This is the final post of Red Flags.
Writing this, revisiting these times, has made me feel anxious again as I remember my life while this was going on. Please, also, if you're triggered--think twice before reading this post. Though I feel the anxiety return with telling my story, it's important to me, that a change of thinking happens. I want us to stop blaming the victims of Domestic Abuse. Because no one willingly puts themselves into this situation.
It is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I ask that you, please, know that no one can control what a obsessed person is hellbent on doing to them. There are many myths about domestic abuse: how the victim is either lower socio-economic status, or that alcohol or drugs must be involved.
The only truth is that the typical victim is young, or old. Rich, or poor. Educated or non-educated. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, or any other race. Married, or unmarried. With children, or without. Employed or unemployed. Gay or straight. Professional or non-professional.
The other truth is this: it can be anyone.
I hope that the next time someone reads of a tragedy of domestic abuse, or hears someone say "They had to know what they were getting into," that at the very least, they'll tell them of my story here.
Final Post, Red Flags
As soon as I decided to not go back to the Driver's Ed. class on Wednesday nights, I felt a little safe. I was still anxious, since I found out he went to school across the street from me, but Theresa had told me--and she knew him well--that he would quickly find someone else. That's what I was counting on.
I kept eating lunch and sitting with Theresa because I liked it. Being seen with her had catapulted me to the "cool" crowd, and without her, I know that I'd be invisible at school again. But even though I had grown to like her, I was too scared of him to tell her anything about how I planned to stop going to the Wednesday night classes. I wanted to just fall away and out of his life.
Wednesday came and went, and with my mother having six children, she didn't notice that I skipped the Driver's Ed. class. I stayed home that night, feeling a peace I hadn't felt in a week. As I fell asleep later, I smiled--hopeful that all this and him would end soon. I was happy that it was so much easier than I thought it would be to get rid of him. I woke up Thursday morning feeling that maybe everything would be all right.
My mother paid my neighbor to drive me to school in the early morning, but I took a bus home when school ended at 2:30. Since we got out earlier than the other schools, it was a quiet time of the day to walk the four blocks to my bus stop. The bus ride home was only 30 minutes, and then I had a short two block walk home. As I walked home that Thursday, I thought of nothing, except that maybe I wouldn't ever have to see him again.
It was at the corner at the end of the block from where I lived, that I saw him. My feet froze. Parked in front of my house, was a man's bicycle. My mouth felt dry--sitting on that bike, was him.
He had found me.
I began to breathe fast and hard. On knees about to buckle, I walked backwards to the alley that would get me to my house. I prayed he hadn't seen me--I remember saying to myself "get to the alley, get to the alley." I wanted to be home, safe, the doors locked. With my family.
I thought about the week before, when I was in such a hurry to leave the Wednesday night class, and knew then that he must've followed me home. My mind was firing with images: his face, my mother if she knew he had followed me, what would happen if she came home. I was scared of him, and I was scared of what my mother would do if she knew this boy was after me.
I reached the alley and ran the half block to my house, the corners of the books in my backpack pounding against every ridge of my spine. I didn't care--I had to make it to my yard. I don't know how long it had been since I had taken a full breath--I ran on sheer adrenaline and pushed the back door open with my body falling in. My legs shook. I wanted to hide in my bedroom and cry--but I couldn't leave him in the front of our house, my mother would be home soon and I feared what she would do to him more than I feared facing him. I was home now, and I wouldn't be alone with him; my brothers were home with me. I wobbled into the kitchen, my brothers looked up and said, "There's some guy sitting in front of the house for a long time. We don't know who it is."
I looked at the kitchen clock, it was almost 4. My mother wouldn't be home until 5:45. I had to go out and talk to him. If she found him here, she would tear him apart. I was sure of that. The only thing to do was to talk to him. I told my brothers to watch me in the window.
I lied to my grandmother and told her I had to give a homework assignment from Driving Class to the person outside. She believed me, but still came to the window with my brothers.
