Men Who Try To Kill Me
I left my abusive partner. Thanks to the GOP, he can hurt me again.
Trigger Warning: This piece discusses domestic violence, including strangulation and rape.
I was leaving a convenience store where I had just bought a pack of cigarettes before work when I saw my ex, Alan, at a nearby bus stop. My heart began to race, my stomach flipping over and over on itself, nausea clawing at my throat. I had a sudden urge to both freeze and run. I started walking fast down the street, towards work. Had he seen me? Maybe he hadn’t seen me. I looked back over my shoulder, caught sight of him jogging to close the space between us. He’d seen me. I ran.
Ran into the restaurant where I worked. Ran past the customers, the bartender, the waiter. Ran into the kitchen, through it to the back, past my bewildered prep cook. Into the dry storage. I thought about going for the back door. I could run. I could run forever.
My prep cook, an older man with tattoos on his knuckles and a love of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, stood in the doorway of dry storage with a worried look. He was reaching towards my shivering shoulder, but hesitantly, like he knew I shouldn’t be touched just then. I had a reputation as a harsh line cook with an ability to handle a tough line, but just then I think I looked more like a frightened animal than a person. He asked what was wrong and I shook my head, unable to answer. I would cry if I answered. The bartender came up behind him.
“Kiva, there’s a guy up front who says he knows you.”
My prep cook’s eyes narrowed in sudden understanding, and he said, “I’ll go tell him to leave.” I was shaking violently then, still unable to speak. They turned to go back to the front of the house.
“He tried to kill me,” I blurted finally at their backs, and they nodded grimly. I cried for a while, then cleaned myself up in the bathroom and went back to work with my nerves utterly frayed. Later that evening, Alan sent me an email that said that he was in recovery for his addictions and he wanted to make peace with me and that I had hurt him too. I had hurt him too? I had hurt him too? That qualifier was the first time he’d ever come close to admitting he’d physically hurt me, but it baffled me. When had I hurt him? When I’d been struggling? When I’d been fighting him off to stay alive?
My reply was short. I still have a restraining order against you, do not ever contact me again.
I still have nightmares about that day. I have a lot of nightmares, actually.
The AHCA passed May 4, yesterday. It provides a way for insurers to price out people with pre-existing conditions again, which is bad for a lot of people, especially disabled people and/or people with mental illnesses. It also once again allows insurance companies to treat domestic violence as a pre-existing condition and raise premiums because of it, which was still legal in 8 different states until the ACA, or Obamacare as so many call it, specifically banned this practice. I had never really worried about it before. Health insurance had always seemed like a far-away kind of dream and I figured I would simply die alone in poverty, like many people in my country do. Besides, I live on the west coast, we’re very liberal, it probably wouldn’t even affect me.
It did affect me, though.
It’s been five years since I ran into that dry storage and hid there until Alan was sent away. Hard years. Some days are easier to deal with than others. A lot of days, I dealt with it by drinking but I don’t do that anymore, largely thanks to the help I received when I tried to kill myself in 2015. Help I wouldn’t have been able to afford or been willing to accept without the Affordable Care Act.
Five years, and I’ve been doing a little better. I’m still looking at a lifetime of treatment, but for a minute there, it almost seemed like it was going to be within my reach.
Suddenly, the threat of deprivation loomed over me again, the reminder that five years isn’t all that much distance, that it could all come back, that it could start again. I felt like hands were on my throat again as I watched the news unfold.
I’m starting to think Alan isn’t the only man who wants to kill me.
Alan didn’t start by hitting me. He started by courting me. Sweetly, romantically. I’d been raped four years earlier and had been steadfast in my avoidance of any romantic or sexual partnerships since then. Alan went for me, though. He was outrageously flirtatious and full of compliments, but so careful, so (performatively, I would determine later) respectful of my boundaries.
He seemed so open about his past, telling me he was 33, had a young son by an ex-wife, and that he wasn’t seeing anyone. I would learn later that these were only fractions of revelations, would learn he was actually forty, that he had two children, that he had three ex-wives, that he had dozens of casual lovers who all thought themselves in serious relationships with him.
He was an actor, and early on in his courtship he showed me a short film he had recently been in where he played a quiet killer who violently enters a home and beats a woman while he strangles her. Laughed nervously and said, “I don’t want you to think I’m actually like that.” I laughed, too, because he was an actor.
