This weekend I went to a birthday party. I drove back roads to get to Gardendale, Alabama. I have stashed so much of the relationship that almost wrecked me away that I almost forgot the times I would drive the same roads to meet my ex at the bar by his house to start our nights of blissful hell.

After my husband died, I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. Sleeping alone was terrible. Nights were torture. So when I met the man who I now refer to as The Monster, I was more than happy to stay out all night with him. Anything to avoid being alone in the dark with my thoughts.

As I was driving the back roads this weekend I came to an intersection that took me right back down into hell and triggered memories I thought I had buried. I felt it all over again.

One day I had been writing at a restaurant and drowning my thoughts in fries all alone. The restaurant was a stone’s throw away from him. He knew I was there. He was “busy”. I’m sure he was busy with one of the other women he was seeing at the same time as me, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was deep into pouring my heart out onto my MacBook screen. It was therapy for me, just pounding it all out. When I write, I rarely go back and read what I wrote. I spent hours writing about him- about how he made me feel, things he said to me, what I was confused about, and validating everything he was doing or not doing. I documented our entire relationship with words, some I have never even glanced back at again because it’s too painful. It was a way for me to make sense of it all because it was so traumatic as it was happening in real time. My daughter was at a friend’s house and it was a school night. When I finally felt like I had written enough and worked through enough, I packed up my stuff, paid my tab, and headed to get my kid. I was at my best friend’s house picking my daughter up when I got a FaceTime call.

It was him. I was annoyed because I had just been right where he was. I was there all afternoon and he knew that, but now on a school night when I was trying to be somewhat of a good mom, he was calling. He was always pulling me away late at night. It makes sense now. He was busy with the others in the daylight hours. I was the one no one was ever supposed to know about.

I always answered when he called. I was at his beck and call for 6 months and he knew it and took full advantage of it. And it makes me sick to say this now, but I loved every second of it.

“Hey, I have someone who wants to meet you”.

He introduced me to a guy that was sitting next to him at the bar we went to all the time together. This guy played in a famous singer’s band and was in town and happened to run into The Monster. They were instant friends.

“Come out with us!”

My friend and her husband were there to hear all of this. I didn’t want to go home and they knew it. She looked at me and mouthed “Go! She can stay here”.

I should’ve gone home. I needed to go home. But everything in my body wanted to avoid home as much as possible. Home, at that time in my mind, was where the monsters lived. I didn’t know then that the real monster was the one on the other end of the phone.

He sent an uber for me. I met him and Band Guy in downtown Birmingham and our night of debauchery started. Band Guy was hilarious. He was the life of the party, and The Monster was loving every second of it. We bounced from bar to bar as the night raged on. I played the game I always played with The Monster, the one where he fed me drinks all night and I dumped half of them out so I could take care of him when the time came. And it always came. Sober he was angry, agitated, paranoid, and pretty miserable. A few drinks in was the sweet spot. He would loosen up and have fun. But he always took it too far, and I learned early on to make sure I was always in the position to take care of myself when that happened because that’s how The Monster got his name.

We laughed a lot that night. Band Guy told us stories of touring and we danced and talked and smiled all night. We even introduced our new friend to our favorite bar food- grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup at a dive downtown where we obtained VIP status a month earlier when the door guys saw us making out in the parking lot. The Monster was a different person when we were away from everything and everyone he knew. I realize now it’s because he shapeshifts depending on who he’s around and who he’s with because his entire life is one big lie after another. Seeing him happy and smiling gave me life. He kept asking me if I was glad I came out. I kept answering yes. He would grab me and kiss me and tell me he loved me. Band Guy told him he was the luckiest man in the world. He agreed.

