We all undergo some massive shifts of change in our lives. Some are the result of choices we make deliberately and others occur against our will. About four and a half years ago, I left a job that provided me with the ideal circumstances. I was able to interact with countless numbers of people from all walks of life on a daily basis. The schedule was varied, and although my hours could skyrocket during certain seasons, I never felt locked in. I liked the company I worked for, the majority of the people I worked with, and my manager was someone I had known since almost the beginning of my years in retail.
In June 2010, I found myself in the middle of an abusive relationship with a man who was bound and determined to get me out of the area. I was offered a job for a company in the south, even though I secretly was trying to come up with ways to derail it. I put in my notice, and a week after they filled the job (I interviewed my replacement), the offer for the job out-of-state was rescinded as they lost the client. It didn’t really matter anyway, because by the time I resigned from my position, he had caused so much stress at work with my co-workers and ringing the phones off the hook that HR had advised the manager it was about time for me to go. Had I not left when I did, he would have succeeded in getting me fired.
I immediately went into panic mode. Living in a rural area is tough when it comes to finding work, and I found myself unemployed when all the college students were home and secondary schools were out for summer break. Worse, I was trapped in a precarious situation at home, and between the mental battle with my inability to support myself like a normal adult and the never-ending battles with my ex, I toughed it out as long as I could possibly make it on unemployment. Okay, to be specific, I went into auto-pilot and did what I could to survive. If you have never been unemployed and finally find yourself out-of-work, it can be unsettling. If you’re anything like me, the thought of not being able to pull your own weight wreaks havoc on your state of mind.
Living in a small town, you start to notice how much nepotism goes on in the hiring process. You also see mass closings, horrible hours, and no benefits, and everyone even competes for the undesirable jobs. Most people think it would make sense in my position to just find a job similar to what I had been doing for fifteen years. Because of the relentless pressure to be in a position that limited my contact with the outside world, I decided instead to apply for a job which I had no work experience and even worse, not even a degree to accommodate for the lack of history. My reasoning told me I wasn’t going to get offered any work. I saw the ten inch pile of applications bearing its weight down on the table stacked next to seven other piles of similar height for other job fields. I overheard conversations about the number of people with degrees in accounting being out of work. It looked completely hopeless. All these people with the experience, the education, going to a temp agency for help finding work. In rural areas, this is when you have hit bottom: when you can’t even go down the street to the gas station or the burger place to find a job.
When they called me to tell me that my then prospective supervisors wanted to talk to me, I was taken aback. I had been smothered by a constant deluge reinforcing my lack of worth and had no confidence to speak of. I was like a child cowering in the corner, pitifully bowing my head in self-loathing and shame. Due to overwhelming financial strain due to his drug use and financial abuse, I needed work and desperately craved respite from him wherever I could get it. Therefore, as I committed the ultimate transgression of applying even the thinnest layer of makeup for the interview (he was not home when I left, and I took the risk he wouldn’t be there when I returned), I tried as best I could to hide my shame and despair in the pit of my stomach, buried far away from prying eyes, and I went in the next day and met with the head manager and his support supervisor.
When I left I was feeling even less emotionally settled, because the interview was short and much more informal than I would have expected. After years of doing interviews of applicants myself, I knew this was the kiss of death, and my newly found self-hate prodded and teased and taunted me. I equated it to nothing more than being humored for the sake of the fact I showed up. I felt their eyes piercing though my flesh, searing the porous white vault into ash as I sat under the boiling rays of their glare. I felt them reading my thoughts and sensing my desperation and worthlessness against my will, despite my feverish attempt to conceal the futility of my life, and I knew I failed. I felt violated and judged, and even though I know better now, sometimes I still feel as though my vulnerability was ripped from me as I sat in that chair in front of the invisible crowd taunting and jeering at me in silence.
