THIS POST IS THE FOURTH OF A SERIES OF POSTS IN WHICH I DESCRIBE A RELATIONSHIP I HAD WITH AN EMOTIONALLY AND SEXUALLY ABUSIVE MAN. CHAPTER 3 IS HERE AND THE REST OF THE SERIES CAN BE FOUND ON THE STORIES & SERIES PAGE. THANK YOU FOR READING, AND PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE THIS STORY SO THAT OTHERS CAN LEARN FROM MY EXPERIENCES INSTEAD OF NEEDING TO MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES.
My job was boring. I was a staff scientist at an environmental consulting agency, and per the instructions of my overbearing manager, Angela, we used AIM Pro for intraoffice communications. I also used it for personal correspondence.
“What would we name our kids?” Eli asked me one day over instant messenger as I mindlessly entered potential clients’ information into a spreadsheet.
“I don’t know… I could see us having a daughter.”
“I’d love a daughter. But you know I’d be so protective.”
“Not as protective…”
We both laughed.
He continued, “You’d come home one day and ask where she is, and I’d be like, ‘Um… She was right here,’ and we would go out and see her eating tomatoes in the garden.”
“Who eats plain whole tomatoes?!” I laughed.
“I did! She would get it from me!” he insisted.
“She’d have pigtails.”
“And your green eyes.”
“Green eyes aren’t inherited, they’re a mutation.”
“Whatever. She’d look like you.”
“I like the name Abbie.”
“But hyphenated with something.”
We frequently spoke of our future together. His mother had possession of a two carat oval cut diamond that would be mine, in its vintage setting or a new one. We would probably inherit his family’s second home in the Appalachians. His sister would inherit the third home, the beach house.
He checked in on me at work every day. How he managed it on top of his graduate school class schedule, I don’t know. He was undeniably intelligent, but sometimes it seemed as though he was achieving too much to fit into the normal length of a day.
One day he messaged me in my second language.
“Wie geht’s heute?”
“What?! Since when do you speak German?! Or are you using Google translate, you cheater?”
“I thought it would be fun if I learned so that we could speak it together. I know it’s your heritage, and maybe someday I’ll meet your extended family.”
I was dumbstruck. He was already bilingual, and here he was taking on a third language for my benefit, on top of his already very demanding studies. I’d never before known anybody who had the natural aptitude and intelligence, or the drive, to undertake so much. Until I met Eli, I had taken for granted that I would always be the partner of a relationship who was the highest achiever, the most ambitious and competitive. To know that my successes and my intelligence weren’t intimidating to him, but that they were attractive, put me at ease.
“You’re smarter than me,” I admitted.
“I’m not. I’m really not,” he assured me, “I always thought that someday I would see you on TV. I think you’ll have the respect of millions.”
“Really?” I felt dubious.
“Yes. Call it a hunch.”
Eli wasn’t the only non-coworker with whom I spoke during my workday. If friends were logged in on Gmail or AIM, we would invariably have a chat. Most frequently I spoke to my high school sweetheart, who was a longstanding good friend. Jared and I had dated for nearly four years from the time I was 15. We’d matured together and been each others’ first everything (mostly). We both knew we weren’t meant to be forever, but respected and valued each others’ friendship and opinions. He was my closest male friend, and the one to whom I turned when things became rough in my relationship with Eli. He wanted nothing but happiness for me, and I for him, so I knew that if I went to him with my problems he would advise me only in the directions that would bring me joy. He knew that I wanted to marry Eli, and knew that Eli provided me with stimuli that he could never fulfill, and thus Jared only ever encouraged me to make my relationship work.
“Who else are you talking to?” Eli once asked me.
“Just you and Jared,” I replied.
Eli never had a problem with Jared. Although other flings, like Sam, seemed to cause him great insecurity, Jared never did. He seemed to recognize that Jared was integral to my mental health, and that our relationship was one built on love that had long since ceased to be romantic in nature. Other conversations, though, did not pass with such forbearance.
I spoke one day with a college friend about a lamp that Eli had sent to me. It was meant to assist in regulating sleep, due to its blue hue. Ever since I had fallen ill, I’d found that my sleep was restless and that during my working days I was nearly too tired to function. Eli had done research into sleep disorders and found that a particular blue hue of light was meant to facilitate restfulness. I’d used it as per the lamp’s instructions for several days but wasn’t seeing any beneficial effect.
“It’s not working,” I told my friend.
“I mean, it sounds kind of dumb,” she said, “Like, how is a light supposed to help you sleep?”
“He really means so well,” I replied, referencing Eli.
“Oh, I don’t doubt it. You don’t have to tell him it’s not working.”
“Yeah, maybe I’ll just put it back in the box and try not to bring it up.”
That evening as I was lying in bed I received a call from Eli.
“Is there anything you’d like to tell me?”
“Uhh.. I love you?” I chuckled nervously.
“No.” He said, deadpan.
“Um… sorry, no, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Your conversation today?”
I began to feel my stomach sinking.
“You know what I’m talking about.”
“No, I don’t, actually. Maybe you want to tell me and stop being cryptic.”
“How incredibly rude you are to speak of me like that to your friends. Especially after I tried to do something nice for you.”
Silence from me.
“So you don’t deny it?”
“How… how do you know about what I said today?”
“The Secret Teller,” he said ruefully, “tells me everything.”
“But I only just had that conversation.”
