A few days after Thanksgiving last year, I sat in my car, rain pounding on the windshield and my four year old daughter in the backseat, holding my phone to my ear as I explained to a police officer over the phone why the complaint that x was filing at the precinct right then was total bullshit.
I had left my home in the AM to take my daughter to breakfast and then to run errands in order to avoid whatever chaos he was about to start over the Saturday visit that wasn’t confirmed.
I had suspicions that he had kidnapped his son for weeks at the same age and so I required written confirmation of both pick up and drop off times for visitations. In the wild-west of pre-court order, it’s the only thing that protects your child from being ripped from their home for days (or weeks) on end.
He refused. He would email confirmation of pick up time. But not drop off.
There were 208 emails between us in November alone that year. Me proposing a schedule and him refusing to confirm. I had my suspicions (since confirmed) that were based on hard information I had from his computer and the ways what I had found over the last few years contradicted the story both he and his sister told me when he and I were first dating about his son’s mother abandoning her son for weeks on end. And she hadn’t even tried to call or FaceTime her little, tiny son. Can you even believe that? I just don’t understand how you could do that.
I also had the deep gut feeling that I was only then starting to fully heed. His omission of confirmation was telling. And scary.
So he would show up. Bring his son. Tell him that I had said I would be there and now I wasn’t. Have him send pleading videos and accusations that I was alienating.
He would leave ‘notes for my daughter’ on my front door. Three or four paper towels covered in sharpie and duct taped to my front door.
For a four year old. Who can’t read.
“Please show this to her”, he would email me along with a photo of the taped up note, as though he was oblivious to the creeptasticness or how obvious the attempt to embarrass and bully was to all who could see those ‘notes’.
X even texted this photo to my father and said Look what your daughter is doing to us.
When I calmly explained the actual situation to the officer on the phone – and what x had been offered but refused to just confirm in order to have time with his daughter – the officer calmly said, ‘Can I give you one piece of advice?’.
“Yes,” I said. But what I meant was oh god please this is so fucking hard and scary and I don’t know if I can make it through this in one piece. While I also thought please please please get what’s happening and not miss the point entirely.
“When you get a court order, don’t bend for this guy one bit. Not at all. You’ll lose your standing and make it useless. Stay firm.”
That officer was the first – and certainly not the last – to say that to me.
I’ve since learned the whys of that. The whos of who he is and why I can’t bend with him. Why bending always ends with over and then more and more abuse. For me. But, more importantly, for my daughter, too.
I bless that officer to this day for offering me an anchor in that topsy-turvey time, in that season of unmoored.
An I see you and you’re doing the right thing.
Thanksgiving 2019, I was grateful. So, so grateful. Despite everything.
I finally had a home free from abuse within its walls. Free from a body at rest that was really, always if at home with him, still a knot of tension, unsure of what each word might bring from him or whether it would be a calm night or not.
November 2019: I was finally free.
But I was also still a mess of fear and anxiety and adrenaline.
The thing that mattered to me most, my child, was in danger of being swept up by the worst person I’ve yet to meet. Someone so hell bent on controlling that nothing else matters. Not honesty, not love, and certainly not the delicately developing psyche of a toddler.
Still, I went to bed that night, like I had every night since freedom day in September, vocalizing gratitude as I stretched out in my bed to finally rest. I would say, out loud, alone, what I was thankful for that day.
At that time, it was things like:
Thank you for the peace of this room.
I’m so grateful for the calm.
Thank you for not having this bed cause me physical anxiety.
Thank you for giving me the strength to show my daughter another way of living.
At that time, though, it came out more like:
thank you for him not being here.
Thank you for this room not having all that pushed down rage anymore.
Thank you for the arguing that isn’t happening here anymore.
Thank you for my body not being pushed away from this bed night after night.
I’ve thought a lot lately about how my body would recoil and revolt and I would sleep in the living room on the couch. My head kept making excuses that my body wanted no part of…. so I would exile myself to the couch.
Or, when my daughter got a little older and would realize I was there, her bedroom an extension of the living room, I even slept several nights on the hardwood floor in the dining room, pillows laid beneath me and one, warm blanket pulled over me. So she wouldn’t know. To keep more secrets than I was already keeping.
I would do that – carefully lay out a cushion beneath me that would shift out from under me after an hour or so, dull pain in my hip forcing me to wake up and reposition it over and over and over – instead of suffer through the physical discomfort of laying in bed next to someone who would cause me so much emotional and psychological pain during the day and then act like nothing had happened and it was all in my head at night.
Someone who could sit in the bed playing games on his phone while I put my daughter to bed and then did dishes and prepped all her food for the next day. Who could sit, shirt pushed up, exposing his belly, popping ingrown hairs on his belt line as though he had not a care in the world or a thought that there was anyone else in the house and who wouldn’t even look up anymore when I entered the room.
Who might, very well, call me a crazy bitch if I called attention to us having time to hang out, alone, kidless, and then roll over to sleep as though it was all normal and just fine. Who would then kiss me in the morning and pour me my coffee. Tell me he loved me and I’m the best. Say how beautiful I was.
The density of that life had become so heavy, I was sure that my vertebrae had compressed and I was at least an inch shorter just from having stayed and tried so hard to save it all.
In November of last year, the absence of him in that bedroom was like an atmosphere lifted. A heavy dense fog instantly dissipated.
For a long, long time after I ended it for good, my gratitude centered around what was no longer in my home. For the better part of a year.
What was gone. What I did not have to deal with anymore.
That was huge. And real. And important to recognize.
