I remember the first time I looked past the loathing fire burning out of control for the endless parade of people he brought in and out of my home and I was overcome by a strangely compassionate need to comfort one of the female addicts I found perched on the loveseat in the living room in the early morning hours as I made my way to the bathroom. She was all curled up to one side of a too short sofa, arms crossed in front of her, her head uncomfortably cocked to the side on the overstuffed arm.
As I came off the last step and got closer to her, I saw that she was shaking. Assuming it was from being cold, I immediately turned and went back up into the office and returned with a spare comforter and pillow. I managed to put the comforter over her without her being aware, but as I gently lowered her head back down to rest on the pillow, she jumped. It turns out, she was awake the entire time, not cold like I thought. How I managed to get that close to her without bringing her to before that, I will never know. But as I looked at her staring back at me, the shame and fear competing for space in her eyes, my heart broke for her. The same despair that Kevin’s abuse of me made me feel began to burn in the pit of my stomach, and I forgot about why I had come downstairs in the first place.
I reached across and turned on the light in the corner. Her face was red and streaked from crying for what was probably several hours in the darkness. Quickly standing, she apologized for being there and offered to leave. Kevin and her boyfriend had long since left, probably in search of more rock, and they left her on the couch. It was winter. Where was she going to go and how would she get there with no money anyway? As she turned away from me to go toward the door, I reached out, took her hand, and asked her to sit.
“I wasn’t expecting you to act like this. He said you’d pitch a fit. He told me to be quiet.”
“Expect me to act like what, a human being?”
“Nice. Like someone I could be friends with if I wasn’t…..”
She never finished the sentence but this still revealed yet one more lie he told those he brought to my house, along with all the rotten things I supposedly did and said to him, how I was lacking, and why he couldn’t stand me. I was used to him lying to everyone. I just shrugged it off, but as I looked her, she appeared weak.
“When is the last time the you ate?”
She couldn’t answer. She could, however, recount the days they had been running the streets in search of that one last high before calling it quits. It was never one last hit; they strung themselves together like cable and ran for miles off into the horizon. I motioned for her to follow me into the kitchen, and I pulled leftovers out of the refrigerator and re-heated the rest of dinner. I opted not to tell her that it was my lunch for work the next day, because I am sure even in her hungry state she would have refused.
After she ate, I brought her back into the living room and turned on the TV. She had subjected herself to enough silence, and she needed a distraction. I understood the feeling. At one point I looked over at her, and she was staring at the floor, crying. Instinctively, I knew the sadness she was feeling, perhaps even the uneasiness with which she awaited his return. Her eyes burned with defeat as she looked up at me.
“He got me started on this, you know. Everything was fine until he came into my life. I had my family, a place to live, a job, a car. And then he ruined it.”
I won’t betray what led her to reveal her burden to me that night, and I won’t share with you the things she told me. Maybe out of desperation, maybe because she had no one else to talk to. Maybe because she knew deep down that the cruel things he said her were not how it was supposed to be. And I will always remember the strangely surreal look that washed over her face as she looked at me and asked if all this meant that she was not really crazy like he told her, like he told Kevin she was.
When I finally got up to go to bed, we were both mentally exhausted but for different reasons. She had just bared her soul to the last person on earth she expected to and was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t the monster I was made out to be. And I absorbed her pain like a sponge, never revealing to her what I was enduring at the hands of Kevin, and marveled at how her pain was so similar to mine. The isolation, the burden, the fear, the futility: she felt it all, even if for different reasons, as deeply as I felt what Kevin was dragging me through.
As I drifted off to sleep with an unexpected guest in my living room, a guest who I invited to stay for several days and she accepted so she had time to think and clear her mind, time to sleep, eat, and remember to treat herself with kindness — the last though that went through my mind was how evil this man must be to subject someone he claims he loves to a beast like crack cocaine. How could someone show their love by introducing an unsuspecting victim to this monster and not expect things to change? He was no longer her primary love, the one she would be mercilessly driven to distraction to appease and find there was no way to calm and alleviate the drive. And then they met Kevin, a man who can manipulate the impossible and make rock grow on trees, and the beast spiraled out of control. The only thing that saved me from this with Kevin was not that he was not just as evil as her boyfriend. What saved me was that he was too jealous and quite frankly didn’t like to share, and he wouldn’t want to part with his beloved rock.
Two women, markedly different stories, both forever changed by the same person. Both brought through despair by the machinations of one who used and abused people for his own benefit and then discarded them when done. We were his trash, she and I. The difference is that his resources, his angle differed. With her he used her addiction that was started by her boyfriend introducing her to the monster and all the people who could supply it. With me, he used fear and unbearable amounts of emotional and physical pain. But were the angles really so different? Wasn’t he feeding off her own fear, her obsession that she couldn’t successfully conquer and get that one last hit?
It was the night that I began to look at him and not be able to see any semblance of a human being present within him. The way he was treating me was bad enough, but I became filled with rage at him for being so nonchalant about taking advantage over someone’s illness and inability to overcome a temptation that none of us not under its control can understand. This woman dragged into her addiction by her boyfriend was now at the mercy of the monster sleeping in my bed. He would stop at nothing to get what he wanted, even if he had to dehumanize and sell women to get his next high. He did not care about the trauma he inflicted upon them just as he felt no remorse for the bruises and welts that so often marked up my skin. All that mattered was that he obtained the object of his obsession, whatever one it was at the time. There was no forethought or consideration to the psychological damage he knowingly and deliberately inflicted upon that shattered and broken woman seeking refuge on my couch. For just as I was not human to him, neither was she. We were both just a resource to him, a way, the means to an end for him.
I think about her sometimes and wonder how she is. If she ever managed to break away from her emotionally abusive boyfriend and get treatment for her addiction. I wonder if she ever found peace and learned to forgive herself and properly assign the blame for the things that were done to her. I hope that she has somehow made her way to loving herself again, to seeing that she has value, and that she is worthy and deserving of so much more than the men in her life have told her she is. There are few people I expend any energy thinking about from my days with Kevin, but she is one of them. If I ever run into her or one another woman Kevin used and manipulated in pursuit of catching his highs, I will be excited to see them, and I will react with happiness and take the time find out how they are doing. Unlike the woman in the coffee shop who served as a trigger, this woman through her suffering reminded me about who I was a long time ago, before Kevin came into the picture and tore my life apart. She reminded me of the rawness I felt at watching my life being torn away and reminded me that I was human.
She is a part of my story just as much as he is. But she is not part of the nightmare. She is part of the light.