I’m not really sure how to talk about this, or even if I should. I haven’t been exactly secretive with this story, but I’ve also never put it all in one place that you can access without having me directly and actively tell you before. And … I have a lot of conditioning that tells me I should keep this to myself, for a variety of reasons including stoicism, conformance to American masculinity, and the fact that many people have things far worse than me so I should shut up and eat my vegetables and be glad of it.
But you know what
This stuff matters. Maybe my writing this down will be useful to someone.
Worst case scenario, just close the page. I’m not forcing you to be here. Also, you can and may want to close this page at any point during the story. It may get unpleasant to read; it’s surely proven unpleasant to write. There’s no expectation or reward for reaching the end.
We don’t need an agonizingly in-depth exploration or explanation of how I got to this point, but some basic information is required.
In 2011 I began my freshman year at college and I met a girl and our friendship consisted of mutual repressed romantic tension and also our own small personal fight club. No one knows how or why that started or continued.
In 2012 we lightly hooked up, and were not good at it.
In 2013 she started dating someone else and I did not take it well which was not great because I didn’t know if I had feelings for her or not but she did ask me out and I panicked and said I probably shouldn’t accept and continued with some prior behaviors.
In 2014 I think I accidentally was her affair for a few weeks.
In 2015 she dated a mutual friend of ours and I dated my landlady. Other story.
In January 2016 we started dating each other.
I’m going to call her Katrina. That’s not her name, or even the first letter of her name; I’m naming her after the hurricane.
Katrina and I basically spent four and change years in a perpetual will-we-won’t-we cycle where neither of us were “will” at the same time. By New Year’s 2016, she was very firmly mad at me and I was not sure if we were going to ever talk to or see each other again. We had become very close over the four years in college together, tumultuous though it was. I want to be very clear that we cared a great deal for each other even though we both hurt each other a lot through mistakes and miscommunication. It’s important to me that you know that.
Only two of our clique were still in college at this point; me because I changed majors, our friend because he took a year off to go fight cancer. She came back to our college to help him move in. He texted me and said “hey Katrina’s here; come over let’s have a party” and so I did.
Katrina and I started out not really acknowledging each other but as the night wore on and the bottles wore down she warmed up to me and soon enough events transpired. We were both pretty drunk so judgment and tact were no longer with us, but nothing happened that we didn’t want to happen and there were plenty of things that we did want but didn’t manage.
We woke up happy, she drove the two hours back to her place in Michigan, and I went to school.
Two weeks later she came back and we decided to figure out what we were, and I put together the courage to ask if she’d be my girlfriend and we officially started dating. She told me she was unhappy I was still living with my landlady who, as I mentioned, was now also my ex (and also now in a new relationship of her own, to a man to whom she is now married, again, other story).
I don’t need to walk you step by step through each part of this, and I will try to avoid doing so. Now that we were both of legal age though it is probably useful to note that we spent a lot of our weekends together during the semester in … altered states. We had a drinking problem, and that problem was that we were young and dumb and good at it.
Sometime that night, Katrina asked me with how many girls had I slept before her. I answered. She punched me in the side of my head. I blinked and it was morning and she was holding me in her lap with an ice pack. She called me an asshole and went home. I called her and apologized and said that I never wanted to hurt her I was just afraid of doing so and didn’t know what I was doing and could she forgive me and she said yes and I was happy.
For the last weekend of January, she was back, and I asked my former roommate to come hang out with us one last time and he did. She and he had had a falling out their senior year and so Katrina was mad at me that I invited him and decided that Indiana January was a great time to disappear from the house for hours without warning.
Katrina explained that she was very upset with – I’ll call him Frankie; it’s not his name or even the first letter of it – Frankie for his conduct last year and with me for inviting him here even though they had both kept this very secret from me (not that it was hard) and I apologized and said I just wanted to see one of my only two close male friends and she told me I was wrong and a bad boyfriend and I said I would try to be better.
February went okay. I screwed up Valentine’s Day and that was legitimately my bad and we only fought about it a little, at the time. It came back to haunt me a lot though.
In March, Katrina came through our college town and picked up our mutual friend to continue on to another friend’s house. She told me to come along and I said okay and drove myself behind her and this was apparently the incorrect choice because she managed to shake me on the freeway and then never texted me the address to which we were headed.
I got our host friend to text me the address and I showed up about fifteen minutes behind her and the house was empty. They had all gone for a walk to get fast food or something.
Katrina did not acknowledge my existence when they got back. It was awkward. We all drank, because that’s what we did. Sooner or later, the rest of the group noticed she and I were being uncool and contrived to get us in the same room and then pull a disappearing act.
