I Knew A Life With My Partner Would Lead To An Early Death — But I Didn't Leave Until He Almost Killed Me

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I Knew A Life With My Partner Would Lead To An Early Death — But I Didn't Leave Until He Almost Killed Me
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Heartbreak

There I sat on the dock, with my small feet dangling just above the water. I closed my eyes as the sun penetrated my skin. It was the perfect day. And I thought to myself: I could have more days like this if I escaped him. I consumed too much Red Cat wine that day for being 19, but I was getting a tan, so did I really care? 

It was a warm summer day, the sunbeams were reflecting perfectly on Keuka Lake. It was a girl's day we’d been planning for weeks, but I hadn’t been certain I’d actually make it. Abusive relationships leave more canceled plans than attended. But nonetheless, there I was.

Being at the lake without service would bring ease to most. But I could feel the anxiety swimming in the pit of my stomach. I knew my phone was being bombarded with missed texts and unanswered calls. I knew I’d be assaulted with them the second I went into service range, and boy was I right.

I’d just left my ex the day before, kicking him out of my apartment, after taking his key. Who knows what he did that time. He was manipulative, controlling, and violent … but little did I know, I had only seen the tip of the iceberg.

The sun went down for the night, and our sunburnt bodies began to chill. My friend asked if I was ready to go home, so home we went. Thankfully I didn’t have a car because I was drunk. As we winded down East Lake Rd my phone began to ding. The front screen of my maroon flip phone confirmed my fears. With sweaty palms I nervously flicked it open, preparing for the worst: 47 text messages, 20 missed calls, and 4 voicemails. Typical.

I wanted to throw my phone out the window. Or myself out of the car to be honest.

I began with the texts, and it was of no surprise to me what I read. He knew I was going to the lake. He knew I was having a GIRLS day.

The first messages were sweet like any manipulator's messages are. “Babe, please let me come home. I’m sorry.” “Please answer me.” “I promise I’ll be the man you need me to be.” 20 mins later the messages became more disturbing. “You’re a drunk slut.” “I know you’re having sex with someone, that’s what whores like you do.” “You think you’re so sneaky, but I know what you’re doing. You just wait.”

The ominous threats shook me to my core. Mostly, because I knew with him, a threat was more of a foreshadowing. He’d lost control, and he was spiraling. I’d dealt with this before I thought. I’d be okay, I thought.

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The first voicemail was sweet, wishing me a good day … saying he was sorry, and that he missed “us.” Blah, blah, blah. The following ones got louder, darker, scarier. I could hear the desperation in his voice, the anger rising from below. He tried to conceal that he was a ticking time bomb, but then like clockwork … he detonated. I couldn’t finish the voicemails. It was too much for my drunk self, much less my sober self.

Shadowy Figures

As any drunk girl does, I cried to my friend. She told me for the 1,000th time that I had to LEAVE. Not just “go on a break,” but really get away this time. I knew she was right. I knew a life with him would lead to an early death.

She didn’t want to drop me off at home; she wanted me to stay with her. But I insisted I was fine. Over and over she asked if he’d be waiting for me. I said no, a blatant lie.

I made her drop me off down the street and around the corner. She was hesitant because she wanted to make sure I got inside okay. I didn’t think that was a good idea. I knew he was watching and waiting; a hovering car would just bring attention that I’d arrived. If I crept through the dark streets, I may be able to get inside unnoticed.

I snuck in between some parked cars on the opposite side of the road, squinting with drunk eyes searching for his parked SUV. I didn’t see it, but I knew that meant nothing. Closely walking next to the vehicles, with my head on a swivel, I attempted to shrink myself. When I was certain I wasn’t being watched I darted across the street, up to my apartment, and unlocked my door. Every atom inside me was roaring, like drops of water in a boiling pot.

I stood inside my door, silent, holding my breath. I could hear my heart pounding. “This isn’t normal,” I told myself. I decided to keep the lights off in case he was watching the apartment. Using the dim light from my phone screen I stumbled up the stairs. The apartment was dark, but it felt … different. Anger that explosive, you can feel in the air.

