I could say I knew better. The feeling I had when I was in her presence or even through online messages something did not compute with who she claimed to be. But, I was me. That meant that I was strong and intelligent. Those two attributes would be twisted into something only a monster could possess, abusive and manipulative. I did not know what gaslighting was until it was being used on a daily basis. The escalation process was being fast-tracked from both directions for very different reasons.

I was fresh out of a 7-year relationship and back in a city where I fought like hell to get out of. She was in a place where I cannot connect with because I am incapable of operating from that state of mind. (Or at least I would like to believe that I am.) Much like what I do when I don’t want to watch something on DVD I am going to fast forward a lot but hit on a few key points. There were several instances that qualified as Domestics between us. It needs to be noted that these incidents happened between 2008 and 2010 in the state of Iowa. Some were so similar to what I interacted daily within my family and extended family that I would have never labeled it abuse.

At one point we are renting a house from a local police officer. I was hoping by doing so that it would dampen and lighten the issues. Nope. It was in this house that two things happened that will always stick out in my mind that happened on the same night. I wanted to leave. I wanted out. I was in a place where this was going to cause much suffering. I am working as an Assistant Manager at a shoe store in the mall. I am working 6 days a week and long shifts. She controls the finances and everything that goes along with that. Knowing that I at least have employment I cannot be with her any longer. I grab a trash bag and start gathering just my clothes. As I walk into the kitchen to the landing to go downstairs, she confronts me. I am looking up at her as there are two steps. To my right is the back door and to my left the basement stairs.

She grabs the garbage bag stating she paid for it but I won’t let go. She yanks towards her and I am pulling hard towards me and she shoved it back towards me with her weight and body behind it. I am sideways on the landing and the force of her shove sends me towards the stairs my pant leg gets caught on the door stop and I slam into the railing just barely catching myself from going backward down our basement stairs. She smirks and leaves the kitchen. As I am gathering myself and unclenching every muscle in my body including my ass, I come out of the kitchen and she is on the phone. I believe it is her sister until I hear her say she needs to report a domestic and that her girlfriend had hit her. I am staring at her from across the room and her smirk has turned into a maniacal smile.

Even after this, I went back. She promised to change and wanting nothing more than to not be the reason something was not working, I returned. In less than two years we moved a minimum of 3 times, each stays shorter than the first and always due to not paying rent. (I gave her money out of every paycheck) To say shit hit the fan in November of 2010 would be an understatement. She had been through several jobs at this point. Always finding a reason to quit before getting fired. I am worn down spiritually, physically and psychologically. She could not afford to get into the house we were renting on the NE side of Des Moines but her intent was to force me out once she was in and settled.

I could feel an intensity brewing all around us so much so that I relocated myself into the basement where my art studio was. I was preparing for an art installment and looking forward to training for football. I thought if I gave physical space that would be enough. What I did not know is that for the umpteenth time she was already communicating with another woman. This was her norm. I could say I let it slide because of my relationship with my stepkids but realistically it was because I had allowed myself to be put into a place that would make it damn near impossible to get out of in one piece. My own demons that spoke the words of my parents and family were constantly reminding me that I had retribution coming for being a “bad egg.”

Everything that I took pride in from my physique, which made me a good athlete, my wits and intellect which made me an interesting and unique person got wadded up into a ball and thrown at me. Once again, I need to leave. At this stage, I no longer have a vehicle and on one occasion had to walk from the Highland Park area to Centurylink for work, but I know I need to leave. The thing is she still needed me financially. I was reaching out to whoever would listen. I was accepting that I “should know better” and that “I should have just never gone back”. The breakdown and the break up was nothing less than traumatic and ended with me encountering hospitalization and time in a battered women’s shelter.

The shelter time was through most of November and into the holidays. I had a goal of getting my own apartment and relying on a male co-worker for rides, I did that. But, I constantly felt that I was being hunted. I couldn’t relax. I felt targeted. I would go to work then back to the shelter. Due to many years of turmoil, I did not have a familial foundation. I did not have them for support or assistance. The shelter was always loud, cluttered and chaotic. I tried to volunteer to do anything to stay productive. I was granted permission to make posters for the Christmas holidays.

I sat in a room by myself drawing on large pieces of construction paper. I tried to stay off social media because so many rumors were flying around. I was placed in a room that had two single beds and a bunk bed, a closet, and a dresser. We had to have keys to get in and out of our rooms. I never went to college but I had been in a few dorms and would say it was comparable. I just sat on my bed healing from wounds that I inflicted and feeling like I failed. That I should not have had to get to that point mentally and physically to end up sharing a room with a woman that was hiding from a an attempted murder charge warrant out of Arizona. ( I don’t know what compelled her to inform me of this or if it was true)

I used all the money I had to get into efficiency by Christmas. I did not want to be in the shelter during Christmas. I was in the process of purchasing a very used car from a co-worker and moving into my new place all in the same time frame. I could see downtown from my balcony and walking distance to work. The vehicle was not reliable and on more than one occasion would not start and in sub-zero temperatures, I would walk to work and back. I was motivated by hate and frustration, not self-love and preservation. I heard she was looking for me. I felt it. I was working as much as I could and selling as much product as I could ethically without feeling like I was selling my soul. I needed to bank up enough money to leave Des Moines.

As I sit here right now in the comforts of my home, with my fur kid, in a sacred space made with my wife, I realize today is the 9 year anniversary of becoming a survivor.

