I should have left when he stole from me the first time. I should have left when he knocked the wind out of me the first time. I should have left when he cheated on me the first time. I should have left the first time he chased me up the stairs screaming at me. I should have left when he choked me the first time. I should have left when he raped me the first time. I should have left the first time my friends and family accused him of stealing. I should have left when he refused to take me to the hospital when I had a kidney infection—the first time.
I should have left, but I didn’t.
I didn’t see the red flags when we first started dating because abusers know better. It’s a slow and calculated dance they perfect to ensure that by the time you think you might be in trouble they have isolated you from your friends. They have made you feel like you are to blame. They have become so entwined in your life that you wonder if it’s just easier to stay … and then before you know it you’re taking vows and signing a marriage certificate. I clearly remember convincing myself that somehow being married would fix things and, if not, I could easily get divorced.
We had only been married nine months when things went from bad to worse. The night I left I had nothing but a small bag and my two dogs. We ran across a room full of broken glass to my car and I was convinced that it was over. That it was all past me now. That I could look back and think, “Glad I’m out of that relationship.” That I could breathe. Silly me.
But abusers don’t stop just because you walked out the door. I had no idea of the nightmare I would live through for three years—and counting—after I left.
A week of constant texts, voice mails, emails. He blamed me, apologized to me, begged me, threatened me, laughed at me. And only then, I learned from one of his family members that he had a criminal history and had even spent time in a federal penitentiary. He had over thirty-five prior convictions, including stalking and harassing ex-girlfriends. I guess he forgot to mention this on the first date. I guess I forgot to ask. Silly me.
After I left, he trashed my car—twice. He created over a dozen email addresses and Facebook profiles and harassed me on my personal page, the business page where my dogs went to daycare, on the business page of my employer. He applied for credit in my name and was approved. He hacked my e-mail and sent messages to my contacts, pretending to be me. He broke into my rental unit, cut every single electrical wire and stole over a thousand dollars’ worth of my tenant’s property. He smeared feces and snot on the door to my rental unit and threw rotten fruit onto the balcony. He put my personal belongings up for sale on Kijiji. He messaged me to tell me how much fun he was having following and watching me. He figured out who I was dating and sent them a Facebook friend request. He broke every restraining order he had been issued. He called me weekly, sometimes daily, left verbally abusive messages, threatened to end my life, and he promised he wouldn’t stop until I was dead.
I called the police. Every. Single. Time.
I wrote statements. I went in for interviews. I provided evidence. I cooperated. After all he had done, he was charged with only eleven crimes. Of those eleven, the crown prosecutor felt only five had enough evidence to take to court. Of those five, he was found guilty of only two. Of those two, he has been sentenced to eighteen months conditional house arrest for one.
This means he is allowed to go to work. He is allowed to go to the store, to go to any personal appointments, and further his education. Should he find out where I am living, he is allowed to park across the street from my house and watch me. This is because he has only to stay ten meters away from me—and ten meters is about the distance from the street to my front door. But he has to be in his home between nine in the evening and five in the morning. He cannot consume drugs or alcohol. Oh, and he must pay one hundred dollars in restitution for his crimes.
I lost a dream job because of him. I have moved six times. I have changed my phone number four times. I have changed my email address three times. I have changed vehicles three times. I have spent sixteen thousand dollars in lawyers’ fee and then had to let my lawyer go because I could no longer afford to fight. I have had to endure three years of court dates where I have been questioned and cross examined and made to feel like I’m lying and making things up. I have had to tell my story over and over and over again to each new police officer who attended my calls. I have lost friends. I have been doubted by those I trusted. And for every time I’ve been encouraged to tell my story, I have been told three times to move on, forget it happened.
So far, I’ve persevered. I’ve stayed strong. But I’m not sure how to end this story because, in truth, there is no end in sight.