At first, I didn’t see him. I didn’t expect him to be inside the house. After all, I had his key. It was a small studio apartment and at the top of the stairs sat a floral love seat. Like the psycho mastermind he is, he’d situated himself on the far side of it, so I couldn’t see him as I climbed the stairs. I propped my wobbly self against the wall, setting down my purse to remove my shoes. Just then, I heard the smallest movement, in the ever-so-silent apartment.

I froze for a moment too long. I lunged for the stairs. “B*tch, you’re not going anywhere!” he hissed through clenched teeth. I could see the streetlight through the front door, and it seemed miles away. Just as my foot hit the first step to freedom, his clenched fist tangled in my hair. He flung me back with all his might, tossing me across the room, onto the love seat. My phone was no longer in my hand, and I could hear it land at the bottom of the stairs. He was standing between me and freedom.

I screamed “HELP!!!” with every fiber of my being. Help didn’t arrive. My neighbors always heard me screaming, and him destroying things — it was just another night for them.

Hearing me scream triggered the monster inside of him. I was scared, and that’s how he liked me best. He lunged at me, and in the pitch dark, I attempted to kick him away. He was bigger, heavier. But I was faster and scrappy. I kicked him in the ribs hard enough to get off the love seat, and run across the living room (which was also the kitchen), to the bathroom.

I didn’t make it.

Face-first I hit the small patch of linoleum in the kitchen. In seconds his forceful hands grasped my ankles and aggressively pulled me across the floor. I tried to grasp any surface I could find, but it was pointless.

I was successfully able to flip myself onto my back, and the dragging stopped. Still holding my ankles tight in his hands, we made eye contact for the first time. His brown eyes were as black as the Devil’s. A shiver chilled me to my bones. Any remnant of the man I loved was gone and I knew my nightmare was just beginning.

I used the opportunity to attempt to kick my legs loose, screaming “let me go!” I got one leg loose, flipped over, and dug my fingers into the floor desperately trying to crawl away.

Next thing I knew he was sitting on my back. “You think you’re so smart. You’re stupid you know that? No one’s coming to save you. No one cares about you; you’re a drunk.”

I screamed for him to get off and he slammed my face into the carpet demanding my silence. “You wanna scream? I haven’t even given you anything to scream about yet.”

Again, he intertwined his fist in my hair. With all his might he aggressively rubbed the left side of my face back and forth on the low rough carpet. I could feel the rug burn forming. I felt like I was on fire. I laid there absolutely still, not struggling. He asked me if I liked it, and then did it again, twice as long this time. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. But I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. I knew he liked it.

He sat on my back for another minute. I could feel his hot breath on my neck and his heavy body on top of me. I didn’t move. I didn’t speak. I felt his weight slowly peel off my back. As I carefully rose to my feet, I prayed it was over.

He sat on the floor, head in his hands. Like he was the victim. He reminded me of a scolded child. “Why do you make me do this to you?” he asked. In a stern voice I told him, “I’m going to the bathroom and I want you gone by the time I’m out. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

Sharp Objects

I went to the bathroom, locked the door, and sat against it forever. I listened as his heavy body made its way down the creaky stairs, the door finally shutting behind him. I gasped for air, breathing for the first time in what felt like hours, and began to cry hysterically.

I don’t know how much time went by but I eventually stood in front of the mirror. My nose was starting to swell from falling on the floor, and my left cheekbone was rubbed almost raw. My tears were literal salt in my wounds. I stared at my reflection wondering how I allowed myself to get there again.

I sat on the toilet to pee, with my face in my hands, sobbing. Over my tears, I heard a recognizable noise. As I slowly brought my head up it suddenly hit me; he was still out there. I reached for the toilet paper and froze with confusion as I heard the wine bottles on top of my fridge clink against each other. Why was he in the fridge?

In a matter of seconds, he burst through the locked door, a magnum of Red Cat in one hand, the other clenched around my phone. There was a storm brewing in his eyes, and I knew danger was ahead. His lips barely parted as he slowly and angrily asked, “You told your friends we were over? We are not over. We’ll never be over.”

