The pounding on the door had been going on pretty much nonstop for more than twenty minutes.
So hard that a painting in the stairwell had gone crooked.
My daughter was covering her ears and asking when it would stop.
She asked who it was.
I didn’t know, in those long long moments, if telling her it was her dad would make her more or less scared.
So I said, I don’t know – but we’re not answering. Stay right here.
Five minutes later as it still went on, I messaged that he was trespassing and to please stop before I had to call the police.
The pounding continued.
Then a pause.
A reply message that said go ahead and call the police. They’re already on their way. You better hand her over now.
I was already calling the non-emergency number.
My daughter had looked out the window and had seen it was her dad. She was confused. Both scared and relieved. Waffling between the two.
I could see in her face a more blatant version of the cognitive dissonance I spent years bathing in before finally seeing it for the toxin it always was.
She just stood there, confused. Immobilized.
She never said we should open the door.
The police were already coming.
I should have known he had already called them when somewhere around minute thirty-three of pounding, he stopped and backed away and had the wash of calm go over him that I’ve come to see so many times now.
He stood at the sidewalk and waited for them to arrive.
The concerned father.
He stood by his bicycle on the sidewalk while his thirteen year old son straddled his own bicycle, a companion and witness to this display of attempted force, as they waited for the police to get out of their cars.
Here, it says, is how you make someone bend to your will.
This, it says, is how you treat women who won’t obey.
And also: it says, see officers? I’m a devoted father just checking on my child.
This was all because I had not agreed to a Facetime call that night.
He had demanded one. I had declined.
So he called. And attempted to FaceTime.
29 times in less than half an hour.
My phone was in another room. I was watching a movie in the living room with my daughter. A portable AC was whirring loudly. The state was on fire – we had epic fires to the north, south and east. We couldn’t open the windows and the daytime temps were approaching 90.
I couldn’t even hear my phone. Which was the point of putting it in there, truth be told. He once called me and tried to facetime me 43 times in one hour when my daughter didn’t feel like talking to him on one of my nights.
I didn’t want or need the anxiety – the real physical feeling – caused by my phone either ringing or vibrating that many times when I knew it was him.
Part of the point of that calling and calling and calling is he knows it’s abuse, whether he calls it that or not, and so does it to trigger my nervous system. He knows it’s harassment even if he won’t say that word out loud because of what it will do to his image.
Turns out I couldn’t just not hear the phone. I couldn’t hear the doorbell either.
Only moments before the pounding started, I listened to one of his four voicemails and it said he had come by and I wasn’t home and where was I?
Home. I was home.
My car was in the driveway.
We were in pajamas.
The dogs aren’t even there, he said.
They were. Sleeping in the back of the house, unphased by the doorbell, apparently.
My heart jumped into my throat.
He called 29 times. AND CAME BY.
Over a Facetime call.
This was Saturday night. I had received a call the evening before that my daughter’s preschool had a teacher test positive for COVID-19.
I messaged x within 90 minutes of getting that call. I only took that long because I was on my way to get her and it was Friday and I was frantically trying to call her doctor and any testing facilities to get her in for a test so we didn’t need to quarantine for ten days.
So he wouldn’t attack.
She was asymptomatic. And five years old.
The testing options are limited for children. And the CDC recommendation is to simply quarantine for ten days if you remain asymptomatic.
But when I hung up the phone after talking to the school director, what my office mate heard me say was fuuuuuuuuuuuck. He’s going to make this worse than it ever should be. Fuck fuck fuck this is going to be bad.
My first thought, before even letting myself fall into a what if about my daughter, was that he was supposed to pick her up at noon the next day and he was definitely going to make this a thing instead of worrying about her well being.
And how he would make it a thing might be very scary.
He would use this as an opportunity to try to hurt me. To try to scare me into some sort of submission. To make chaos and try to blame it all on me.
Shortly after the pounding stopped, the doorbell rang.
I pled with my daughter to stay upstairs while I checked who it was.
She was scared. She didn’t want to stand up there alone.
I went down our interior stairs and opened the small peeping door on the old front door of my old building while my daughter stood right behind me, holding onto my leg.