At about 4am we were winding down. I needed to get back to my daughter so I could try to close my eyes for an hour and get her to school and myself to work on time. Band Guy was flying out the next day and needed to get back to his hotel. We loaded up and headed back to the hotel but logistically it was all kind of a nightmare. I couldn’t find an Uber back to where my car and my child was. We decided to take BG back to his hotel and then I would try to uber from there. The Monster insisted he would take me back to my car. I was a little nervous for that to happen because I knew how much he had to drink, but I never wanted to make him mad so I agreed. We said our goodbyes to Band Guy and no sooner than the door shut, The Monster turned to me and said “Why don’t you just go in there and sleep with him, that’s why you wanted me to leave you here anyway, you whore”.

What happened next was terrifying and still gives me chills to think about. He started driving erratically down dark backroads and hurling insults at me. He called me a whore and a stupid bitch repeatedly. He told me that I was a piece of shit and that no one would ever want me if he left me. He told me that he saw how I was looking at BG and that that’s exactly why I could never meet his kids or his parents. He said “I will never introduce them to a slut like you”. He held his family over my head like some unattainable golden carrot, like I had to earn my seat at the table somehow. He knew this hurt me more than anything, yet he kept on. Tears rolled down my face and I just sat there in silence, stunned at how quickly he turned into someone I didn’t even know. At one point, he grabbed the gun he kept in the door of his car and told me that no one would ever find me if he didn’t want them to. He pointed it directly at me and laughed while I cried. The insults kept coming. He attacked my parenting, my appearance, my weight, my friends. I never responded. I just cried.

I looked up through tears and saw the lights of a gas station, the same one I saw this weekend that triggered the memory. I said “Stop there so I can uber home”. To my surprise, he did. We sat in the parking lot in silence while I called for an uber. He must have realized what he did because he grabbed my arm and said “Cyndi, don’t go. I didn’t mean it. I love you so much and I love Q. Wait. Soon everything will be better, I promise”. I looked at him really long and hard. His hand was firmly on my arm by this point and he was squeezing it with force. It was one of two times I ever saw tears in his eyes. In that moment, I felt sorry for him. In front of me was the most broken man I had ever encountered in my life and I thought somehow I could fix him. I saw the good where everyone else saw rotten.

I saw the man behind the monster, but at that very second he looked like a broken down little boy who was crying out for help.

The thing about human nature is we think we can save people. Especially if you’re an empathetic person, you will cut yourself open and bleed out if it means someone else doesn’t have to suffer. I’m sure every woman who has ever been with him has thought the same thing “He has so much potential if he can just get his shit together”.

But that’s a lie we tell ourselves. There are deep rooted issues that cause men to act like that towards women. There is a long history of mental, emotional, physical, and verbal abuse that he has left behind and a trail of women to tell the tale. I’m just the only one speaking openly about it and I’m the only one who has made him face legal ramifications for it.

When my ride got that he said one more time “Cyndi PLEASE I love you”. I reached over and touched his face and without a word, got out of the car. By the time I got settled into the uber, he was already gone. My driver asked me if everything was ok and I just sobbed. I cried the entire ride back to my car.

I wish I could say I ended it right then. I didn’t. He had a way of sucking me right back in with apologies, grand gestures, huge dramatic events I had to save him from, or either completely ignoring that he had done anything terrible. He would claim that he didn’t remember any of it the next day, and I would forgive. Over and over and over again, I forgave him.

The very next week he claimed he was having some kind of mental break and spent almost a full week at my house in bed while I was working. I urged him to go to a therapist. I mentioned AA. I was always trying to throw him a lifeline. I would’ve never stopped trying to save him from himself, even to my own detriment.

I’ve healed, kind of. It’s raw at times, like when I remember nights like those.

The Monster doesn’t have access to me anymore. He doesn’t know where I live. He can’t call me. He can’t text me. He can’t be anywhere near me. He will do the same thing to another girl. Then another. And another.

I don’t know much. Life continues to surprise me and keep me scratching my head. But there is one thing I know without a shadow of a doubt.

I’ll never dance with The Monster again.

If you or someone you love is a victim of domestic violence, please get help. Find a safe person to tell. Find a church. Monsters never change. Your life is worth more than the way you feel when they’re being nice.

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