I tried to slow down my breathing as I walked out my front door on rubber knees. I could see him looking straight up at me. The ten steps in front of my house felt more like a long mile, but I reached the bottom, and stood across the sidewalk from him.
He spoke first. "You weren't at class yesterday. I wanted to see if you were all right."
"I'm, I can't go to class anymore." My voice sounded strange--like it was in my ears. I stared at my shoes--I felt naked looking up at him.
"Yeah. Theresa told me your mom was sick. I like that you take care of her."
His words and voice sounded different than I imagined. I thought he would be gruff, demanding--but he made me want to look at him. He sounded gentle, kind. But I remembered the note he wrote, and how he was lying about who he was.
My knees were shaking more than they were when I first came outside. He had to know, I couldn't see him. "I'm not allowed to date."
"Yeah. I know. That's good. I like that. Your mom takes good care of you."
His note made him sound like he would get upset, about anything, but why wasn't he angry? Still, he wrote that note. Asking me to do things I'd never do.
"So. I can't see you." I spoke quickly and pushed the words out. "And I have to go in now. My grandmother and brothers are watching me."
He ignored what I said. "Who were those guys you walked home with last week?"
His question made me angry and scared, just like his note did. He wanted to know so much, and had no right to ask. He hinted at things, like me with boys, and hid them in the disguise of caring about me.
Though I was angry at all that he wanted to know about me, I didn't want to sound scared. Keeping my voice steady, I told him, "There weren't any guys. Those are my brothers -- I have two brothers. My mother always has me with my brothers."
"I saw you with those two guys and I thought, she wouldn't be like that. With two guys. You're a good girl, aren't you?"
I wanted to run inside my house now, but I couldn't. He had to go. I didn't like how he was making himself a part of my life and felt unsafe around him. I had to make sure he would leave, and leave me alone.
"I have to go in now. Please don't come back. My mother--you'll get in trouble with my mother."
"Just come here for one minute. Tell your mother you're going to class next week and meet me behind the school. I just wanna know you. Tell me about yourself."
My heart began to beat faster and I breathed out slowly, so my voice wouldn't shake. The air felt thin. "I can't see you. And I have to go in now. Please, you can't come back."
"I can't stop looking at you. You're so beautiful. And a good girl. Come on, I'd take good care of you. Better than your brothers do. I'd never let anyone get near you. Look at me."
I made myself look up, so he would listen to me. But doing that I felt like he was winning--like I was obeying him. I didn't say anything.
"Beautiful," he mouthed. He looked back at me, and asked, "Don't you see how good I'd be to you?"
In that moment, I knew that if I were someone else--if I were someone who had no mother to worry about, or someone who had not had a life already that made her only want quiet and safety, that the seduction and promise of his words, the flattering attention of a boy who was sought after, would have pulled me in.
I understood it. How it feels to be so special that someone only wants you, when they can choose anyone else, it's you they see. I still understand it today--it is a hard thing to walk away from, when you are barely 16 or any age, and someone tells you that they can't get enough of you, your face, who you are, that they want only to treasure you. I saw it then, and I see it now--how could someone who begins this devoted and enamored, ever become anything else?
But I had the peek into the future, the door into what he was really like--the note. That's who he would turn into.
I looked back down at the ground and with insides that felt like jelly, I told him what I wished I didn't have to. But I knew, he would be no other way than what his note described. "I can't be with you. I never can be. You have to leave me alone because my mother will call the police."
Without waiting for him to say anything else, I turned around and started for my house.
I have never felt more vulnerable in my life, even to this day. My scalp tingled and my shoulders tensed forward, anticipating him tackling me from behind, or shouting obscenities to break the thick silence. I imagined him even throwing a rock at my head. The openness and frailty of walking away with your back exposed to someone you're deathly afraid of, was the exact thing I had tried so hard to never be a part of. We were only together minutes, but I knew my life would be different from then on--I had learned something that had changed me, and it made me sad.
