[Content Warning: Domestic Abuse]
There’s only two ways off of a ledge: either you jump off into the abyss to a most certain death or you step onto solid ground. Even if it means walking into the arms or a stranger, solid ground always seems like a more reasonable decision.
That was my train of thought, years ago, when I finally walked away from an abusive relationship.
I still blame myself for not walking away at the first sign of danger. I had plans with my girl friends that weekend and we’d had our first date 3 days earlier and already he was asking me to cancel on her to see him. I didn’t and he threatened that if I didn’t have time for him, not to play with him. I agreed to meet him after, late and drunk.
Then there was the morning he was angry: “where were you last night?” He was holding my flip phone looking at my ‘incoming’ messages. “Who is this guy who asked you out for a drink?” Ha! A friend from out of town had invited me along with my ex and his friends – unaware we had broken up since – I stayed home and did laundry instead. I told him to look at the ‘outgoing’ messages for my ‘no thanks’. He lectured me on erasing meaningless messages while refusing to acknowledge his invasion of my privacy. He’s been cheated on before, it was up to me to rebuild his trust, right?
Yet another early morning debate, this time I’d agreed to a drink. With a friend, not the one from out of town, not my ex’s friend, but a fabulous gay man who moonlit as a drag queen. Yet he felt threatened. A 7:30am call to my friend to have him sing us show tunes to prove his orientation. Life was becoming a circus.
We were still inseparable: I brought him to my work’s Christmas dinner. He spent the evening enabling the CEO’s comment on every female’s appearance. Regardless, the man had eyes only for me. I thought this was the most amazing night of my life; I’d had a splendid time, we looked beautiful. On the way home, I smiled as we blasted the crass hip hop that usually made me cringe. “What the fuck, you stupid whore!” Wait! That didn’t come from the radio! We’d just turned after a red light, there’d been a stranger I hadn’t noticed, and I was now being told I’d smiled at him. Did I? I know I’d been smiling. Had our eyes even crossed? Was I looking in that direction? He was hurling abuse, spewing harsh words and looking in my direction when he should have been looking at the road. My hand! It had reached his face before I could think of it. He’d stopped screaming. He was now looking at the road. We were no longer heading to his place but rather he was driving me home. My hand was sore, I had slapped him hard. What came over me?
I spent the next three days apologizing, begging for forgiveness. Hitting is never okay.
He stood besides me, enunciating every word I repeated. We were gleaming. I was joining his faith, of my own will, of my own design, by God’s Will. We were surrounded by my closest friends, we had a splendid evening. I approached our waiter and addressed him in French (we were in Quebec, after all). He ashamedly admitted that he did not know French but was trying to learn. I felt horrible for inadvertently shaming this man: an immigrant, like my partner, trying to learn French, like my partner. I scribbled my email on a napkin: “Here, take my email. I am teaching French to my partner and you could come by and learn with him.” Tried as he may, brooding silently for the remainder of the evening, my partner eventually spoke up about his complete humiliation in sharing my email with a stranger and highlighting his lack of competence in French. I was angry and hurt, I left my friends and the restaurant in tears. He later apologized for bringing it up at the event, and I forgave him.
I celebrated my first Eid as a Muslim in tears. The overcrowded women’s space and low ceiling of the small room in the basement had led me to walk out mid-prayer. It was too warm, too noisy, children everywhere, and I was so terrifyingly alone in this unfamiliar space. I had just managed to wipe out my tears as he walked up to the car. How did I make it out so quickly when only men had quick access to the exit? I told him I had a panic attack and reached for a hug. He quickly pushed me away and scolded me: inappropriate PDA and inappropriate panic attack. As we reached our home, the argument had devolved into yelling and I was now crying uncontrollably. He told me I didn’t deserve to be Muslim: I hit him, hard. I spent the next two weeks apologizing.
My body quickly became his source of shame. I had gained all of 10 lbs since we’d met and he’d lost 40. He was no longer the man I had fallen in love with, he no longer reproached me for wanting weekends out with my friends, instead he was a sliver of his former self and shamed me for not spending more time at the gym – which he didn’t want us to attend at the same timeOver the course of our relationship, I had only met one friend of his: a woman, a fellow convert. She was a sparkle, glitter, sunshine into our lives. A glimmer that moved away to the other side of the country but with whom I promised to keep in touch and did. We she finally visited, her old chum was less than friendly. At first sight, he mentioned her weight gain. I said nothing. As the evening approached, he told us he would not be spending the evening with us, even though she was only staying with me because there was no space for the three of us at his place. When we decided to get ice cream the next day, he scolded us for eating ourselves into obesity. I scolded him: taking his mood swings was one thing, but seeing a friend at his hands was another. Still, she was his friend and if she had a problem with his behaviour, she would have mentioned it. I apologized.
