Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Windmills of My Mind: or The Day I Was Almost Killed

Robin, during the time of our story. A time she doesn't really like to recall.

Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of it's own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream.

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes on it's face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind


Les Moulins de Mon Cœur
by Michel Legrand, Alan and Marilyn Bergman
From The Thomas Crown Affair

I've had a lot on my mind lately. After two decades, I heard this week from a friend who, with his wife, was one of my closest friends during my years in Washington D.C. He and his wife are both writers and my husband, Phil, and I saw a lot of them in those days. They are wonderful people, classy, talented and kind.

We didn't have a falling out. But I had to intentionally lose touch with them for a reason I'll explain.

The Writer sent me an email last week and told me about the death of another Aulde Acquaintance. I was a little shaken. The Aulde Acquaintance had died after what sounded like a terrible bout with cancer, and though I did not like the AA, no one wants to hear about a death like that.

And saying I did not like the AA is putting it very mildly. I was very afraid of him. And with good reason.

My friend the Writer and his Wife introduced me to the AA shortly after my husband flaked out and disappeared. The AA was charming and funny and smart and successful and very generous. But over the months that I knew him he became somewhat less charming and more controlling. When he got angry, he called me ugly names. I told him he could not do that, thank you very much, and then he would be abject in his apologies. Then he would do it again.

He gave me gifts when he apologized. Gifts that overwhelmed me, so that I felt like a jerk being mad at him for calling me a dirty name. Down was starting to be up, and up was starting to be down, like the world behind Alice's Looking Glass. This is the world of the sociopath.

Then he punched a hole in my door. "You cannot punch a hole in my door," said I. "So, you can't come around here anymore if you are going to do that." He was abject and repaired the door. He acted as if it had not happened. He bought me a beautiful ring. He bought me a fur coat. How could I be offended if he just lost his temper one teeny little time? It had been repaired, after all, and he was terribly sorry.

These are all, I later learned, the classic behaviors of an abuser. I had been raised in an environment in which one parent had a Jekyll and Hyde personality, so it did not seem unusual to me. Jekyll and Hyde characters were characters I knew. Thus I enabled him. That was my part in this.

I broke up with him repeatedly. But he would end up on my doorstep, ringing the doorbell late at night. Ringing the telephone endlessly. It wore me down. He was apologetic. I always gave in. Maybe I was afraid of him then, too, and was in denial. I don't really know.

I'll make this sordid story short. Fast forward to a day I went to his house to go out to dinner and take home a teapot I had left there. I don't know what set him off--I almost never knew--but, he took my car keys and blocked the doors and wouldn't let me leave. This is what is known in the penal code as False Imprisonment. He chased me from room to room, as I tried to reach a door that would enable me to escape. Eventually, I managed to lock myself in a room with a phone and call 911. The police came and were able to give me back my car keys.

Foolishly, they departed before I did and after they left the AA blocked the door again and I couldn't get to my car.

Finally, after a struggle, I got to the front door and slipped out. He flung open the door, then took my teapot, a silly thing I loved that I had bought in England--and threw it down as hard as he could onto the sidewalk. It shattered, the way a skull might shatter.

Then, as I stared at this in astonishment, he drew his hand back and hit me so hard across my face that my left ear began ringing. He was quite tall, and as I held my hand across my face in pain and looked up at him, I saw the most terrible expression I have ever seen on the face of any person.

"Look! Look!" he screamed. "Look what you have made me do!" In that second, looking into his face, I saw something I'd read about, something that gets into murder mysteries and true crime stories, but I never expected to see with my own eyes. I saw in his face that he could kill me.

I ran to my car, with the keys the police had retrieved for me, and I got the heck out of there. I drove to the nearest police station and swore out a warrant for his arrest on the charge of assault, and then I drove home. He lived in New Jersey and I lived in Washington D.C. so I had a long ride home. I arrived just as the sun was coming up over the capitol of the free world.

I only saw this man one more time and that was when I had to meet him in court to testify in the assault case against him. I told my story, the policeman who saw me that day with the swollen faced and black eye testified, and the Aulde Acquaintance testified. He was scornful and admitted hitting me but said: "It was nothing. I've been hit harder than that in football," he told the judge.

"That's enough," the judge said, and then continued, in these words:

"I think there's reason for serious concern here because there's been at least two episodes; and Mr. ----, I will tell you now, that I don't think there's justification for striking anyone ... and having done it once, it would seem to me that that lesson should have been learned: and having done it twice it makes me wonder about whether or not--that there's problems here beyond what are evident to me ... I will say this, that if there's another charge of this nature [in my court] ... I will strongly recommend to you that you bring a lawyer because the next time I won't say that jail is not a possibility. Striking is out, or you will be struck out in the County Jail." (From the transcript.)

God bless that judge. He imposed a fine on the AA, and gave the AA a criminal record. My sister, who had come with me, fled with me in my Audi down the New Jersey Turnpike.

For three years after that, he stalked me. I did all the things you are supposed to do: got a P.O. Box, told only my family my real address, sold my house, moved in with the mother of one of my friends, and finally, took a job in Florida because it was as far away from him as you could get on the East Coast and still be in the Continental United States. I hadn't spoken with him for more than a year at that point.

I walked into the Orlando, Florida, newsroom that morning with a smile. People were happy to see me. I had a great new job. It was October and the Florida weather was beaming.

I had been at work for a couple of hours when the newsroom secretary told me there was something for me at the front desk. I walked out there and sitting on the desk was a huge bouquet of pink roses.

They were from him.

For many years I kept a certified copy of the transcript of his assault trial in my briefcase, just in case he appeared and I had to call the police. Police need to see the record and in those days records were not all computerized and easily shared from state to state. So I carried the transcript around like a St. Christopher medal.

That Christmas a Christmas card arrived with a letter from him, chatty and friendly as if nothing had happened. As if we had just spoken the day before--which, believe me, we had not. It arrived at work, as I had successfully prevented anyone except my family, from having my home address. It happened again on my birthday. And the next Christmas, and the next birthday, and the next.

Finally, after four years, the communication stopped. I assumed, as the experts tell you, that he had become obsessed with someone else.

But every time I was in an airport, or a crowd in a big city, and would see a face that resembled his, or the back of a head that looked like his, I would stop and look around for a security guard or a police officer. I was creeped out for a very long time.

So, when I heard he had died, I had a very strange feeling. Yes, I felt sad for him, and for his parents and siblings. They probably never saw the side of him I saw. Abusive men can be very normal around most people. His death from cancer at the young age of 60, and after a three-year struggle sounded really awful. But I felt something else that day. That day I heard about his death.

I felt relieved.

"Declining to hear 'no' is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it. If you let someone talk you out of the word 'no,' you might as well wear a sign that reads,'You are in charge'" G. De Becker
The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence. New York: Dell, 1997, p. 73.

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