The ride home was a slow procession back into the darkness. I sat with my head up and talked with my friend as though everything went well, but on the inside, I had my head hung lifelessly staring at my feet. There’s no trouble there, if I look at my worn shoes and pretend I’m alone in the world. No one in my dying world but me and my companion of hopelessness punctuated only by violent outbursts of the devil who ferociously guarded me under lock and key. As I walked in the door and felt relief at his absence, I hurriedly washed the makeup off and hand-washed some laundry at the kitchen sink to hide the wet wash cloth that would be proof of my sin against him. He never learned of my unseen protest. He would have obliterated me. Even now admitting this, I feel the burgeoning of my fear of him as it rises in my gut. If I were to close my eyes, my breath would catch in my chest in urgent expectation of those eyes, his portals of darkness, ready to shatter my body and leave me curled in the corner in agony. Conditioning by beating is the gift that still keeps on giving even two years after leaving.
Much to my surprise, the representative at the temp agency called me back the next day to tell me they had selected me. I did not believe her. In fact, I not-so vaguely remember telling her not to lie. It took her several attempts before I allowed myself to be convinced someone saw any worth in me at all. And for the first time in so long, I felt something other than the grief that had been weighing me down, but I was no longer able to identify the intrusion of emotion as it washed over me. Then, suddenly, just as quickly as it came, it was ripped away by the hands of the monster. I had agreed to start immediately the next Monday, and I was forced under imminent threat of harm to call the woman back and tell her I needed to wait until the next week. When she questioned me in a deliberately noticeable tone of irritation and annoyance, he stood over me and pressed me to persist until she agreed to the seven days. To get prepared, he said. My response to this demand was apparently not what he expected. Get ready for what? I had not been working. I had no notice to give. I had no money to get clothes for work. I needed to do nothing more than go to bed one night, get up the next, get ready, and leave. I just wanted to get away from him, and he wasn’t allowing it without a say. He always wanted control over everything.
After this intrusion of humiliation, I was flooded with desperate fear. I failed to tell him that the head manager of the accounts payable department was (and still is) a man and that he was present for my interview. I opted to “forget” that I not only sat in the chair directly facing him, I looked at him and made eye contact the entire time. With wanton, desperate disregard for my life, I circumnavigated this rule pressed and pounded into me time and time again, because if he knew that although my immediate supervisor was a woman, a man was the final report… and not just any report, mind you, but a black man, I would not only be disallowed this escape from his domineering presence, I would also face brutally violent punishment under threat of death.
Generally I don’t feel a need to advertise race. What attracts me to a man is quite frankly my business alone, and as a grown woman, I do not need anyone’s permission or approval. I am not putting this here as fodder for those lurking and lying in wait to scream at me, “See, that’s why you should stick to your own kind!” or for you to draw any erroneous and disgustingly twisted conclusions that “all black men” do to me what my ex did (because he was the ONLY one who ever did). His RACE doesn’t have a thing to do with it. Technically, neither does that of any other man. It is caused by his love and nurturing of his Jekyll and Hyde complex, and that is all. However, because this was yet one more avenue of control, because it was an extremely convenient and tangible trait on which to focus his jealousy and rage, to him it did matter and by extension it mattered to me. And unfortunately to so many innocent men whose “transgression” of skin color was grabbed onto with my ex’s octopus tentacles and used as a weapon of convenience and excuse to emotionally and physically torture me, because he perceived a threat to HIS PROPERTY. But deep down, he knew it was also because he was setting the bad example of a man, and there were most likely many things he could have learned from all those he designated as people I was forbidden to interact with.
I had spent countless months painstakingly researching the gender ratio of every company I applied to. If there were too many men, any in the department to which I was applying, or even a single black man in their employ, the mere act of applying automatically would earn me with the worst punishment of my life. Even in instances where the entire staff was female, I could not escape the threat, because he always made it known he would be watching. If I smiled at a man out of politeness, it would be considered flirting. If I so much as acknowledged any man who was not my relative, I was rewarded for this manufactured transgression of infidelity with a tortuously painful punishment, free of charge, as even if he merely suspected the preceding could ever happen, this was used as justification to beat me down even more. He needed no cause other than his jealousy and rage. Me being acknowledged by a man was just more fuel to feed the conflagration.