It was the police. Three officers.
Ten feet behind them was x. Staring at me. The smug expression I have seen for years – the one he doesn’t even hide now.
Unless someone else is looking.
I told them I would come out and talk to them if they would ask him to walk down the street while we talked.
One officer said, it’s a public sidewalk.
And tilted his head and raised one eyebrow.
I told them I didn’t feel safe and wouldn’t open the door until I did.
They all looked at me like I asked them to feed me pudding before I would come out.
I will go in the back to talk to you if you will do that, I said. I have to feel that I’m safe and my daughter is safe.
They said OK.
I told them he was trespassing and had been notified in writing multiple times that he was not allowed on this property outside of court appointed times.
They all three shifted on their feet.
The male officer closest to the door said, that’s not trespassing and looked at me like I was six years old.
My body shifted and recognized where we were before my brain even had time to catch up.
When you’re deep in the throes of emotional abuse, there are so many moments that (much) later you can recognize as out of body experiences. You are physically there living the moment but you are also hovering somewhere above – both recognizing that what is happening is wrong and crafting the story you will tell yourself in mere moments so that you can keep on surviving and living in the abuse so that you don’t have to face what you fear most: the monster they will become once you stop placating them.
I stood on that bottom step of my back stairs having one of those moments.
For the first time in months.
I pulled up the court order. I pulled up the messages showing the agreement to let her quarantine and to swap weekends to make up his missed time.
I heard one of them explain to the other that the app I was showing them the message in was so parents could still talk about the kids when they couldn’t make nice with each other.
I listened – as one officer’s reply to me pointing to my daughter and saying that there was a lot I couldn’t say but that there was far more to this than they were seeing right now – was to say look, obviously you have a contentious relationship but if my daughter had been exposed to COVID, I would be worried, too.
I sat on my back steps and exhaled through my mouth quietly a few times and told them that I understood this looked like one thing to them but was most definitely a very different thing,
I kept trying to explain to them that I was standing firm and his actions were out of line.
I sat, stomach in my throat, and waited for them as they went back and forth and back and forth on my property.
As my dad kept texting to see if I was ok since x had even texted him stating the police would force me to hand her over. As my daughter kept leaning her head out the second story window of my bedroom, where I had let her go watch TV way past bedtime, to see if I was ok.
You can heal and heal and heal – and then a moment you didn’t see coming can hurl you right back into a mindset you thought you had left behind. One you thought you had outgrown. Had clawed your way out of through hard won strength and stability.
One fucking heart-pounding moment and you’re back there, reminding yourself that you’re actually not.
I should have told them to ask him for the court order. I should have gone inside after telling them that he was making me feel unsafe and scaring our daughter. I should have told them that his proper recourse was the courts (something he hesitates to do not only because there’s a filing fee, but because the judge sees him more fully now and doesn’t fall for his victim game like all three of these cops did).
But I sat there waiting for them, even after they’d left.
I sat there waiting, stomach churning, waiting for assurance that he was gone and wouldn’t return.
Assurance that never came.
I finally walked out, tentatively, to the front of my building to see if they were still out there.
They weren’t. Neither was he.
Gone. All of them. Without a word.
I was back there sitting on that step – waiting and waiting who knows how long.
Because I follow the rules. Because I’m not the liar.
Because I have been abused – and despite being smart and assured and independent and so much more healed than I was a year ago – I can be thrown right back into having to defend what shouldn’t need defending. My own honesty and character. The truth.
Because you think it will matter to someone. You want desperately to believe it will matter. To someone.
I waited there for what was right. All alone.
Fuck those officers. For dismissing me out of hand and right away. For not telling me they were leaving. For never once telling him that knocking the shit out of someone’s door for any amount of time is not really the way to handle these things.
Not the way to handle a refused phone call.
Fuck that man who helped create this child for chanting ACAB with his punk rock friends and then calling the cops when I wouldn’t answer the phone. For calling the cops pretty much every time I haven’t done whatever he wanted in the last twelve months.
