It started with a sock.
Crumpled and uselessly tossed on the floor. Chad demanded it be picked up immediately. I initially thought it was a joke, as we often joked about such things. He was not laughing.
It didn’t happen overnight.
In the beginning, he was not thrown into a violent rage over an especially over-done steak. Clothes that needed folding were casually tossed aside, replaced with frantic and fulfilling sex. We often favored fucking over folding, passion over precision and as we grew closer, regular expensive dinners were exchanged for boozy all-night conversations.
We drank, we laughed, we lived together. I took him home to meet my parents, I called him the one. For 3 meaningful, memory-making years I loved him.
Then, the sock. I lobbed it into a laundry basket. He gave me a hateful glare. The demands grew, as my love for him shrank. Compliments turned into comments -- about my appearance, my eating habits, how often I showered or brushed my teeth. Casually he mentioned how the laundry was not folded right, slipped into a conversation with an unsettling tone how the floor should be vacuumed.
My life snowballed into a homemaking, man-pleasing nightmare. I desperately tried to hold on to the person I once knew.
I vacuumed, I scrubbed, and as stains faded, so did my smile. Not only was the way I cleaned unacceptable, but also the way I talked became offensive. We used to laugh at all-night reruns, throwing popcorn kernels across the room; now he found my laugh offensive.
The wrinkles around his eyes from so many midnight cigarettes deepened, as did the complexity of “our” rules. I had no right to privacy, including use of a phone or a bathroom. He would constantly monitor what I put in my mouth. Disguising it as caring -- he said he wanted me to be “healthy.”
I could not leave without permission; if I did, I was followed. His cruelty was calculated and cold, concealed by “innocent” and impossible expectations. I clung to him, wanting nothing more than the love we once had. He had the same face, the same smell, the same taste, but he was not the same man. His bright green eyes now seemed a steely grey.
It progressed quickly, from mental warfare to physical violence. Sex became unsatisfactory on the best days, and nonconsensual on the worst.
I tested positive on a pregnancy test. I remember squatting above a Wal-Mart toilet, as I took test after test. My nerves were so bad, I shook and peed on my hands. I briefly thought to push the flimsy metal lock in place, and beg a stranger for a phone, to call my mom with whom he’d made me cut off contact. Beg for forgiveness, for help or safety or all those other things mothers provided.
My fight or flight instinct pricked my ears uncomfortably, and I cried.
I won’t make excuses for myself. I had options, no matter how uncomfortable. My mom had seen the writing on the wall, always ensuring I could come home. I had too much invested to give up, I assured myself things could get better, WOULD get better. I had too much at risk, too much pride, but not enough sense. I chose to keep my baby.
Twelve weeks later, I found out he was a boy. My belly grew, as did problems at home. He became exceedingly hostile. Insistent I submit to paternity testing. At 22 weeks pregnant, he locked me in the bathroom. He held me until I bruised, shaking me and asking why I was doing this to him. Telling me if I left, he’d make sure I never saw my son.
I won’t divulge further details, they’re well documented in court papers, Written with my own bruised hands, the same ones I had used only hours earlier to shield my stomach. Another paper in a largely increasing file, and forever in my brain. The clerk at the courthouse knew him personally, and stared disapprovingly while I wrote down times and dates and places.
I was issued a temporary protection order, and sent on my way. A small town court date was set for months later. Nothing would actually be resolved for over a year. And there was nothing standing between him and me but a piece of paper.
As I battled morning sickness, there was a sickness inside of me. I worried if I would love his face when it looked like his father. Would his eyes be so green, and his smile so contagious? Would his demeanor be so angry, would he be an alcoholic? Was it nature or nurture that had made him such a mean man, or was it me?
At 28 weeks, I went into preterm labor, due to what I believed to be stress. The hospital was a 2-hour drive away. I was kept on magnesium sulfate for 4 weeks. I spent my Easter in the hospital with a pounding headache and excessive use of anti-nausea pills.
My son’s father begged to be allowed at the birth. Despite having a protection order against him, we reconciled long enough to come to an agreement. On June 7th, 2012, I welcomed my son Harbor into this world. Three pushes and only about an hour of labor, he was eager to join us.
I had an internal tear due to how fast he was born, and started hemorrhaging. I had lost too much blood, and my doctor informed me the chances were about 50/50 that she could fix the tear.
I can't even put to words the feeling of deciding to whom your baby goes in the event of your death. I hadn’t even had a chance to properly meet him. I didn’t know his weight, or his height or the color of his eyes. I begged to be put to sleep so I wouldn’t have to think about what would happen if I died.
The first words following my surgery were, ”Where’s my baby?” His father had wanted to name him, but I wrote Harbor Elton-Michael Nolan on the birth certificate. A harbor is defined as a safe place for a ship to dock in a time of storm. I couldn’t have put it more perfectly.
Sometimes when Harbor's hair is blown so slightly to the right, I unwillingly see his father, but I choose to see the man I loved, not the one I feared. Harbor is now a year old, and I don’t hate him the least little bit. He was and will remain forever my reason for leaving. Although he almost took my life, he also saved it.
I can’t say with any amount of certainty that surviving abuse made me a better person, but I know it made me an amazing mom. I will never stop being thankful for the new life my son has given me.
I struggle daily with my PTSD, but my son is beyond the best thing to ever happen to me. He is my reminder that beautiful things can come from very ugly places.
His middle name belonged to his biological dad, and serves as a reminder that he is a part of our past, one for which I occasionally mourn. But when I marvel at his little toes, or he ambushes me with kisses, I feel happy. I believe every day I feel happy is one more day Chad doesn’t own.