Essay: lauren harrington
By the time I whispered, “I can’t do this anymore,” I’d grown accustomed to the sound of eggshells crunching beneath my feet. Maintaining peace and avoiding conflict had become my full-time job—one for which I didn’t apply. It was a job I was equally afraid of having and afraid of losing.
He’d created this space for himself in my life that I didn’t remember offering. It was a space that was bigger than me yet had no room for me. And day after day after day he was there, sinking further into the couch and into my life.
He took my hand and lead me away from the world that had hurt me. They don’t understand you the way I do, he whispered. They don’t need you as much as I do, he cried.
He stays one night a week, maybe two. You are my world, he says. But to become his everything, I have to become nothing. Now he won’t leave.
Some of my favorite moments in that apartment are spent on my balcony, drinking coffee in the sun. But he is afraid of heights and when I sit out there alone, he accuses me of not wanting to be near him. It is an unforgivable betrayal. He withdraws from me and stares at the wall. He tells me I’ll never understand. And then, we don’t sit out there anymore.
He has a temper and I begin to measure time as the distance between storms. I know how to quiet it, how to soften him. I know what to say to keep the peace. I seek solace in the calm. But I know it is coming; I can always hear it coming.
It sounds like a bowl of pennies thrown across a room. Like doors being slammed, drawers being overturned, treasures being tossed wherever they land. It sounds like the shattering of a lamp as it hits the wall. And then it sounds like nothing—holding my breath, afraid to move.
I suffer in silence; I suffer in shame.
My friend asks me to meet her at a coffee shop and with tears in her eyes she tells me she is worried about me. She tells me that I seem distant. She wants to help me, but I’m stuck in a toxic cycle where I believe I am to blame. I thank her and walk away.
Look what you made me do, he screams. It feels big and unpredictable. It’s your fault, he yells, rage rippling down his arms. I feel small and powerless. Confused. Hopeless. You make me so mad, he says, and pounds the wall. And when he stops, I feel relief.
He sits on my couch and stares at me—hard—until I walk away.
Crazy bitch, he says. I second-guess my sanity. He knows how to push my buttons. I vow to never let it happen again. But his anger becomes less and less predictable, and off-kilter starts to feel so familiar that I think it is normal.
I still have dreams that he’s hiding under my bed. Even now, with states and years between us, I look behind me when I walk down the street. I don’t want to put my full name on my mailbox. I’ve blocked his phone number but every few months, he sends me an email. Hello is all it says. He wants me to know he’s still there.
I knew he’d never leave and so I had to. I told him I had to go away for work. At first, he said he’d come. We’d drive cross-country together, we’d make memories. But I knew I wasn’t coming back. He did too. My friends are coming to help me move, I tell him. Oh yeah? He comes towards me. You think you’re special? He backs me into the wall. You think they can help you now? I see hate in his eyes. I’ll get a gun, he says. I’ll kill them if they show up here. He stands, his chest pressed to mine. Don’t make me do something crazy. Every word he screams hits me right in the face.
He backs off and I go to the bathroom to get ready for work. I can’t do this anymore, I whisper, and lock the door behind me. The enormity of what has just happened hasn’t hit me yet. I have to leave for work, but I don’t know how to get out of here. I text my coworker—my friend who met me at the coffeeshop—to say I might be late. She asks what’s wrong and I text her the abbreviated version. She asks if I need help and I tell her I’m fine, but really, I’m sitting against the door as he pounds on it and calls me a fucking cunt.
Several minutes later she texts: I love you and please don’t be angry, but I called the police. They will be there soon. Don’t open the bathroom door until they tell you to.
I start to cry.
I cry because I know that I don’t have to do it alone anymore. I cry because I’m ashamed. I cry because I’m scared. I cry because I’m embarrassed that the police are going to come, and the neighbors are going to hear. I cry because even though I rejected her help, my friend didn’t give up on me.
Life after emotional abuse—let’s call it what it is—can be confusing. I’m still putting the pieces back together. He left no marks on my body, but unseen scars are scars just the same. Even as I write this, I find myself thinking that I should have seen it coming. I should have known better. I should have run away. But honestly, sometimes the only way out is to crawl.
I used to think I had to do it alone, that independence was a sign of strength. But often, the strongest thing you can do is accept help. My friend valued my life more than I could at that moment, and she is the reason I am alive.
The more I share this story, the more I learn it is not unique. So. Many. Stories. But as their voices join mine, together we share our stories and we shed our shame. Together we do our best. Together we crawl, we walk stronger, and we march the fuck on.
writer: lauren harrington
photograph also by lauren harrington.
taken in Los Angeles, CA