Four years ago today I left my ex-boyfriend, Aaron. We were engaged, and we’d been dating three weeks shy of six years. I was a first-year PhD student; I’d begun dating him as a junior in high school. He was, at this point, in his final year of graduate school.
I assume that A. started off innocent, tabula rosa, although his mom told me more than once that he was a “colicky baby.” By elementary school he was picking fights on the playground. He went to a prestigious boys’ boarding school which, if you ever talk to him, he’ll likely brag about within the first 15 minutes of meeting you, but the separation from his family for many of his childhood years seems to have made a negative impact. As soon as he started dating, he started abusing women, manipulating them, stalking them, etc. When he was in high school and college he dated a girl who he hit and choked; she brought charges against him (he was sentenced to “counseling,” yay justice). By the time he dated me he had this down to a science, and showed all the classic signs of emotional/mental, sexual, and physical abuse. Moreover, he really loved alcohol, and with it had done irreversible damage to his internal organs by the age of 27. He’s not a person with the humility or strength of character to go through AA.
A. and I had broken up in mid-October, but I was still living in our apartment until I could move out Nov. 1, and not really aware of the dangers of being near an abusive person when one is trying to leave him or her. On Halloween night I wanted to go reverse-trick-or-treating, i.e., go give out candy at people’s houses (this is a blast. try it), and I eventually convinced A. that this was not a totally idiotic idea (as all of my ideas were). So we went out, gave out candy, stopped by Chelsea’s birthday party (happy birthday, Chels!), and returned home around midnight.
Once home I called Martin, who I’d begun dating when I broke up with A. This infuriated A. and he made me hang up the phone (it’s hard to describe how a person like that “makes you” do something– if you’ve been in a relationship like that with a lover or parent, you know what I mean). Then I heard the tell-tale clinking of the ice as it hit the sides of the crystal highball. I had long since learned to count the clinks, because A. was predictably unpredictable after 3 drinks (scotch) and it was necessary to be alert and defensive if I wanted to, say, sleep at night rather than be raped, hit, or scolded. He drank like this every night, usually averaging 4-5 stiff drinks.
M. asked a mutal friend, Andrea, to call me after A. had instructed me to hang up, and she did. She timidly asked if I was okay– she didn’t really know what kind of Mr. Hyde A. was capable of being. She told me that M. had asked her to call, and I think this was the first time I really understood that the kind of physical and sexual violence A. had demonstrated in our relationship up to this point could escalate dramatically on this, our final night under the same roof.
Because I’d recently been staying at M’s, I had a duffel bag packed. I needed a few more things and I placed them carefully in a grocery sack while A. was in the kitchen. I hated the grocery bag for its too-loud crinkly noises, but A. didn’t seem to notice. Everything was in high relief– every filament of the carpet beside the bag is burned into my memory, the exact wattage of light in the living room, the clinking ice and the crinkling bag.
I was lucky– A. didn’t hear, or didn’t register, the sounds of quick, furtive packing. I was almost free, and the date of Nov. 1 shone in my head like a beacon, a safe harbor, the difference between life and death. But first I must get out. I wanted to get out before A. came out of the kitchen, but I had to move cautiously, quietly, couldn’t throw open the door and run, must open the door quietly. The sound of the bolt turning in the door was so horribly loud, and A. said “Jessica?” from the kitchen. I walked out the door and shut it as quietly as I could behind me, and then ran as quietly as possible down the four flights of stairs. But A’s alarm had sounded, and he was behind me; he hissed my name as I ran down the stairs, but I had enough of a head start that I was out the front door of the apartment building and had reached my car by the time he reached that door. As I rushed to the car, seeing every familiar pothole in the pavement, my car key burned in my hand and registered deeply pressed in my memory– perhaps the first and last time I have ever not fumbled with my keys. I thought, “this would have been easier if I had brought my remote car-door opener.” The time it took to fit the key into the car door lock was excruciating. I flung my bags into the car, flung myself into the car. I don’t remember starting the car, just putting it into reverse and thinking that if A. came upon me now, I was safe inside the car. I drove to Martin’s, the location of which, luckily, was a secret from A., and he had not had time to follow me. Into the soft warm night-glow of the foyer, Martin opened his door.