THIS POST IS THE FIFTH OF A SERIES OF POSTS IN WHICH I DESCRIBE A RELATIONSHIP I HAD WITH AN EMOTIONALLY AND SEXUALLY ABUSIVE MAN. CHAPTER 4 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.
I was getting sicker. Waking up for work was becoming more impossible than the standard Monday blues. My first thought in the morning when I woke up and sat up was routinely, “I’m just too exhausted to get through today,” and I would need to seriously consider whether any of it was worth it at all. When I had to visit clients or sites for work, I would take a nap in my car in a supermarket parking lot afterwards, and tell my manager Angela that there had been traffic on the way back. I was listless, my cheeks becoming hollower by the day, my hair wasn’t growing anymore, my skin was pallid and my lips such a dull pink as to be nearly grey. It seemed like every food made me sick, so I wasn’t eating. I didn’t know what to eat and I began to become fearful of the negative effects, so I simply abstained.
The formerly important people in my life were more like the faceless bodies that surround you in a dream. They drifted in and out of my peripheral vision, I knew they were there, but no words passed between us.
One weekend, Eli was visiting me and while lying in bed, we got into an argument. We fought with venomous whispers until my mother had gone to bed. We continued to fight long after, and when we were unable to reach resolve, we laid in the blackness of the night, in impenetrable silence. I was shaking. Frustration, rage, injustice, my increasingly frail body could barely contain the bile and I was quivering from the load.
It was only a mere number of minutes before I realized he’d fallen asleep. Furious that he could find calm when I felt so harrowed, I silently sat up and stared into the darkness, trying to breathe. Realizing that serenity would not be reaching me anytime soon, I walked noiselessly to the kitchen.
On the table, I saw Eli’s laptop and I thought that watching some funny Youtube videos on my own laptop might put me at ease. When I realized that my laptop was in the room where he slept, I thought it better to simply use his. It wasn’t password protected (neither was mine); neither of us had anything to hide.
I opened the lid and the screen lit up. Scanning the desktop icons for the internet browser, there was a word document with a file name that caught my eye. It was titled simply, “Jared.doc.”
On a conscious level, even at this moment, I did not have any thought about what the file might contain. It simply caught my eye because its title was the name of my high school sweetheart, the one man whose presence in my life didn’t seem to bother Eli.
Curious, I double clicked.
The contents knocked the wind out of my lungs.
It was long, dozens of pages long, and was a verbatim transcript of instant messenger conversations I’d had with Jared while at work. Asinine or heartfelt, every interaction was documented. I wasn’t ashamed because I had nothing to hide, our flame had burned out long ago, but the violation of my privacy made me feel humiliated. How had it come to be there? Was there anything else?
Alone in my darkened house, lit only by the blue glow of the laptop, I began to look.
Into the main menu. Into ‘My Documents.’ A folder named “Pictures of Trouble.”
Hundreds of pictures of my nude body.
Hundreds of pictures of me touching my nude body, my body in various shapes of undress, my body from every angle, all screenshots from Skype. Screenshots from the Skype video calls I made with Eli as a compromise because I was deeply uncomfortable sending him provocative photographs.
I deleted them all. Put them into the trash and cleared it forever. Googled how to make sure they were unable to be recovered, ever. I wanted to be certain.
I left Jared.doc on the desktop as I’d found it. I closed the laptop and went back to lie, wakeful, in bed next to my boyfriend.
The next morning over coffee, Eli opened his laptop while I sat across from him.
“Did you use my laptop last night?” he asked in a tone that I knew to be the predecessor to vociferated four letter words.
Casually and with a deathly calm, I met his steel gaze with one of my own, “Yes.” I stared into his eyes and had a flashback.
I was nine years old. I was walking home from school with a handful of the neighborhood kids and we were roaming and zigzagging across the safe, suburban streets, not in a hurry to arrive at our houses and do more schoolwork disguised as homework. Halfway between school and our street, there was a house with a tall fence, behind which resided two loud and menacing dogs. When we passed this house on our usual route, we would all walk gravely and tacitly on the other side of the road, but we never spoke about it. On this day, one of the dogs was outside the fence. How he’d managed it, I’m not sure, because the fence was at least six feet tall and made of solidly paneled wood with no gaps or chinks. We’d never actually seen the dogs before, only heard their claws and teeth on the wood. Legs splayed and back rigid, he bared his fangs and barked aggressively at our group that had frozen in the middle of the street.
“Let’s go back,” one of the kids suggested.
“Let’s go left and take the other road.”
“It’s too busy, my Mom says I’m not allowed to walk on that road, only this one.”
“Let’s go right and go around through the other streets.”
“That will take like half an hour! And I’m not really sure how to get home that way, either.”
We stood, huddled, indecisive.
I looked at the beast on the corner. When we had stopped moving, he had stopped barking and was now staring at us with an unwavering intensity.
My family had a dog. She wasn’t overly fond of me or my brother, she really only obeyed my father and loved my mother. I was no stranger to bared teeth and had learned to coexist by ignoring her or petting her only when she asked. I contemplated our opponent and took a step forwards.
“What are you doing?”
I took another step, backwards this time, facing my friends.
