So one weekend in July we were attending a friend’s birthday cookout, in a small grassy space by the tennis courts of a medium-nice apartment complex in the downtown of a mid-sized, prosperous city. And in the middle of our picnic we heard a woman’s voice shriek “Somebody call 911! I’m serious, I need help, I need someone to call 911! Please God call 911!” and her terror was so real I was certain that someone was seriously injured and I started to try to recall the tiny bit I know about CPR and First Aid. And we all stood up and inched our way towards her, totally wigged out, and one of us called 911 while we watched her shrink into the far corner of her tiny 2nd floor apartment balcony, clutching a small girl, while a man held his hands up and moved toward her. ”Come on, baby” he cooed, “now stop this.” The woman screamed and cried, letting go of the girl, and slumped to the floor, and cried again for help. Below her in the parking lot a guy was washing the windows of his truck, and didn’t look up at her or cease his spray and wipe, spray and wipe.
I stood in full view of the guy and stared at him, because they don’t hit you when they know other people are watching. Our friend who called 911 walked towards the pair, and I was afraid for him, because I wasn’t sure if there were guns involved, but as it turns out the cooing guy said “fuck this” and turned on his heel and stormed out of the apartment, down the stairs, and into his car, spitting words about being late for work and stupid bitch and other such. The woman cried, and the little girl didn’t look too bothered on the outside but I kept trying to catch her eye and give her a reassuring smile and murmur “it’s ok, baby” under my breath, and when she saw me do it she kept on looking at me. Half an hour or more later some police showed up and meanwhile the screaming girl used my friend’s phone to call her dad, and her dad was heard to say that she was a drama queen and something had to be done about the situation.
So I’ve been thinking about it since then for a lot of reasons. And I want to share my own history, but I have been struggling with my motives for doing so. Sometimes I think I want attention, just like as kids we all (or maybe it was just me) secretly wished we could break an arm or have major surgery so we could go to school and have everyone feel sorry for us. That’s being a drama queen. And then I get mad at myself because this is the argument that Ben would give me when I would threaten to tell people about him – “stop being such a drama queen. you are making some big deal out of nothing because you want attention, you want to be the victim and have everyone fuss and bother over you.” Remembering that conversation which we had on repeat for 3 years makes me think I should talk about it all. Hearing that girl’s father call her a drama queen makes me think I should.
So here’s the thing. If one day I was all Gee I like you Ben, and he was all, Gosh I like you, too, and we go on a date, and at the end of the date he gets real mad and punches me hard, then that is the end of Ben and no problem. Unfortunately it went more like this: one day I say Gee I like you Ben, and he’s all, Gee I like you, too. And we go on a date. And another and another and a few more, and then a couple months later he meets my parents, and then a few months later I fly to England (where he’s from) and meet his. And we make plans to travel together abroad and meantime we are long distance but we write and call all the time and I miss him so terribly. And I start to meet his friends from home, and we start to know each other’s history, and we are 21 years old and we are excited about traveling together. And we meet in Australia, where he lives an hour train ride from me, but we visit every weekend, and one weekend when we visit he calls me a stupid bitch. And I am like, whoa you do NOT call me that, and he is all, I’m sorry you just made me mad. And I say just don’t talk to me like that, OK, that’s not a nice way to be. And he’s all OK baby I’m sorry. Then the next morning his tea isn’t made right and he punches the cinderblock wall and really hurts his hand I laugh at him and say serves you right for being such a baby about tea for heaven’s sake. And a couple weeks later we’re walking and I lag behind and when I catch up he startles me because he is suddenly furious, and he grabs my hand and squeezes so hard I can feel the hand bones move and the knuckles rub together painfully and I break up with him and storm away. And he runs after me, tears in his eyes, and I say It is over Ben. You hurt me. You hurt my hand, and I don’t even know why you’re mad, but it doesn’t matter because I don’t date people who communicate with violence. And he says, you don’t understand, there was a truck I saw and I thought you were going to get hit by the truck in the street because you walk so slow, you always walk slow and don’t pay attention, see? I just thought I was going to lose you so I freaked out. Please baby, please. Let me see your hand, oh I did hurt it didn’t I? Oh God I can’t believe I did that. Oh God.