Katrina yelled at me about why my driving separately was so rude. I apologized. We had both been drinking pretty heavily; she because that’s what she did and me because I felt it would help me mend things. She slipped and I went to catch her and hold her standing upright. She bit my shoulder and spit a chunk of my flesh into the toilet bowl and then threw up in it. We took a shower. We went to sleep. We went home. I told her I loved her and that I was doing my sincere best and that I knew it wasn’t very good. She told me she loved me too and she knew I was trying but after all these years and everything that had happened between us it was hard to be patient with me still.
She took me to her parents’ for spring break. On the drive she explained why she didn’t like the Boy Scouts as an organization or those of use who made Eagle in particular. I did not reply, as I did not feel that I had anything meaningful to say and did not want to get in a fight about it. She assumed that my silence was because I was mad at her. She became mad at me and did not talk either.
The next day we noticed that my shoulder was infected, which tends to happen when a human bites out part of your flesh and you don’t go to the doctor because that would require answering questions to which you do not have answers. She put on antibiotic and a bandage and explained very patiently to me that if I had not put my arm so close to her mouth then she would not have bitten me. I apologized and told her I’d do better in the future.
I missed Easter Mass because her family did not know I was Catholic and I did not want to have that conversation. Katrina told me she was disappointed that I wasn’t acting very Christian.
Katrina was in town again for the commencement party, of course, as were a couple of our other graduated friends from our clique. One of my friends from high school was there as well, as she’d become an honorary member of the gang. Katrina was … unhappy about this. She was mad at me for inviting her – I hadn’t – and for drinking with this friend instead of with herself. I liked neither drinking games nor beer, which were Katrina’s activity of choice; Taylor Swift was on in the other room. At some point, Katrina managed to bite me on the forehead.
I walked the next day, for commencement, with a purple bruise high on my face almost covered by her makeup, in front of my professors and parents and everybody. There’s only one picture of me from that day and if you squint, you can see it. She spent the day with my parents and I and we all stoically didn’t mention it, I think.
After the school year ended, we had an argument about whether I should live with her or not. She told me that if I stayed with my parents we would likely break up and my parents said I would have to make my own choice but they would love and support me no matter what and so I went to live with Katrina.
Two weeks later, my mom called and asked if I knew about the letter Katrina had written to my dad. I did not. Mom read it to me and informed me that they loved and missed me but that woman was no longer welcome in their house or company.
Katrina and I fought about this a lot. I did not understand why she was mad at my parents and her explanations did not make much sense to me, but she and I are from rather different folks and I suspect neither of our families made sense to the other. I did not want to break contact with my parents, as that is a rather drastic action and I never really knew what was going on, but Katrina explained that I had to choose between them and her and so I stayed with her. I loved her and she loved me and we talked about getting married soon.
During one of our arguments, she took some swings at me. I let a few land but then decided I didn’t want to get hit anymore and hugged her to pin her arms to her side. She bit my other shoulder and scraped off a lot of skin but at least didn’t tear out a chunk this time. She got free and went to bed and locked the door and so I slept on the couch and waited for my shoulder to scab up.
My birthday is in mid-July. We got along very well that day. We went on a date and didn’t fight. We were happy. We got pleasantly drunk and watched a movie and I wanted nothing more than to hold that moment forever. It was a beautiful day. We were sincerely happy. I felt hope and joy and love with intoxicating strength and I remember that feeling with a sharp clarity more painful to recall than the rest of this story.
I think it was the next day but I don’t remember. It might have been because the precipitating event for this was that I went to go see my parents for an event established long before The Letter And The Ultimatum and when I came back Katrina was very upset with me and declared that I had to stop betraying her for my terrible family and the picture of us was crumpled on the ground and I picked up all the broken glass so the dog wouldn’t hurt herself.
We drank. I didn’t think that was a good idea but Katrina had a head start on me and made me go along so that I’d be able to talk. After all, sober me wasn’t very good at it.
She yelled at me about my awful parents and how I was being unsupportive and hurtful and I tried to explain why I didn’t know what I was doing or what I was supposed to do in a way that would make sense and she cried and I sat quietly panicking and she tried to hit me but by this time was not sober and hurt her thumb doing so and called the police because I hurt her.
After I recovered from that panic, I told her I was sorry for dislocating her thumb and that I didn’t mean to hurt her and won’t she please stop and since we had both sobered up in panic she calmly explained to dispatch that she bungled unlocking her phone and it did the emergency dial instead and she knew better than to hang up on it and have the police show up anyway for no reason, thank you ma’am I’m sorry for wasting your time ma’am have a good night ma’am.