By the time I started this temp position in March 2012, his greed for rock had gotten the best of him. With the unemployment precariously dwindling, he released just enough of his grasp to allow me out of the house for a meager nine hours a day to earn more money for his drugs. Working with the agencies for money no longer was sufficient enough to bolster his habit. Working with dealers to ensnare more addicts as their “clientele” no longer was enough. Guilting female addicts into giving their bodies over to dealers for free rock no longer soothed the voracious beast inside, all the while completely uncaring that he exposed them to HIV and Hepatitis C every time he managed to talk them into it. He wanted more, and whether he realizes it or not, he was the one who opened that door for me to leave him. His greed finally trumped the urge to control.
Being out of the house did not release of me his grip. He would show up at my job and call me incessantly, often screaming and yelling at me while I tried to sit there and act as normal as possible. I remember the few instances I did get up to go to the bathroom or warm up my lunch, returning to my desk fueled unimaginable fear. I hesitated to look down at my phone in dread of seeing that indicator light for voicemail angrily lighting up my workspace in a tomato red hue. The missed call message glittering in silence on the display panel. Rarely I would feel relief to see it was a vendor who had called, but usually it was him, and each time I saw the numbers screaming at me, my stomach would heave and roll and churn. Dutifully I would call him back and dread the inquisition, especially when our department manager was in the next cube talking to another girl in my area.
On one occasion, we had a particularly violent group of thunder storms blow through the area that produced a tornado. There were several trees downed in the back portion of the property at work and debris resting on power lines. We were sent home early one the day as the power would not stay on, and when we reported the next morning, I saw my department in the parking lot talking in a circle. I waited for my female supervisor to pull in before I got out of the car, but it was too late. He was already watching the people in the rear view mirror and calculating the brutality he would unleash upon me once we were safely behind closed doors. He had seen the head manager and two other men from other departments talking with him. I silently walked over to the circle as they excitedly chattered and stood between two female employees, never once so much as glancing in the AP manager’s direction.
As we decided it was best to go home due to continued power loss, I turned to walk away and was overwhelmed by crushing fear. I made my way across the parking lot to the monster waiting in the burgundy Mazda. I announced the group’s decision to him as steadily as I could, and all it took was one silent, prolonged glare from him for me to know there was to be no peace at home that day. He backed out of the parking space and jerked the car to a stop, angrily wrenching the shifter with his partially clenched fist. His eyes burned holes in me as he stared me down until coming to a half stop on the street to leave the lot. The silence was punctuated by a question he half hissed and half grunted in my direction. The sun was beaming through the open sunroof, the air warm and soft with moisture. There wasn’t a cloud in sight, but my heart was shrouded in darkness. I knew then that I was going to pay for my sin of silence, three-fold for also leaving out the fact there were actually three black men on my side of the building. The presence of one was enough to invoke the beast. Three was about to unloose the beast from the cage, ravenously starved and seeking revenge. And I was its prey.
“So,” he grunted as he made the right run onto the street, “you got some niggas at your job, huh?” I was tired. I hated him ruining the beautiful day outside. For ruining my life. I didn’t care if I would pay. I looked at him in silent disgust. That stupid hat on his head, that gut-wrenching glare in his eye, that angry sneer curling and contorting his mouth. And I spoke.
“No, they’re not. But you are.”
And I calmly perched my sunglasses on face, turned forward and sat in silence the rest of the way home. And then I paid the piper when he came to call.
The next several months, his violence against me spiraled out of control. I lived at my desk. If I had to go to the bathroom, I held it as long as I could before I would finally get up and rush to the bathroom in the common corridor. I waited to warm up my lunch until after I was released from his daily call over lunch. He always found a way to call me a few times during each day when I wasn’t at my desk, and I always suffered the consequences when I got home. From the day he saw the three men standing together, he incessantly accused me of infidelity against him with all three. I wasn’t in the bathroom, he would tell me. I was locking myself in random offices with them. I wasn’t warming up the left-overs for lunch, I was on my knees somewhere out back, and my urgency to go to work was proof.
He would come up with a different scenario every day so he could punish me for it. But he wasn’t expecting my response one day as I looked at him blankly trying desperately to hide my fear. This was the response he so craved from me, and I trained myself to retract it into my gut and cement it there, taking the blows as I contorted and maneuvered myself around to deflect the maximum amount of force off me as possible. I denied him his pleasure in my pain, and he increased his attacks in brutality each time until he got what he came for. This one day, I successfully managed to hold it all inside even as my scalp and face and legs and torso burned and throbbed in protest, and as he finished telling me how much of a whore I was, I looked at him and smiled.
