Author: admin

Grand Jury

Grand Jury

A few weeks after my abuser torched my house, I was summoned to testify before a grand jury. I was experiencing a broad array of trauma symptoms. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I couldn’t listen to music or read a book because my brain couldn’t process it. My mind played constant tricks on me. I smelled smoke when there wasn’t any. I kept imagining my little dog grunting beside me because he wanted to go out. I was a fucking mess.

I also knew my abuser had intentionally set my house on fire. And I was terrified. I thought I needed to do the right thing to protect myself and my family, but I didn’t know what the right thing was. My abuser and his relatives had already launched their smear campaign saying I was equally responsible and my family had started to turn on me. When I was summoned to appear before the grand jury, my abuser tried to convince me I was in just as much trouble as he was.

He told me that I needed to find myself a lawyer, and fast. He told me that I might incriminate myself if I said the wrong thing and that I could be implicated for the fire too. I felt panicked. My house was destroyed, my dog was dead, my family was rejecting me and now I had to worry about being charged with a crime? I remember saying to him “But I didn’t burn down the house, you did!”. 

My abuser insisted that I pay $1500 out of my half of a community GoFundMe account to pay for his sister’s hand-picked attorney. When I balked, he told me things were going to “get rough” if I didn’t cooperate and do as he said. So, like a fool, I complied and paid $1500 of desperately needed charity funds to a defense attorney.

My abuser continued to badger me about what I should and shouldn’t say in court. He told me not to talk too much about the dog because that might make the grand jury biased against him. He texted me saying “So, apparently I’m being told by my lawyer the fact that the dog died makes this a bigger deal than if he wasn’t part of the equation. I know we loved the dog but please try not to break down in tears when they bring up the dog. Regular concern, but not heartbroken.” WE loved the dog? He murdered the dog.

I was about to cover his ass by neglecting to offer up information to a fucking grand jury and he was telling me not to cry about my sweet little dog. I gritted my teeth and told him I had no intention of crying about anything. He also interrogated me about what story I had told my new lawyer. I replied that I hadn’t said a word about the fact that we had wrestled over the gas can and that I knew the fire was no accident.

I went alone to the hearing, met my lawyer, handed him a check for $1500 and did what I was supposed to do. I lied to protect my abuser. But it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough to make him or my family happy. My abuser continued to destroy my life until the day he was briefly thrown in prison more than a year after my testimony.

I wrote a poem about my grand jury testimony. It was published by Quail Bell Magazine on January 4, 2018 http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/the-unreal/poem-grand-jury-by-lily-bell

The Real John

The Real John

I lived in the suburbs. It was a quiet town by the sea. There were deer, foxes, wild turkeys and bald eagles in my back yard. I expected that this would be where I’d live out the rest of my life, in this beautiful New England town where I had the comfort of familiarity. John was a monster, but I was still in my comfort zone. My house was my sanctuary. I was trapped there with my little dog, but Angus showered me with unconditional love and I felt secure.

For three years, I had no car and I was dependent on John for transportation to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping or even helping to care for my dying father. My brothers and sisters expected me to pitch in and get to my parents’ house 45 minutes away, despite the fact that I had no transportation. When I asked John if I could go help out, he’d rage at me that he had to go to work and “fuck” my siblings for not understanding. My dad was dying of cancer and I was feeling guilty for upsetting my abuser and my family.

On Christmas morning, my children would ask why Santa forgot to fill my stocking and John would laugh and just say “oops.” On Mother’s Day when my young kids didn’t have as much as a card, John would say “You’re not MY mother!” and he’d laugh. He taught my 2-year-old baby girl to call the police “pigs”. He taught my little boy to be verbally abusive. He put a shock collar on my other dog because she barked too much. He’d also squeeze her snout closed until she’d yelp in pain. John was a cruel, rage-filled bully.

