Last week I saw my abuser. Not him actually, but in another man. I was supporting my friend who was a character witness to the destruction her ex-husband caused. He had attempted to murder his (now ex) girlfriend. My friend was setting the stage for his path of destruction and abusive behavior from years passed. This was not a one time gig. He is a monster hiding in plain sight. His ability to seem “normal” is what traps his victims while he grooms them for his attacks.
His family and friends stand up for him because even those closest to him refuse to see or believe it. Delusional even after a crime scene that looked like a clip straight out of Carrie, leaving his most recent victim fighting for her life. I hope to write their full story one day soon, but for today, this is about me. By me, I mean in a way, all of the abused. All of the victims.
As I drove toward the courthouse, knowing the last time I was here was when I was facing my own abuser, my stomach began to knot. My anxiety rose and my body tensed. Pulling into the parking lot I scanned it just to look for him. Knowing full well he wouldn’t be there because this was not our case, this was not my life anymore, but also knowing my restraining order expired years ago. I steadied my breath, holding it and then releasing. If the only thing I can control is my breath, then that is what I do. I clenched my hands and then released them, “Be strong Tracy, you have been here and survived, now you must be strong for others.” It was like a little angel in my ear. I got out of the car and met my friends, each step closer to their own start to closure.
I wavered between weakness and battle ready. My heart aching for these women, my anger and need for justice coursing through my veins.
We waited for what felt like an eternity. Two sides plagued with each other’s existence in the space outside the courtroom. Those who were in support of him, broken by his abuse, delusional in their defense of him. And those damaged by his actions, the families rocked by his decisions to abuse in place of love, maim in place of hold, scream instead of care, kick, stab, slash, choke, brutalize, lie, cheat, break, and damage instead of being a man, a decent human. All of them whose lives were altered forever. No matter the side, truly all forever scarred.
Entering the courtroom brought a wave of emotion, tears welling, my hands reached for the shoulders of the two women in front of me. As if I could transfer my words of encouragement and love, my hope for their peace, and of my strength, could enter into them through my embrace. “You can do this, you will make it through even though it feels impossible right now.” I thought to myself, they are here for all of us. All women who never got their say, their day in court. Make this be the justice for all. Every time a man’s behavior harms a woman, let him pay the price. (OR woman to man, of course.)
As this sorry excuse for a man was brought into the courtroom cuffed and shackled I found myself unable to look away. Every movement he made I observed, every clench of his jaw my body tensed in fear. I saw the monster in him, recognizable to any victim I imagine, I saw him swinging his hands, vomiting his anger and hate, holding me up by my neck. No longer this man, but my own ex, my abuser, and all others in one.
One by one, these victims of his bravely walked to a stand within five feet of their abuser. They gave their words, their testimonies of the heinous experiences they endured at his hands. They spoke of the worst nights of their lives and the continued agony and fear they reside in. They spoke for their children, their families, all of us.
Tears streaming, burning my cheeks, I could not stop staring at this monster. Every twitch of a muscle, every feign of sorrow, every bow of his head. There is a part of me, the empath I suppose that wants to believe in the good that begged any of it was real remorse. That all vanished when 3 people spoke on his behalf, and then he himself drove the nails in the coffin of belief in any humanity that could have resided within him as he spoke. My teeth gritted as he stood and spoke like this had happened to him, not by his hand. These women had to get up and walk past him, they had to sit feet from him. They had to tell what happened through raw and unbearable emotion. They had to deflect the scrutiny of the opposition. But, they did, they were heard. Those who stood for him will have to live with their own demons. He has to live with all of it.
He was not sorry even though he cried, he believed he was not guilty because he felt as a victim himself it seemed. Disgusted, I seethed when he said things like this happened “to them, to their life” instead of “I did this, it is my fault”. He was man enough to act the way he did, but not enough of a man to accept that his hands, his voice, his decisions put him where he was.
The sentencing was not enough, but it was something. With all of the evidence and his own plea of guilt, he could have gotten far worse. But, it was something. It was a small victory for these women, for all victims. He was held accountable to some degree for his actions and it will follow him. Every day and everywhere he goes. He will always be a monster and now he has time to think that over away from his ability to hurt anyone else.
To say that I felt vindicated in my own story is the truth. To say it didn’t come at a price is not. The day was heavy. I am still sorting through all of the emotions. Nine years from my own days in those same courts and there is still pain, grief, sadness, anxiety, anger. There may never be a time that there is not. There is no cure or key to unlock the shackles to those days. They are the past and they can stay there, but those things that happened to me will always be there.
I wear my purple ribbon for myself and all victims. I stood today with these women and found another piece of the healing puzzle. There was some justice but I have found that it generally perpetuates the beginning of the healing process, not finalizes it. Victims are left to pick up the pieces, to survive, to hope and begin again. No easy task, not for them now, or myself all these years later.
But, and this is a big but… we do survive.