“You’re really good!” I said later. “You really projected rage.”
God, I was such a fucking idiot.
The first time he cheated on me and I caught him there were apologies and promises it would never happen again. The first time he stole from me there was a tearful confession of being too embarrassed to ask for the money he needed “for his inhaler.” (I would discover later it was for drugs to share with women he was cheating on me with so… that’s cool.) The first time he hit me, I documented the mark, I told him I’d go to the police if he didn’t go to therapy, and he agreed to do it. For a while there were so many apologies and long conversations and tearful, emotional breakthroughs that it felt like things were actually changing instead of just a lot of things happening. They just kept happening over and over, harder and harder. A year later and I’m on the floor crying, and he’s standing over me with his fists curled and telling me that someone as worthless as me should just kill myself, and I’m so fucked up by what he’s been doing to me for the last year that I think he’s probably right.
I don’t know that girl, really. She’s always like a stranger when I’m forced to consider these parts of my past. Alan stole from me so often that I took to sleeping with my wallet in my pillowcase beneath my cheek with the pillow folded in half and clutched hard. If someone stole from me these days I’d just throw them out of my home and my life. If someone had stolen from me before Alan, I would have thrown them out. He so carefully broke me apart and reset me into something alien, a person that I can no longer recognize.
I didn’t run until one of his exes found me on Facebook and reached out to me to let me know he was a monster. By then I already knew he was a monster, but something about her words shook me out of the brainfog of long-term abuse. She had escaped. I could escape, too. We’d conspire secretly over the phone when he was out of the house. I wanted to kick him out; I was the only one on the lease but she warned me that if he had any mail at that address, the police would not remove him. She’d tried that.
On top of everything, I found out I was pregnant. I knew that if I kept the child, Alan would forever have a way back into my life. I managed to get an abortion through Planned Parenthood. I had strange nightmares when it happened, guilt and fear. When Alan found out, he told one of the women he was sleeping with and she started to text me, accusing me of murdering his child. I didn’t know how to deal. I told Alan’s ex, my confidante, that I wanted to die.
Instead, we decided I would run. Secret bank accounts were opened. Money was transferred. Lies were told about shifts at work that allowed me to seek out a new place to live instead. Papers were signed. One day when he was out visiting one of the many women he slept with, two friends I’d finally confessed the abuse to came over with a truck and we packed my paltry belongings and my cat and left without a backwards glance.
I didn’t sleep well the first night in the basement room I had rented. It was raining and the window leaked something fierce, flooding the room badly. I spent most of the second day cleaning up. By the third night, I was sleeping soundly. By the second week, my schedule had readjusted itself, and I’d grown used to the house, fixed the leaking window at least to the point where my room didn’t flood when it rained, set up my second room as an art studio, and made myself at home in my new home. Spent two weeks living happy.
Then the letter for Alan arrived in the mail.
The Family and Youth Services Bureau, a division of Health and Human Services, identify domestic violence as the immediate cause of homelessness in 22 to 57% of homeless women. They say that 38% of women who experience domestic violence will also experience homelessness. This makes perfect sense to me. The first time I was homeless, Alan was absolutely a cause.
There’s also a direct correlation between lack of access to healthcare and homelessness. Studies have found that more than seventy percent of the homeless population has at least one unmet health need.
I’ve felt similar shame admitting my homelessness as I’ve felt admitting I was abused. There are many reasons why this could be, but I often chalk it up to a myth of moral prosperity. If I’m not prospering, I have done something to deserve it. If I am poor, I am not working hard enough. If I am beaten, I am not standing up for myself. If I am homeless, I am just not trying. This bootstrapping narrative is hopelessly racist, misogynist, ableist, and more. Simply put, it forces people to hide the things they need the most help with, because if by some awful luck something bad has happened to them, if by some turn of events they need help, that need is a symbol of their unfitness.
I think about this sometimes. I don’t think about it when I wake in the middle of the night, terrified, thinking Alan is next to me. I don’t think about it when I am filled, often without warning, with paranoia and fear that my sweet, gentle husband is going to turn on me and try to kill me. I don’t think about it when overwhelmed with memories of the attempt on my life, when I’m crying, trembling in my husband’s protective arms, barely able to breathe through sobs.
I do think about it sometimes, though, when things are quiet and I am sedated enough to contemplate it.
It really fucking sucks.
