Anyone who knows much of anything about domestic violence knows this much: the most dangerous time is when you try to leave them.
I loved an unworthy man when I was 19. By the time I met him, he was going through a breakup with the girlfriend before me, a messy split that would haunt her, a woman with serious mental health challenges, for the next two decades. Wait, let me say that correctly: It was a violent breakup, one that saw him do a few days in jail. It should have been all the warning I needed, but I was young and hadn’t known that sort of danger before. I thought I could cure him.
I couldn’t. Within four months of meeting, he had pitched me down a flight of stairs, landing me at the door of his downstairs neighbor, who glared at me in disgust. His ex-girlfriend took to stalking me, filling up my answering machine tape with harassing messages and following a few steps behind me on the sidewalk while hurling invectives at me. Then he started having sex with a girl still in high school, leaving the empty condom wrappers he and I hadn’t used around his bedroom for me to find. And when I had the nerve to get depressed about all this, he put my foot on the ledge of a third-floor balcony and urged me to jump.
We also shared a workplace. And one day, when he asked to borrow money from me — a day in which he had given that high school girl a ride to work with us (yes, she worked there, too) — it was finally too much. All I said was, “If I’m good enough to ask for money, I’m good enough to treat with respect.” But that was too much. I had drawn a line.
Retaliation was immediate. Within the hour, one of our supervisors took me aside and showed me a piece of paper that had a caricature of me suggesting I had offered to give him money in return for sex. The supervisor wasn’t angry at me though. “I just thought you should know what he was doing,” she said. When I confronted him on our break, he shoved me to the ground.
And that was that. I knew then that I had to go. I called my parents, who had made it clear over the past several months that they were just waiting for that call, and told them I wanted to come home. A few weeks later, I was. But between those dates, he scowled, sneered, spoke behind my back. I was scared. And I felt broken.
I wish I could say that was the end of the story, but it wasn’t. I moved nearly a thousand miles away, and he followed a year after. He said he changed and I wanted to believe. Within a week, he had broken my finger. I kicked him out. He moved in with the girl next door — literally, right next door. From there, he broke into my apartment at least once – by that, I mean I actually stood in my room where he couldn’t see me and watched him do it. And I am fairly confident he did that multiple times, and likely stole a violin from me. But I had really had my fill. And when I graduated college, I left town without leaving a forwarding address.
And I didn’t hear from him — for about 10 years. Then he found my work email online. I told him to never contact me again, but then he found my blog, and about eight years after that, he again contacted me. This time, he used an alias, but he also used details from my life that made it plain who it was. And this time, my sisters in law – bless them forever for this — gave him a verbal lashing that sent him packing. And to be honest, I half expect him to read this and slither out from some rock again, even though I have given no name and used no identifying information that would give away his identity. That’s just the way people who abuse others are.
And that’s why I’m terrified for our country right now.
I’ve Heard This One Before
Trump has been called many things by now: fascist; carnival barker; mob boss; schoolyard bully. But more than anything, he is an abuser. People who have been in an abusive relationship can easily spot the patterns of behavior they see repeated in the White House. It was apparent from – and I mean this – Day 1, when we were told that his inaugural crowd was the greatest ever. It was not. When the painfully obvious was pointed out to Trump’s press secretary, we were told that this was “fake news.” And really, what is “fake news” but a new term for one of an abuser’s oldest tricks: gaslighting.
Nearly every damn thing Trump has done to this country has a corollary to what an abusive partner does in an a relationship. Here, I’ll show you. This is a checklist from the National Domestic Violence Hotline that can be used to see if you’re in a abusive relationship. Here are the points where Trump’s behavior mirrors points on that list:
- Telling you that you never do anything right. (Trying to override our election)
- Showing extreme jealousy of your friends or time spent away from them. (He cannot tolerate anyone else having the spotlight – look how he reacted to Fauci when people started trusting him.)
- Preventing or discouraging you from spending time with friends, family members, or peers. (Isolating the US from our allies)
- Insulting, demeaning, or shaming you, especially in front of other people. (His favorite pastime)
- Preventing you from making your own decisions, including about working or attending school. (Again, trying to override the election)
- Controlling finances in the household without discussion, including taking your money or refusing to provide money for necessary expenses. (Refusing to do anything toward a second round of COVID relief)
- Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you’re not comfortable with. (Doesn’t pertain to public official/constituent relations – or at least, it shouldn’t on a large scale)
- Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol. (Doesn’t really relate here, though sales of both are up considerably)
- Intimidating you through threatening looks or actions. (Holy mama YES)
- Insulting your parenting or threatening to harm or take away your children or pets. (Not just threatening to. The family separation policy)
- Intimidating you with weapons like guns, knives, bats, or mace. (June 1, 2020, Lafayette Square)
- Destroying your belongings or your home. (Shredding our democracy)
Believe me when I tell you that I have seen this pattern before. Millions of us have — we who have survived abusive relationships. But I was lucky before. Getting out was as simple as picking up the phone and calling my parents, who had been waiting for months for me to reach out to them. For us, for our country, extracting ourselves from the grip of Trump will be nowhere nearly as easy as it did for me. And it will come at a much higher price.