It began with the photos. Really, not even photos, so much as the mention of them. To be accurate, it began with an entry in a blog. Not an email—not any sort of missive—and certainly not a phone call. A bland, innocuous, update to a blog it’s entirely possible no one ever really read. What it represented, though…I knew, even then, at least in part. The reaching out of it; communicating with, caring for, considering someone else. More particularly, to family, but really wouldn’t anyone at that point have been equally perceived as some sort of threat?
The way he phrased it, what I had done wrong was to deceive him. It wasn’t that I’d written the post, but rather that I’d hidden it from him. Or tried to, anyway. Obviously a job poorly done, that. Yet, why had I even the impulse at all to try to keep it from him? A personal blog, started before there was an “us”—back when it was still just “me.” An update from my first real trip abroad, from what should have been a brilliant, grand adventure. An apology for silence, for a recent lack of the sharing that so characterized not just my upbringing, my family, my acquaintances, but me.
I’d tried to keep it from him because I knew he didn’t want me to talk to my own family. He feared they influenced me. Surely, given time and effort, I’d prove myself to him and show him where he was wrong, and we’d all get along just fine. For now, though—for now, I’d just go along with what he wanted on the surface even if underneath I was drowning; screaming soundlessly, clawing at the edges of the transparent prison in which I’d allowed myself to be sealed, vision growing dim at the edges just as it had when his hands had gripped my neck. The scarf from his mother that had been a Christmas gift a few months prior almost hid the bruises entirely from view. I don’t think anyone even noticed. I sincerely hope they didn’t, not for the sake of my own shame or embarrassment, but for theirs. If they noticed, and they—none of them—said, did, anything at all…They didn’t see, surely. What was obvious to me, what had me anxiously tightening and adjusting that silk scarf about my neck, was not even noticeable, really. Surely.
Minor sign of the constant inward struggle, that blog post. He found out. I was scared—so scared—of him so angry, so I fled. Tried to lock myself away, to beg him to please stop, please calm down, please see what he’d become.
I can hear him, still, banging on the door. See him climbing over the edge of the stall. Hand bleeding from a cut he got struggling to get in to me. Did I see what I’d done to him? How I’d hurt him? What I’d turned him into? His voice, accusing, was a buzz within for so many years—Did I think he wanted to be a monster?
Nothing more dangerous than him no longer caring what happens to himself. If he doesn’t care what others think, then even public places aren’t safe, you see.
After he chased me into the girls’ bathroom, and I fled from the stall where I’d sought sanctuary, I wasn’t fast enough. I wasn’t loud enough. I still cared too much—didn’t want others to know, not really. Didn’t want him to get in trouble.
And so he caught me. Struck me, grabbed me, took me by my hair and dragged me down the hall. The dorm-room doors we passed were closed, indifferent as the occupants they shielded from view.
I was pleading, I was crying, I was trying not to cooperate, but the pain in my scalp had me scrambling; torn between the sharpness of that sting and the burning where my legs and arms dragged against the carpeted floor. His grip, even with that wounded palm, was unyielding.
Flung to the floor in the relative privacy of the small shared kitchen space, I was already half-blinded from tears when he took my glasses from me. Or, rather, knocked them from my face and didn’t allow them back to me.
I kept the pieces, carefully preserved, rattling about in a case, for years. He still has them, probably. Along with everything else I left behind.
You see, he snapped them—my eyeglasses—into an irreparable number of pieces. Such a smart move, really. An early indication of a skill he’d cultivate over the years to follow. First step to instilling terror, to maintaining control over a person: make them as vulnerable as possible. What’s more vulnerable than to be blind? How better to control me in that moment than to take my sight from me?
He then proceeded to threaten to take my life.
My response wasn’t to ask for pity, but to beg him to consider his own life. He wouldn’t get away with it, you see. It was too obvious. Everyone would surely know he’d done it. He didn’t want to go to prison, did he? To lose his own life? His own goals and dreams?
