Monday, January 31, 2005

Choice

This moving post from Akeeyu, though only very peripherally related, got me to thinking about something I don't think about often, hidden away in the thick folds of a very different life. I haven't written much about it--a passing reference once, I think--but now that I have been thinking about it again, I want to get it written down. I would like to ask you a favor, though: This is a very personal post, and I made a decision that some readers might find wrong or immoral. I believe I made the right decision. You are welcome to disagree with me, but you will not change my mind, so please don't leave hurtful comments.

. . .


Eighteen years ago today, I was pregnant. I was seventeen, and I was scared. But the story is a long one, if common, and begins a year before, in early 1986.

With the boundaries of my mother's Undoing bleeding, I found myself at loose ends--unsupervised, disillusioned, depressed. My father lived nearby, but we had not spoken much in a couple of years: he was rigid and judgmental; I was fearless and opinionated. Incompatible. We were, as families go, less dysfunctional than simply disparate. Where friends had close family ties of love and hate and shared experiences, we were a loose web with little interaction and no collective identity.

After a rebellious 1984 and a hazy, stoned early 1985, I did what many people do and tried to build a family out of friends and lovers. At sixteen, I was utterly (foolishly, foolishly) certain of my own maturity and common sense, and the family I built was surprisingly good, considering. I spent most of my time at a crash pad rented by older friends, developed intense platonic relationships with unstable, interesting girls, and romantic relationships with troubled but passionate guys. In some strange way, I felt strong and stable in their presence: they relied on me to be the rational one, the one who could be trusted to know, to fix, to understand. It was peculiarly satisfying. And I was doing OK; I had a job most of the time and was going to the local community college, even thriving in some ways.

I would come home to my mother's big house on the hill sometimes to do laundry after class, or to eat when we were low on money, and spend an hour in my nominal room. But this wasn't my domain, and I wanted out.

One night I went to an after-hours club with my friends, a place that called itself Plastic Passion--the kind of underground club that popped up all over downtown L.A. in the mid-eighties, moving from warehouse to warehouse each week, drugs dispensed at the hat-check station if you had the money or connections. A glam band played in one cavernous room, a dance floor pulsed in another, the smell of alkyl nitrites permeated one of the ante-rooms. I was never quite comfortable in these clubs, some small, protective instinct telling me that I didn't quite belong. But it was never enough to keep me from going. And my friends, for the most part, did belong--and I wanted to be part of their world.

When I walked in that night--or morning, I guess it was--I had my usual mixed feelings of anticipation and dread, a dread of stepping over some line, and the anticipation of doing something exciting, meeting someone exciting.

About an hour in, after a couple of drinks, I saw that I was being watched. More than that, really--I was being stared at, unblinkingly, hungrily. He was unusually handsome--beautiful, even. Tall, slender, with broad shoulders, long black hair, high cheekbones and a generous mouth, and large eyes that shimmered in the low light. I was flattered, and frightened, and interested.

Within a minute, he had made his way to where I was standing, grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me to a quieter room. Looked in my eyes, as corny as it sounds, and told me he was going to be with me, whether I knew it yet or not. That fear of stepping over the line coursed through me, an adrenaline rush, but I told myself it was foolish to retreat--I wanted this--wanted him--didn't I? Why wouldn't I? So I shook it off, and smiled.

And that's how it happened. That's how I met Vile. He was charming, articulate, publicly polite in a private-school manner, but with a hint of mystery and a whiff of danger. Hard to resist. He mentioned that he was on a medication to treat his "problem". I never asked what the "problem" was.

Within two weeks, Vile, claiming to be the voice of reason, had decided that I shouldn't be spending so much time with my friends, that they were a bad influence on me. And what was wrong with living at my mother's, after all? He had heard enough about her to know that there were no real restrictions, no supervision, so why not live in the enormous house on the hill, everything paid for? So what if she's unstable and shooting animal tranquilizers; why would it matter? I'd better move back in, he said. After all, he needed a place to live when he dropped out of university. At twenty-two, it was his third, after self-destructing at Cal and an interim private college. The age difference should have set off an alarm somewhere, for someone, but it didn't.

