Trigger warning: domestic abuse, suicide.
“Do you think it will make things worse?”
That’s the number one question I’ve been asked the last two days after filing for an order of protection against an ex-boyfriend. Let me be absolutely clear; I’m in no way upset with my friends who asked me this question. I’m upset because it is absolutely normal to ask this question. Women and men who file restraining orders, orders of protection, or other similar documents, are often asked this from concerned family and friends.
The question is quite reasonable considering the climate of doubt surrounding the victim: credibility, accusations of hysteria, accusations of overreacting, or if they’re merely trying to just spite the other party. It happens. People who are scorned will make false accusations or hype up certain events. However, these people are the exception and not the rule.
The majority of abuse victims work on the painstaking tasks of filling out pages and pages of legal documents, gathering evidence, filing those papers, willingly sharing private details of their dark and personal moments with complete strangers, following up with court clerks, and the list goes on and on. You don’t just blink and then serve someone with papers. It takes a lot of time and effort initially and throughout the process.
I went through this process once before, when I was 18. It was mortifying and embarrassing on every imaginable level. My ex-boyfriend was stalking me, harassing me, and wound up breaking into my home (my mother’s home), calling me from the house phone and threatening to kill my little sister and my mom if I didn’t come home immediately. He then cut the phone line. Thankfully, he left the home and sat in his car across the driveway from mine, and my family members were okay. I had to wake my mother up at 5:00 a.m. and try to explain what happened. She was upset with me for being out past curfew with my new boyfriend and thought I was making some of it up. The cop taking the report barely believed me, if at all. If my boyfriend at the time had not seen/heard/witnessed everything with me that night, I would have been completely alone. Of course, my mother and the cop believed he was just covering for me.
Flash forward to age 34. I have a mortgage, a three-year-old daughter, a car, a job, and overall pretty normal adult responsibilities. My husband passed away last year, unexpectedly. A friend of his from high school befriended me over the summer and feelings developed between us. He seemed wonderful initially, but the ol’ bait-and-switch happened in January of this year.
After he downed an entire bottle of wine at dinner one night, he got extremely agitated that I was playing a game on my daughter’s tablet that I wanted to show her for a few minutes. He told me that his ex-wife used to be on her phone constantly playing games, and it triggered him. I had heard that story so many times in the beginning of our relationship that I always made it a point not to be on my phone too much in front of him. I never thought my daughter’s tablet would be triggering while I showed her my favorite game for a few minutes.
Driving home, I told my daughter to thank him for the dinner. She thanked him and then asked what I was doing. Before I could even respond, “Driving home,” he said, “Mommy is having a meltdown and acting crazy.”
We walked into my home and I kept my mouth shut, acted like everything was normal so as not to upset my daughter, and got her ready for bed. After she was in bed, I let all of my feelings out. I told him that disrespecting me to my daughter is not okay, now or ever, and it was a dealbreaker. I also didn’t appreciate him comparing me to his ex when I was rarely on my phone around him. I wanted to take a dig at him, so I said, “Maybe this is why she served you divorce papers without you knowing because of your shitty temper!” He started crying and saying that I was being mean and shouldn’t go there.
He said he would give me some time to cool off and went upstairs. He came down an hour later and I was still upset. I didn’t take any more digs at him, but I did tell him I could no longer see a path forward for us as a couple. After telling me that I was “acting like a bitch,” I told him he needed to leave. I knew he was incapable of driving, so I told him to get an Uber/Lyft or I would get him one. He refused and said if I was “forcing” him out of the house, that he was driving. I told him that yes, I wanted him to leave, but I did not want him to drive.
He gathered his things, all the while crying and begging me not to end things. I replied, “You crossed the line.”
He went ballistic. He grabbed the scrapbook I had spent a month working on and ripped it to shreds. I yelled, “Stop, that’s mine! What are you doing!? Get out of here!”
He opened the front door and yelled, “You FUCKING CUNT! No wonder your husband killed himself!”
The tirade continued as he walked out. “You bitch, whore, slut! Good luck with the next guy, hope he doesn’t off himself too! BITCH! FUCK YOU!”
I shut the door, locked it, walked five steps into the living room and started sobbing uncontrollably. I don’t know how long I was on the floor that night. If my video doorbell hadn’t captured all of it, I wouldn’t be able to prove he had said any of those things either. I didn’t call the police. I didn’t make a report. I did what a lot of people do once things calm down: listened to the apologies, enjoyed the weekly flowers delivered to my home, and questioned if maybe, just maybe, he was just drunk and angry that one time.
We tried being friends. I refused to get into a relationship with him, but he was definitely trying to woo me again. He said he was respecting my boundaries and my decisions and was going to give me all the space and time I needed. Sounds nice, right?
This past weekend, he had surgery. It was an outpatient surgery, but one that definitely takes two or three days of resting and meds afterwards. He had helped me through a dental surgery the previous year, and I felt like I should help. His parents either live far away or don’t have a close relationship with him.
I offered to help, under the condition that he stayed at my house for the sake of convenience. He agreed.
