I should have known – a study in anaphora

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anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses to build emphasis.

I met him at a work party. He told me his name, and I didn’t believe him. Looking back I almost – but not quite – laugh at that…I should have known. But I gave him my phone number, and a kiss, and we met again the next night for a sloppy game of pool, and the night after that, and before I knew it I was making him the most important meal of the day in his basement bedroom most days out of the week.

He was charismatic, and sarcastically hilarious, and his slow moving, crooked smile would always precede a wise crack or a dirty joke. He was daring – driving his car with no insurance and always getting into fights with his room-mate over dish duty, and he would prank call me at work asking for climbing gear that didn’t exist, or pretending he was British – just to make me laugh. I was clumsy, and always covered in bruises from blowing a move at the climbing gym. We would joke about it in the movie store, and I’d sacrilegiously fake a quiver in my voice, asking him to next time please hit me where it didn’t show. ..I should have known.

He was hurting from a recently tragic relationship, but he told me that I made him forget her. He could listen to songs now and think of me instead. He showed me her myspace page once, and told me that I was a better lover than her…I should have known. He quoted ancient poets and compared me to slender trees and ballerinas. He loved me immediately and completely, and told me so. I don’t think I will ever feel so loved as I did those first months. We held hands as I paid his insurance bill so he could drive safe…I should have known.

He was against “institutions” – he didn’t have a bank account due to past indiscretions, and didn’t return his library books on time. Then, he was as punk as fuck, but I should have known.
His Kerouac heart decided that he needed to be in an open relationship, which meant he slept with a young woman from work. Feelings hurt, I asked “why her?” He told me she was cute and had big boobs. I was ok with it..he was just that free. I kissed a boy on a rooftop in Chicago, and we had a fight, and he decided that he was ready. He got drunk on Carlo Rossi that night and, puking into a five gallon pail, told me that when he was sober he wanted other girls, but when he was drunk he wanted Just Me. I should have known.

Summertime brought us Chicago. We lived in an overpriced, undersized studio on the top floor of a converted hospital with our cat named Soupcan. We didn’t have any money, but we went on long bike rides and had marathon sex and drank too much wine and listened to Beyonce with the windows open, and we were happy. Our relationship was passionate, and I saw that as good..I should have known. On Monday we were desperately in love and couldn’t stand to be apart, but by Wednesday I would be tired when I came home from work and we would have a colossal fight, ending in tears and wild making up. Now that we were living together, there was constant pressure to have “good sex”. He told me that his ex wasn’t adventurous, that she didn’t like morning sex. He was afraid of boring, so we role-played and teased each other and it was fun. But I should have known.

In the autumn, about 8 months into our relationship, the arguments turned violent. Holes in walls and curtains ripped from windows, I would sit on the bed and wait for him to calm down, so we could talk about it and he could apologize. He convinced me that I was the reason he was unhappy – in my birkenstocks and wool socks, I didn’t look like the DePaul sorority girls he would point out on the streets, I would argue with him about politics, pacifism, and vegetarianism..he didn’t like that. The fights were my fault too – I was often tired from working two jobs to pay for school, and he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just let it go that he had slept with that woman without protection when we were not monogamous. He gave me an ultimatum one day – drop it or he would leave. I dropped it – I already didn’t know my life without him.

At first, the jealousy was flattering. Early on, he told me that he loved me so much he just didn’t want to share me with anyone, and he was afraid that his love would cause him to lose control. I was thrilled that someone could think so highly of me, but I should have known. He would call and check in on me when I was out with friends, telling me he missed me and to hurry home to him. If I didn’t answer the phone, he’d keep calling until I did, telling me he was worried I was lost on the El. One night, my phone battery died. When I got home, he was in a rage, accusing me of being with another guy, and throwing things, and crying. He told me that he would kill himself if I ever cheated on him, or deserted him. That night in bed, he begged me to humiliate him. I didn’t want to, but I wanted to make it up to him, and I wanted him to be happy. I should have known.

When the proposal came, I was so excited to see him happy and planning for our future that I said gladly yes. Later that day, Christmas, he grabbed me and asked, “Who does this pussy belong to now?” I should have known. The ring – a handmade swirl of silver with a jade stone – became a a bargaining tool. He would get furious, call off the wedding, take the ring back. The fights got worse when I stopped trying to make up with him. He would break things, enraged that I was not fighting to keep us together. I was afraid of him, but I was more afraid of me without him. I told myself that if he ever touched me, then I’d leave.

Time passed, but our problems didn’t. The holidays found us living in a cabin in Montana. I was trapped by the blizzards and, increasingly, by him. None of my friends were good enough for me and he was jealous of everyone – he had started telling me that my family was crazy, and they were trying to change me. He started telling me that everyone – my manager at work, my friend Joel, our room-mates – were all out to get me, and he wanted to protect me. He told me that the reason for our now daily fights was me. He blamed my birth control for my moodiness, so I switched birth control. Too depressed to work from a business venture gone wrong, he stayed home and watched hours of daytime TV and I would come home from working a double to cook him thankless spaghetti. One night I had the stomach flu and not in the mood to play degrading sex games with him, and he lay in bed next to me and watched porn. Then, finally, I knew.

But I didn’t know how to leave. We were in significant debt from his attempts to find happiness in things – a truck, a flat screen TV, a Mac Book, kayaks, and I had no means of escape. The day I told him to leave, he took my car and I had to walk for hours to get away. I still, strangely, madly, loved him, and I didn’t want to hurt him, and so he persisted in coming by the house, and finding excuses. My manager at the bookstore banned him, telling him he’d call the police if he came in again. Finally, he convinced me to sit in my car on my lunch break and talk it out. He tried to force the ring back on my finger. I refused to compromise, and he punched a dent in my dashboard, screaming that he hoped I got raped. I moved to a house across town, and he found where I was staying.

Five years, changed phone numbers, blocked emails, and threats of restraining orders later, I am free. It has only been in the past few years that I have been able to admit to myself and to others that I was in an abusive relationship.

As a proud member of a radical community of strong women, it was unbelievably difficult to first speak out about how emotional and verbal abuse has been a part of my life. Left feeling exposed and vulnerable, and even ashamed, I was amazed at the women – women who I had assumed would never allow themselves to be put into a similar situation, who could commiserate with my experiences. And thus my story becomes our story.

As sisters, daughters, aunts, mothers, lovers, and comrades, we need to set each other free from the culture of shame and fear that surrounds domestic abuse. We talk about periods, about our best orgasms, our insecurities about the size of our breasts, we share our birth stories – but we can’t talk about how we don’t feel respected and supported by our partners? Unacceptable. We need to create space in our relationships and interactions where it is ok to speak out about how our partner is sexually demeaning to us, or we don’t feel safe, or valued. A space where there is no more “I should have known”, because we all know.

Being a victim of domestic abuse does not make us less powerful unless we allow it to. I am a survivor, and, in speaking out, have gained a strength that is greater than anything I could have imagined had I kept silent. The stigma has been stripped away, and there is nothing but love here.