For over four years, I carried the burden of my abuse alone. In an effort to minimize the frequency of his punishments and his brutality as much as possible, I guarded the shame and secrecy close to the chest and kept it chained behind closed doors. To be clear, I did not do this to protect him or his reputation. However, due the level of silence required to even afford myself a minimal amount of security, this is exactly the effect my falling mute had. Not only did it help steal him away from the consequences of his behavior, it also allowed him to grow increasingly violent, arrogant, and brazen enough to begin to move this behavior into the public view without fear of anyone intervening. My silence perpetuated my torment, and I only broke it when the fear and the suffering become so overwhelming that my desperation moved me to act against the standard appeasement of the monster and instead seek to preserve my life. When I finally realized the gravity of peril I was facing by staying, there was no other option but to dig deep into my bowels and extricate the voice that had grown silent.
Revealing what I had been enduring was traumatic the first time I released it from the darkness. I felt like he heard every word I said, that he heard me betray his secret, that somehow he could have seen me. My heart palpitated with fear, and my voice cracked as words fell from my mouth in a torrent on that cold December morning. Once I started talking, I let loose as much as I could for fear that if I stopped speaking, if I stopped the noise, he would come for me and prescribe the appropriate amount of corporal punishment for my transgression. Overwhelmed by fear and conditioning so affective that he no longer needed to be present to illicit compliance under threat of harm, I waited for a punishment that wasn’t to come.
In the weeks after I left, I slowly began to reveal to others in my daily life what had been happening to me under their noses. Some reacted in horror. Others seemed no more than momentarily dazed and went on with their lives as though I had said nothing. Others still were outwardly, deliberately harsh, cruel, and rude in their response, and I came to the realization that I had to cut some of them out of my life. After living over four years with belligerence thick and viscous, I no longer had any tolerance for their callousness. I wasn’t asking them for pity. I wasn’t asking or wanting to be coddled like a child. What I wanted was understanding, and maybe even a little compassion that they were unwilling or incapable of giving. What I wanted and so desperately needed was to be able to speak freely and not hide while doing so.
While I did have some support around me, it wasn’t enough. There was too much I had endured that, through no fault of their own, most people I knew could not even begin to comprehend the gravity of the damage I was left with much less identify with the horrific things that were done to me. It was this lack of understanding that prodded me to start my blog a few months after I left. Initially, even with my need to speak about what I endured, I still did not feel safe enough to reveal anything that could be used to identify me. There were no pictures of me on my blog, my about page was basic, and I did not use my name, I did not give a location or have the blog connected with any of my social profiles. Once I felt safe enough, I posted a photo so my readers could at least have a face to go with the person to whom they were connecting.
Then one day, I became tired of this tedious game that equated to hiding. He already knew all the places he could find me, including my job, my parents’ houses, and even several of my friends. I was unable to get access to the cell phone the morning I fled, so he also had access to their phone numbers. (He used them and coaxed his friends and family into using them as well.) He knew the places I liked to shop. (And he would show up there) Due to the area in which I live and work being rural, there were limited places I could go and few ways I could change routes to get there. It was exhausting, and I become incensed at him that I felt compelled to change my life to avoid him. That I felt like I needed to run as though I was ashamed or had done something wrong and needed to seek shadows for solace and protection. And even though I was telling my story, it felt like a different kind of silence.
I had enough of silence. I lived it every second, enveloped and wrapped in it so constructively for four years I could barely breathe much less speak. During the 1,551 days he abused me, it only served to protect him and allow him to continue what he was doing free of consequence or fear of discovery. While I did leave and the active abuse ceased, he was still roaming the streets unhindered, and others were now at risk. He was able to keep his reputation with most people in tact, because there was no face to go with the name, and he could be in public without people knowing what he had done. And there I was hiding in plain sight, trying to do everything I could to not disturb the monster as it slept. For what? So he can be free of shame for what he did? So he could escape the consequences? So he could lie and entrap someone else and do it again? So he could possibly end up killing someone this time? When would it stop? Why should he be free? Why shouldn’t someone come forward and put a stop to his madness?
I’m tired of carrying everything on my shoulders in frustrated silence. He used to arrogantly tell me how thoroughly he trained me and made me a woman capable of taking care of myself. The truth is I always had, and when he made his entrance into my life in 2008, I ended up carrying him on my shoulders as well, taking care of every task no matter how menial for two people. I worked full-time, studied full-time, cooked, cleaned, did laundry, shopped, handle medical appointments, kept track of everything, completed all paperwork, communicated with all landlords and courts and bill collectors and everything in between. I packed up apartments and loaded moving trucks and unpacked everything on my own. I searched for work for two people, re-did two resumes, scheduled interviews, and trained myself to draft to do his work as well. And on top of it all, I carried that hideous pain in silence, burdening my shoulders, cracking and bending and twisting my spine under the load and never once did I break. Never once did I complain or shove the responsibility of it off onto to anyone else. I carried his destruction in silence, I absorbed the brutality of his abuse, and I became me despite of his relentless attempts to destroy me. Train me? What am I, a dog who can’t be trusted on the carpet for fear I’ll make a mess in someone’s absence? I’m a human being. I’m not property.
I’m not carrying it anymore. Not in silence, not in shadows, not half-obscured, not veiled in ambiguity to prevent my identity from making its way out from behind the walls I had built to trick myself and deceive myself into thinking I was safe. Neither will I cast it into the void and pretend that it didn’t happen. That it wasn’t as devastating and perilous and destructive and painful and treacherous as it truly was. Nor will I feel any compulsion to protect him from the truth of the horrible things he has done. I own this story. I’m writing the ending. I survived a monster, and I feel personal responsibility to share it with everyone and refuse to do so without my face and name to personalize it. For me, telling my story means nothing if I do not claim it with everything I am, with every part of me. If I do so whole-souled, the blog isn’t enough. The Twitter account isn’t enough. Seeking funding for a domestic violence shelter isn’t enough.
I have been pretty quiet here for a while, because I have been trying to search out and find a way to fill the hole I still have in me. I think through another survivors support and watching her on her path of healing, I have finally found where that hole is and where it’s leading me. Through conversation with a domestic violence lawyer, I have learned some interesting things, and it’s about time for a public accounting.
He once told me that I “chose the right one this time” referring to his bold and arrogant abuse. He once told me that I would never get away alive. He even dared me not to tell.
Guess what. He is why I gave up my anonymity. And he might be bold and brash, but I’m even bolder.