Throughout our marriage, John hated my family, my neighbors, my friends and my co-workers. He didn’t hide his disdain, yet no one ever said a word about his behavior. They enabled it. I enabled it. I wanted to look as perfect as everyone else looked, at family celebrations, holiday parties and on Facebook. I was supposed to be as perfect as everyone else despite the fact that I was a “bitch” and a “cunt”. I was supposed to work full-time, keep a fine house, raise my children and be his personal porn star.

When we went to parties, he’d drag me out every single time if it looked like I was having fun with my friends. He physically dragged me from a high school reunion because I was dancing with one of our closest friends. He threw me in the car, raged at me on the way home for “gyrating” and threatened me. In the morning, he was still pissed off because I had been acting like a “slut” the night before, so he threw a hot cup of coffee at my head, just missing me and exploding onto the wall. I had to clean up the mess.

When I accidentally jammed our garbage disposal, he went into such a fit of rage that he grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed it into the counter, just missing my hand. For years, I kept that spot by the sink covered with a dish towel because it shamed me.

Did they know? Did they see the misery in my eyes? Did I know? This had always been my normal, but it wasn’t theirs. Did they know? Was I wrong to pretend things were fine? Was I wrong to try and keep things stable for my children even though they weren’t stable for me?

They’d known John as long as I had. Did they know? And if they did know, why didn’t they protect me?

Mothers and Children

Mothers and Children

I called mom the other day. I don’t call her very often because it’s too painful. I only call her on a day when I feel safe, a Monday when my brother is there.

I called her and bit my lip as she told me all about how her children always visit. They bring her food and wine and they take such wonderful care of her. My stomach churned when she said “Us mothers deserve to be taken care of when we get old. We’ve earned it”. I didn’t want to have this conversation with her again. So I hesitated and she said “What? You’ll see. Your children will take care of you when you’re old too”. The lump in my throat grew larger and I could feel the tears stinging as I whispered, “I don’t have children”. “Yes you do!”, she exclaimed.

Then she changed the subject and asked “Will I ever see you again?”. I squeaked out a reply, reminding her I had been there in May and making empty promises that I’d be home again soon. She said “You probably don’t want to be here on a night when someone else is here, but we can have our own night, just you and me. It’ll be fun”. I whimpered “Mhm-hmm” and told her I had to go.

I’ll never see my mother or my children again.

Slut-Shaming

Slut-Shaming

I know a beautiful young woman who lives her life by her own rules. She embraces her freedom of expression with abandon. She wears fishnets, sexy lingerie and sometimes nothing at all. She models or posts selfies on Instagram. She is a belly dancer and is in a black metal band. She is an exquisite collision between goth and glamour.

Her husband supports her. He is proud of her unrestrained sexiness and he’s proud that he is the one she loves. She is art personified and he recognizes that within her. He watches her fly with pride.

Imagine being that free-spirited girl and having your creativity and freedom of expression snuffed out by an abusive partner. Imagine having your body objectified and degraded by your partner but also being fearful of his reactions if another man interacted with you. Imagine feeling like a slut because your abuser thought every man on the planet wanted to get in your pants. Think about the confusion and lack of self-worth that you’d feel. Imagine not being allowed to control what you do with your own body because your abuser thinks they own you.

Imagine if your brother or son or father treated their partner like a whore and then slut-shamed her. Imagine if you were complicit. Imagine if you didn’t defend her, even if you’d known her your entire life. Imagine actively participating in her slut-shaming and rejection. Imagine how guilty you’d feel.

Coercion

Coercion

It was 5:30 PM on a Sunday. I’d just poured myself a glass of wine and was staring blankly into the fridge when my phone rang. It was James. He told me to get in my car and drive to Massachusetts to help release my abuser from his cell. James said I had to be there to prove I wasn’t afraid of my abuser. He said my abuser had suffered many hardships in the two weeks since I’d “had him arrested” for witness intimidation. I choked back my contempt for the criminal and asked what was going on.

James began yelling that my abuser was “crying in his cell” because the guards were “mean”. He told me the poor criminal was “afraid to ask for a pillow” because someone might “beat him up” and that “he thinks he is going to die if he has to stay there any longer”. I took a deep breath and said I was sorry to hear it. James insisted that I drop everything, drive for 8 hours and show up in court the next day to ask for my abuser’s release. I said that was impossible.

