He almost killed me

abuse helpThe dope was gone.  The money was gone.  I could finally rest.  I constantly watched my back and kept an eye on the hiding places where I stashed money, credit cards, car keys, and cigarettes, in hopes he wouldn’t find them.   I had some clever spots like the bottom of a cereal box between the plastic and the cardboard.  Inside an Eggo package in the back of the freezer.  In between the pages of books.  The tricky part was remembering which book.  I often slept with money in between the pillow and it’s case and a tight grip around that pillow under my head.  Once, I put 3 hundred dollar bills in the bottom of a tissue box by the bed.  He knocked over the box, the out of place green bills caught his eye. After that, I never kept a big amount in one place.  I Always spread it out.  Occasionally I would forget where I put money, but when your’e trying so hard to stay one step ahead of a someone such as him, you’re bound to slip up.  Too much to remember.  So much chaos to control in my head.  Often, when he failed to find what he was looking for, he would roust and bully me until he was screaming an inch from my face, ordering me to hand over what he wanted.  I held my ground many times.  Standing eye to eye with him as his voiced rattled my ear drums. “Where is it?” “Give me the money.”  He threatened.  “No. No. No.”  I repeated calm and stern.  On a few occasions, he backed down.  My heart pounded as I realized how close I was to being pushed to the ground or strong-armed out of what I had that he wanted.  Even worse, if I would have given in.  Another night in hell surrounded by crack smoke and porn.  But usually he won.  I was too tired to fight with him.  Defeated, I gave him the money in exchange of the hope he would leave me alone.

He left that night angry and on a mission to find more dope.  I got ready for bed relieved I would be getting some rest.  I worked in the morning and I hadn’t slept in days.   Our drug dealer had taken our car.  Life eventually worsened, but up until then, the last resort when the money disappeared was to let his dealer roll around in our car in exchange for a handful of crack.  To some, that amount could last all night, for him it lasted but a few hours at best.  He consistently arranged these transactions behind my back knowing I would be furious.  He would walk in the door, dope in his pocket, and no keys.  Disheartened and at my wit’s end, I stopped asking about the car when it was missing from it’s spot.

He left on foot that night.  After I locked the door behind him and before I went to bed, I called the dealer.  To my surprise, he answered.  Most of our encounters involved me yelling. He would yell right back, “He’s your man. It ain’t my fault.”  He spoke the truth,  I just wanted my car back.  I  told him what happened and asked if he could be on the look out.  He knew I wanted my car, but I wasn’t about to make an issue of it because that deal already stood.  I had to sit this one out.  He said he’d bring it back the next day.  Whatever.  It wasn’t pressing, just principal.  My workplace was only a half block away.  Relieved to be alone, I slept.

I worked from 10:30 to 7:30, happy to be rid of him for a while.  However, at the same time nervous and stressed about the unknown.  I never knew what was around the corner.   I always closed the dry cleaners alone.  Occasionally, he would walk in just before closing.  If I still had a customer, I wanted to yell for help or give some kind of signal.  The customer would look at me as if to ask “Are you Okay?”  Here was this skinny, unshaven man lurking by the door.   I wanted to run. As I locked up, my heart pounding, he demanded I give him money. I had hiding places at work too, and he knew it.  “I know that wasn’t all of your check. Where is it?” He would bark.  He was scary when high. His personality completely flipped.  Crack created a  Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome in him.  I often gave him money just to get him out of there and avoid a fight.  I had a job to finish.

To say I was scared all the time is an understatement. Living a life in constant fear kept me trapped in this relationship for 13 years. On the nights he didn’t harass me at the dry cleaners, I blindly walked up the stairs after work not knowing if he had relapsed.  He couldn’t keep a job anymore.  This anxiety and hopelessness spilled out of my once contained and sound mind.  I was losing my sanity.  When I found him high, I screamed and cried  “Why are you doing this?”  In his great attribute of manipulation, he waved a crack pipe in front of my face.  Sometimes I gave in, tears flowing, begging him to stop.  I stared at the pipe. I knew if I partook it would be a long night.  But so defeated, I needed not to feel.  I hesitantly released it from his hands and took that first hit.  I was still mad, but I couldn’t feel it.  Sadness took it’s place.   He knew if he could get me to use with him, I couldn’t be mad anymore.  Misery does in fact love company.   How could I yell at him when I was doing the same thing?  It was all part of his plan.