She put her phone down to get another drink and I hid it. She came back and asked where it was and I said I didn’t know I thought she had it and so she took her pistol from her purse and pointed at me and said to give her the fucking phone and I said I didn’t have it please believe me because in truth I didn’t have it and I damn sure wasn’t going to tell her where they were now.
After she went to bed I took the box of pistol ammunition from her nightstand and hid it in the closet of the other bedroom but I didn’t know where her purse pistol was so of the three guns in the household, one was out of commission, one was a carbine in her car, and her purse was undeterred. I figured I did the best I could to keep her life from getting ruined by an accidental GSW infliction and went to sleep. I don’t think it occurred to me to worry about the recipient of a hypothetical gunshot.
We fought again the next day and I really didn’t want to get hit anymore so I went to block one of her swings and I accidentally hit her jaw with the base of my palm and she cried and I apologized and I meant it because I really hadn’t hit her since 2011 and I very much did not want to be an abusive boyfriend. I hate abusive boyfriends and I wanted to be good for her and I knew that I hadn’t been and I didn’t want to add physical violence to all the emotional damage that I’d obviously been doing for the years we’d known each other. After all, if I hadn’t been doing that, we wouldn’t have been having these problems would we? We loved each other very much and so the cracks in that were evidence that we’d been hurting each other and I knew a lot of it was my fault because she told me it was and really she had a much better grasp of the situation than I did.
I loved Katrina very much, after all, and I really didn’t deserve her patience and care that she gave me. I was not a good friend or boyfriend and I tried my best but it was not often good enough and that made her sad and upset and angry sometimes. Wouldn’t I be frustrated with a girlfriend who was being as mean and hurtful to me as I was to her, after all? I really was lucky she was so understanding.
I truly was in love with Katrina. I’m writing this as sincerely as I can. I’m striving to describe to you the world as I saw it and the things I felt at the time. I worry that you’ll read sarcasm and bitterness where I honestly don’t mean to place any. She meant the world to me and I wanted to marry her and take her last name because mine had been poisoned in her opinion and when she was happy I was overjoyed and thrilled to be with her. Her smile lit up my world. Her laugh was music. Her screams were thunder and her tears were a river in flood and I loved her.
Katrina kicked the coffee table – to be clear, a cheap Walmart thing made of particle board and prayers, but still, not inconsequential – and I curled up to not get my arms hurt on impact and it hit me in the back of the head and I blinked and there was dried blood down my neck and shirt and she was gone so I pulled myself to the couch and blinked again and it was the morning.
Katrina pulled me to my feet and I fell down and she caught me and walked me to the shower. We showered and she washed the blood off of my skin and out of my hair and told me she was sorry about the table and I think I mumbled a response because I didn’t really know what was going on.
I can remember this abstractly, like it’s a movie of somebody else that I saw once. It’s in third person and the rememberer and the actor are two different people and I know he’s dressed up like me but I don’t see him as me. I don’t know where I am but I’m not in the scene. I would be gone for a few days.
I think this might be what a minor concussion is.
I did not go to a doctor. It is hard to walk into a door with the back of your head. I was not in a position to drive and I couldn’t ask Katrina to take me.
We didn’t talk about the coffee table. I bought a replacement a few weeks later and we ignored the blood on the couch pillow.
We stopped drinking.
Things were good for a few weeks!
We went on vacation to Canada with her family for a week. She had to leave all her guns behind because you can’t bring those into Canada with an Indiana ID. I had a good time because the nature is pretty and I like the Great Lakes but I did not as much care for fishing and that’s about all her dad and his brothers wanted to do.
Also I remember being annoyed that one of Katrina’s complaints about my family was that we were ostentatiously wealthy, with a nicely decorated house and more than one car per person, and there we were in Canada on a yearly two-week vacation with her dad’s two trucks and two boats and motorcycle and her uncle’s truck and boat and 30-ft RV.
I can count on one hand the number of family vacations I’ve taken that aren’t Boy Scout camp. We have never owned a boat or a motorcycle or casually driven inefficient trucks everywhere for purposes other than moving large freight. Her family didn’t believe in small cars.
In mid-August, we each spent the weekend at our respective parents’ houses. She left first. I packed as much of my stuff as I thought wouldn’t be noticeable in my car and dropped it off at home and went to a party with some of my friends from high school that I hadn’t seen in a while because Katrina thought I might cheat on her with them – I didn’t – and we talked about this a bit and they told me I should really get out. I said I was thinking about it but I was afraid that I was giving up early on what could really be an incredible life with the woman I loved. They reminded me that love doesn’t put three different bite scars on your arms or two head injuries or put a gun in your face.
