I walked out of the bathroom into my bedroom and he was there, lying on the bed like he belonged there. My body was stricken with paralysis even as my mind skyrocketed into hyperdrive.
“I’m back,” he declared as though he expected me to throw confetti and blow New Year’s Eve party horns.
For some reason, his mother was lying beside him – they were lying on their stomachs, heads at the foot of the bed, propped up on their elbows watching my TV in my bedroom like it was the most normal thing in the world.
He stood suddenly and I told him he couldn’t be here and so we argued. I had to express my anger a bit and then capitulate. That was our usual pattern and he expected everything to be the same. To do anything else would heighten his attention to detail. I was trying to buy time so that I could remember where I left my cell phone the night before.
He was satisfied with my reaction and relaxed back on my bed beside his mother. I said I needed to get dressed and began rummaging through my drawers while his mother droned on about how she had been living successfully on her own for months. With my back turned, I couldn’t resist rolling my eyes.
My eyes met with my cell on top of my dresser – black on black. He had not noticed it. He did not even know I had a cell phone. I placed my clothes on top of the phone and scooped it up. I wanted to run from the house and into the street screaming wildly for help, but I knew I would never make it down the staircase. So, I walked as normally as I could to the bathroom and casually shut the door behind me. He didn’t follow. I locked the door, rushed into my closet, and dialed 911.
“Please help me… My ex-husband is here. He’s not supposed to be here!”
Unexpectedly, I hear bitter arguing coming from the bedroom. My whispered pleas to the 911 operator become more desperate and frantic. She’s asking too many questions. I’m too frightened to think straight. Even she can hear his yelling through the two closed doors.
Then came the piercing screams. I know he’s choking her, but I am confused as to how she can make so much noise with his hands around her throat.
“He’s killing his mother! He’s killing her!”
“He’s killing your mother?”
“No, no! His mother! Hurry, hurry…please.” I am sobbing and shaking and forgetting to whisper. “He’s going to come for me…”
Then I hear my daughter’s voice in the bedroom and I shout to the operator, “My daughter’s in there,” as I rush out of the closet.
Then I wake up.
This is the recurring nightmare that woke me at 3:45 this morning. They differ a little and this was the most violent one by far. They always involve a search for my cell phone – that is the one constant besides the terror — crippling, out of your mind terror — that confuses me long after I awaken. It took me an hour to shake this one enough to get out of bed. But when I did, I decided to Google nightmares and Dr. Phil said write it down in detail, so I did.
Still it lingers over me like a full raincloud and reverberates through me like thunder in a fireplace. I tell myself it’s just a dream. And it is. But the fear, the fear is real.
I wish I were the only one. I cry knowing that I’m not. I cry knowing so many have it much worse than I ever did. It is for them that I pray. Those whose nightmares last all day, whose nightmares lie next to them every night, whose nightmares have a beating heart, beating fists, and beating words.
I want to tell them that I know their pain, their dread, their hesitancy to make a move. I pray they will get out, too. If I could address even just one woman who lives in this kind of abysmal reality, I would say you are not who your abuser says you are. You are not the feelings your abuser conjures up in you. You have inherent value, beauty, and promise that he did not give to you and that he cannot take from you. Hold on to it and then please run with it. Don’t do what I did. Run away…