Which returns us, again, to the lesson: the scariest moment is when he no longer cares about himself enough to truly try to hide what he is doing anymore.
That moment someone walked in. What a sight we must have been. Me, a disheveled mess with hair in wild disarray, snot- and tear-stained, bruised and scraped, sniveling and crouched in the corner upon the floor. Him, hand bleeding and clutching the remains of my eyeglasses, clothing askew from his own exertions, damp with his own sweat and tears.
Someone walked in, alright. Paused a moment, hesitant upon the threshold of the room. Just long enough to cause a brilliant, painful, flare of emotion in me—a dizzying, kaleidoscopic mix of trepidation, horror, shame, and hope. Then, a single phrase, “Oh, sorry,” and the stranger was gone just as suddenly as he’d come.
Enclosed within a building with hundreds of residents, yet entirely alone, I talked him down, that night, from the verge of killing us both. Somehow, I talked him down.
This national poetry month finds us in a world of social distancing, but also at a time when it is easier than ever to reach out to each other from our separate places of physical isolation and interconnect. We are struggling, together, to deal with being apart; we are coping with grief, with fear, with rage; we are searching for ways to process and express the maelstrom of emotions that mark our days. What better time, then, for poetry? Whether we turn to the words of a poet for inspiration, comfort, or perhaps to find an expression of feelings which we have found to be beyond our own words, reading a poem can enrich our days. Or we can take a page out of Emily Dickinson's book and, although our isolation is for a much different purpose from hers, we can nonetheless turn the thoughts of our solitude indoors into poems.
Mary has already shared some excellent poetry resources that we can all use to celebrate poetry while staying at home. I would add that Sir Patrick Stewart is making some excellent poetry readily available to all of us by reading a sonnet a day (you can find his videos on his various social media). There are many free sources of poetry online (Poetry Foundation and Poetry.org are good places to start), and for those of us who are in a situation to be able to do so, now is also an excellent time to support poets and small poetry publications by purchasing chapbooks and subscribing to poetry journals.
What are your favorite poems? Do you write poetry yourself? Share in the comments.
Stay safe, everyone. May you find solace from poetry in this difficult time.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
One of the great benefits of writing is the catharsis that it can offer. Putting the demons that haunt my mind down into words is an excellent way to begin the process of exorcising them. The written word has a distinct power; it is harder to dismiss an experience that has been put down on paper, somehow. My abusive ex knew the power that writing can have, both to sort out emotions and thoughts, and to serve as a proof of experience. As such, he would not allow me to keep a diary when we were together. He was afraid that the truth of how he treated me would make it out into the world rather than staying caught up between us, a toxic secret meant to be hidden even from ourselves.
When I finally escaped from the prison of that relationship, I began to do many things to celebrate my new-found freedom, and to remind myself just how important it was for my survival and my sanity that I never return. One of those things was writing; I began to vent out all of the pent-up emotions, thoughts, and secrets that had built up over a decade of censorship. This began as a therapeutic journal, but I soon realized that my personal experiences may be useful for others to read, as well. Thus begins my Chronicling project; a memoir detailing scenes from my life, centered around my experiences with abuse, domestic violence, mental health, and chronic illness.
I hope that the snippets of my life that I share in the written vignettes that are my Chronicling posts here will help others to better understand what goes on in abusive relationships, and also to show those who are in or have been through similar conditions that they are not alone. There is a comfort and a strength that comes from the community of knowing that you--what you have suffered, and what you continue to suffer--are seen. I hope, as well, that those still caught within what very much feels like an inescapable situation may be able to recognize that they, too, can move on, can survive.
It is important to note that Chronicling will not shy away from difficult topics. The following content warnings apply: domestic violence, abuse, sexual abuse, suicide, self-harm
Elizabeth Wilcox. Writer, Avid Role-Player, Amateur Mixologist. Survivor.