When I think about it all at once like that, yeah, I guess those are a little problematic. While I’m here, I especially want to thank you three, if you’re reading this, for that. You’re far better to me than I deserve.
Katrina and I came back home Sunday and we were each cold and distant to each other. I was lost in my head agonizing about whether I should hurt her like this or just man up and work forward. After all, I loved her, and she loved me.
We didn’t talk Monday either, so I spent the day filling up my trunk with more stuff.
Monday night we talked, finally. She said she had been thinking over the weekend and was nearly resolved to break up with me because we weren’t doing well and she didn’t think she could continue forward with a boyfriend who kept hurting her. I said I understood and I was sorry.
Tuesday she went to work and I put everything in my car and spent a couple hours in what I guess is a panic attack? My breathing was irregular and my pulse was racing and I have little memory and I couldn’t stop pacing and shaking and I was so afraid she’d come home early and I wouldn’t have a good explanation for this and how could I hurt her like this and shouldn’t I stay didn’t I love her weren’t the last five years meaningful didn’t she deserve more from me?
I put my keys on the coffee table and I drove away. I called my mom and said I didn’t want to come home because I was afraid Katrina would come look for me and mom should take precautions because she might be distraught. Mom told me she was so glad I was okay and to come home when I was ready and that she wouldn’t let Katrina near me.
I drove a couple states away to see a dear friend of mine, someone Katrina despised so thoroughly that she’d forbidden me from talking to them and had even broken into my phone to clean up my Facebook friends list, including this one. So if I unfriended you last year, that’s why.
I missed a lot of calls from Katrina. I still have the transcripts of her voicemails. They’re angry. They’re despairing. They plead and beg and curse. Google censors the curses. I didn’t listen to them.
My friend had to go to work and I told them I’d stay put and read and try to sleep and definitely not talk to Katrina.
I let it ring through to voicemail.
I picked up.
She asked where I was and I lied. I remembered once telling her a truth that she wouldn’t want to hear and the consequences for it.
She said she drove to my parents’ house and I wasn’t there and she was worried about me.
She said she was so sorry and that she’d do better and she knew she had been hurting me and wouldn’t I please come home so we could talk about this and try again anew and make things better. She loved me. Didn’t I love her?
I lied to my best friend.
I told them I had to go home and take care of our cats because my parents were away.
I looked them in the eyes and I smiled and then I lied to their face about where I was going, because I was ashamed and afraid and desperate. Because when you’re in a situation like this, that’s what you do. You lie to yourself and the people around you and pretend it’s better than it is, that you’re better than you are, that your partner is better than they are. You tell yourself it’s a phase; you tell others that it’s nothing; you tell your partner that you’re okay and this isn’t a problem because maybe if you say this enough it’ll be true.
It won’t. I wish I had known that at any point last year.
I wish Katrina hadn’t damaged not only my own concept of identity but my family, my friends, and my standing with them. This had ripples upon ripples of far ranging effects that I either didn’t notice, or did and simply didn’t care. I wish I hadn’t hurt my friends. I wish she hadn’t hurt them through me.
If you’re reading this, I’m sorry this is how I confessed to you.
I’m not very good at this.
I’m sorry. I hope we’re still okay. Even if I only saw you for a day, it still made a world of difference to me and helped me more than I can say. You reminded me what it was to be with someone who sincerely cared about my well-being and was good for me. I barely managed with you; I wouldn’t have without. I hope you can understand and forgive me.
I drove back to Katrina’s and stayed there for a few days. We made up. We didn’t fight. She cried a lot. I sat quietly and told her that I was sorry and that I got scared and didn’t know what I should have done and that I had panicked.
I told her I had to go home. She said she understood and that our mutual friend from college was coming up to spend the weekend with her, and that she hoped I’d come back.
Katrina called me from the hospital. She’d hurt herself on a trampoline and our friend had to go back to Indiana for work and wouldn’t I come take her home?
Mom told me not to go. I said I knew I shouldn’t but I was the closest point of contact and I felt obligated to help her. Mom said that’s what she had parents for.
Mom was right. She usually is.
I went anyway. I stayed at Katrina’s bed and we talked and the nurse mentioned that by the by Katrina wasn’t pregnant, among the other things not wrong with her.
I took her home and I told her I had to go to a family reunion for Labor Day and that I’d be back afterwards. I kissed her goodbye and told her I loved her and she did too.
I haven’t seen her since.
Did I Learn Anything?
That’s a good question. I honestly don’t know. I hope so?
