I shake as Kate pulls out a PowerPoint slideshow of all the things in my relationship with Christian that I’d accepted as normal. They aren’t. Not at all. I’ve had no romantic experience before him… yet somehow I’d thought I was smarter than this. Abuse?
How have I sunk this low?
Horrified, I curl into myself. Ugly heaving sobs tear out of my throat. My best friend gathers me to her and pets my hair as she rocks me. “It’s not your fault,” Kate whispers, her voice thick and wet. Water dampens my hair, and I realize she’s crying too. “All you wanted to do was love someone, and he took advantage of that. You had no idea what to look for. He’s the one to blame, not you. It’s not your fault.”
This sounds false—of course I’m to blame. I let this happen. I asked for it somehow.
But as I weep, she continues to comfort me, and the words resonate, begin to sink in. Took advantage. I trusted him, and he betrayed me. It began so slowly, and I stopped seeing him for who he was but as I wanted him to be. No matter how much he tries to shift blame onto me for what I “make” him do, he is solely responsible for what he does.
I need to escape him. But how? He’s proved time and time again that he has the power to stop me. And I’m not strong enough to stand up to him on my own, at least not yet.
“I can’t leave,” I whisper as my sobs peter out. “He’ll find me. He always does.”
Kate quiets, thinking about this. I know she isn’t dismissing my fear, so I wait. Finally she suggests, “Maybe you can start small.”
This is how I find myself standing in front of the red Audi A3 he “gave” me, my keys in one hand and an aluminum baseball bat in the other. I’m trembling but I summon my courage. It’s midnight, with no street lights to reveal me. I left my phone at home since I know he traces the GPS on it. I have no idea if he has a tracker on the car itself. It wouldn’t surprise me. But I’m parked outside my apartment like usual, nowhere that would make him suspicious.
I grip my keys hard.
Before I lose my nerve, I rip them down the side of the car. Metal screeches in unholy protest, but the roar in my ears drowns it out. I slash at the hood, the back doors, the trunk, the bumpers. I never wanted this car, this reminder of his dictatorship over my life. After stuffing the keys back in my pocket, I wrap both hands around the baseball bat and swing as hard as I can. The driver’s side window shatters. It takes several blows to break the windshield; my arms already ache. I revel in the sensation. My biceps aren’t the only thing that will be stronger after I’m finished here.
I step back to admire my work. Every window lies in pieces on the asphalt and the leather seats. The body is gouged in ugly gashes. I almost wish I could take a photo, but there can be no evidence, no suggestion that I did this. He would find out, and he would beat me, harder than ever before. I know this without a doubt.
In the morning he appears, though I didn’t contact him. “What happened to your car?” he asked, voice dark, eyes glittering with anger. My pulse pounds in my throat. Does he know?
“One of your exes shoved a letter in my front door,” I whisper, praying he can’t see through the lie. “She threatened me. Said I didn’t deserve you.” The sentiment is true—I don’t deserve him. I deserve better.
“Show me the letter,” he orders.
I swallow hard. “I burned it. I was scared.” I am scared, but not of some imaginary jealous ex.
He goes dangerously silent, and I no longer mistake it for any kind of protective knight-in-shining-armor mystique. He’s violent. He doesn’t love me any more than he loves a punching bag. If he defends me, it’s not on my behalf; it’s on his.
I wait for his response. Unlike with Kate, terror buzzes under my skin, almost numbing my hands. What if he decides to take it out on me?
Tears sting my eyes. He pulls me in roughly for a hard hug, making it worse. When I only stiffen up, he lets me go—almost pushes me away. He leaves with no further “affection.”
I’m still terrified. But I also know I need to free myself.