James told me I was the reason my abuser was in jail in the first place and that if I cared about my family I would be in court the next day. He said I “had it out” for my abuser, meaning I wanted this to happen. I started to cry as James continued to make me feel guilty about what my abuser had done to himself. Because I love James and I was desperate to re-establish my relationship with him, I capitulated and agreed to meet him in time for court. I poured out my glass of wine and grabbed my car keys, knowing all along that I was making a mistake. I was familiar with the routine. When my abuser was in trouble with the law because of his violent acts toward me, it was my responsibility to bail him out.

When I arrived at court the following morning, I was haggard and afraid. I didn’t want to see my abuser or his family. James led me to a hallway where my abuser’s defense attorney was waiting for me. She told me I might have to speak, but hopefully, my presence alone would help her free my abuser from prison while he awaited trial for his other charges of arson, attempted murder, and animal cruelty. I remember thinking to myself, “What a cowardly little people pleaser you are, Lily”.

My abuser was led into the courtroom wearing a dress shirt and cuffs. He never looked at me, but I stared at him. I tried to see the man I thought I loved. I tried to view him as the father of my children, but he was scarred and hairless from the fire and he terrified me. He was not any of the things he used to be. He was a monster and he tried to kill me.

When the hearing began, the DA read my abuser’s email threats out loud to a packed courtroom. I heard his voice fading in and out and the familiar tunnel-vision of dissociation took over. I held my breath and bit my lip to maintain composure as I heard gasps and murmurs from bystanders in response to my abuser’s threats. Then I heard someone behind me whisper “that’s her right there” and the tears silently rolled down my cheeks.

In TV courtroom drama fashion, my abuser’s lawyer gestured toward me indicating my support for the man who tried to kill me. The prosecution gasped and sputtered and the murmurs in the courtroom grew louder. All eyes were on me. I sat there in silence like a goddam idiot while my abuser’s lawyer used me to save his sorry ass. The judge agreed to free my abuser with a GPS ankle bracelet and he was to have no contact with me. Despite the attempted murder charge that was still pending, my presence in the courtroom was enough to get my poor abuser out of prison for the time being. I had done my job.

Without my presence, my abuser would have spent the entire time leading up to his trial in a jail cell. I knew that was where he belonged, but I wanted to be loved by my family more than I wanted to ensure my safety. I would find out later that that decision was a big mistake.

I can’t help but wonder why the judge never asked me directly if I was really there of my own volition, or if I had been coerced into being there. I suppose given my state of mind and the fact that I was desperate to re-establish a relationship with my family, I probably would have said I was there of my own free will. But it would have been nice to be asked.

Thank You Ginger

Thank You Ginger

I have a brain injury. I have complex PTSD because I survived a murder attempt and then my support system failed me. I was homeless. I was sexually assaulted. I attempted suicide. I am not a racist. My friends know it. The domestic violence center I work at knows it. I am a good person.

My brain injury makes it hard for me to express myself, especially when I feel threatened. So when someone I’ve never interacted with before called me a racist, I was caught off guard. When I said excuse me, they became aggressive and threatened to block me. I blocked. They blocked. We subtweeted like children and I went to bed.

I woke to find that this person launched a smear campaign against me, my band and my publisher because of a generalization that was untrue. They went on to share screenshots of what looked like me having a conversation with them that I never had. I think by now everyone knows when you change the handle of a twitter account, the old activity is still there. There is no reset. I inherited this account in August from my partner. I renamed it and made it my own.

So now I was being labeled not just racist but also a liar. I was being bullied by someone with a chip on their shoulder, perhaps because I am a cis white woman? Who knows, but that’s not the point. We all have different experiences and situations in our lives. We have all had our own traumas. So to bully someone without ever having the courtesy to have a discussion is deplorable.