I’d had enough of his sh*t. Pulling up my pants, I told him to get the hell out of my house. My phone bounced off the wall, as he simultaneously pushed me back onto the toilet. “Oh no. You want to drink? You want to have fun without me? You’re going to drink this whole thing.” I tried to push him away and told him he was crazy. He bounced the right side of my head off the wall and forced my mouth open.

He began to drown me with the wine. I tried to spit it out but was beginning to choke. He didn’t care. He screamed for me to swallow it. He didn’t stop until it was gone. I was soaked in wine and tears.

“What? I thought you liked being wasted?” he muttered as he walked away. I picked my phone up, and the indestructible thing still worked. I wasn’t scared anymore. I was angry.

I lost control and sprung after him, pushing him from behind toward the stairs. “LEAVE! I’ll call the cops.” “You think they’ll care about you, you little slut?”

He refused to leave so I opened my flip phone, and prepared to call the police. Next thing I knew I was body-slammed to the floor, separated from my phone again. My ears were assaulted with a familiar noise that froze me. The noise was a hunting knife being flung open. As I write this, I can hear the sound clear as day.

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He’d asked for the knife for a Valentine’s Day gift. At the time, I wondered: What did he need that for? He didn’t hunt. At this moment I realized my mistake and the giant red flag. The knife was for me.

I felt the cold metal push against my throat. At the moment I wasn’t scared. I prayed he’d take my life — then everyone would see him for the monster he really was.

In a moment of stupidity or bravery, I still don’t know which … I pulled my head off the ground pressing my neck hard against the blade daring him, “DO IT.”

But something wasn’t right. As hard as I was pressing, I should’ve been bleeding. The knife wasn’t sharp.

This f*cker. This coward. He didn’t even have the sharp edge of the blade against my neck. At the realization, I began to laugh like a lunatic. I looked him dead in the eyes and told him I always knew he was a coward. I told him he couldn’t even try to kill me right. I didn’t care what I said, and I didn’t care what he did next.

Turns out after he's threatened to slit your throat one of two things happens: You become a victim, or you lose all fear.

He got off from me, tossing the knife aside, and said, “Jess, I’m sorry! I would never hurt you!” “Well that’s rich,” I said.

I tried to stand, but the wine was catching up to me. Down I fell. The already dimly-lit apartment faded to black, as did my memory. What happened next is a mystery that only he’d know.

Amnesia

Bzzzz, Bzzzz … I opened my swollen eyes turning off my alarm. Staring at the ceiling in confusion I tried to piece together the night, but most of it was a blur. Next to me he laid sleeping silently. Anger welled up inside me mixing with other emotions. Crawling from bed trying not to wake the beast, every fiber of my being ached. And not just from the alcohol, which clearly was still in my system.

I quietly opened my bedroom door. Evidence from the previous night littered the room. His knife was still on the floor and the empty bottle of wine was on the linoleum where it’d fallen. Flashes of memories began to come back and I immediately began to panic. I picked up the knife and hid it in the cushions, where it remained for years until my dad accidentally found it.

I put my hands on my head, feeling my entire scalp recoiling in pain. Shit. I knew I needed to make a plan to get him or me out of the house. He knew my schedule and it was my day off. I decided that I’d lie and say at the lake I agreed to pick up one of the girl’s day shifts at the Pub. That would do.

I went into the bathroom, shutting the now broken door behind me. Great, another thing I’ll be paying for. I shook my head at the Red Cat stain on the floor. I slowly undressed facing the woman in the mirror. She looked rough, but felt worse. A shell of my former self stared back at me.

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I pulled back the half tore down shower curtain (no clue how that happened), and warmed up the shower. I immediately began to sober up and silently cry. I gently washed my bruised scalp, as the water washed away my tears.

As I pulled back the curtain, I pulled myself together. I wouldn’t let him see me weak like this.

I wasn’t weak, and I was going to take back my life even if it killed me.

