by Lesley Cara
I remember it like it was yesterday….
If I wasn’t physically trembling from the chill in my bones, I would have thought that I was in the midst of a nightmare. I am on the top bunk completely wrapped in this so called ‘blanket’. It’s more likely a cheap table cloth. I am curled into a ball. The blanket pulled over my head. It’s not only warmth I am trying to find but I am also attempting to create a cocoon. A cocoon of protection from my reality. How did I allow things to get to this point? Which emotion is the strongest…Fear? Shame? Anger?
Just this morning, I was hiking a trail outside of Sedona. I remember stopping along the trail to take in the beauty of the mountains, the contrast of colors, and the sound of water running over the rocks. I made a conscious effort to breathe it all in as an attempt to wash away the toxic emotions that were consuming me; to cleanse myself of the anxiety that was bordering on madness. It’s sounds so dramatic. Maybe it is. Regardless, my sadness still outweighed the serenity that surrounded me. I naively believed that two hours in nature is all that is required to be grounded. Little did I know that as little as twelve hours later I would find myself in a place of extreme contrast.
Here I am huddled under my tablecloth, attempting to take my mind back to that serene place in the desert. I am trying to imagine the color of the rocks, the smell of trees and the sound of the water. It’s not happening. I know; I will try reciting the Serenity Prayer in my head, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” And again, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to….” Suddenly something startles me back to the present. It’s the sound of someone urinating, followed by the flush of the toilet. My roommate doesn’t acknowledge me, and I fake that I am asleep. What is there to talk about? Would we exchange stories of what brought us here? Next, I hear the rhythmic sounds of sleep. I’m jealous that she is able to sleep in this hell hole. Maybe it’s because she isn’t as phased by this place as I am. Maybe it’s because it’s not her first time here.
Next, I try distracting myself with the graffiti on the wall. I resonate with the words “DON’T TRUST ANYONE”. A few months earlier, I would have found those words to be sad and jaded, but the optimistic outlook that I once had is barely a memory. I can’t help but feel that I have been violated by someone who I once believed loved me. Filling my chest is a heavy, consuming feeling of humiliation. Not only humiliation of my own behavior, but also from the resulting circumstances of my behavior. I have been deceived, deluded and abandoned. I swear that there is an actual pain in my heart from the hurt.
The risk of being betrayed is unbearable.
From this moment on, I am committed to never open myself up again.
This experience has changed me forever.
If I slept at all it was brief. There are no windows, and the lights are left on continuously, so I can’t track time. Occasionally, I can hear voices outside the door. Someone said that it is six am. It can’t be much longer until this nightmare ends. A couple of long hours later, a grumpy uniformed woman ushers us into a room lined with benches. I follow a girl to the end, and sit down. Right behind me is a large, tattooed man. He sits so close to me, that I can smell the stale beer and tobacco coming from him. I close my eyes hoping that when I open them I will discover that this whole thing is actually really bad dream. But it’s not. I really am sitting on a bench with a bunch of other people, who also made some sort of poor choice, leaving their immediate fate in the hands of some stranger.
A man wearing an out-dated, cotton blend suit introduces himself to me as a public defender. He explains what will happen next. He includes that since this was my first offense, I will likely be released on my own recognizance. I exhale a sigh of relief. However, the relief is brief. He goes on to explain that the judge is going ask me where I am going when I am released. I look at the lawyer wondering, what kind of question is that? I respond, “Well, home of course”. I am amazed to learn that that I can’t return home because the “victim” is there! What do you mean “victim”? My soon-to-be ex-husband is 6’3” and 250 pounds. I am 5’7” and 120 pounds. Am I truly a threat? Besides, the house is in my name! I am quickly brought back to the present moment, when the man in the suit tells me that the judge will not release me if I don’t have a place to go.
As I sit waiting for my turn in front of the judge I am replaying the recent events in my mind. I’m pissed at myself for the decisions I, didn’t make. My mind races with all the, ‘what if’s’ and, ‘if onlys’. When I filed for divorce a month ago, I told my lawyer that James wouldn’t leave the house. She advised me that there is paperwork that can be filed to have him removed. But oh no, I wouldn’t do such a mean thing. The idea of having the police come to the house seemed so cruel and cold. Surely, he would leave once he is served with the divorce papers, right? Nope. James continued to live in the house, paying nothing toward the bills and showing no signs of leaving. I would have left myself, and had looked at rental options, but moving out would have left me with the expenses of two residences. The mortgage, the utilities, everything was in my name. James had moved in with me and then deployed to Iraq, so it just seemed to make sense at the time that everything remain in my name. Only now, what seemed like a convenience had become misery. When the days became weeks and the weeks became a month, I began to see that living in the tension, and tolerating his passive-aggressive behavior was causing me to slowly unhinge. Eventually when something unhinges it will collapse….and I did. It was a Sunday night, and I had been pushed as far as I could. I pleaded with James to leave. I told him to take everything, “I can’t live like this…I don’t know who I am anymore, take everything, but please… just leave”. He quietly taunted me. He didn’t raise his voice, his expression didn’t change. He calmly pointed out all the places I was broken and wounded. It wasn’t the first time he had done this, but it was the first time that I couldn’t tolerate it. Instead, I lost it. I threw a couple of picture frames at the wall, then turned around and slapped him. Not across the face; I slapped him across the chest.
He called the police.
I was arrested.
It has been several months since that night, and a couple of weeks since the charges were finally dismissed. I have been exploring how I allowed myself to get to such a self-destructive place. I am dealing with the divorce and the fallout of the criminal charges, but what has been most difficult is taking responsibility for the decisions I made, and what those decisions say about me as a person. I know James didn’t call the police because he felt his safety was threatened. He called the police because he could. He called the police for is own sense of control, and to hurt me. How did I end up married to a man like that? My past relationships may not have been as toxic as my marriage, but I now recognize the pattern in my choices over the years. It was time to heal, right down to a cellular level. To this point, I believed that in order to prove my value to a man, it required me to sacrifice my feelings and my needs. It took my life being turned upside down, but now I finally understand that I don’t have to sacrifice myself to prove I am lovable.
I am worthy of love just the way I am.