“And obviously you didn’t think I’d find out, or you wouldn’t be so rude about it.”
“I wasn’t rude!”
“You weren’t gracious!”
This was how so many of our nights seemed to go. I was being watched by somebody who relentlessly shared even my smallest indiscretions. Each of these reveals was the first punch in a fight that raged for hours, often through the entire night. I was rude. I was shallow. I didn’t respect him. I hungered for other men. I was a slut. I was dirty. He never wanted to touch me again. He felt disgusting for having slept with me. I needed to apologize. Apologize for being rude. Apologize for being a slut. Apologize for being disgusting to him. Apologize. Apologize.
Our altercation propagated, tumultuously reaching shores we hadn’t even envisioned. The storm raged for hours, his verbal assaults lashing at me with hurricane force winds while my tears poured down, sufficient to drown us both. When the first light of dawn tinged the sky an incongruous shade of rosy pink, there was prolonged silence on our line.
“This can’t keep happening,” he sighed.
“No,” I agreed.
“We have to find The Secret Teller.”
At 8AM we were still talking, alternately arguing and working collaboratively to try and bring our altercation to an end. Walking out the door while still on the phone with him, I barely waved good morning to my mother as I started my car and pulled out the drive to commute to work. It wasn’t until hours later that I was kicking myself for realizing why she’d looked so crestfallen. It was her birthday. I’d forgotten my own mother’s birthday in the drama that was engulfing me. Yet, while it affected my life so profoundly, I found myself reluctant to admit any of it to my friends or family. When my mother confronted me that evening about my negligence, I bore the blame, apologizing and attributing it to carelessness. When Mariah, Audrey, and Chelsea remarked on my newfound emotional distance, I attributed it to my demanding workload. My only true confidant was Eli.
Nobody was to know the inner workings of my relationship. Eli had made it clear that nobody was to be trusted. Nobody but him. My secrets were being divulged and I couldn’t know why or by whom, and therefore I needed to withdraw entirely from all friends and family. My only relationships that remained unchanged were those with Jared and with my brother. My brother and I were never particularly close, we were never distant. We weren’t acquaintances, we weren’t as close as friends. Perhaps this is the status quo of a sibling relationship; whatever it was, it remained unchanged.
I was with Eli down south and he used my laptop to show me how to track log-ins on my Gmail account. He showed me how my account had been accessed from all over the United States.
“Who do you know in Boston?”
“Well, my brother…”
“Could it be him?”
“No! I mean, not a chance, he doesn’t know enough about my personal life.”
“What about Chicago?” another log-in location.
“I don’t know anybody there,” I insisted.
“Somebody has it in for you,” he reminded me, “I’m only trying to help you find out who it is.”
Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania. Almost every state east of Colorado had been a site of access for my e-mail account. I felt bewildered, overwhelmed, and constantly anxious.
“I don’t know!” I cried, at the end of my rope for the time-being. I was sick, physically and mentally overwhelmed with the taxation of feeling mistrustful of the entirety of my social circle.
“Who do you think it is?” Eli demanded.
“I don’t know!” I sobbed.
“You don’t know?!” He derided me, “This doesn’t just affect you. It affects me! It affects a future senator! The future president of the United States!”
“I’m sorry!” I cried.
His family was eminent. His sister’s mental health tenuous. I didn’t want to be responsible for a scandal that put her over the edge.
“I don’t know! I wish I did, but I don’t!”
“It’s got to be Audrey,” he insisted.
“It can’t be,” I sobbed, “How could she log in from Chicago, from Texas?”
He wouldn’t speak to me, wouldn’t acknowledge me. Still crying and despondent, I dragged my feet up the stairs and into the master bedroom. I splashed cold water on my face, and looked at myself in the mirror. I looked haggard, dark circles under my eyes, frown lines forming at the corners of my mouth. I walked to the bed and sat on the edge, giving into to sobs that wracked my body until my ribs were sore. It couldn’t be Audrey. We’d been friends nearly our entire lives. I trusted her. I loved her. I loved her family. I was convinced that though she may know enough about me to destroy me, she would never utilize that knowledge against me. But if not her, then who? I didn’t know. I had no answer. I could not conceive of a person vile enough to wish me so much unhappiness. I gazed emptily, miserably, out the window to the sunny spring daytime and shook my head slowly. Facing the ground, I began to sob again. Through my heaves, I heard the door creak behind me and felt Eli climbing onto the bed.
He came up behind me, one leg on either side, and hugged me from behind as I cried. He wiped the tears from my chin, from my cheeks. And kissed my neck, my ear, my temple. He cradled me firmly, squeezing as if to assure that all would soon be well. And then each of his hands found each of my breasts.
I pulled away, “REALLY?!” I screeched, erupting into tears anew.
He murmured apologies into my ear and rocked with me as I sobbed for a few moments. But it wasn’t long until he was once again reaching for territory I wasn’t ready to yield. I pushed him away.
“Not now,” I told him, firmly though wetly.
He held me still as the tears fell. A few long minutes passed, and then his hands once again reached up my shirt.
I leaned away, but he pulled me towards him.
He leaned in to kiss me, but I turned my head.
One hand gripped its target as the other forced my chin towards his. Tears still pouring down, I was too tired to oppose him anymore. My head turned, lips set and unyielding against his seeking mouth. He pulled me prostrate onto the mattress as I continued to cry.