One Week Out: The Complicated Relief of Escaping Abuse
Each day after leaving brings emotions that are anything but simple
The girls are curled up like squirrels on the sleeping nests I’ve made them on the floor of our new apartment. I couldn’t have any furniture moved ahead of time because I couldn’t risk telling him we were leaving until after we did. Even the dog seems unfazed. I look at the three of them, so trusting of me, so accepting of this absolutely bizarre circumstance, and it breaks my heart.
I lie there on the floor next to them questioning everything. Was it really that bad? Did it warrant this?
It was. It did. I know it. I’m just scared.
And it’s so hard to know anything for sure, in the middle of this night. I am so cold. Bone-shakingly cold. I look at the thermostat, and it registers a perfectly livable temperature—everyone else seems fine—but I shiver and shake until sunrise; I am chilled to my core.
But the sun does rise.
Logistics. I send him an email to tell him we aren’t coming back. He’s furious, but he doesn’t know where we are, and he’s probably too lazy to expend much energy to figure it out. He always was a low-hanging-fruit kind of troublemaker; if there’s no punching bag in the vicinity, he’s not going to look for one. I hire movers to go in and get our stuff. It costs more than I should spend, but costs are relative things.
Everything makes me cry. The new landlord calls me at work to tell me the dog has been barking, and this destroys me. I imagine a scenario in which we have to either get rid of the dog or we’re evicted, and I can’t even decide which one is worse.
I still love Jekyll.
The idea of losing the dog feels like an exquisite and precise kind of pain, an intolerable cruelty that I simply could not survive. I promise the landlord I’ll do something to get her to stop. I buy a noisemaker on Amazon and have it speed-shipped, and I leave the TV on when we’re not home to keep her from hearing noises in the hall.
Relative stability. I purchase basic groceries, unpack all the boxes, and even hang pictures on the walls. I decide to take it a step further and bake cookies. I notice for the first time how light and sunny the apartment is, how beautiful and clear things look when not viewed through a fog of fear and uncertainty. I feel just a little hopeful.
I miss him. I know that’s sick. But God help me, I still love Jekyll though I’m terrified of Hyde. It’s like I’m remembering two entirely different people. Our couples counselor, who broke protocol and asked to see me alone, explained that he is both these men, that he will always be both these men, and that I must bring myself to see him as one whole person. I must stop hoping that Jekyll will win out because Hyde is also real and dangerous. The counselor told me it wasn’t going to get better and that I needed to leave soon and quietly. I followed his advice.
I still love Jekyll.
And I’m so worried about him, back there all alone. I don’t know what happens to him now. His love for me, regardless of whether it was even real, was obsessive and eclipsing. He cut off everyone else, and now who’s going to help him if he needs it? Who’s going to take care of him?
The threats begin. They come by text, by email, by voice mail. I am so, so grateful that we’re gone. And yet the second I fall asleep, he is with me for hours in a series of nightmares so vivid and real that even after waking I’m not sure he’s not here.
He’s not, and with the sunrise comes a deeper and more tangible relief, a conviction whose concrete justification now transcends my slippery emotions.
I am both lost and found. I am grounded and secure and yet wholly untethered—wheeling around my very small universe, dizzy with freedom and terrified by uncertainty.
I am afraid I will be alone forever. I am afraid I’ll make another horrible mistake. I am too young to give up and too old to start over. I long for a pair of strong arms to cradle and shield me, yet I know that strong arms can be used for other things.
But my girls seem strong and calm and relaxed. Our new little home is tidy and peaceful. There are fresh apples in the fridge and cornbread in the oven. We are warm and safe, and we are resilient. And it’s only been one week.