Breaking the Silence, Part Three: May through November 1994
Summer 1994 approached. Some of this time period is fuzzy, and it’s only been the past two years that I remembered or acknowledged certain things. Looking back, I understand why I stayed…but I also don’t. It’s a complex psychological analysis that’s beyond the scope of this story…and I’m procrastinating again.
The Frat Boy’s newest ‘punishment’ was locking me out of the house for the night. If I came home too late, I’d sometimes find the door chained and bolted so I couldn’t get in. Sometimes I slept in my car, sometimes I’d make my way back to campus to seek refuge on a friend’s couch, the clubs and organizations center in the school, or even the TV station.
As summer progressed, nothing much changed at home. I spent as little time there as I could, picking up extra shifts or finding places to go. I figured if I wasn’t there, he couldn’t do anything to me.
One morning at the beginning of June, I was getting ready for a long shift at the restaurant. I’d picked up a double to make some extra money (and stay out of the house for the day). I can’t remember what precipitated the argument, but like all the others, it escalated quickly. I generally wasn’t one to back down, so I fully admit I was arguing back. Maybe “standing up for me” is a better term. Regardless, words were flying. Objects were thrown and broken. As he went to throw another item, I started towards him, ostensibly to try and stop him. He dropped what he was about to throw…but picked me up instead. As I mentioned, he wasn’t much taller than me, but he did outweigh me. And his anger gave him more strength. He grabbed me with one hand on each of my upper arms, picked me up as though I were a pillow, and threw me, hard, against a wall and some shelving. I landed awkwardly and felt immediate pain in my back. By now I was sobbing uncontrollably, sweaty, and disheveled. And I still had to get to work. I called my boss, saying I’d be late because I’d taken a nasty spill down the stairs. I made it to work and got through my shift with a little difficulty. When I got home that night to take a shower, each arm had a distinct bruise in the shape of the Frat Boy’s hand. My work uniform had short sleeves, so I was praying the sleeves would hide the bruises. I was off the next day, so I also hoped that the bruises would fade by my next shift. Remember, this is the beginning of June in 1994. I had a whole summer of short sleeves to worry about.
When I awoke the next morning, the Frat Boy was already gone. Yesterday’s bruises looked even worse. I was glad I was off. When Frat Boy’s quitting time approached, I left the apartment to walk around the mall. I really didn’t want to be home when he got there, and the mall was generally empty on a warm summer day. I walked the mall, lost in thought, when a familiar voice called my name. I looked up and came face to face with my friend Picasso. I’d avoided him most of the previous semester because of Frat Boy’s irrational anger, so I hadn’t seen him in a couple months. I was so happy to see a friendly face. He scooped me up into one of his wonderful bear hugs and I laughed. We spent a couple minutes catching up and shooting the breeze. I’m not sure when or how the arm of my shirt rode up, but the look of horror on his face when he saw the clear handprint startled me. He pointed to it and asked me what happened. If I remember correctly, I made some offhand comment about work. He lifted the other arm of my shirt and very gently said, “That looks like a handprint, LJG. Why don’t you tell me the truth?”
I couldn’t say anything. I don’t think I could make eye contact anymore. It was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears and spilling the entire story to him. At this point in my life, there was no one I trusted more than him. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t admit that I was being verbally and physically abused, and that I was scared, and I didn’t know what to do. I could only stand there, mute, and try to keep my lips from quivering. As I look back now, I think what I was most afraid of was that he would agree with the voice in my head that was telling me I deserved the abuse. It would have completely broken me if he had.
But he didn’t. He sighed. He looked at me. He said, “You don’t deserve this, you know. You’re worth so much more.” It took everything in me not to cry at that moment. I rolled my eyes and tried to bluster my way through phrases like, “It’s not what you think,” and “It happened at work.” I couldn’t look him in the eye. I was trying to process what he said. All my Picasso did was look at me as I spoke. I finally told him I’d better get going in case some of Frat Boy’s minions were around. We had a chuckle, but I couldn’t help but notice the serious look in his eyes as we said goodbye. Part of me wondered if I would ever see him again.
He was the one and only person who stepped in and said something to me. The truth is, if he hadn’t, I might not be alive today.
On Friday, June 17, 1994; I was off from work for some reason, and home alone. Like the rest of America, I was glued to my TV watching the police chase OJ Simpson. I was interested because I remembered OJ in the Naked Gun movies. As I watched, I learned that Nicole Brown Simpson had reported OJ to the police more than once for abuse. I saw pictures of Nicole’s bruised and bloody face from police files. And now she was dead. Over the next few weeks, I did more research into domestic violence; which was apparently what I was experiencing. The number of abusive men who killed their female partners was staggeringly high. Between this, and my friend Picasso’s words to me, it became clear that if I didn’t get out, and get out soon, I’d be dead.
Over the next several months, I began basically hoarding my money. My income was mostly cash, so it was easy to squirrel away a few dollars every shift. I was hoping to kind of hang in there until the following May, when I graduated. I guess at this time the abuse became my normal. Some of this time period (end of summer through November 1994) is hazy. Some incidents stand out: Frat Boy slipping up behind me as I made breakfast and holding a knife to my throat, the numerous times he locked me out, the scenes he made at my job. All I was trying to do was keep it all together. I was numb. If I let go and gave in to my fear and emotions, I would have curled up in a ball, wailing.
On November 9, 1994 I was awakened by the sound of a cat retching. My cat deposited a hairball on the bed at about 6 am that day. I got up, got the cat settled, and began to strip the bed. This is a logical and reasonable course of action, right? Cat vomits on your bed, you change the sheets. Makes sense to me! But not the Frat Boy. For reasons I still cannot figure out, he became angry. This was not how I wanted to start my 23rd birthday! A shouting match ensued, and escalated. He hurled me onto the bed, jumped on me, and then pinned me down. He straddled my torso, pinning my arms at my sides, still screaming at me. Time slowed. I looked at his red face, saw his mouth open, and heard his words. He didn’t feel as though I was listening, so he grabbed me by the neck and began shaking me. Tighter and tighter his hands squeezed my neck, and time was still moving so slowly. I didn’t dare scream, and struggling seemed futile. And I was tired of the fighting, the abuse, everything. I may have begun to black out…I’m not sure, but a very big part of me just wanted to let go, give up, and let whatever was going to happen that day happen. Memories flooded my brain. His hands were still around my neck. He was still screaming at me. And I was lying there doing nothing. And then I remembered seeing Picasso over the summer, the look on his face when he saw the handprints on my arm. The tone of his voice when he said I was worth so much more and that I deserved better. I genuinely liked and respected him, and gave his opinions some weight.
I realized then that my legs were free. I somehow used them to leverage Frat Boy off my torso. I caught my breath, and ripped one of my sneakers off my feet. In that moment, animal rage took over, and I hit him repeatedly with my shoe. In that moment…I was no better than him. I dropped the shoe, horrified at myself and what I’d become. The Frat Boy said nothing. He got up and left the apartment.
I got ready for school, and he still didn’t return. As I fixed my hair, I saw the red handprints on my neck. I was going to have another set of bruises. I went to the Hamilton Township police department while the marks were fresh. They clearly didn’t know how to handle the situation. Their stance was that they didn’t get involved in “domestic squabbles.”
Squabbles? SQUABBLES??!?! This motherfucker literally tried to kill me-see the handprints on my neck-and it’s a “domestic squabble?!” They told me I was welcome to wait until “someone was available” to take my statement. I missed class and sat in the police station for a couple of hours. Strangely, no officer was ever available to take a statement or a report from me. I left, discouraged and feeling more alone than ever. I was going to have to get out of this situation myself.