The fact is, my brain won’t allow me to be as quick and clever as someone who I think is threatening me. I may call them a bitch because I don’t feel safe. That’s what I call everyone who bitches at me, a bitch. But apparently my reaction was deemed “inappropriate” by a jury of my peers which gave this person more fuel for their fire.

I would never be able to live with myself if I bullied someone like that. But my sense is that people who bully have been bullied themselves and for that I am truly sorry. I’m not sorry, however, for making a statement that I’m sure I could have worded better and that we could have had a discussion about. Obviously, I’m not nearly as successful a wordsmith as those in the literary group.

I have been feeling so violated and angry about what happened. But suddenly the stars seemed to align today when a woman I don’t follow came to my defense. Her lovely face and name are very familiar and I think I followed her on my old account, the one I lost a month ago when I was suspended for posting a cat video. She did it so eloquently and in just a few words. And suddenly I can breathe again. Thank you Canadian Ginger. https://twitter.com/geekyginge

Gaslighting

Gaslighting

He spent months trying to convince me I was the reason my family fell apart. And why wouldn’t he? For years, he’d twisted my words, sewed the seeds of self-doubt and made me feel inadequate. I was isolated from the world and dependent on him for validation. And like mom, he projected his rage onto me through daily rounds of verbal assaults. I was a bitch, a whore, a cunt. He didn’t value me, except when my legs were spread.

But things had changed and I wasn’t as easily swayed. When someone douses your home in gasoline and sets it ablaze, it tends to curtail your level of trust. Nevertheless, it had taken five months after the physical injuries before I was able to extricate myself from the emotional ones.

Gaslighting is one of the most harmful forms of emotional abuse. The abuser erodes a person’s sense of self-confidence, gradually whittling away at it until they are left questioning whether what they experience, think, and feel is real or something their mind has made up.

The aim is to confuse and disorient the victim so that the abuser can gain total control over them. The more seeds of doubt that can be sown in the victim’s mind, the easier it is for the abuser to manipulate the situation.

Since the fire, my abuser had launched a smear campaign against me and then diligently worked to destabilize and invalidate my experiences through gaslighting. He’d managed to convince my family that I was responsible for his violent actions. Then he focused his efforts on making me question my sanity. “We all feel like you are hiding the caring loving Lily. I can certainly tell and so can your children that you are not yourself.”, he told me. “We all hope that you can forgive yourself and accept the fact you’ve done some shitty things that we already forgive you for because we all love you so god damn much. We will all instantly recognize the woman we know you are when we see you.”

He continually changed the narrative to disorient me and then insisted that I was in denial. “Crawl back in your isolation. Keep telling yourself you are right. Keep spinning things to your way of thinking, but then stop to wonder “IS EVERYONE ELSE REALLY WRONG”? Funny thing about humans. They can convince themselves of ANYTHING THEY WANT rather than face the truth.”

But I had already faced the truth and I clung to it. I was there when he threatened me. I was there when he manhandled me. I was there when he used me as his sex slave. And I was there when he lit my house on fire and murdered my pet. I knew the truth and I would not allow him to convince me otherwise. He may have poisoned everyone I loved with his toxic lies, but I was finally prepared to protect myself. Fuck everyone else, this was my life that was being destroyed.

I refused to accept responsibility when he was the emotional abuser, he was the financial abuser, he was the sexual abuser and the physical abuser. He was the arsonist. When I pushed back, the gaslighting turned to threats such as “Shit’s going to get real,” or “You can’t escape from reality, support me or face legal issues.” He wanted me to believe that if he was a criminal then so was I. He told me I was going down with him for the crimes he committed. And he was wrong. He is the felon and I am the survivor.

I ask myself every day why my family fell for his manipulation. I will never understand how and why they were so easily convinced that I was some sort of evil succubus who drained his soul. This was family, they’d known me my entire life. But they threw me under the bus at the very first opportunity.

I will not back down from the truth even if it means never regaining the support of my family. Blood doesn’t matter when survival is at stake. There’s a quote “speak your truth, even when your voice shakes”. My entire being tremors each time I write about my life. I understand that it increases my family’s tension and animosity and I’m sorry about that. But it was my life that was decimated and it is my story to tell.