I hadn’t heard from him at all that day.  Needless to say, I was petrified to close the shop alone, but I did.  I walked home, shaking, alert, and watching over my back and around every bush where he could be.  His phone had lost its charge.  I had no idea of his whereabouts.  Alive or dead.  Honestly, I don’t recall caring. Tired of this life, I just wanted him to stay gone.  When I approached the door, the key turned the bottom lock, but the door didn’t open when I pushed. The dead bolt was locked.  I didn’t have that key.  He had been there.  Sneaky asshole, I thought.  Wondering what he found and took, I ran around the complex looking for a light still on in someone’s unit.  We lived in a 4-plex.  Strangely, we all shared the same key.  Never sure why the landlord did that, times like this it came in handy. I sat on the stairs for over an hour until I saw someone.  My neighbor, irritated at the chaos ensuing in our apartment on a daily basis, without saying a word, let me use his key.

I walked up the stairs into my dark, empty apartment relieved there would be no screaming or crack pipes that night.  I worked again in the morning.  Saturday was my long shift.  It happens to be the busiest day at the dry cleaners, when everyone in the whole damn city runs their errands. I didn’t pay attention to what he may have taken from the apartment, I only noticed he had rummaged through his drawer, most likely looking for credit cards or checks.  I didn’t care anymore, I just wanted to go to bed in peace.  I felt relieved.  Odd, considering the circumstances, that I would feel content with so much of my life in shambles. However, when he disappeared, I could breathe.  This certainly wasn’t the first time.  And it wasn’t the last.

I heard a loud pounding on the door at 1:00 AM.  Startled, I sat up in bed.  It was him.  He relentlessly banged on the door.  I had latched the chain so he couldn’t get in.  He began to yell my name over and over.  He pushed on the door in an effort to break the chain.  I got up.  Frozen, I stood at the top of the stairs watching the door move and shuddering with each yell.  I screamed at him to go away. Inconvenienced and irritated, I just wanted my sleep.  I wanted to kill him.  He begged me to let him in.  I wouldn’t.  As I watched the chain break from the door jam, ripping it off the wall, I ran back to my room. I closed the door. Jumping onto the bed, I pulled the covers up around me.  I could hear him running up the stairs.  He didn’t come in at first.  There were sounds coming from the kitchen.  Cupboards slamming.  Drawers opening and closing.  I hoped he would leave without coming in the room.  But I knew that was wishful thinking.

He opened the door and stood at the end of the bed.  He began to explain where he had been for the last 2 days.  I begged him to leave me alone.  I didn’t care where he had been, what he was doing, or who he was with.  I wanted to sleep. He told me, as he always did, that this was my fault.  That I was just as much a part of this as him.  He never failed to drench me with guilt.  That was his manipulation.  “Hey, you smoked that shit with me too.”  “Oh, all of a sudden you’re miss perfect?”  And the list goes on.  Infuriated, I adamantly told him to get out of my room and just leave.  “I don’t care where you go, just get the hell out.”  He insisted he was done using, just like all the times before.  I knew better.  All too familiar with the story of what he said when the dope runs out and every plot to get it is exhausted.  The more enraged he became, the more tired I grew.  He ripped the covers off of me.  He tried to flip the mattress over on top of me.  That used to work with our twin bed a long time ago, but not with this queen.  He was so skinny from the drugs, he couldn’t lift it with me on it if he tried.  He was still strong though.  Stronger than me.

Something inside snapped and I knew I needed to out of there.  I needed to get to my phone.  The Seattle Police were familiar with our place and with us.  I avoided calling unless it was dire.  As I panicked, I tried to make a plan.  He was standing right in front of me blocking the door.  He could tell by my determination and struggle that I going for the door.  He grabbed me, pulled me back, and pushed me down on the bed.  “You’re not calling the cops.”   He had me face down and pushed into the blankets so I couldn’t breathe.  He wanted me to stop screaming.  He never cared before if I screamed.  He was shushing me and I didn’t know why.  I heard pounding on the door.  I thought the neighbors had heard and came to tell us to shut up.  I am not sure how I escaped his grip.  He had me pinned for minutes. I ran out of the room, across the hallway, into the other bedroom, and flipped on the light.  I opened the blinds and looked down to see who was at the door.  It was the police.  There were at least 4 of them standing down there.  From the outside of our apartment, one couldn’t tell if we lived upstairs or downstairs because our door and the neighbor’s door were side by side.  One of the officers saw the light come on and looked up.  I mouthed the words ‘help me.’  He knew I wasn’t alone up there.  He could see I feared for my life.  I ran into the living room to grab the phone.  It was gone.  He had taken it and hid it from me.  This time he was one step ahead.  He figured out the cops were the cause of the loud knocking. He pulled me back into the room, threw me back on the bed began the smother my mouth.  He had one hand on my throat and the other on my mouth.  I struggled to get away and made as much noise as I could.  I knew, though, that the officers were on their way up.  It must have taken minutes for them to get through the door and up the stairs.  They needed to use the most precaution when entering our place because it’s not possible to see over the balcony when walking up the stairs.  Anyone could be around the corner with a weapon.  They had on other occasions entered with tasers and pepper spray ready.

