One year ago today I took my infant daughter and put her in my car and drove to the police station. Afterwards, I took my daughter and put her in the car and drove three and a half hours to my parents’ house where we stayed and we never went back.
One year ago I knew it had reached a boiling point. That it was different this time.
When he got bad, I would take the loaded gun he kept in his nightstand and push it under the bed, far into the middle where I knew he wouldn’t be able to reach it. It was silly, really, since he kept another one in the closet. But it made me feel better. Like I had some small shred of control. But the gun would only stay under the bed for ten minutes at most until the fear that he would notice it was gone and unleash on me became too much, and I would quickly get his cane and fish it out. On my hands and knees, stretching the cane the length of the California king bed, poking. Waiting for the clunk of the pistol against the wood, hooking it and dragging it toward me. Picking it up, hating having to touch it, hating it in general, putting it back in the nightstand. Facing it the same way it was faced before.
Wondering if he would notice I had moved it. Wondering if he would use it.
He had been screaming all morning. Our 10-month old daughter was sleeping in her room. I would try to keep him calm when he got like this. Tell him what he wanted to hear, try to determine what that even was. Hoping that his rage wouldn’t be directed at me this time. It always ended there, but the pacing and the threats would end eventually and he would hopefully leave the house for a while. But this time was different.
He had drove to a relative’s home to threaten them. He had never done that before, not that I had ever seen. He had come home out of his mind. He was making no sense. It wasn’t him anymore behind his eyes. There was no rationalizing with this.
It’s amazing what you can get used to. What we adapt to as “normal” after awhile. And there were good times. But the good times always came with an underlying anxiety, a knowing that this wouldn’t last long. It was just part of the cycle.
The baby was awake now and crying in her crib. Our baby. I told him please. Please, she is awake now. I have to go get her. Please stop now. Please.
Like always, it was like I never said the words, like he never heard me. It was like he didn’t see my tears. Or care. Or maybe he liked it. Following me room to room. I begged.
Please. Please stop. I have to go get her.
How many times sitting alone in the living room did I think, he could kill us. Me and the kids. I would stare at the doorway, mentally drained. I could imagine it. I could see him calmly walking in. That’s how it would be. Calmly, with one of his pistols. He would walk in and kill us. Toward the end, I imagined this every day. In my mind I saw it happening. In my mind, seconds before he pulled the trigger, I’d smile and think, I knew it. I knew this was coming.
The baby was crying. I have to get her. Please, I have to get her.
My daughter smiled as soon as she saw me. Babies are pure joy, even in a hurricane. We stayed in her room, giving him time to calm down. He didn’t.
I put my child in her playpen in the living room and the pacing and screaming continued. He made no sense. It was different this time.
Three years prior, his last wife’s death was ruled a suicide.
These are the things we are not supposed to talk about.
I had decided I needed to be smart. I had been documenting for months, secretly emailing them to a friend. My One Person Who Knew. It began with “I am writing this to begin to document my experiences with my fiancé with whom I share a daughter. He is abusive. If something ever happens to me that would incapacitate me in anyway, I request that you send this information to…”
I had also realized my cell phone had a record feature. By pushing one button, you can record whatever was being said. Or screamed. And by pushing another button, you could email that file to anyone.
This is not something we are supposed to talk about. We are embarrassed. Ashamed. There may be other people involved who wouldn’t want the story told. Because of that shame. This is not supposed to be in our family. One of ours.
But it is not us that should be ashamed. It is not us that did so wrong.
He kept screaming. I picked up my cell phone from the table. It had been recording. I hit send to email. I didn’t know if he knew. He moved me around the room with his body, backing me up against the wall. I was in sweatpants and a t-shirt. And a pair of slippers. Our daughter began to cry. Up until recently, she had the blissful ignorance that babies have. But lately she would jolt when he yelled. Cry if it went on for too long. She was learning to be afraid of him, too.
I asked him again to stop. That our daughter was crying, that he was scaring her, that he was scaring me, to please stop, please just leave, please just leave and calm down, please stop please please.
He didn’t stop. He grabbed my cell phone out of my hand. I told him to give it back to me. He didn’t give it back. He wasn’t there anymore. It was different this time.
I picked up my daughter and grabbed my car keys. I ran into the garage and opened my car door. I threw my daughter on the passenger seat, no time for her car seat in the back. I slammed the door just as he reached my car. I locked myself in and started the engine.
The garage door was closed and I had no way of opening it. I had no phone. I was trapped with no way of getting help. I screamed for him to open the garage door.
He paced around the car. His voice was calm. I knew it was the worst when his voice was calm.
“Bring Kiddo back in the house and I’ll give you your phone back,” he said quietly.
No, I screamed. It was too late. Open the garage door. Open the door.
“Bring her back in the house and I’ll give you your phone back.”
It was too late, I screamed again. Open the garage.
He paced there for five minutes, ten minutes, a thousand minutes. My daughter tumbled onto the passenger side floor. I put the car in reverse.
“Open the garage door or I will go through it,” I yelled.
I remember the look on his face. We held eye contact for the last time, for an eternity. Everything that had ever been there. The good, the terrible. All of it. He looked up as he turned away. I knew that he was giving up. I knew we would get to leave.
He walked toward the house again, opened the house door and hit the garage door button as he slammed the door behind him, never looking back.
I backed out of the garage and drove down the street. My daughter lay on the passenger floor, happily babbling. I drove to the police station.
I walked in, wearing my slippers and holding my baby and car keys. A woman police officer stood inside.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to… I’ve never done this before so I don’t know what… I. I have to talk to you about my fiancé.
“Come right in,” she said.
I was there for hours. My daughter sat happily on my lap, oblivious that our lives were changing forever. Another police officer went to his house to bring diapers, a juice cup, Cheerios and a teddy bear that belonged to his own toddler daughter to give to mine. I hadn’t cried at the station up until then, but with this act of kindness I broke down.
Thus followed police reports and phone calls and DCFS and an emergency restraining order. After everything, I used the police phone to call my parents.
“Kiddo and I are at the police station,” I remember saying. “We’re okay. We left. We’re coming home.”
Come home, they said. Come home and we’ll help you. You’ll be okay. We’re here. You’ll be okay now.
We drove the three and a half hours home. Poor Kiddo, asleep in the back, exhausted from a long day that was not by any means routine. I realized I would never see our two dogs again.
It was night by the time we got home. I broke down again as my parents took us into their home, their arms. The worst was over. It was over.
One year ago. At times it feels like ten years, others, like yesterday. So much has changed. We are safe and secure and happy and thriving. The appropriate steps have been taken. My family and friends, none of whom knew that any of this had been going on for the past two years, rallied around us. Engulfed us with love and food and legal advice and resources and above all, the all-encompassing warmth and security of YOU BELONG HERE, THIS IS YOUR TRIBE, WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN. The concept, the fact, that we will never be alone like that again.
We are not supposed to talk about this.
I am talking about this.