So, that's what happened. We moved into my mother's house. Vile insinuated himself into all aspects of our lives, and began supplying my mother with cheaper drugs; I didn't want to know where he got them. He also started working for her business. And his temper began to show. It appeared in little ways at first--raising his voice to waitresses when his steak was too rare, following drivers who had cut him off on the freeway, that sort of thing. Within a few months, it had escalated: threatening, bullying, intimidating. And there was the jealousy, his irrational certainty that I had snuck out in the night to meet someone, that I was carrying on with some nameless guy in my literature class. Predictably, he began to beat me, very carefully so as not to damage anything visible. Initially, it would happen when I had done something wrong; when I had forgotten something, said something he didn't like, made a minor decision he didn't agree with. Soon, he moved on to beatings that he called "preventatives"--like when he had to go away for a couple of days to see his family and wanted to make sure I didn't fuck around while he was gone.

I was very young, yes, but I was not entirely stupid. I knew that this was wrong, that I should get out, but there was this foolishly stubborn part of me that believed things would get better and didn't want to admit to my failure. I thought of it that way, too--my failure. One night, in a fit of repentance, he agreed that it needed to stop and that he thought living with my mother was the problem--that she had become a bad influence on both of us, made him crazy. So in late 1986 we moved out, to a cheap apartment nearby in East L.A. He gave me an engagement ring that he had bought for his last girlfriend and said he was going to be different.

Of course, moving out did not stop the beatings. He was now even less fettered--I could make all the noise in the world and no mother or stepfather would come to my rescue from another wing of the house. And he stopped taking his meds.

My main reaction to his violence was to close myself off as much as possible from him, to protect some tiny pebble of self-respect. I would sleep with him rarely, and only when I thought it would prevent a beating. Since he had taken up crystal meth, he was, fortunately, rarely sexual--the one silver lining. But at this point, his tactics changed. One night, instead of bruising or biting or shaking, he dragged me out of bed and dumped a pitcher of ice water over me, then stood and watched while I cleaned it up. He told me that I was stupid, lazy, that I'd never amount to anything in life if it weren't for him. Perfectly ordinary abuser tactics, not that I knew it then.

One night, there was another abrupt behavior shift. I was asleep, and woke up to Vile sitting on me with his hands around my throat. Not pressing, just holding, quite gently. When I looked at him, he gave a small squeeze, and said, "Just remember." Then he laid down next to me and began to cry. His crying scared me. He said he didn't want to do it, but he knew I didn't love him and that he couldn't accept that. So I did what I thought I ought to do and, swallowing my bile, tried to comfort him, told him I loved him. When he made to undress me, I didn't resist. It was a small price to pay, I remember thinking, to get through the night safely.

The next day, I began thinking of escape. Since Vile was still working for my mother and still supplying her with drugs, I knew I couldn't go to her. He was closer to her now than I was, and she trusted him. He had driven away all of my friends--another textbook abuser tactic--and I was embarrassed to go to them anyway. My father was absolutely not an option, my sister was spending her junior year abroad in Florence and my brother was living in London.

There was one person I considered asking for help. She was a teacher at the college, and I had been taking aerobics and ballet from her for a year. Once, she noticed bruises on my legs that were showing through the white leggings. I laughed it off, blamed them on clumsiness. When I came in after that with a bite mark on my upper arm, ill-concealed by a loose tee shirt, she took me aside after class and insisted that I tell her what was going on. I said I'd been babysitting a ten-year-old who got mad at me for turning off the television. At the time, I was just too ashamed, I couldn't face up to it, and she didn't press. But now I wanted to tell her, hoping she could help me find a way out. I counted down the days till our next class--three weeks, it was Christmas break--and decided to tell her then, ask her advice, her help.

By then, however, I knew I was pregnant. And I thought it was too late.

I realized it a week or so after my period was due. As I had never been perfectly regular, it didn't worry me at first. Initially, I thought I had the flu, throwing up uncontrollably. When it didn't go away after a few days, the truth settled on me like thick fog. I went to a clinic in mid-January and got the test. When the result was in, the nurse took me into a back room and told me. I asked how quickly I could get an abortion; she said, if I had enough money, I could get one within two weeks. If I didn't have the money, it would take a while. I would need to apply for MediCal and wait for them to process the paperwork, then wait for an appointment at the clinic they worked with.

Being overwhelmed with shame at having gotten myself into this position, I did not want to tell anyone, even if there was someone to tell, much less hit them up for money. Vile said he didn't have the $350 it would cost, so I started the MediCal process. It took six weeks to get the paperwork approved and the appointment made. By now it was March. I had been violently sick the whole time, unable to eat, unable to return to school, unable to work. I had lost nearly twenty pounds off my already skinny frame and had a hard time standing for long. All I could think about was getting this over with, getting back to normal, so I could find a way to leave Vile and work my way back to some sort of acceptable life.