Babies are Delicious

Babies are Delicious

I moved in with mom six months after my abuser burned down my house. By then, I had taken the role of family scapegoat to a whole new level after being blamed for “driving” him to it. My family had thrown me under the bus as far as the investigation was going and they’d actively participated in my banishment from family events. But when a new baby was born, my sister couldn’t wait to flaunt her joy. So she invited mom to come gush which meant I was forced to accompany her as the designated driver.  My sister was insensitive to my crisis from the start and this day was no different. She assumed I’d paint a fake smile on my face and act like I was glad to be there.

I tried very hard to suppress the rage that was percolating in my belly since I had moved back to my childhood home, but the truth was I hated everyone around me. And my bitterness continued to grow, especially when I had to share air space with my siblings.

I was particularly furious with this sister because she wasn’t capable of acknowledging my pain. Her lack of emotional support and unwillingness to communicate with me about domestic violence and the decimation of my family triggered my resentment. It was fucking painful watching her flaunt her happiness in my face when I felt dead inside. 

I gritted my teeth as we passed the baby around like a football and took turns holding her. She was beautiful and I was jealous as fuck at my sister’s joy. I was charged with taking photos of four generations of women from my family. As I stood across the room snapping pictures, it was obvious I was an outsider. I didn’t belong in that photo or in the family. The pain rose up in my throat and I hated them and their fucking willful ignorance.

I sat there stewing and feeling sorry for myself while the insipid baby gushing celebration continued. When my sister shoved the baby in my arms, I stared down at her, phone in hand. I snapped two photos of the little rugrat and posted them on Twitter. I gave the photos captions saying “Isn’t she delicious?” and “Couldn’t you just eat her up?” 

One photo showed her tiny feet and the other showed her face. I didn’t identify whose adorable baby I was holding, but I did post tasteless baby-eating atheist jokes that I thought were funny. It was either laugh or cry and I chose to laugh. I didn’t give the photos another thought until the shit hit the fan. 

When my sister noticed the photos and my jokes about baby-eating, she had a meltdown. Ironically, this was the same sister who had allowed the man who’d almost murdered me into her home so he could assault me again and then actively participated in alienating me. But she was pissed off about two photos used for tasteless jokes. 

My sister rallied the rest of my family to join her in collective outrage. They lambasted me with absolute condemnation. You’d think I had done something heinous like burn down my house with my spouse inside. I wondered where all this outrage was hiding when my abuser tried to kill me. Everyone jumped to my sister’s defense as if I had physically assaulted her. But no one ever came to my defense with this much vigor when my abuser nearly murdered me. 

Now I had given them an outlet to devour me like a pack of wolves intent on killing the runt of the litter. They had carte blanche and they chose well, selecting the most hurtful words to control their false narrative.

They said I was “the ultimate narcissist” and that I “always had to be the victim.” They said “Your account of what happened the night of the fire changed multiple times. Do you think everyone except you is stupid?” They said I needed to “look in the mirror and awaken to the reality” that I needed “serious help”. They told me that they would do what was best for their family and keep me at “arm’s length”. They told me that they expected me to be “elsewhere” when they visited mom. They were embarrassed by me and for me. They condemned me for publicizing things that were painful to my abuser. They said “You WANT to be a victim. You go OUT OF YOUR WAY to make yourself look like a victim.”

They didn’t believe I was a victim of domestic abuse. And they didn’t believe that after the fire I was in shock, dissociative and irrational with huge memory lapses. I had a fucking brain injury. But apparently since I didn’t have burns to prove how badly injured I was, then my condition was a lie.

My family proved my point in condemning me this way. They had abandoned me when I needed them most but they refused to admit it. And so they were afraid of me and my anger. They felt guilty. They couldn’t say “we’re sorry we didn’t defend you”. Instead, they collectively attacked to solidify their sainthood and my depravity. This made it easier for them to come to terms with their massive failure. I absolved them of their guilt by giving them an excuse to fully reject me.