Let me tell you what happens when you take a letter you’ve found, unsolicited and addressed to someone else, to the police and tell them you are afraid: Nothing. Nothing happens. You get pretty embarrassed and angry and scared, but not much else happens. You can explain until you’re blue in the face that there’s no way he should know what your new address is, there’s just some skeptical looks and some half-hearted note taking, and then you get sent on your way back to your house that is suddenly very scary to be in.
Let me tell you what happens after that because that’s the really scary part. Let me describe the week that followed as seven days of unmanageable tension and fear. Let me tell you about constantly looking over my shoulder. Let me tell you about checking the locks on the doors three times every night before I went to bed.
Seven days of that, and then I came home one evening, went down the stairs to my bedroom and he was there, waiting for me. It was that fucking window that’d been letting all the rain in, he’d gotten in through there somehow.
Let me not tell you what happened directly after that. Let me keep that injury under the wraps and stitches where nobody can see it yet. Let me not show you that private and terrible wound.
He stayed after that. Moved in like nothing had happened. He even took care of me while I healed up. Brought me water to sip on with cracked lips and ice packs for my bruises and sprains.
I couldn’t understand how he was just back now and I didn’t know how to make it stop. I’d fight him sometimes, demand he leave. Once, he grabbed a fluorescent light bulb tube from a corner of the basement and hurled it at me. It broke against the wall. When I tried to run, he took a piece of it and pressed it hard against my throat.
“Is this what you want?” he screamed in my face. The point of the glass pressed into the fat of my neck. “This is what you want me to do?”
I wrote down once on a scrap of paper at work anywhere I move, he will find me before burning it to ash on one of my burners, erasing the evidence before anyone could see it. I believed as long as I had a comfortable life, he would take that as an invitation.
I decided not to have a comfortable life. He’d already stolen all the rent money. When he found out that I was going to be homeless, he was furious, angrier than I’d ever seen him. The screaming gave way to pushing gave way to hitting more rapidly than it ever had. I hit the cement floor of the basement, the back of my skull bouncing off the ground. I felt disoriented, fuzzy. He straddled my waist and put his hands around my throat and began to squeeze. It was a nightmare, literally. Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you’re trying to fight or run or something, but you can’t move fast? It’s like you’re moving in slow motion, like you’re trying to push yourself through thick, wet clay. That was me, pushing at his hands on my throat. He roared at me and throttled me, my head slapping the cement floor again, and my hands went limp at my sides. I thought rain must be pouring in from the leaking window, surrounding me. I felt like I was slowly being submerged in cold water, that it was creeping over my arms and legs, across my lips and nose.
I realized I was going to die.
All this I remembered yesterday when the discussion started. It was a reminder, a threat that required some intimate knowledge of the violence to be recognized, like a letter in the mail that the cops only see as a wrong address and not a harbinger of what’s to come.
It doesn’t matter to me if the GOP understood exactly what they were doing when they did it. What mattered to me was that I suddenly saw again Alan’s hands, reaching through time and three hundred miles to wrap around my throat again. After five years. After running, and homelessness, and treatment, and a new relationship, and a wedding, after all that and I can still feel him like he’s standing right next to me.
Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” was widely understood by myself and many others who I follow as a call to return to an older time, maybe a time like the 80’s when women being denied insurance because of the pre-existing condition of surviving domestic violence was commonplace. It’s hard not to see this looming threat, given Trump’s own history with domestic violence and rape. I don’t feel like he’s on my side. I feel like he and Alan would probably get along.
Statistics show us that domestic violence is linked to many things. People who survive domestic violence are more likely to develop a mental illness for instance. In a way, it is a pre-existing condition but in another way that is far too impersonal a term to describe it.
Is the fact that I experienced domestic violence something that contributed to my mental illness? Or did my mental illness make me more vulnerable to domestic violence? These are questions I cannot actually answer, because I experienced violence, if not as severe, long before I met Alan. Could that violence have predisposed me to find myself abused again? I don’t know.
All I know is that I was filled with fear yesterday, wondering for the first time in years if Alan was going to somehow ruin my fucking life again, and that’s on the GOP and the AHCA vote and him, not on me. I’ve been punished enough for the violence I faced, and I try my hardest every day to put one foot in front of the other and just keep going.
I remember how Alan used to punish me for being hurt after he had hit me. Apparently, the GOP uses a similar logic.
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