In the summer of 2009, my husband and I were going through a rough patch in our marriage. We were on two different schedules and spending less and less time together. Time alone for me meant time to be lonely and I filled that void with an enormous amount of time on Facebook reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. It was innocent enough. I was finding old friends from high school and enjoyed catching up while the hubby was working or sleeping.
Then I was found by an old friend, I’ll call him Ernie. Ernie was my high school crush. He ran with a different crowd in high school but we had had a few classes together and I remember my 16-year-old self was smitten with him.
He was good-looking, athletic and charming. I was slightly Goth, angsty, nerdy and shy. So when that friend request popped up on my Facebook, I was surprised that he even remembered me. Yet remember me he did, and soon we were chatting every night for longer and longer periods of time.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was basically sizing me up like prey, extracting more information from me about hubby, my marriage, and my loneliness than I knew. He used that to basically lure me into his web. Ernie was a master manipulator but I didn’t see that. All I saw was someone who listened to me, understood me, and cared about my feelings.
Soon, Ernie was telling me he loved me and needed me in his life. He promised me the world with a ribbon on top and I believed him because I was so lonely and vulnerable. Ernie talked me into moving out of my home, separating from my husband and getting my own apartment.
Now you may ask, how could an intelligent woman fall for his act? The only answer I can give is he was masterful, cunning, and manipulative with a smile on his face. Ernie had the face of an angel and could sell milk to a dairy farmer. I fell for it. And fell for it hard.
About a month after I was settled into my apartment, Ernie asked if he could spend some time at my place because his roommates were loud and obnoxious and causing him a lot of stress. What was supposed to be a few days became a permanent situation and I could not even tell you how it happened. It seemed like all of sudden he was there , all of the time, and that’s when things took a dark turn.
It started slowly, first it was that he wanted to be with me a lot, so, everywhere I went he went. Every time I went outside to have a cigarette, he had a cigarette -- and so on and so on. Then one night I was tired and didn’t feel like sitting out back with the neighbors at the fire pit and he grabbed my arm and twisted it so hard it bruised. I went out to the fire pit with him.
Then he wanted to make sure I stayed “healthy” aka thin so every night we had to walk for an hour and a half into the park and the hour and a half back out. On the weekends we walked three hours into the park and three hours back out. Oh, and it was at this time he decided that 1 meal a day would be good for me so I stayed “sexy” for him. If looking like an emaciated twig was sexy, well then it was working. He was now in control of every aspect of my life.
By the time I figured out that I had made a HUGE mistake getting involved with Ernie, it was too late. I was isolated from family and friends. I had no money and no way out. He had access to my phone, my computer, and my bank. I felt stuck.
Then one night I was doing some work and I took a break. I went on my computer to answer some emails and was actually writing to my dad when out of nowhere he wanted to know who I was talking to and why was I talking to other men?!
I don’t know why but at that moment I had had enough. I stood up and screamed “You are an asshole! Get out of my apartment!” and in that instant I saw him snap. His eyes went dead. They were just black and I remember thinking, "Oh shit, wrong thing to do!”
He grabbed me around the neck and then flung me into the wall or to the floor, and then was on top of me choking me, banging my head on the floor and screaming obscenities at me. I saw stars and then the dimming blackness and then he would pull me up off the floor and slam me against walls and then back to choking me on the floor.
At one point, I remember his hand went into my mouth and I instinctively went to bite down and he said “If you bite me I will snap your neck.” And I believed him.
Then the rape happened. He made me make the bed first. And then he brutalized me over and over again. Then he rolled over and fell asleep. I didn’t move or sleep all night afraid of setting him off again.
In the morning, he got up and acted like nothing had happened. When he got in the shower, I ran out the front door. He heard me and followed me to the back where my car was parked. And I swear to this day had a neighbor not been out walking their dog, Ernie would have dragged me back into the apartment and killed me. I thank God every day for that neighbor.
I called the police. I gave my statement. I filed charges. I filed a Protection from Abuse order. I went to every hearing and court date. I testified. I did everything I was supposed to and he was still able to plead down to lesser charges and received a year in prison with time served. He was out in a few months. I was devastated. But I thought I will move on and be a stronger person because of this experience. I thought it was over.
A few months later, I was on Facebook (I know, I know will I ever learn??) when a picture caught my eye in the "People You May Know section." It was a pretty blonde woman with a disturbingly familiar male figure.
I clicked on the picture and sure enough there was Ernie pictured with this woman. I looked through her profile. She lived in Arkansas. He had moved there with her. He had jumped probation and went to Arkansas.
I immediately sent her a private message warning her that he was a dangerous man. Then I looked at her friends list and sent a note to some of her friends hoping someone would warn her even if she didn’t get my message. I saw that she owned a hair salon and I wrote the number down thinking if I didn’t hear from her or someone by the end of the week I would call her personally and tell her about Ernie and his abusive behavior.
It was two days later and I had on a cable news channel. There was a blurb on the ticker at the bottom of the screen that caught my eye—“Woman in Arkansas shot; Manhunt ensues” My stomach dropped. I knew. I just knew it was her.
I ran to the computer and searched. Sure enough there was Ernie’s picture with a story about how the woman he was with had been shot in the head, execution style in her front yard and he was the prime suspect.
I called the Arkansas Police Department and spoke with a detective. They took my statement. I was freaked out beyond all belief. The detective assured me they would do all they could to apprehend him quickly. And they did. The police found him walking down a highway, having long abandoned her car along the way.
When asked where he was headed, he told them Pennsylvania. To this day, I feel like he was heading back to finish me off.
As the trial drew near, the Arkansas DA contacted me. They wanted to fly me out to testify in the sentencing portion of the trial. I agreed. I was terrified but determined to make sure he was put away for a long, long time or got the death penalty.
It was only days before I was scheduled to fly out to testify when the DA’s office called me to say he had accepted their final plea offer. He pled guilty and received life in prison without parole. I guess he preferred life in prison over death.
Even though it is all done and over now. It really isn’t for me. Today I suffer from severe PTSD. My anxiety and panic have left me a virtual prisoner in my house. However there is good to come of it, through all of it my husband and I have found our way back to each other and today have a very happy joy-filled three year old. So while I still struggle with many things daily, I have much to be thankful for.
I have learned a lot and come out of it more assured of who I am as a person and how strong I can be when I need to be …and that is worth fighting for.