By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
I take a deep breath and type “How to make a decision” into the search bar on my boss’s computer. It’s not uncommon for me to work from her desk. As the director of the university’s international education programming, she is often traveling and needs someone to take her calls. Her expansive corner office is on the second floor of a low-traffic building. I can go all day without interacting with another human being. It’s the perfect place make an elaborate plan.
I pull up charts, equations, and ranking systems. Some people, when faced with a challenging life-altering decision, would simply confide in a friend. But my friends didn’t know what I’d gotten myself into, what I was trying to find a way out of. I’d survived the more than three years of abuse alone; I figured I’d escape it on my own, too. That, and I’m paralyzed by fear. Mostly, the fear of the truth, which is that I need to leave town, cut the cord, end whatever relationship I imagine we still have.
I make multiple weighted pro/con lists. The pros win 67-30 (even with things like “losing my ex as a friend forever” getting an undeserved 10), but still I’m not convinced. Though he sleeps with my friends, berates me, and assaults me, it’s hard to let go. I’ve never felt more alone and yet I’m sold on the mythology of our forever friendship.
So I move on to the next decision-making strategy, articulating my fears and detailing likely outcomes. I attempt to unpack my fear of losing my abuser’s “friendship.” I did promise we’d remain friends if we ever broke up, I tell myself, and I hate to break a promise. I’d also lost two close friends over the course of the relationship and didn’t feel ready to lose another. (Granted, my ex was the reason the friendships ended, but that was fuzzy up close.) I am afraid of being alone. I don’t see that I already have all the disadvantages of loneliness without the benefits of solitude.
The other three fears can be summarized as such: What if my departure causes my ex pain? (Future self says: Tough shit.) Why can’t I just tough it out? (I blame Dr. Phil and his “relationships are hard work” jibber jabber.) And the question that haunts every chronically indecisive person: What if I make the wrong choice? (Spoiler alert: Putting your health and safety first is always the right choice.)
I print out the many pages of documentation, hoping this evidence will drive home the decision I know I need to make. It’s harder to argue with the facts on paper. So I send my parents an email accepting their offer to buy me a plane ticket from Boston to Portland and give me a room for as long as I need it. I don’t tell them why we broke up, and they don’t ask.
Once my flight is confirmed — two weeks out — I give notice at work. Make some excuse about wanting to be closer to my family. Then I tell my ex and our friends. They are understandably surprised. I’d been talking about moving out of the studio we shared (for obvious reasons), and had looked at a few house shares on Craigslist. But I’d never intimated that I was considering leaving town, at least not so soon.
I knew if I’d told my ex before the flight was booked, I might never leave. Still, he tries his best to make me stay, delaying my arrival to the airport and forcing me to reschedule my flight for later in the day. But even after I am relatively safe in my parents’ home, I don’t tell them or my friends in Boston what happened. When my ex continues to harass me via email, texts, and phone calls — alternately plying me with photos of our cats and threatening me with suicide — I change my number and block his emails.
I did everything I could to push him out of my life. I’m grateful to have had that opportunity. Many survivors don’t have the resources to pack up and move to a new city. They must continue to share the small world that is the queer community with their abuser.
But with that gratitude comes guilt. Despite my best efforts to carry my burden with a silent stoicism, intimate partner violence does not exist in a vacuum. It is not merely a private struggle, but a public health and community safety issue. I wonder who I’m serving by remaining silent. Some four years later, I am open about my survivor status, but I still haven’t had a real conversation with any of our once-mutual friends about the abuse I experienced.
Whether survivors self-isolate or are pushed to the margins by a community that sides with their abuser, our refusal to deal with the abuse in a collective, holistic manner isn’t helping anyone. Yes, it’s complicated, but we need to come up with solutions. Because suffering alone is bad enough; we shouldn’t have to survive that way too.
If you need help dealing with an abusive situation, contact Bradley Angle’s 24-hour crisis line at 503-281-2442 or visit bradleyangle.org from a safe computer.