Walking up the cement steps was like watching someone else do it through a movie. My legs felt like they were made of cement, and though I had climbed these steps leading to my front door thousands of times, I never remember there being so many of them. He didn't call out, I heard nothing behind me. I opened my front door and walked past the front window, not looking out at him. My brothers didn't ask me about him, and my grandmother went back to the kitchen to finish dinner. I went into my bedroom and sat on the end of my bed. My arms were still trembling. I didn't ever want to be that scared again.
He left me alone after that and I never heard from him again. Theresa, of course, went back to not knowing who I was. And I went back to being just a girl in school.
Time healed me; though I still jumped at shadows I'd see out of the corner of my eye. I began to relax and enjoy doing things with my friends.
I had stopped looking for him everywhere and was a freshman in college, walking out of a creative writing class, the next time I saw him.
He was leaning against a tree in the late afternoon, waiting for someone. Without wanting it to, at the sight of him, my panic began. I felt my legs and hands begin to shake, and ran back into the building.
It had been so many years. I was breathing hard, I couldn't believe he was still looking for me. He had looked for me again, and found me. I could feel my heart pound and my knees tremble. I hid to the side of the double glass doors and peeked out at him. How had he tracked me down?
I was getting ready to run out of the other side of the building, when I saw a tall girl from my class pass me. She had long hair, and moved without a sound. She was shy, and read only when the instructor asked her to, but when she did read, it always sounded like she had layers buried within her paragraphs. She reminded me of myself.
She pushed the glass doors open, and in her slow way, pulling her soft hair away from her face like she always did, she turned in his direction. I couldn't believe what I was seeing--how would she know him?? My mouth fell open when I realized that she was the one he was waiting for. I watched them walk away together, though none of it made sense. Without saying a word to each other, they walked down the street.
I wanted to fall to my knees in relief. I wasn't the one he wanted. Even though I was grateful, I feared for her. Should I say anything to her the next day?--I felt guilty, but I decided not to. She must know what he was like by now. Maybe he was different with her. Every day after class, I'd see him--leaning against the tree, waiting for her.
The semester ended, and I never saw her again. I forgot about him, and her.
One quiet Sunday morning years later, while still in my pajamas with my coffee, I saw her beautiful face again. In the right corner of the third page of that morning's paper, was a small black and white picture of her, the edges outlined in white. My stomach dropped. I knew what it was about right away--I hoped it wasn't, but I knew. And it was, about him.
The paper said that she had wanted to go somewhere with her sister, and he didn't want her to, so he locked her inside their apartment for two days. When she tried to leave, he had beat her so severely that it made the news. There was enough to report about what he had done to her that it took up half the page of the newspaper.
It was hard not to blame myself, not to think that I had my chance to tell her about him, and I didn't.
The paper reported everything; except for how he had seduced her with his flattery. How he had tricked her with his promise to care for her, how he had fooled her with who he had pretended to be. That he had studied her like prey--and chosen her. Like me.
He was a master at his craft, and he knew what he was doing.
She, on the other hand, had no idea the world he had planned for her.
I ripped the page out of the paper and with tears still trapped in my throat, I tore that newspaper into pieces, just like I had with the note he had written me.
Thank you for reading this so very much. I am relieved that telling--and reliving it--are over. I decided to write this last week after three women in my area were killed because of Domestic Violence.
Women are shamed into silence, as if they brought this upon themselves, a world of their creation. I want and need to say that women involved in a situation that is violent, should not be made to feel at fault. It is never their fault. I'm lucky--for my story to end, I just step away from the keyboard. Some women are at this moment, trapped and terrorized in their lives.
Domestic violence is a crime--not a fight that got "bad" or a private affair--and it can happen in 1 out of 4 relationships. It can also happen to someone you know. Learn the facts here: Domestic Violence Resource Center.
There is power in telling your story. If you, or you know someone, with a story to tell, please send them here, to Violence Unsilenced. Show your support by reading, and leaving a comment. Words are one way to claim our lives back.
To learn and see the chilling effects of Domestic Violence on children, see this video at MakersofMemories.org.--an organization hoping to break the cycle of domestic violence through awareness.
Hearing, listening, speaking out, spreading the word, you show so much support when you do this. Thank you.