“But I’m not the one who slept with some random receptionist and contracted an STD from it, am I?”
He stopped pummeling me, dazed from the shock of my talking back to him.
“I’m not the one who runs around the streets with women infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, am I?”
Insert random form of punishment here. And you still won’t know how bad it was.
By this time, we were about to be evicted from the apartment we were in. My cat had disappeared and he was so sure my momma’s boy pet was dead. As in the last few times before, I was left to pack up the entire apartment on my own and still go to work and do everything else as I normally would. We initially stayed with someone he knew, and she got tired of his coming and going all hours of the night. She kicked him out but said I could stay, and he dragged me out of the house with him. We slept in the car that night. Actually, we slept in the car for several nights, until he told someone at a food pantry we had nowhere to go. She invited us to stay in the upstairs apartment she had, but I could by the way about her that she was one of his kind. Trouble. And sure enough, when we walked up the stairs and opened the door, the kitchen that greeted us made me want to vomit. The house was a disaster. The people she had there previously had left food in the kitchen. There were bugs laying eggs and worms crawling along the tops of the walls above the cabinets.
“If you help me clean this, you don’t have to give me anything the first week.”
I turned to him in disgust, almost too afraid with all the bugs to speak. I looked at her in shock.
“No. This is filth. I can’t live with this. Get. Me. Out of here. NOW!”
“We have nowhere to go. It won’t be bad once we clean it.”
“Once I clean it. Neither of you would help. I’m not stupid.”
After an argument, we ended up staying. I spent my Labor Day weekend killing worms, bugs, and scraping larvae off the walls. I bleached everything and threw out the food. I catapulted junk out her second story windows into the yard littered with dog feces. And as I risked my health to have somewhere to sleep, he took my check and used my money so she could stick the stem in her face.
And Tuesday morning I went to work and acted like nothing happened. Later than month, I pulled a straight blade in preparation to defend myself against him when he came at me with a steak knife in his hand. We stood at a stalemate in the bathroom: steak knife in his left hand pointed at me, and straight blade in my right hand straight out in the air level with his neck. He was three feet away.
“What are you doing?”
“You came at me with a knife. What do you think I’m doing?”
“Give it to me.”
“Drop the knife.”
“Give me that blade, b****!”
“Drop the knife.”
He jumped at me, grabbed my wrist, and snatched the blade away before punching me in the head repeatedly.
“If you ever do that again, I’ll slit your throat. You hear me?”
He had a dream one time that he cut me up and blood was everywhere. I woke up to the ceiling light blinding me, him straddled across me, covers off, as he feverishly and violently checked me to make sure he hadn’t done it. I was unmoved.
“If you ever come at me with a knife again, I won’t wait for you to drop it next time. I’ll just react.”
The next day, I went to work like nothing happened. Not a few weeks later, he asked me a question and I answered. He did not hear my response, so he repeated it again, forcefully.
“You must not have heard me. I said –“
He came flying into the bedroom from off the toilet.
“You talking back again, b****?”
“No, I just said –“
I didn’t get to finish my sentence. His fist cracked against the side of my right eye, and I was dazed. I couldn’t think. All I could do was sit on the side of the bed and hold my face.
“Ever talk back again. Watch what happens.”
It bruised quickly. The old makeup I had didn’t cover it, so he punished me for my sin of bruising with repeated punches to the back of the head and then dragged me out to the store to buy makeup to cover it. I was commanded to keep my hair over my eye and not look up, and I dutifully obeyed. He became enraged the next morning when I was getting ready for work and nothing was concealing the swelling and darkness spreading across my face down into my cheek. It finally seeped out where I could not longer hide it. He laughed.
“Yeah, go to work like that. Whatchu gonna tell everyone? I want to hear your excuse.”
I didn’t have one. He verbally tore me down before he thought a few moments.
“This is what you’re going to tell them word for word.” He had me repeat it back to him until it was perfect. I thought of all the times he promised to send me to work with a black eye.
“You wouldn’t have to come up with a story if you kept your hands to yourself.”