As my contract ended and my financial situation became precarious, I began to discuss arrangements. We both lived alone, it had been a year – didn’t it make sense to move in together? He didn’t want to yet. He wanted to visit family. He was going in a couple of months. I relented. Two months passed, then four, then six. Even with no income, I was surviving on what seemed like willpower alone. My grand-mother passed, my second mother passed, my grand-aunt passed: death surrounded me. As I found myself alone with my thoughts and God, I prayed harder than ever for that man to become my partner. I wanted a best friend, a husband, a co-parent; I didn’t want to wait anymore. A friend joked that if my partner didn’t change his course, that he’d marry me. I laughed and told him he wished. My partner didn’t laugh. He found the conversation on my computer and announced he was going to visit his family. We argued every day before he left as I tried to convince me this had all been a joke. Upon his return he hadn’t changed his mind: he still didn’t want to commit.
I began a new job but I was not a match for the team. It seemed inevitable that they would let me go imminently but it was my best friend’s birthday. It was a small celebration of which I was one of only two guests. I asked him to come along, cheer me up, keep me company while I kept my friend’s. He refused. He’d worked all day, was tired, and thought I should just stay home if I wasn’t up to celebrate. She’s my best friend, this was her birthday. He began to yell over the phone, loudly: too loud! As I pulled the phone away from my ear to turn down the volume, he spewed the words “SHE’S A FAT, UGLY, COW!” She’d heard this. It was loud and clear over the phone speaker and she was standing close to me. I looked at her in horror. She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t even hurt. What I saw in her eyes was a deep concern and sympathy for me. As I saw the look in her eyes, I said the words I had repeated times and times again “I’m sorry.” but this time they were followed by words I’d never dared say out loud: “We’re over…”
Something broke in me that night. There was a guy, I convinced my friend to let me leave with. He was nice. He was kind. I’m sure he had a name and a face but God only know what it was. We talked, all night. We stood on the balcony of his 27th floor apartment as the sun began to rise. As I sat on the ledge of the balcony, I caught myself thinking: “There’s two ways off this ledge: I could jump to my demise or step back onto the balcony.” I knew the same could be said of my relationship: returning to my partner promised to be equivalent to jumping to my demise, he’d trapped me into a vortex of pain, shame, and hurt and I knew I would return. I don’t know how why I was still considering going back, but I knew there’s was a safer way off this ledge. If I stepped back onto the balcony, if I took this man’s hand and followed him into his room, my return would not matter, my ex would not take me back.
The next few weeks were a blur. I wasn’t numb so much as I was in agony, in hysterics. I really did get let go from my job that week and my first reflex was to call my ex. He came reluctantly as I cried uncontrollably into my phone. His first question to me was whether I’d slept with someone else since we’d broken up. I admitted my indiscretion. As he went to turn away, I grabbed a bottle of nail polish remover and swigged it. As the disgusting liquid reached my mouth I spat out in horror. I had devolved into a suicidal mess and I terrified myself. I asked him to call emergency services but he refused: he had to work in the morning. I insisted: this was no longer about him – I was now scaring myself. When the paramedics arrived, he tried to leave without answering their question: seriously, he had to work at 7 a.m., it was already 10 p.m.! I was escorted to a crisis center where I spent 48hrs reflecting on the two years of stress and abuse. I asked God to stop me from returning to him. I came home to find I had a received an out-of-province job opportunity. I cried. I refused to believe this was truly happening but took it as a sign to stop trying. I tried to find other opportunities and promised myself not to reach out to him. A month later, I found myself on a train back to New Brunswick.
I changed my number upon arrival, my last text was to his number: “I’m sorry”.
I’m not sure what I was sorry for. I don’t understand all that went wrong through those years. I don’t understand why I stayed. I’m not sure what gave me the strength to leave. I don’t know what I would do differently or if I could do any of it differently. All I know, after years of thinking it over, is that there’s only two ways off a ledge…