It was dark out when I heard. My neighbors and I had begun an unspoken ritual of meeting outside each night, in part to enjoy the cool, fall weather and in part so they could check on me.
I had been on my own for a few months by then, after officers served him with a restraining order and removed him from the house a few months earlier. And by “on my own,” I mean I was handling everything solo — supporting the kids, keeping the house and covering every financial need that came up.
It was a lot. So these evening talks helped, more than they’ll ever know. It was a gut check for me.
“She had a restraining order, too,” my neighbor said, in a more delicate way than that, of a woman that until that point I only knew existed — nothing more.
She knew how to find stuff, my neighbor, and I hadn’t even thought to look into who the woman was who had been married to my personal terrorist before me. I hadn’t even considered that she could have endured something similar to what I had.
I had been told, years earlier, that she (the first wife) was the reason everything fell apart. I had been told horrible things, things to make me pity him and never want to know more about her. And that was the idea.
He knew she had stories to tell. And that wouldn’t work out very well for him.
I can now only imagine what he told the women after me about me. I know some of it, because I saw footage from police bodycam videos after he was arrested for breaking my window – his girlfriend at the time trying to tame him and saying over and over to him, as he’s being handcuffed, “This is her. This is her.”
She was referring to me, the woman at home with a second broken window. He had told her I broke the first one and blamed it on him. And she bought it.
So, after collecting myself in the wake of that revelation, the little journalist in me made a request for public records, and I got a copy of this woman’s restraining order, now decades old. And when it hit my inbox, I buckled. My knees turned to jelly.
I was on a freeway off-ramp, stopped in rush-hour traffic, and I only needed to read a handful of the first few words to know I knew her.
The way he had traumatized me, for years, was rehearsed. He had done it to her. And the restraining order was in effect when I met him — a detail he never thought to mention. Ever.
He had called, repeatedly, dozens of times, in only a couple hours, the order said. And I immediately knew the drill, my call log only a few months removed from his incessant harassment. He had called her work, over and over again. Yep, I recognized that, too. He had harassed her parents and grandparents. Yes, same.
What he had done to me was not isolated. It was learned. And intentional and
I had allowed it for years — too many years.
It was a lot to sit with. To unfold and figure out, even as I was still trying to understand what I had been through and tried to navigate the insanity of divorcing a human being like that. But, by then I had started to share my writing, the one thing that was keeping me afloat — that and running.
So, I thought about contacting her. To tell her I understood. To tell her I wish I had known. To tell her he did it again.
I remember saying something about not wanting to have her dig into some trauma she had already resolved. Not wanting to “open a can of worms.” Something like that.
I attached an essay. I hit “send” and I exhaled.
And even if she never answered, or if she got angry with me for igniting something she had stomped out, I felt okay knowing I had tried.
But, she answered. And she wanted to talk.