Yesterday I took a “Me” day, and spent a lot of quality time reading a novel I picked up at Costco last week; Nick Sparks’ Safe Haven. I love Nick Sparks, he writes with such sensitivity and flare. This isn’t a book review – suffice it to say that anything the man writes is golden.
Anyway, this particular book was about a woman who escaped a brutally violent husband and found safety and love in a new town… and it sparked quite a bad dream for me last night.
This is something I’ve never experienced in my marriage, but long ago I had a couple of work-friends who were abused to the point of being afraid for their lives. One stayed, refused help of any kind, and we lost touch when I moved to a different company so I’m not sure what happened with her. The other escaped, literally, and the following few months were filled with terror and danger not only for her, but for those of us around her.
Brought on by the tenor of this book and probably the stresses I’ve been experiencing lately, my dreams last night were malevolent. Flashes of the violence I’ve experienced in my past either directly or vicariously through others all slammed themselves through my mind, and I awoke suddenly, out of breath and extremely disturbed.
Not that I’ve experienced a lot of violence, understand. As far as relationships go, I had a total of one relationship with someone who leaned towards violence, and it lasted until the night he stopped being a nice guy, and twisted my arm viciously behind my back. I never saw him again, and had my brother go and pick up my golf clubs and racquetball stuff that I’d left behind at his place. Back in 1983 in high school I opened my big mouth and was attacked by a small gang of older girls, and ended it when I grabbed one by the neck and hair, bent her over double, and threatened to throw her down a set of stairs if they didn’t back off. My face was scratched and bruised, and I suffered a concussion. That has stuck with me, in vivid detail, for many years. I’m not a scrapper. I don’t like to see it, and I sure don’t like to experience it first hand.
Going back to my friend who escaped – this is what I was thinking about when I awakened from my dream, and it has been all I’ve thought about all morning. Karen was such a nice girl. We were both about 20 years old at the time, give or take. She arrived in our department of the insurance company I was working for at the time, and we hit it off immediately. She was quiet, and seemed nervous, and at first I thought it was because she was nervous starting a new job. Being the mother hen I’ve always been, I responded in the only way I know how, and befriended her on the spot. It wasn’t long before she had to tell us her situation; that she was hiding from her husband, who was extremely violent and had threatened to kill her if she ran away again. She transferred to our building because it was a high security location, and you couldn’t just walk in without being ID checked and photographed. She had to tell us, because he knew she still worked for the company, and was calling the different offices looking for her and pretending to be someone else. I spoke to him several times on the phone, assuring him that there was no Karen working in our office. He sounded like such a nice guy on the phone. Reasonable, quiet, pleasant. So easy to be sucked in. Had Karen not told us the situation, he would have found her easily.
This went on for weeks, and he did eventually find out where she was staying, which was with her aunt in an apartment building on the other side of the city we were living in. She spotted him driving by several times, and called the police, but he was always gone when they came to investigate, and she couldn’t prove anything. This was 24 years ago too; police weren’t as inclined to take abuse as seriously as they do now, and she was unable to get a restraining order against him. I probably don’t know the full story on that either, this is just what I remember.
One night Karen and I went out for dinner and drinks after a particularly long work day. He had called our office again that day, and yelled at me that he knew she was there and that I was lying to him and he had the right to speak to his wife. I told him I couldn’t help him, there was no one there by that name and he should stop calling, and then I hung up on him. She was a wreck, and I said we should get out and have some fun. It was, I think, a Thursday night, but we really needed to let loose and have some fun. We had a great time, and did a lot of laughing. A great stress-relieving evening. Finally around 11pm I dropped her off at her Aunt’s building after the usual drive by with her ducked down in the passenger seat. This was something we’d started doing when he found out where she was working. I got as close to the door as possible, let her out, and watched her get in safely with the security door closing behind her. Satisfied that she was safe, I headed home.
The next day, Karen didn’t show up for work, and didn’t call in sick. I called her Aunt’s place, and there was no answer. I was frantic! Finally, she called me that afternoon, and told me that her husband had indeed been waiting for her to get home that night. With a gun on the seat beside him in his pickup truck. There were 2 shells in the gun. One most certainly meant for her, and one for him. Only she didn’t go home right after work; we were out having dinner and drinks. He sat there for hours, according to witnesses who noticed him in the parking lot, and when she never arrived, he shot himself in the head. Because I let her out at the front of the building, and he was parked in the back in the resident parking lot, he never saw her come home. Even if he’d been watching, he didn’t know my car, and because she was ducked down until I pulled up to the door, he would have only seen me in the car and thought nothing of it.
Karen went back to her original office, and I never saw her again. I hope she was able to get past the horror of that and get on with her life. It must have scarred her beyond belief though. It certainly affected me, and I was only a small part of it.
I don’t pretend to understand why some women (and men too) stay in abusive relationships. I’m sure there are many factors that make them feel like they can’t leave. So many mind games played by the abuser. I could never stay in a relationship with someone who abused me. The first and only time it would happen, my reaction would be equally violent (and possibly involve a golf club a la Tiger Woods’ wife Elin Nordgren), and he’d be out of my life. Sure, it’s easy to say that, I realize, but I know myself, and I know that I’d never put up with it. With love comes respect and gentleness. Love isn’t violent. Love isn’t controlling. Love isn’t manipulative.
I’m hoping for more peaceful dreams tonight. Maybe I’ll curl up with Wee One and read Cat in the Hat tonight, and try to get Safe Haven out of my head. Good book, but obviously it struck a cord I wasn’t expecting!