I picked him up from the hospital, got him into bed, gave him his medications at the right intervals, switched out ice packs, removed and reapplied gauze, and all the rest. One of my friends rode with me to the hospital to pick him up so they could drive his truck to my house and park it in the driveway.
The next morning, my friend (who also used to be my roommate while my ex and I were together), came by with his two kids to play with my daughter and say hi for a few hours. This upset my ex because they were “too loud” and “I didn’t tell him they were coming over.” I have a basement, a main level, and an upstairs. My ex was upstairs in a private bedroom while the kids were playing on the main level. The day went okay otherwise.
That evening, I told him that some friends of mine were coming over before one of them moves out of state. He got upset, grabbed his meds, and went upstairs and slammed the door. While some of my friends were over, I went upstairs several times to check on his meds, give him water and food, and see how he was doing. I could tell from his abrupt responses and rude tone that he was upset with me for having friends over, but I kept telling myself that it was my home and I didn’t need his permission. When I handed him a glass of water, he yanked it out of my hand so hard that water spilled all over the bed.
After my friends left, I did one last check and told him I was going to bed in the basement and to call or text me if he needed anything. I could tell by his demeanor that his hope was that I would sleep in bed next to him, which I in no way, shape, or form wanted to do. I told him sweet dreams and goodnight.
The next morning, we got into a fight. He accused me of spending too much time with my friends and not telling him enough of what was going on. I reminded him that it was my house, my friends, and that I had taken care of him regularly. I argued that what he was wanting me to do was lay in bed with him all day and night, but I have a kid to take care of and a house to clean. Furthermore, I wanted absolutely no part of sleeping next to him, cuddling, or anything else.
He got a phone call and stepped outside onto my front porch. He took a watering globe in my hanging flower pot, saw it was empty, and slammed it back in really hard. He was showing me that he was irritated that it was out of water, even though it had rained for the past two days (I’m not great at keeping plants alive and he’s a master at gardening). I walked outside and said, “If you’re going to act like a child, then go.”
He abruptly ended the call and followed me inside. “Of course you would tell me go while I’m on pain medication! You made me drive when I drank a bottle of wine!” Once again, I told him that he shouldn’t drive and I would call him a Lyft, and once again he refused and got his things. Déjà vu.
After smarting off to me some more and me telling him, “Leave,” signaling that I didn’t want my daughter to see or hear his nasty remarks, he slammed the front door. He walked over to my hanging potted flowers and smashed them onto my front sidewalk as hard as he could. It split the pot open and the dirt spilled out. The pink and purple flowers looked terrified face down on the concrete. The watering globe shattered everywhere.
I locked the door. I didn’t cry. I didn’t call the police. I swept up the dirt and the globe pieces, but not before my little one defied my orders of “Stay back” and rushed over, cutting her foot on a piece of the globe.
I filed for a protective order online, citing the destruction of my personal property as intending to intimidate and scare me. I blocked his phone number, his e-mail, and all social media. His calls were being blocked, but my phone was notifying me each time he called. I ignored all of it.
Soon I received messages from my mother that he had contacted her. Then I received a message from a mutual friend. Then I received another message from a mutual friend. He was trying to relay “important” information through them, none of it urgent, none of which needed to be given to me. I asked all of them to tell him to stop contacting them trying to give me messages and to not get involved in any way.
I let my close friends know what was going on, and that’s when, almost without skipping a beat, “Do you think it’s only going to get worse?” appeared. Hell, I asked myself that question.
So let me get this straightened out:
1) I could choose not to file an order for protection and wait to see if he shows up at my doorstep with a gun. He could kill me, hurt me, take me and/or my daughter hostage.
2) I could choose not to file an order for protection and wait to hear how badly he slanders me and starts rumors amongst our mutual friends and others. I could wait to hear the accusations and either defend myself or get rid of certain friends.
3) I could choose not to file an order for protection and pray that he stops the harassment.
1) I could file an order for protection and wait to see if he shows up at my doorstep with a gun. He could kill me, hurt me, take me and/or my daughter hostage.
2) I could file an order for protection and wait to hear how badly he slanders me and starts rumors among our mutual friends and others. I could wait to hear the accusations and either defend myself or get rid of certain friends.
3) I could file an order for protection and pray that he stops and that the order is enough to stop him and his harassment.
There’s really not much of a difference in the outcomes for orders of protection, from what I’ve seen in the news. The main difference is that I am sending a message to him that he is on notice. I am sending the message that I have legal recourse if he contacts me or shows up at my door. I am telling him that I’m not afraid, or that I am afraid but determined.
I am telling him there won’t be any more déjà vu scenes in my home ever again. I’m telling him that my daughter comes first. I’m telling him the abuse is no longer his secret or my secret. Whether or not he wants to make things worse is his decision and that is not my responsibility. How he reacts to the order is his responsibility. We should not have to live in fear. We should not have to live in a society where we have to weigh whether spotlighting the abuse is worth the risk.
Let’s start saying, “Whether everything gets worse or better, you made the hard but right choice.” Let’s keep the blame with the abusers and their reactions.
Update: On June 15th, the author was granted the protective order for 10 years.