As the minutes passed, I could barely breathe.  I couldn’t get air and wasn’t able to move.  I caught a glimpse of a police officer approaching through the crack in the door.  He saw me on the bed being choked and smothered.  He kicked the door open and ordered him to get off me.  Another officer grabbed him.  I slid off the bed, my knees hitting the floor, I sobbed and tried to catch my breath at the same time.  They pushed him into the living room and hand cuffed him.  I heard one of the officers say “Sit down, you piece of shit.”  The other officer asked me if I was alright.  I nodded.  When they took him down the stairs, one of the officers stayed behind to take my statement. The paramedics had come to make sure I wasn’t hurt.  I wasn’t.  Just shaken up.  The officer and I sat down at the kitchen table.  He needed to know if I feared for my life.  And I needed to consider how I answered.  My words determined how he would be charged in court.

The officer looked at me.  I realized it was the same officer who looked up and saw me through the window.  He said he would never forget the look he saw on my face.  A look of pure terror.  He told me to never forget how that felt when and if I ever considered taking him back.  He hoped I wouldn’t.  Women are killed everyday in situations such as these.  I was lucky.  I don’t know how I got away from him for those few seconds.  But I did.  I wrote down that, yes, I was in fear for my life.  He asked me if I had tried to call the police.  I told him that I looked for the phone, but he must have hidden it from me.  He used his cell phone to call my phone.  I heard it ring and followed the sound.  The phone was inside the remote compartment of the couch.  The officer shook his head in disgust.  I couldn’t hold back the tears.  I told him about my car as I made a pot of coffee.  There would be no more sleep.  It was nearing 4:00 AM and I had to work at 7:30.  Might as well stay up.  Apparently, we were just getting started.  I gave the officer our dealer’s number.  He knew him.  That made it easy to get my car back because he just needed to threaten him with some random bullshit.  He said my car would be returned by morning.  On my way to work, the dealer called my cell phone and told me where he left my car.  It was there.  It was dirty and thrashed, but it was in my possession.  One less thing I needed to worry about.

With what happened that night, he was ultimately charged with Unlawful Imprisonment.  This was serious.  Surely, he would get at least 24 months for this, maybe more considering his extensive record.  Over the next few weeks and many conversations with the courts, I held firm in my efforts to keep him incarcerated.  To my disappointment, a number of charges had fallen off of his record in the last 10 years.  Which translated into making it more difficult to keep him in jail this time.  Despite my concerns as the victim, he would end up serving less time than what the crime was worth.  In the years prior, I took him back when he came home from treatment or jail (something only victims of abuse understand, and others judge. So don’t).  Not this time.  I wanted him far away for as long as possible.  I consider it a fascinating irony that I attained a Criminal Justice degree, yet my life ended up so different than I had planned.

He was released from jail having served less than 2 months.  The criminal Justice system proved itself a failure.  I fumed that I had once wanted to be a part of it.

What unraveled on this night 5 years ago is still raw in my bones.  I can feel his hands over my mouth, my throat.  I remember the panic of my face against the bed not able to breathe.  That officer was right.  I will never forget how I felt when I looked out that window.  I may never remember how I got there to get his attention.  What matters is that I did.

On an ending note, the police were there because he had taken a cab home and couldn’t pay. The cab driver called the police and told them which door he had gone inside.  The officer told me they were about to leave when I turned on the light and got their attention.  He made a split decision when he saw my plea for help to break the door down, knowing it took only seconds to save or lose a life.