When he was filing false harassment claims against me at work. When he was sending me messages saying I was evil and a master manipulator. When he was lying to a local Facebook group and having a local tenants’ rights lawyer harass me based on his lies. When I lived weekly with the fear that my daughter would be forcibly taken away from me for however long it would take the authorities to help me…
When all of that was my daily life, I needed to say, out loud, what I had freed myself from, what I had rid my house of, so I could recenter and remember and finally start to see, fully: that life was a lie, a sickness, and a slow death.
In early Novemer of this year, there was another reason for x to attack. There was a vulnerable moment, and like a shark smelling blood, he swooped in and re-ignited his attempts to bully me and belittle me (not that they’ve ever stopped, but they’ve waned over time since he gets no reaction from me anymore – I had actually enjoyed a few weeks with only the normal toying with my daughters head and not the other threats or actions).
During that time, he also saw this blog and the Instagram page. He saw that I’ve posted a few snippets of actual messages. Out of a hundred posts, there are three that show excerpts of things he’s actually writtten to me.
If you covertly abuse, the worst thing that can happen is for what you say in private to become public.
Your actual words – as you wrote them – out for public view.
So he said he didnt care about the ‘memes and whatnot’ – just the messages. He sent some second rate ‘cease and desist’ messages to my lawyer and then to me.
The thing is, though, that I am in every legal right to do these things. Even in the privacy terms and the legalese of the app we use, it says I can show those messages to ‘strangers’.
And besides: something can only be libel or slander if it’s not true anyway.
That’s the biggest mic drop there is when dealing with a covert abuser . . . I kept everything. Even things in his own handwriting. The only real defense in court, against accusations of libel, is truth.
I have that.
For a while in the beginning, I dared him, silently and daily, to take me to court for libel or slander so I could make public records of all of his lies.
Do it. Please. I dare you.
When he geared his accusations and thousand-tiny-assaults back up this November, I thought well, here we go… round and round.
What I really noticed, though, in that two week period where he revved up the you’re a bad mom and crazy and a liar and I will come after you song and dance… was that I felt nothing.
A lovely, peaceful void where the fear and confusion used to be.
I had thoughts about it. I had cerebral reactions.
I spent brain power dismissing each one in my mind and logging, in my head, the documentation I have to counter any particular complaints if he actually files them.
But my body was unaffected.
After seeing the Instagram page, he was actually uncharacteristically ‘helpful’ and quiet in communications for a while. I thought maybe the silver lining side effect of seeing those posts would be him putting the mask back on for a while. For appearances.
I even had a bet with someone else who really knows his BS, in and out, about how long it would last. I wagered on a month, being wishful. Thinking positive. The other person guffawed and chuckled and said no way – let’s be real.
19 days. Exactly 19 days before he just couldn’t take being held accountabe to the court order and called me a liar for documenting contempt.
When he did that, though, I caught myself just chuckling.
No power. No physical effect.
I realized that night, as I said my nightly gratitudes, that the things I’ve been grateful for, at some point in the last few months, have moved from what was no longer there to what is.
I have healed enough to start to be thankful for what I have instead of what I have escaped.
Real-life, genuine gratitude for what exists.
My daughter’s kindness.
Her whip-smart emotional intelligence.
My strength and fortitude.
My job and the resources to navigate this COVID era life.
The people who’ve supported me through so much.
The ability to stay strong and heal even when the whole world seemed so desperate.
A brilliant sensitive child who will be vulnerable with me. Over and over.
The patience to parent her differently than I ever learned how to do.
To help her through her own repeating trauma calmly… because I’ve helped myself through mine.
The wisdom to let go of so, so much in order to live better.
The ability and wisdom and tenacity to guard her safety at all costs and through so many small assaults.
My neighbors. My neighborhood. My coworkers.
The flowers my daughter picks when we walk the dogs. Her love of walking the dogs. The dogs.
It’s the way it goes, right? That you are sure you can’t ever feel differently than you do (sad, mad, fragile, hopeless) and then you wake up one day to see that you’ve felt differently for a while now and it feels so natural and right.
That you’ve shifted. That one tiny fraction of an inch that pushed you over the line of where you were to where you wanted to be.
To where you are now.
He can still scare me. I won’t pretend that’s not true.
When he punched my car that day as my daughter wailed in the backseat – as he raised both hands angrily and I saw the words you’re a fucking bitch being shouted from the other side of the glass right after the jarring sway of the car because of his fists – I was afraid. Pure physical fear racing through my veins.
When he causes my daughter such anxiety that she rages against the smallest of things – pure, out of control rage in that tiny growing body – I feel things about him that I wish I didn’t have to feel.
When you have been in abuse and you get out, you don’t know how in the fucking world you can ever feel normal again.
And in some ways, you won’t. You are forever changed.
But, one day, you can be halfway through your day and realize that you just read a message (calling you a liar or a bad mom or a psychotic manipulator) that would have made your heart race a year ago with fear or would have made your pulse surge with rage months ago or might have made you skip dinner out of the inability to swallow anything right then.
Maybe would have kept you up that night worried about whether anyone would actually believe him. Awake: rehearsing monologues you’ll never have with people who won’t believe you anyway.
This time: you feel nothing.
The beautiful weightlessness of no feeling where adrenaline and tension used to be.
There is a power you feel in that moment that can’t be replicated .
When you first feel it – first notice feeling it – it feels very much like joy.
You don’t get to that by accident.
Time doesn’t make this happen just by passing.
Days and nights and suns and moons don’t magically bring you freedom from the rage and control you became accustomed to cycling through.
You work and you work and you keep on and keep on and then you get there.
And because you got there, you can now know that even if you are affected again at some point, that the nothingness is there to be had and you can get there again because you’ve stood there already.
Where they have NO power. None.
Because you’ve felt that lightness, you are less rocked by their waves – forever – now.
That you have the power.
To be ok. To stay free. To weather it all.