“Guys, it’s fine. He’s just barking, he’s not actually going to do anything.” Another step, and he still hadn’t moved but was watching me.
With my back to my friends and my eyes on the dog, I didn’t see the car coming up the road. The driver slowed and from behind me I heard a very familiar and urgent screech, “TROUBLE, YOU GET IN THIS CAR RIGHT NOW.”
Eli was staring at me. I was expressionless.
“When you closed my laptop you lost the progress I had made on a very important report for school.”
I hadn’t seen anything open the previous night but I felt a pang of remorse, quickly replaced by a blaze of righteousness.
“I’m sure you can recover it.”
“I tried, I can’t. It’s gone.”
“Well then I’m sure you can rewrite it.”
I wasn’t going to apologize. Not this time.
He stared at me a moment longer and then redirected his gaze to his computer. I cleared the coffee cups and brought them to the sink, pausing to size up my apparition in the window.
I knew that if I didn’t say anything, he couldn’t either. I was wrong for snooping through his personal property, I knew that. I knew that he would readily tear me to pieces for it. But I also knew he couldn’t. He couldn’t admit to having the pictures. He wasn’t supposed to have them. It was a fight I would win.
Casually as I washed our mugs, I said, “I noticed the document on your desktop.”
“Oh?” he was blithe, “Which one?”
Silence from behind me as I looked out the window.
Again, calmly, and void of inflection, I enquired, “Why do you have that?”
“The Secret Teller attached it in one of the e-mails.”
“Oh really? How come you never mentioned it before?”
“It’s just funny, you know,” I said lightly, “because you always told me everything that was in the e-mails. Sometimes word for word.”
“I didn’t mention it because there is nothing bad in there,” he countered. “There’s nothing going on between you and Jared.”
“I know,” I told him, somewhat patronizingly. I paused. “Then why did you keep it?”
His explanation was that in law school he learned to never discount potential evidence or information. He kept everything from The Secret Teller. He advised me that, should I receive unsolicited attentions, I should always document any happenings in as much detail as possible.
I think that, for most self-respecting people, finding their trust so flagrantly violated would be the end of the relationship. I know that, for me and who I am and what I know now, I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did.
But the key word there is “self-respecting.” When you don’t respect yourself, you make all kinds of rationalizations why other people don’t have to, either. I think on some level I was also afraid at that point about what would happen if I directly confronted Eli about what was going on. He had never hit me, or physically harmed me in any other way, but I had seen him in his rages and didn’t know what it would be like if it turned around on me. And I wanted to be sure. I wanted to know, beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt, that my boyfriend, the one person whom I thought I ought to be able to trust more than anyone else in the world, was actively harming me.
I reached out to my brother. I knew he was friends with any kind of person you could imagine. The rich kids, the preps, the burn outs and stoners, the alternative and punk kids, the ones who went to Ivy League colleges, the ones who didn’t go to college- my brother fit in literally every social circle. I knew that if there was anybody who could help me, my brother could help me find out. I didn’t share the details with him, I just said that I needed to speak to someone who knew a lot about computers. Someone who knew things they might not necessarily teach you in school.
He put me in contact with an undergraduate level astrophysicist who, on the side, was one of the most eminent computer hackers on the east coast. We’d gone to high school with him, but of course I had no idea at the time who he was or what he could do. He was incredibly kind to me. I asked him to speak on the phone, from my land line, because I didn’t know what was or wasn’t a secure connection. I told him everything that had been happening, about my e-mails and my Facebook messages being hacked, about it being habitual and about my fears of a complete violation of privacy. He asked me to trust him, to give him my passwords, and let him peek around the underbelly of my social accounts. Less than two days later he got back to me with good and bad news.
“The good news is, your accounts are secure.”
“Definitely. They’ve been accessed through a proxy server that only makes it look like they’re being hacked from other locations; unfortunately I can’t trace it back to the original machine.”
“Okay, what’s the bad news?”
“Well. Let me tell you something about hackers. We have two main objectives in what we do- 1) We do it for fun, or to prove that we can. Just for shits and giggles, we want to do something and maybe make a prank out of it. It’s not malicious. 2) For profit. I’m not one of these kinds of guys, but someone who does it for profit goes after bank accounts and things like that. Have you noticed anything weird there?”
“No, my bank accounts are untouched.”
“I thought so.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t think someone is hacking you.”
“Then what is it?”
“Honestly? The only thing that makes sense is that someone has your passwords. Is that possible?”
“Like a stranger?”
“No, I don’t think so. Someone close to you. Like your boyfriend.”
“I don’t believe my boyfriend would do this.”
I thanked him for his time, and for helping so generously when he was only an acquaintance of my brother’s to start. I didn’t believe that Eli would pry into my personal accounts because I had never withheld anything from him- I was an open book and I was sure he knew it. Besides, the e-mails from The Secret Teller were making me sick and miserable, and since he was the one who was up all night most nights fighting with or talking to me, it was making him miserable, too. It didn’t make sense for it to be Eli. I couldn’t believe it would be. I had isolated myself from my family and my friends. I didn’t have any other lifeline except for Eli. If this was all his doing, I would drown. It couldn’t be him, because I had no idea how to begin to recover from it if it were.
TO BE CONTINUED.