Spring 1995. I’d escaped what I was sure was a certain death sentence. I was ready to graduate from college, and I felt like I had my whole life in front of me. I was considering going for my masters, maybe in literature or creative writing. I thought about leaving New Jersey entirely. I felt like I had so many options once I had that degree. For the first time in a couple of years, I felt the beginnings of optimism.
The Frat Boy still stalked me. He called my new apartment and hung up. He would follow me as I went from home to work or school. Or he would have his fraternity brothers follow me. I was still afraid. After keeping careful records, I was able to get a restraining order. I felt like I could finally, FINALLY put that part of my life behind me. I published an article in the college newspaper about domestic violence, using my own story disguised under a pseudonym. It was this article that raised the first red flag in my relationship with The Lawyer.
When The Lawyer saw the article, he wasn’t happy. I assumed it was because of what I’d been through…but I was wrong. His concern was how that article made him look. I didn’t understand what he meant at first. He felt that the article made him look bad. Still confused, I asked him what he meant by that. How could something I wrote, which had nothing to do with him, make him look bad? His concern was what other people would think about him dating an abuse survivor. He wondered if people thought he was the abuser. His opinion of my article hung around the back of my brain, nagging me from time to time. I was busy with the end of my college career and preparing for graduation, so I brushed it off.
I was feeling somewhat lost after disengaging from the Frat Boy (HAHA!! See what I did there?!?! I am so freaking funny, even in my tale of woe). I guess I was searching for a reason why the abuse happened, and why I survived. After mentioning this to the Lawyer, he suggested I come to church with him one Sunday. I wasn’t particularly religious; nor was I raised in a churchgoing environment, but I suppose I believed in some sort of higher power. I went to church with the Lawyer, and actually liked it. It was a very different atmosphere than the Catholic Church I’d attended a handful of times. The non-denominational Christian church was full of singing, light, and a cheerful atmosphere. I started going to church every Sunday; not because I felt like I had to, but because I wanted to. I felt like I belonged.
Graduation day dawned sunny and warm. The Lawyer was graduating too, and he really wanted our families to meet. I told him I’d do the best I could, but my family hadn’t discussed any plans with me. The ceremony went by quickly; too quickly, because I can only remember bits and pieces of what I thought was going to be a momentous day. The important thing was that I had my degree. Despite all the odds, I’d succeeded!!
As summer progressed, the Lawyer shared with me that he intended to move to the New Orleans area once his lease was up to attend law school. I felt rudderless; I’d gone on a few job interviews with no success. Looking back, I chuckle at the idea I had that I would find a job RIGHT out of college (I’ve since learned I wasn’t the only one who thought that). My own lease was up at the end of August, so I either needed to think about renewing, or finding a new place to live.
The Lawyer suggested I move with him to New Orleans. He knew the Deep South fascinated me, and that I’d never lived anywhere but the south Jersey Shore. He saw the interest in my eyes when he spoke of the culture in New Orleans, and heard the longing in my voice when I spoke of feeling like I had no direction. After what I’d just escaped, I was leery of moving in with someone else. At the same time, the idea of escaping New Jersey and getting far from the Frat Boy was enticing. The Lawyer, knowing my internal conflict, began to apply subtle but constant pressure on me. Finally one evening he simply said, “Maybe we should get married, and then move to New Orleans together.”
I was stunned silent; which is rare. I wasn’t expecting this and I didn’t know what to say. The Lawyer continued, “We have similar goals. It makes sense. And besides, I love you.” More silence from me. “I didn’t expect to love you,” he said, “but I do. We can take care of each other, and get to know our new hometown together. Please say yes. Say you’ll marry me and live with me in New Orleans.”
I said yes.
Looking back, I was swept away, almost literally. I reminded myself that people get married after short engagements all the time. I told myself we had a lifetime to get to know each other and grow together.
I write the next part more from a “flashback” perspective, because things happened so quickly. We told our families and friends we were getting married. The Lawyer told me that “all” of his friends had this opinion that he shouldn’t be involved with me. Why he felt the need to tell me this, I do not know; but I DO know it made me more apprehensive than I already was. There were many more instances like this in the short time leading up to the wedding. I found a simple and inexpensive dress, and the Lawyer frequently reminded me that I needed to watch what I ate to ensure I still fit into it on the wedding day. He even “suggested” I take up running, “just in case.” It is important to note and remember that, at 23 years old, I weighed around 115-120 pounds at five foot two. I was by no means heavy, or even curvy. The Lawyer found some outdated medical chart that indicated I should weigh about 100 lbs. He then made a variation of the following statement: “My ex is a couple inches taller than you, and she weighs maybe 100 lbs. Maybe.”
His ex was an athlete. I wasn’t. Physical abilities aside, what the hell man?!?
This and other issues found their place in the back of my mind as we threw together this wedding and planned our move to New Orleans. I kept attending church, and chalked up any doubts I had to cold feet. I see now that they were red flags, and my gut was trying to warn me…and hindsight is always 20/20. And I no longer trusted my gut instincts.
We got married. We left for New Orleans three days later. Family and some close friends came to see us off. Things were a whirlwind once we reached the city area. We found an apartment and jobs, and soon settled into a routine. I don’t know what I expected from marriage-but I knew I didn’t want the shouting matches I grew up with. My new husband wasn’t much for yelling, but he had very specific ideas of what marriage should be, and how a wife should act. And he was determined to turn me into this “ideal wife.”