Fuck this world that doesn’t err on the side of caution and respect when a woman opens the peephole on her front door as dusk falls and only asks that the man glaring at her be asked to walk down the street before she opens the door and steps out on her porch in her nightgown and with her small child.
Dear police, stop acting like what he did was normal when you sent three officers knowing that these situations are volatile.
You know. Don’t pretend.
Dear serve-and-protect: stop leaving a woman sitting on her back stoop waiting for you to tell her it’s safe because you decided before she even spoke that this situation is bullshit and she’s bullshit and it’s all just bullshit.
Dear police: stop.
If you’re going to show up: show up.
One month and four days later, that same man, that concerned father, tried to drive us both off the road for at least three miles. Tried to get my daughter to get out of my car and into his on a four lane street. Punched my car and called me a fucking bitch while my daughter screamed and wailed in the back seat.
He did exactly what I was scared of when you all dismissed my concerns and fed into his drama: he escalated.
This post has taken more than two months to write because the level of hopelessness and sadness I felt the next day has been hard to revisit. I told a close friend the next night that I was still exhausted from an emotional hangover. Because of the complacency and condescension of those three police officers.
Because of how that would embolden him. Encourage his abuse.
It only took thirty-five days for it to involve two police departments.
(see that post here).
I spoke to the female officer a few days after the incident in my car. When I called to get all of the reports he’s filed against me for my pending case in family court. When I called to ask her to make sure to note on that report what she had left out that night: that I had called for help. She was far more understanding now that there had been something worse for her to use as a lens.
It shouldn’t take more and more for us to be taken seriously.
I still haven’t filed my formal complaint with the police department. I will.
I’ve had other things to do first: I’ve upped my security system; I’ve installed a dash cam; I’ve had a session with my daughter’s therapist because all of this is too much for her little mind and body; I’ve written and edited my newest declaration for court; I’ve rescheduled with my therapist because being the target of someone’s razor sharp rage is tough no matter how much healing you’ve done.
A week ago, I saw an article from 2019 about the eight steps to homicide by an abuser posted in one of the support groups I’m in online (link at end of post). About a criminology expert’s data-based assertion that these killings don’t come out of nowhere and aren’t some surprising act of passion.
It’s been haunting me.
Haunting me awake and asleep.
I spent a year thinking I was on some sort of downward slope of abuse. It won’t end, but it won’t get worse. Right?
There’s a story that gets told that women are killed by their exes in fits of passion (aka rage). That the man snaps. That they just break and then boom.
He doesn’t. He’s stretching taut the whole time. Stretching and stretching and stretching. Tauter and tauter and tauter.
How could we know? I mean, he seemed so nice.
Well, sure, they were having a rough time, but . . . .
It only looks like a surprise event because noone’s looking to see what’s really happening.
Even if she’s asking for help.
No one looks until the end. Until it happens so large and so loud that you can’t miss it.
Officers are calling it contentious.
Judges are calling it high conflict.
Family members are saying breakups are always rough.
(And, if the woman dies, outsiders are posting online stuff like she looks like she was controlling and I mean, I might’ve snapped on her, too. Don’t believe me? Look up reactions to Shanann Watts’ death.)
And it doesn’t matter, a lot of times, if we scream no no no to all of that bullshit.
Or, I mean, it does matter.
It makes us look crazy. Bitter. Dramatic.
So we stay calm. And we call the police – or we don’t. Either way we’re screwed in family court – and maybe even in the moment.
It’s a fucked-either-way kind of position.
We. Don’t. Know. What. To. Do.
We. Don’t. Know. Who. Will. Listen.
Pay attention. None of these attacks are total surprises.
Good men don’t suddenly kill. Not usually. Not the people they loved.
Good men don’t drive people off the road over a dispute about time.
Contention doesn’t literally knock paintings off of walls over a minute of Facetime with a five year old.
There’s a story, alright. It has to do with coercion and gaslighting and mind-fucking that almost always leads to aggression if you stand up to it. It’s an old, old story that is, unfortunately, oft repeated.
There’s a story.
And it has nothing to do with passion.
Hear us. We’re trying to tell you.