“You just bruise like that because you’re so white. Why don’t you try tanning, you stupid b****?”
And to work I went, black eye to serve to all as undeniable proof. But when I announced my story, everyone took it all in, because who is really going to ask questions? One person even thought it would be humorous to make jokes the rest of the day. I was humiliated. When I got home and told him this person’s response, he was filled with arrogant pride. He was amused. He laughed.
“Stupid b****, don’t nobody care about you.”
I was distraught, and I continued to commit transgressions against him. They remodeled the offices, and our department was moved. I neglected to tell him my head manager now had an office with a door. I opted to not tell him that when they moved my desk, I was placed in a row flanked with two men one either side of me, and one of those men that day he saw talking in the parking lot. I didn’t tell him I had to go into the manager’s office multiple times to talk about a project he had me working on, and somehow, despite my “whorish” way, I managed to keep my clothes on the entire time.
We had to leave the girl’s house, too. We slept in the car again for several weeks. This time, we parked at the truck stop outside town. No one at work was aware I was living in the car. During the day time, as it was still warm weather, we would spend entire days at different parks trying to act like we were there deliberately. At night we would drive back out to the truck stop. I showered there. I was too afraid to sleep because of all the truckers and random traffic. If I had to use the bathroom, he would follow me in and wait in the hall to “prevent” me from tripping on some random guy’s zipper.
We finally managed to get an apartment. The entire time I lived there, I was tortured by him. I struggled to get from one day to the next. At work the evening before I left, my supervisor and the manager had to talk before she could leave and she was bringing me home. Thanks to my ex’s stellar level of genius, the burgundy Mazda that became a symbol of my torture and suffering was impounded. We left fifteen minutes late, and he was waiting for me in the living room window when I got home. Someday, I will be able to tell that story in full, but for now, you will have to make do with the watered down version previously mentioned here. It is still too difficult even two years later to talk about in its entirety.
It’s strange when I look back and see how things played out. It was just short of nine months from the day I took this job, and I was born again. I walked out that door that morning without his suspecting I would not be coming back. In his mind, he had no reason to believe otherwise, because I had never left before. He thought his controls were all effectively in place, and that was one of my final sins against him, the almighty, all powerful god of his own creation. The other obvious one was that I told my secret and bared the shame I thought was mine. In time I learned it belonged to him. The best sin against him.. the best one of all, was withholding facts from him that kept me safe when I was in that building. I will not disclose just how many methods were employed, but it was impossible for him to show up and not be discovered. His picture was posted and multiple people were in possession of copies of my stay away order. I was allowed to leave at varied times and was never allowed to be called to the front lobby without someone knowing who was there waiting for me. The job he allowed me to take to feed his addiction was his mistake.
As I safely made it away from the town of occurrence of the last ten hour beating, he showed up at the company party looking for me. The court rushed the paperwork to get the order served that day before the weekend came. He started stalking my mother. He enlisted his nephews to do the same to my father. And his nephews and a friend did the same to me at work. He called women from a prior congregation. But no one gave me up. In the mean time, I told everyone. I made my private pain extremely public, so that everyone would have to confront the elephant in the room. I shared the information on my emergency order with anyone who would read it. I showed them the pictures of the bruises. I gutted his secrecy and spread out his shame for all to look upon in disgust.
And I share with everyone his one fatal mistake, beautiful and poetic, liberating and freeing. He gifted me with my freedom in exchange for a little rock. The job he said I would lose, the job and freedom he promised to steal away is still in my possession. After thirty months of no vacation time and not being able to afford the benefits offered through the temp agency, just two months ago, only one day after my official thirty month anniversary as a temp, I was finally hired on as a bonafide company employee.
No one talks about the black eye anymore. No one talks about the day they saw me at my worst. When they speak of me, they speak of me with respect and tell others of my courage and my bravery I showed that cold December morning. They speak of the strength I have shown and all I have accomplished in the short two years since I have left him. When they announced my being made permanent at my first official meeting, the entire room of about one hundred people exploded in cheering and applause.
To them, I am “that girl who.” But instead of all the negative garbage he fed into my head, it is never finished with even the slightest hint of criticism. They say things like amazing, strong, and brave.
And all because of his beautifully fatal mistake.