On the day of the procedure, I was in a prep room with six other girls, most younger than me, and some with worse stories. We had a long wait, these girls and I, and I heard things from them that horrified me. One said she'd been raped by her stepfather's brother while her mother was in the next room. Her mother had thrown her out of the house when she found out she was pregnant. One was thirteen, her body still half-developed; she was pregnant from her first sexual encounter, the result of a gang initiation.

Later, as the anesthesia started to pump into my hand, when most women might take a soul-searching moment to ask themselves, Is this really what I should do?, I thought of nothing but oblivion, and relief.

In the end, Vile used the abortion to keep me tied to him for the next two years, threatening to tell everyone that I had "killed his child" as well as threatening to implicate me in his illicit drug business and more recent petty thievery if I tried to leave him. We moved a couple of times, he made half-hearted attempts at reforming his abusive nature once or twice, and with each month I felt less and less connected to everything around me. Vile's morals and his sanity continued to degrade, till he lost it in the office one day and smashed the place up, threatening the eighty-two-year-old bookkeeper with a letter opener after raking my face with a brutal punch, his ring tearing a line through my cheek. I called 911, and before they arrived Vile said he would kill me if I pressed charges. I didn't, and the cops didn't insist, pretended not to notice the swelling and blood. But a week later, on his birthday, I said I was going to pick up his cake, grabbed my purse and left for good. It was less a decision than an impulse.

. . .


The story with Vile doesn't end there, but much of the rest can be summarized quickly. The day I left, I headed to a childhood friend's house and begged her to take me in. I told her everything. She was shocked and forgiving of my longtime negligence and understood. One day, Vile--who had been trying to hunt me down for several weeks--finally spotted my car in Pasadena, then followed me when I drove to her house. My friend and her mother refused to let him in; he threatened to kill himself on their porch if they didn't. They held firm, and a part of me wished he would do it. A big part.

A few weeks later, I learned that an acquaintance of mine had moved in with him, and while I warned her (uselessly) and felt awful for her, I was fundamentally relieved. He had someone new to focus on, and he stopped following me. A few months after that, I heard that she was pregnant. When she was five months along, he beat her in front of her friends one night, kicking her in the stomach and telling her he didn't believe the child was his. He spit on her. She was hospitalized, but eventually gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Two years later, he abducted his daughter, was caught and served time in jail.

I moved back into my mother's house for a few months--couldn't stay on my friend's couch forever--and started dating again, but I was still in a bad place. I stopped eating, in what I now realize was an attempt at control. One morning, after being dumped by a nice guy who said I was too intense, I woke up and knew I had to take some sort of drastic action. I packed the car and moved to San Francisco that night, and have been in the Bay Area ever since.

Once in a while, like today, I think about what my life would have been if I'd had the baby in those circumstances. What the baby's life would have been. Would I have been able to love Vile's child when Vile himself so sickened me, terrified me? How would I have kept him away from my little boy, my little girl? I don't know; I just don't know. And then I imagine being seventeen and pregnant in a different reality, with a normal boyfriend and a supportive family. Would I have made the same choice? I still don't know. Pointless to wonder about this, and self-indulgent, but the imaginings sneak in uninvited.

All these years later, as I sit here in Oakland leading this staid and happy life, full of gardening and crossword puzzles, birdwatching and J. and infertility, I have a hard time believing that this stuff ever happened to me, that I ever had this relationship, that I was ever so helpless or so frightened. Or that I was ever pregnant. As though I tried on someone else's life for size one time, and it didn't really fit.

41 Comments:

Blogger Kristin said...

Oh Bug...what a horrible tragic thing to have gone through. I am so glad you got out and have made a good life for yourself.

6:59 PM  
Blogger ThreeBees said...

Wow. I am blown away. . . what a moving post and so honest and beautifully written. I can say nothing but that I am so sorry you ever experienced such violence and pain. Only love and support for you over here.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Anna H. said...

Oh, Bug. Wow. You have been through so, so much. It may sound trite, but I am so glad, so thankful that you grabbed your purse and got out of there... what courage that took.

Thank you for sharing with us.

xxoo

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're very brave, and so beautiful.

- getupgrrl

7:54 PM  
Blogger Day said...

Oh Bug I so love you.

Thank you so much for sharing this.

8:16 PM  
Blogger amyesq said...

Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that. I'm sure it took guts. Just like it took guts to go through everything that you did. I am sure the healing process from that relationship was long and arduous. Congratulations for getting out when you did.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

Bug,
I know what kind of bravery it took to write this post. I know more than you know. I am glad that you were able to do it, that you are brave enough to do it. I hope that it gives you some peace.

I admire you more and more with each and every entry. Thank you for sharing, thank you for writing, thank you for your blog.

Deep affection,
Janet

9:54 PM  
Blogger Cricket said...

Bugs,
You have come a long way. I am so impressed by your strength and resilience, particularly in light of your family support. My sister made a similar decision (or rather our mother made it for her) when she was a Sr in HS (her b/f's drug of choice was crack) and I have contemplated writing about it. The irony is so painful, to choose to not continue a pregnancy only to be faced later with IF. You handle everything with such grace and wisdom.

10:53 PM  
Blogger ankaisa said...

I'm also so glad you finally got out. That sounds so horrible. I'm happy to hear that he ended up in jail, I just hope he stays there...

The comment you made on my blog a while ago makes a lot more sense now!

1:34 AM  
Blogger Bugsy said...

Oh bugs - sister!

You have me in tears now. I am weeping for the girl that you were, the girl who experienced things in life she never should have. I cannot imagine how hard this was for you to write (and anyone who posts something nasty will have me to deal with). This took guts and heaps of courage, not just to post today, but to survive that life. Whatever you did at the time, was the only thing you could have done. Nobody can surely condem you for anything you did then.

I am so proud of you. Even though you don't feel like it at times, you are such a strong person, and I so admire you.

Hugs! I so wish I could give you a hug in person. Please know that after reading your post, I admire you even more, and like you more than I did before (is that possible?).

Take care hun.

2:03 AM  
Blogger The Barrenness said...

Bugsy,

I don't care what people say, moving is the perfect way to turn one's life around. I'm glad you did that. People have gone as far as to call me "flighty." You did the right thing. Jimmy Buffett was right when he said,"Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude." Sometimes when the negativity of people and situations won't leave you alone, YOU need to leave it alone.

I have to admit that I would have had an abortion, too, had I been in that same situation. I don't believe that it is such a black-and-white issue that one can say it is "wrong or immoral". I would say it's unfortunate that lady luck dealt you such a shitty hand (that's a BIG understatement, but I'm at a loss for words). Even more unfortunate was the lack of parental support you had. I'm sorry, but your parents SUCK! Nothing can be done about that, though.

Had I become pregnant in my ex-abusive-relationship, I would have. Knowing what it's like to be in an abusive relationship, I am glad that you have "found yourself" and have learned that you deserve much better. I know I have. (Well, okay, I'm still trying to "find myself")

Although the abusive experience truly sucks, I believe that I am a stronger, wiser person for having experienced it. I don't know if you feel the same way. But then, perhaps the dysfunctional relationship I experienced was not as bad as yours (mine pales in comparison). I imagine such relationships could leave major scars, emotionally.

Well, I'm glad you shared your story. It was beautifully written.

4:08 AM  
Blogger Galloping Cats said...

Wow. That's a story. I have one that started off similarly, the isolation, the controlling, etc., but I was rescued before things turned physical. What is amazing is how all of these stories sound so similar. I am so glad that yours has a staid and happy ending.

Also, yesterday Gringa Diaries wrote a post about a long ago pregnancy. Guess everyone is feeling reflective this week. http://gringadiaries.blogspot.com/2005/01/listen-do-you-want-to-know-secret.html

4:11 AM  
Blogger Suz said...

My heart goes out to you, Bugs. I'm so glad that you have the life you have now and so sad that you had to go through what you did.

5:43 AM  
Blogger Lala said...

Wow. I'm impressed with the courage you showed in writing that down. It must have bee hard to relive it all. I have a lot of admiration for you.

6:18 AM  
Blogger HomeFireBlue said...

Holy Cow. That took guts. Guts to survive that nightmare life and guts to write about it all these years later.

I'm so glad you did both.

I have you in my thoughts.

-Blue

7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With such bravery and eloquence you shared that story, and I have nothing but respect and support for you. None of us can know, really know, what a situation like that is like unless we've been there. And who would we be to judge?

Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Mandy
(infertilityisfunny.blog-city.com)

9:29 AM  
Blogger MsPrufrock said...

Thank you for sharing this. I hope writing about it has helped.

Pru

10:11 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

Oh, sweetie. I just love you.

10:48 AM  
Blogger E. said...

Oh, lovely Bugs, thank G-d you survived, escaped, built a good life. Love you very much.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Jen P said...