It took us a month after that to stop talking completely.
If I see a picture of her I know I’m still infatuated. I don’t want to say “in love” now that it’s over because I hope to God that what I experienced with her isn’t what that phrase means. I thought it was at the time. I’d like to say I can’t go through that again, and I probably cannot and remain at all healthy, but that doesn’t mean I know better than to avoid such a situation in the future.
I know I absolutely should not see her or talk to her again. She terrifies me and delights me and I have no confidence in my willpower.
I dream about her sometimes. I dream about her hitting me. Sometimes I dream that I hit back, that I was the rage-filled monster I was so utterly terrified of being that I couldn’t raise my voice, let alone my hands. Sometimes I dream that we’re together and this is all a distant memory, the growing pains of our relationship, that we’re happy. She’s my whole world in these dreams … because the rest of mine burned away when I made that choice. I’m with her and I haven’t spoken to my friends or family in years and I likely never will again.
And it scares the shit out of me.
I know, in the abstract, that I don’t want that. That it is a horrible choice and I must never take it. I know I have to move on and forward and get past her and this.
And deep down, I fear that I haven’t. That I won’t. That, God forbid, our paths will cross and she’ll ask me to come home and I’ll step right back into that even though I know it’s a trap, even though I know I’m consigning myself to more of the same. I don’t believe even a little bit that I could resist.
Where Am I Now?
I was incredibly lucky. I had so many friends, more than I’ve explicitly mentioned, who really did care about me and try to help me even when I rebuffed them and said I was fine. I’m so thankful for all of you. I was able to go home to parents who still loved me and helped me get back on my feet. I got a job offer by a wild fluke of networking and then I got that job and I moved to Utah and I’m so stupendously happy with what I do and where I live. I honestly love it here. I have a great job and a great Scout troop and I still talk to my friends in the Midwest. I wouldn’t have had any of this had I stayed with Katrina.
It’s been a little over a year since that day in August that I can barely remember. I remember even as it happened that I was essentially a zombie. I panicked and I went numb and then I watched my body pack my car and drive away.
I miss her. Not every day, not even all that often. It’ll come out of the blue. The color will fade out of the world and the sounds will fade into the tone of my tinnitus and I won’t conjure her face or her voice or anything in particular, but I’ll know what’s missing and what would bring all that back.
But I keep going, because the same trait that kept me with her keeps me out.
I’m stubborn and stupid and I like where I am and I have no intention to move.
It took me two days to write this. I deleted it and started over a few times. I’ve also been unable to stop shaking whenever this document was open. Normally I’m very good at remaining still and motionless thanks to some experiences in Scouting. I cannot stop shaking my legs. Sometimes more, sometimes my breathing and pulse get erratic, but I can calm those. I can’t sit still though.
Writing the primary section was very difficult. If you’re familiar with my writing style, you’ll notice that it’s not at all how I usually write. I began writing and found myself not merely remembering as in recalling facts, but actively reliving, the events I described and many that I didn’t.
I elided a lot. I skipped over plenty of happy, peaceful, normal memories. This isn’t a biography of my friendship and relationship with Katrina. I wrote this because I wanted to talk about domestic violence. I wanted to try to explain to you, so that I could maybe explain to myself, that this can happen to anyone.
I still think of myself as the bad guy in this story. In part because of everything Katrina told me I had been doing wrong, and how I’d hurt her. In part because I felt guilty about not knowing how to more gracefully manage myself around her. In part because I’m a man and doesn’t that mean I’m stronger and more prone to anger and violence and that I must be restrained at all times while she’s weaker than me and it’s okay if she lashes out and yells at me or throws things at me or hits me? Don’t I deserve it, because I’m the aggressor even though I’m being quiet and still?
I don’t have a solution. I don’t have answers for myself, let alone anyone else. I have a lot of advantages and things going for me and this happened. I struggle to acknowledge that I even had it happen to me without trying to explain why she was right to do it all.
I wish I had a conclusion to this story. I wish I could tell you how to avoid it in your own life.
I hope that maybe you’ll be able to use it, though. Maybe you’ll understand me better, or others who are in violent households.
I don’t ask why people with violent partners don’t leave them, anymore. I know why.
You get betrayed by people you trust. You get abused by people you love. And when you trust them and love them, you forgive them, and you stay. You know they have good in them; you know they love you and that this is a fluke and not how they really are. They love you too, after all. People to whom you don’t matter don’t get this intensely angry at you. It’s passion, temporarily misapplied. It feels good to feel that passion, even if it hurts.
You get abused by someone who loves you.
You get abused by someone you love.