What has not changed is the fear that this time of my life invoked and instilled in me. I am fearful of appearing strong or raising my voice. I am fearful of accidentally causing pain to others. I am fearful that my break down will forever be tied to me like an anchor. An anchor built to remind me of my weaknesses. As I sit in class learning about writing reports on matters like domestics, I am reminded that size does matter. During my relationship with my abuser, I was physically capable at any point of being “stronger” than her yet I never placed my hands on her. Just recently as I was looking at my CJ field options for employment I did a mock interview for the police academy and was advised to request the police reports from all the incidents.

I sat and read them for the first time. I read how she would frequently name drop her best friend who was an officer or the multiple times that they could not determine the aggressive party but I had to leave because she had her kids. To say that I am afraid of feeling strong or appearing as much sounds absolutely crazy but it is what I am experiencing.

I feel conflicted. I feel like I am betraying someone or something. I have questions and thoughts that do not have answers or resolutions. I want to there to be a bad guy not just bad decisions. I want there to be accountability without enabling. I want there to be responsibility without victim-blaming.

I want to speak up but not too loudly because then all those rumors from that long ago might hold some merit. That I must have been the abuser because she was granted a restraining order. I must have been guilty because I ended up with a disorderly conduct charge. I thought by getting into the root of systems that make up the Criminal and Social Justice fields, I would somehow rectify and understand but what it has done is unleashed more questions.

My arrest from that incident took place two years after the initial incident. During that time frame, I had been married in front of a judge. How I discovered that I had a warrant was that I was working as a Residential Counselor for developmentally delayed adults. In order to get hired an extensive background check is done as I would have access to people’s homes and finances. I was on the job a little over a month when I had to report that one resident’s family had stolen money from that resident’s roommate. I placed the call and waited. I had gone back into the apartment and there was a knock on the door.

It was the officer who had taken the report. He asked me to verify my information. I did so. He asked if I was aware that there was a domestic assault warrant out under my name? I told him that was not possible or I would not have had my job. He confirmed with dispatch by using my social security number. Dispatch confirmed. My entire body went cold.

I am on the job and it is Friday night. I was able to call my wife, at the time as well as the director of my company to come cover. When the director arrived and asked what was happening and the officer explained it was a warrant from 2010 even the director stated that was not possible or I would not have been employed there. (After, all of this I was given a copy of my exact background check from my employer at the time and there was nothing to report)

I am handcuffed and taken into custody and placed in the back seat of a West Des Moines police car. I am transferred to the back of a Des Moines Police car and then transferred again to the back of a “paddy wagon” that is used for public intox transport were I eventually land at Polk County jail.

I spend my night in jail and see the judge the next morning. I am last in line. She cannot find my information and asks why I am there. She finds the warrant that was written two years previously. She actually scoffs about the content of the warrant. She asked what I was doing when I was arrested, “reporting a crime.” She just stared at me. Paraphrasing her own words, ” I do not know who would have signed off on this warrant. I am letting you out on your own recognizance.” She proceeded to state that the charges should not hold up in court and that my hearing date was May 22 and I should not even need legal representation.

I hired an attorney and waited. That morning I am assuming we are going into my hearing to rebuttal the charges. He is late. I did not realize that he had an actual trial that morning. He last minute tells me to take a plea. My face was so hot that I was sweating. If I react in any way that could solidify the DA’s version of me then I could get a stiffer sentence. I did not know what to do. The pace of everything going on was mach speeds. Your name is called, you speak with judge all the while there are several other people, witnesses, accused and lawyers moving about. I am taking a plea of disorderly conduct: raucous and noise, with a 7-year restraining order attached to it. Everything is numb. I would be on paper until 2017.

Present Day: I am really struggling with all of this right now. There is still a bitter part to my persons over all of this. My entire life has been running from the fear of:

I want to believe that overcoming my past would be an asset to where I find myself currently in both fields. That there is some value that can be found in the wounds and scars. Yet, as I mentioned I am facing more critical thoughts and opinions. Are we really helping in advocacy when the recidivism rate is so high? Am I making any bit of difference when I have trust issues with the criminal justice system?

This year I feel the wounds again. They are fresh and I am agitated and my heart hurts. I am frustrated and want nothing more than to avoid everyone and everything. I take it personally when people lie to me. I take it personally when I am on the receiving end of someone being deceptive and deceiving. I am trying to own and understand how some can be determined the victim and the discretion that goes along with that. I am struggling to understand how to find balance when so many instances have occurred that make me want to turn my back and not care that I was not believed and was never allowed to be the victim.

The argument I make today I manifested back then, it’s about integrity. Nothing like this happened before her and nothing has happened since her. Yet, I am told that this cannot be used as a means or explanation. Every woman she was in a relationship with she had taken protective orders out against with the exception of one. I owned that which lead me into such an environment and made critical changes to prevent it from happening again. That happened with sacrifices and a will that was at times bitter but determined.

I know that the majority of the life I live now is because I was hiding from myself. I was suffocating my truths and lying to myself. I was nothing short of acting the opposite of my abilities. Because I continued to believe that if I did not look the part I could not play the part. What I found was a loving wounded warrior. I found that yes, I could most certainly kick someone’s ass and hit them hard but I would have chosen to have hugged them harder. I could use words to cut them to shreds but would have wanted to read them poetry instead. I could go up to battle against anyone but truly wanted to be stood next to not in front of. My voice out of anger or pain is loud and thunderous but the healer’s voice is empathic and caring. My ability to take care of my self and out of harm’s way is nothing short of brutal but I would defend a stranger with the same veracity. This does not make me the abuser. Her calling the cops first does not make her the victim.

I want an ending that nicely wraps this up all shiny and good like but I know that I am not there yet and that is ok.