So a year later he fractured my skull, I think, because the place by my temple hurt for a couple of months when I touched it. It was in a Target. Then a few days after that (this was back in the States) he grabbed a fistful of my hair, all of my hair, at the back of my head and yanked my head up so that I was staring at the ceiling and couldn’t move, only I was driving at the time in traffic and I stomped the brakes and the tires squealed and we caused a chain reaction ALMOST fender bender only we all just missed each other, stacked crazy pell mell in the freeway, nosing into each other’s lanes like zig zagged dominos. And i ordered him out of the car and he refused to go and what could I do because he was more than twice my size at this point and I had no phone to call anyone and who would I call if I did have a phone. So I stared blankly out the window while the cars driving next to me gawped at us through their windows, stared openmouthed, because they saw what he did, and I didn’t have the energy to be embarrassed. When we got home I told him it was over, really over, and he needed to leave, and when he did leave I got in the car by myself and drove for two hours, thinking about how I was free, crying and worried and happy, and then I came home and took a hot bath and then lay on the couch with my eyes closed for a minute and when I opened them he was there, stroking my hair, and saying baby I don’t like it when we fight. I don’t want to fight anymore, OK? Let’s just watch a movie or something, OK baby? And I closed my eyes and the tears slipped out, and I thought what is wrong with me, why can’t I leave? I feel nothing for this man, not even hate, not love, not a thing, but I cannot tell him to go right now, and I don’t know why. And then I knew why. Because I was helpless, like he said, and worthless, like he said, so worthless that I couldn’t even leave a man who I knew would punch my temple with a closed fist (the temple doesn’t show a bruise, see) once a day at least, and then I sighed and sobbed and he held me close and I knew this was what I deserved for being so weak, so weak and broken.
Somewhere in this time we visited his family again, and I saw his mother punch him, a 22 year old man, and that set me back even further because I knew then that he had learned this growing up, and he needed my help to save him. And he told me how one
time she took him and his 3 brothers and sisters, back when they were aged 4,3,2, and newborn, and tied them all up in the garage, and then told them she was going to burn them up with gasoline because she hated them. And he said how he loved his Gran who had recently died because she was so gentle, and sometimes she’d come and fetch them all, and they always wanted to be at her house. And he told me that if I called him Mr. Hyde when he turned vicious, that could be our code word and that would help snap him out of his rages, because he didn’t want to be like his mom when she was “moody”, he didn’t. When I tried this later he sneered at me and bit his knuckle and hit me again for being such a stupid cunt. And spat in my face. It was hard to avoid this because sometimes there would be a rule that I broke, like I walked in front of his tv program and he missed a word or I made more money than he did, and then him being angry would at least make some kind of perverted sense, but a lot of times he was mad for some totally weird reason like it was raining outside and he had forgotten to bring a raincoat and why didn’t I fucking remind him, or maybe he lost his wallet in the restroom at a bar on a guy’s night out when I wasn’t even there. He just kept changing the rules, I never had a chance to memorize them.
A few months later I met a friend who moved into the room next to me in staff housing. Her name is Bridget and we were instant friends, and I will probably never see her again because she moved to Seattle and that’s too far to go for a friend you only knew for 6 months, four years ago, it’s too much like a blind date or something. Bridget and I hit it off and I’ll never know why, but of all the dozens of friends I had in that place, friends I knew for months, after only one month of living there Bridget was the one who sat me down at Applebee’s and said Gill why the hell are you with this guy? Do you have a reason? I have friends, and did at the time, who would have also asked me this, if they were living in the same state as me or had any idea. But the good thing about moving a lot is you have friends Every Where and the bad thing about moving a lot is that your friends are hardly ever in the Where where you are, and the bad thing about a relationship like this is that you don’t talk about it with people because that makes it real, or that makes you a drama queen making something up (maybe you are), and either one is too scary to expose to people who you want to continue to love and respect you.
So anyway Bridget asked me this question, and instead of saying because i broke up with him once and he put my head between his knees and pounded on my back until I fell down and I’m afraid he’ll do that again, i say I am waiting for him to go back home to England because otherwise it’s too complicated since we all work together, la di da. So later that evening we return to staff housing, and Ben is napping in my room and he’s late for work, so I wake him up. And he sits up in bed and punches me for waking him up, and I run out of the room and make a noise so Bridget will hear me and she steps out of her door and sees Ben chasing after me into the hall with his fist cocked, and Bridget stands in her doorway, staring at him, and folds her arms. And Ben leaves and slams the building door behind him, and Bridget gives me a look that says nothing at all, and steps back into her room, and I step back into mine, and we never talk about it.