I heard the bedroom door open, and I prepared for his entrance. I could feel him standing outside the door.

“You may as well come in, not like I can lock it now anyway,” I snarled. The door slowly opened and he stood there, staring at his feet, pretending to be defeated. “Can I help you? I’m busy.” “I’m s..sorry,” he stuttered. “Oh sorry? Exactly what are you sorry for? I want you to tell me word for word what you’re pretending to apologize for because I’m not buying your 'I’m sorry' bullish*t anymore.” He wouldn’t even look up. “You know what, forget it. I don’t want an apology from you. You’re a coward. I want you to leave.”

He stood in the doorway. “I said leave.” “

Where are you going?” he asked accusingly.

“Not that it’s any of your damn business, but I picked up a shift from one of the girls last night. Now if you don’t mind, I need you to leave me the hell alone so I can attempt to cover up this mess you made!” I yelled as I pointed to my face.

“Jess, I really am…”

“GET THE F*CK OUT!” I interrupted. I wasn’t asking anymore. He retreated and left the apartment without a struggle.

Temporary Resolutions

With the miracle of makeup, I made myself halfway presentable. If anyone asked, I’d tell them I fell down my stairs drunk. I knew some of them would accept the lie, and some of them would know it was him. I put on my uniform, knowing he’d be somewhere watching me as I walked to work. I needed to make it believable. I didn’t think he’d be ballsy enough to come after me if people were expecting me to be somewhere. I was right.

When I showed up to work my manager took one look at me and asked, “What the hell happened to you?” I looked away and said that I fell down my stairs. He looked at me suspiciously and said, “You know you don’t work today right?” “Shit really? Oh. Well, I’m going to hang out here a bit before walking home. It’s hot out there.” “No problem.”

I sat in a booth, staring at my phone deciding what to do next. Then it hit me. How did he even get in, I took his key? Then it dawned on me: Of course, an abuser would make a spare in case you dare leave. Great.

I called my dad, and without explaining too much I said I needed help changing my locks. I told him we broke up and I just wanted to be safe. He agreed to come up that afternoon and help. I longed to tell him what happened, but I couldn’t. I vowed I'd never speak of it. But like many others, I think he knew.

The day that I was with my dad getting a new lock, he texted letting me know he’d give me space until I was ready. I never responded.

I’d often hear the distinct sound of his engine, as his SUV rolled down down my street, slowing down in front of my house — undoubtedly checking up on me to see if I had “visitors.” I became accustomed to the darkness and often sat around in the dark listening to music on low.

That night I didn’t stay there alone … or many nights thereafter. In the following weeks, I began finding little notes from him stashed around the apartment, fear igniting each time. “You don’t need makeup. I love your 3 am beauty” read the one in my makeup drawer. “I want a future with you, babies, and jet skis” read one in my closet. When did he leave these? Was he breaking in? I didn't text him to ask.

Every walk to and from work was riddled with paranoia. Where was he? Was that his car parked ahead? I’d change my route often, trying to avoid the main roads. I could escape him physically, but mentally I was haunted.

I waited for his next strike; each day fear built. Weeks later in the deep of night, my phone buzzed. It was him. “You up?”

To Be Continued

My abuse is an experience that I’ve buried deep in my soul, and have only opened up to a few people about it since. For those unaware, I’ve been writing a memoir for a while. As you can imagine this was a pivotal moment in my life. Every time I tried to write about this experience, I’d become overwhelmed with emotion and would slam my computer shut. Today I woke up out of a dead sleep and something told me I had to tell my story. 

And if anyone out there is reading this, and finds it all too familiar… please don’t hesitate to reach out, judgment-free. I’ll do whatever I can to help.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, there are resources to get help.
There are ways to go about asking for help as safely as possible. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling from domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 or log onto thehotline.org.

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Jessica Hmiel is the author of Hollow Company — a memoir centering around escaping extreme domestic violence. I’m currently a child abuse investigator, assisting others wishing to leave similar situations. 

This article was originally published at A Suitcase Of Memories. Reprinted with permission from the author.