“But you don’t want to ruin his life, do you?”
It was a question that pierced my gut when it came from one of my best friends.
I feel bad for the burning in my heart against her in that moment, but not for the raised fist in my mind that refused to fault myself for taking action against what he did. And I told her that.
“I just don’t want to ruin his life,” I said those words for the last time.
“Well, think, whose life would he have ruined if he had killed you last night?”
The dispatch officer was patiently giving me the option to press charges, remaining within his legal bounds of offering recommendations on how to move forward.
But I saw the concern in his eyes.
That’d I’d be one more girl going back to someone who I hoped would stop hurting me— when he never would.
And the relief in his eyes when I consented to move forward. The investigation would continue whether I agreed to pursue charges or not.
He would know I went to the police anyway... that terrified me, and convinced me just enough.
I’m so grateful for the officer who arrived that night. As the legal process wore on, I understood why victims drop out and give up. I also understood why the authorities and caseworkers I encountered were wary of becoming too hopeful for a 19-year old girl who had just been strangled by the man she loved. But when I didn’t go silent, when I remained involved in the investigation... I saw the shift from mourning my bondage to celebrating my freedom.
I got to be one more girl who made their job worth it.
I remember vaguely the first week after he had strangled me. It’s all a fog, after a year. My sisters came every day to hold me while I sobbed until my eyes were dry, while I screamed for them to let me go back to him. Making sure I simply ate, drank and slept, and arranged for me to never be left alone.
My coworkers covered my shifts, called to encourage me and told me often that they wished they would’ve done what I was doing.
But I took care to grieve losing someone I tried so hard to love. To sob on the floor feeling so empty.
To feel the pain that comes from a heart breaking.
The process regularly takes over a year to actually reach a conclusive trial. He killed himself six months into court dates, a lifelong protective order, and jail stays awaiting criminal trial.
I am so grateful for that raised fist I mentioned at the beginning. When his family publicized my face, blaming me for driving him to his death, privately sending me and my sisters a slew of messages, including pictures of the scene... I felt no need to defend myself.
I was already at peace that his decisions were not my responsibility, and the demons that tormented him didn’t start with me.
I proceeded with the determination to not react in the need to justify myself but to step back.
Don’t mistake this for becoming a sitting duck. I deactivated my Facebook as messages from strangers arrived, condemning me for a tragedy that was nobody’s fault but his own. Friends monitored and alerted me when they exposed my work location. I made a police report in case things escalated, but measured out necessary action... God has given me the grace to move forward.
I found a new job to be safe from strangers.
I broke my lease with no penalty and found a new place to stay so that they couldn’t find my address among court papers.
But I still took care to grieve the loss of someone I deeply loved. Again.
To sob on the floor feeling a little emptier. Again.
To feel the pain that comes from a broken heart fragmenting. Again.
My story feels too long and too complicated for a fifteen-month relationship.
My truth is too often shaded with fear and anguish, hidden behind Pyrrhic victories and time that only looks like it’s healing my wounds.
I have nightmares. I can’t remember things like I used to. I have days where I can’t focus and feel trapped. I have paranoia every time I go out.
I have good dreams, though, too. I’m not who I used to be, and that’s okay. I have days where everything pays off and I feel like I can fly. I have a beautifully scarred heart and a fierce love.
And that’s the truth.