The thing that makes me decide that i have to screw up the courage to do it once and for all is that this one night we are all of us going out for dinner and drinks and Ben says no he doesn’t want to go but he’s hungry and will I bring him back a Big Mac. And I say yes I will bring you back a Big Mac but it could be a really late night, it might be after midnight when we get home and you don’t have a car here, so you’ll be hungry a long time, and he says whatever get out of the way of my video game you’re making me lose a life, just bring me a fucking Big Mac and stop making a big deal out of it. So I sigh and say ok, and go out, and at midnight when it’s time to come home the McDonald’s is closed so I get him some chicken nuggets from the bar where we all had gone and bring them home instead. And when I get back I go to his room and bring him the nuggets and he is sleeping, so I sit next to him on the bed and gently tap his shoulder and whisper his name, and he lunges out of his bed still mostly asleep. And I realize that up until this point he has mostly been pulling his punches because this punch to my upper arm hurts worse than most anything I’ve ever felt. My whole arm goes completely numb instantly and I can’t move it for a while afterwards, and then it all tingles, and then a little while later it hurts very much. And he spits out some words, and I say nothing but leave the chicken nuggets on his bed and walk out, past his roommate who is looking at me, and into the night. And I sit on the porch swing of staff housing across the field from his place and my sister who lives there with me comes out and sits next to me, and she doesn’t seem to notice I am holding my one arm with the other. When i wake up the next morning there are pieces of chicken nuggets all over my car, just torn up and strewn all over it, and the styrofoam takeout box is sitting on the top of it. and that is just crazy, it’s just plain crazy, that reaction. And I know that if he’d punched my temple as hard as he punched my arm (which in the morning is sporting a bruise and somebody asks me if I got punched and i laugh “no”) he would have seriously injured me, and I gave myself a tearful lecture about brain damage, about permanent nerve damage, and think that one day none of his punches will be pulled punches and one day it is possible that he could kill me in a rage. Later on the chicken nugget day, I am in line at the coke machine and he walks up to me without saying a word or looking me in the eye and hands me a dollar so I can buy a coke, and the coworker I’m standing next to who I’m starting to fall in love with because he is so nice, tells me oh, Benno must be in some trouble eh? trying to make up for it, eh?
Ben flies home to England a few days before my 24th birthday. He flies all night and arrives with no sleep and calls me to tell me he is safe and I break up with him over the phone right then. He is utterly shocked. He writes me letters after that and calls me daily and threatens to fly back, but I know he doesn’t have any money and can’t. A month later I am dating the guy from the coke line, and though he dicks me over in the end, it is only after a long and patient time of slowly building me back up into an unbroken person with sense, with self awareness, with self esteem, and slowly I realize just what a predicament I was in and I shudder at the thought of the bridal magazines I had bought one time when ben and I were on a good streak. I write down every offense that i can remember from the 3 years, write it all in a diary that I still have, and I have saved it in case I need to take him to court one day, but I know that won’t happen, but I still daydream about it sometimes, and also about picking up a wooden chair by the legs and smashing it into the side of his head, and I know that is irony and also wrong. And anyway back then, right after he left for home, when I called an abuse hotline for help with counseling or perhaps medical attention to be certain that no permanent damage was caused, they find out that I am no longer in the dangerous relationship and they tell me to call my doctor and not bother them. And when I tell my doctor the same thing, she looks at me with a mix of pity and disgust and says Why on earth did you stay with him all that time? What was wrong with you? And then I think – maybe I shouldn’t bring this up. it will make people think I am stupid, or senseless, or trailer trash, or a drama queen, and they won’t take me seriously anymore. So I don’t tell many people for a while. Til
later, when I hear someone else called a drama queen, someone with a child (and I am thankful every day that I was in my situation alone, without a child to bind us together for life). And even if she is a drama queen, or an idiot, or a screaming bitch, still he is stronger than her and he is wrong to hit on her. Men are always physically stronger, always, and they thereby have an absolute duty not to use that strength against a woman, no matter what, no matter what.
The Professor told me when the guy left the balcony scene, he noticed a scratch on the dude’s neck. My friends whose apartment complex this was said that this isn’t the first time the police have been called, but they rarely show up in less than 30 minutes. And I want to pull that woman over into a corner and stare her straight in the eye and tell her – it is better on the other side. it is better on the other side. it is better. you will never never never regret it. you have to find a way to make this happen for yourself. for your kid. whatever it takes if you move to alaska and change your names you must get out. I would love to tell her this but i know it won’t make any difference. this story won’t make any difference either, except possibly to freak out my family members who read my blog, and maybe make them think a little less of me, or a little more, or not any different at all.