Yesterday, I began a story, Red Flags. It's a true account of something that happened to me decades ago, but always comes to mind when I hear in the news of a stalking, or violence, or physical and psychological intimidation of a woman.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This past Sunday, only 40 minutes from my home, a man shot and killed his wife, and two other women. His gunfire then wounded four others. By the time his shooting spree was over, seven women in all were shot, three dead.
He shot SEVEN women in all.
His wife had just filed a restraining order and divorce papers against him. He claimed he loved her so much he couldn't live without her.
Stories like these are terrifying. I hear women say, "but that would never happen to me. I'm too smart." They think they'd know better than to be involved with someone like that. Their thoughts are that they'd pick up on warning behaviors and would know to stay away from that kind of person. They question why someone would become involved with someone violent.
But the thing is this, you can't control another person's actions. Even if you don't get involved with a person like that, even if you have no relationship with a person like that, it doesn't guarantee that they won't become obsessive and possessive about you.
Even if you've never spoken a word to them in your life.
Red Flags, Part II
Just as I knew they would be, my two brothers stood waiting and watching for me outside of the school building. I moved in between the both of them and we crossed the street, walking to our house at the end of the block. We took our steps in silence, they were performing the duty of keeping watch over their sister, and I was lost in my thoughts of all that had happened to me in the last few minutes of class tonight.
Though the note that was tossed on my desk at 8:45 landed with only a scratching sound, it felt like a dynamite explosion in my world. I wasn't the type of girl to get notes from boys. I was as far away from anyone who would especially get notes from a ring leader of a group of street boys.
These guys weren't my world. They were nothing I'd ever be attracted to or interested in. I had decided to live a quiet life on purpose. When I was six-years-old, my father killed himself and since that day, I did everything to keep myself safe, because I never wanted anything bad to happen to me again.
I didn't want this boy talking to me.
Though his attention fed me in a way that only a teen-age girl can understand, I still wanted to--and planned to--stay far away. But even with my mind made up to never speak to him, the moments until I was home and alone and able to undo the folds in his note and read what he said to me, felt as if they'd never come. As we walked home, I held onto the blue strap of my purse, thinking of how no one knew the enormity of what it carried inside. I thought of all the possibilities of what he could say to me. Would he tell me I was pretty? Did he remember my name? Would he ask me out? I wasn't allowed to date--and my mother would never let me be with someone like him. Would he get mad if I said no and never write me again?
My brothers and I were only two houses away from ours when we saw our mother's shadow waiting in the back door. Spotting the three of us, she waved and shouted, "Good! You are home! I begin to worry!"
"No, mami, we are fine. Sometimes we get out later," I assured her. She held the door open and told me again, how she didn't like that I had to be out late at night. My brothers left to go finish watching their show, and after I stayed in the kitchen answering my mother's questions about what we learned that night, I went to my room and closed the door.
Finally alone, I sat down on my bed. I felt my heart pounding. I felt scared, and yet I couldn't wait to read the note from him. With my purse on my lap, I held open the top flap and stared inside. I looked at the crumpled torn-out piece of paper on the bottom and the pretty blue lines that ran across it.
I pulled out his small note, and thought about how odd it was that he had folded it over and over, rather than just in a quick half, or even quarters. It was if he was talking himself into giving it to me with every crease he made. I began to undo the wadded paper and I saw his writing in dark blue ink. It surprised me at how deliberately neat it was. I had expected hurried, impulsive letter scrawls--but this was more like a studied exercise. The careful letters were so opposite of the jagged, torn out angle of the paper that they were written on.
As I began reading his message, a slow realization of what I was reading came over me. With shaking hands, I crumpled the paper back up and shoved it to the bottom of my purse. I felt on high alert, threatened, unsafe, and at risk. I knew I could never return to class. My palms were sweaty and my scalp tingled. I scolded myself for dressing so pretty. Why did he think I would do those things, or even know how?
I worried that he had followed us home. I knew I had to tear his note up, destroy it, and pray that no one in my house would ever see it. My heart was in my throat, and I wondered how I could rip the paper up in pieces small enough so that it would disappear. I could tear up the paper--no, I could get it wet and flush it down the toilet. But what if the pieces floated back up? My mother would know then that I had something I needed to hide. I couldn't burn it. I could rip it into shreds and put it back at the bottom of my purse and throw it out at school tomorrow.
I was furious with myself for the care I had taken with his note.
As I began ripping up the paper, the physical force that it took to tear it into as many small pieces as I could, surprised me. Holding the scraps in my hand, I got it wet with my spit, and rolled it up into a small ball. I put it at the bottom of my purse. I lay in bed that night, unable to fall asleep, the thought of what was only a few feet away from me, keeping me awake. I hated the thought that his depravity was in there with me.