Bugs, I've been trying to come up with the right words to say, and I can't. I just wanted you to know how grateful I am you got away from Vile, and you could turn your life around.

I too come from a very abusive background and I thank you for posting this. You are an amazing and beautiful woman.

Best wishes to you.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hugs, sister. You did the best thing you could in the circumstances. I went though a similar situation at 15. It stays with you for your whole life. Although it seems like another lifetime, one flash of a memory brings it into the present. If you ever need to talk, I'm here.
Jenn
www.rayners.org/jenn

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a moving post.

Crying along as I read it.

I too, have had a relationship with a "Vile" type man, and had an abortion at 18 from another winner (who left me sitting on the Planned Parenthood steps so he wouldn't have to pay half of the fee). Those are days I wish to forget, yet also want to remember because they make up who I am today.

Love to you, brave woman. Thanks for sharing.

Jen/VintageUterus

3:22 PM  
Blogger Orodemniades said...

Oh Bug.

My heart bleeds for the younger you.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Ollie said...

Oh honey, I am so happy you survived that ordeal to be here, happy and YOU, today. What a tragic story, but with a happy ending. I don't know if his name was really Vile, but it certainly suits the rotten bastard.

You are so brave and incredible.

4:42 PM  
Blogger chris said...

I'm sorry you had to go through that. You're a very strong woman.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Pamplemousse said...

Only understanding, kindness and forgiveness here, sister. It was the only right thing to do.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Mudbug said...

Bugs, I have been trying for days to write a comment that is equal to that post. I can't. I hope that it will suffice to simply say how very glad I am to know you.

9:52 AM  
Blogger The Lioness said...

What a terrible story. You're so very brave.

1:42 PM  
Blogger sherry said...

Brave doesn't even begin to describe you...

Thanks for sharing that. You're amazing.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Sheri said...

You are so amazing and brave.
I am honored that you shared that story with us.

3:31 PM  
Blogger April said...

oh Bugs. I just want to give you the world's biggest hug, and nod - and say I understand. I've been there.

See my post "Silent all these Years" on August 12th I think (http://underwaterclownconspiracy.blogspot.com/2004_08_01_underwaterclownconspiracy_archive.html). You've moved me to tears to see how brave you are.

You are an amazing woman.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Pazel said...

I read this yesterday but had to run off to class and didn't get a chance to respond. However it did give me much to think about on the drive.

If I had been in your position, I would have done the exact same thing. If you had kept that baby, he would have had another hold on you. I know because my mother stayed with an abusive husband (not my father) because she felt it was best for the kids. Let me say clearly that it was not, we liked it much better being dirt poor than living in that hell.

If you haven't done so already, please stand up and sing this one at the top of your lungs...

I Am Woman
by Helen Reddy

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an' pretend
'cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again

CHORUS
Oh yes I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Bug.
I am so sorry. And here you are: all your amazing self.
I love you, Bug.
Menita
(lifesjestbook)

5:47 PM  
Blogger Baby Hungry Man said...

Thank you for sharing that.
You have tremendous and really admirable strength - not only for leaving but for transforming your life.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How very brave of you, to both rescue that girl you were and to have the strength to remember and write about it so beautifully.

Elle

12:43 PM  
Blogger chasmyn said...

What a beautifully-written and poignant post.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Sandy said...

I'm so amazingly slow and late in getting here, but still wanted to comment. Thank you for having the strength and courage to share your story. You are an amazing woman. I wish so many good things for you.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bug,

Thank you for this. I'm glad all your comments are supportive, and I'm glad you did what you needed to do for yourself to get to the good, safe place you are in now.

Emily

9:14 AM  
Blogger wessel said...

Dearest Bug, I have some memories I wish I didn't have too--quite similar, but I'm not brave enough to write about them yet. I'm glad that you were. I'm glad that you took the course of action that was best for you, essential for your survival and your freedom. So happy to hear about the beauty and peace that now surround you. But I know there are some things you never completely shake. Wishing you a continued healing. And blessings too.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I have a story somewhat similar. Titled- My heartwrenching post. You are not alone.

http://tiki.yewess.us/tiki-view_blog.php?blogId=3

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so happy for you, that you have moved forward with your life and are happy now. It takes a lot of guts, which is hard to find in people these days. I have a very close friend in a similiar situation and I'm deeply worried about her. Her bf is horrible to her but she's so attached to him... Do you have any advice for me to give her?


k.d.

budeeny@yahoo.com

10:50 PM  

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