with a butcher knife in his hand wondering whether he intended to use it on me or himself. Being chased across town and, thinking it was the safest place I could find, pulling up in front of the 5th District Station. Being trapped in the kitchen of my upper flat which, I figured at the time, was probably the worst place in the house to be. Banging the car door against his leg as I tried to pull it closed and flee after an argument in the Dells. Listening to him tapping on my back door all night long wanting me to let him in so he could apologize.
But still he had never laid a hand on me. That had become my bottom line.
I got through the terror by convincing myself that he would stop himself from actually hurting me. But it became harder and harder to believe as time went on, sort of like thinking that even though everyone else’s basement was flooded, mine would stay dry.
It was the classic frog in boiling water. I lost sight of how out of whack my life had become. How unexplainable. How chaotic. How private.
The fight scene. Man and woman in a hotel room in Des Moines. He’s been drinking all day – beer and Irish whiskey. He wants to go out. She thinks he’s too drunk. He threatens. She grabs the keys to leave. He tackles her, pins her to the bed. And puts his hands around her neck.
Calling on angels, she gets out from under his 280 lbs and runs into the hotel hallway screaming. People open their doors and look at her standing there. He’s in the doorway shrugging his shoulders. She is ashamed.
So after the fight scene, while people from the hotel stood and watched, I got my things and my car keys and I left. Wanting to drive home but afraid to, I found an old hotel downtown and checked in to a room on the 4th floor where I pulled the chest of drawers in front of the door and sat curled up on the bed until dawn.
I drove back to Milwaukee to pick up my daughter, back from a two-week Western vacation with her dad. “Hi Mom, you’re late.”
Coming next: Men We Love: Part 4 (the coda)