The difference is, I did apologize for my behavior on more than one occasion. I did have introspect. I was able to admit my mistakes.

The Memoir

The Memoir

I wrote a memoir. It’s long and tedious and has far too many quotes from every individual who I ever interacted with after my trauma. Don’t misunderstand, I was relieved to have it all documented. But I recognized the fact that it was self-serving. If nothing more, it was an emotional diary of the incredible drama I’d lived through. But it was shitty writing because I wasn’t able to tell it more objectively.

I do think my story is compelling. It isn’t about the domestic violence that almost got me killed. It’s about the failure of the support system that I assumed would be there when I needed them. And it’s about the freedom my abuser had to manipulate me and my family because that support system was weak.

So here I am with an incredible story of abuse, betrayal, failure of personal and legal support systems, suicidal ideation and resilience. And I have no idea how to share it. If nothing more, it’s there for progeny and I will have to be okay with that.

Witness Intimidation

Witness Intimidation

It was the end of May. I was treating myself to a getaway on Cape Cod after a five-month period that I can only describe as catastrophic. They were all gone, my home, my dog and my family. I was feeling isolated and afraid and I was desperate to sit on a beach with my toes in the sand. I imagined how it would feel just closing my eyes, listening to the gulls and inhaling the salty air. I wondered if I’d be able to close my eyes at all, without seeing flames. But I was determined to give myself a much-needed seaside retreat.

About half an hour into my seven-hour drive, the barrage of emails began. I’d successfully extracted myself from my abuser’s texts and calls with a new phone number, but I hadn’t blocked his emails yet. Maybe it was because we shared children or maybe it was my own co-dependency. My therapist and I had agreed it was time for me to cut all communication with my abuser and I had stopped answering his emails, But I was still receiving them. 

As it turned out, it was our wedding anniversary that week. My abuser suggested we spend the day together in Boston, go out to dinner, walk along the duck pond and renew our relationship. Email ignored. He tried again and again I ignored. After three emails with no response, my abuser used a different tactic – threats. 

He sent a steady bombardment of messages with the obvious goal of intimidation. “You don’t know what you’ve done. Your fear has put both of us in a very tough spot. I thought it only right that I take one (very) LAST shot at explaining what you are very evidently not able to grasp. Call me and right away. BOTH of our futures rely on it. I could not be more serious. If you don’t call me right away, you won’t be able to say I didn’t try to warn you. I could not be more serious. Call now or…”

“All I ever wanted was for you to come to your senses and realize I’m not the monster you manufactured and cultured over the past few months. It’s too late now. We needed a unified front to survive what’s coming. You couldn’t muster the courage. Divided we fall. Our lives are over. I hope you’re happy because you have no idea just how bad it’s going to get because you made me into a monster. No therapist can save your sorry ass now Lily. “

“I wish you luck because you are going to need it more than you know. Remember, I am not the threat. I am not making threats. I am simply warning you my future is directly tied to yours. If I don’t have one then you don’t have one either. You never were good at math. There is no tomorrow if you don’t come to your senses today. I know you are mentally ill, but time has run out. You are choosing today what the rest of your life will be. United maybe we stand. Divided we are completely fucked. After today you won’t have any choices. There is no tomorrow for us unless you call me today. There will only be pain and loneliness forever.” 

“You’re in huge trouble and won’t acknowledge it. You won’t call me. I tried. I feel nothing but pain and helplessness. I loved you more than anything Lily. Just remember I tried in every way I could imagine. I tried, I tried and I tried. Just remember that Lily. I’m so sorry you went crazy. It has done nothing to protect you. Remember how much I tried.”

I contacted the police and spent an agonizing week on a deserted beach while my abuser was arrested on three counts of witness intimidation. My family exploded, saying I “got him arrested”. I tried to explain that I was frightened for myself, for him and for my children, but no one understood my fear. Even after his heinous crimes, they accused me of trying to hurt him, as if he was the victim.

Family is defined as “a group of people who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other. I must have been in the wrong family.