And then one day, something triggers a memory. Maybe it’s his name in my inbox, which would indicate that he has broken up with whatever poor girl he most recently victimized. Maybe it’s a photo on Facebook . . .
It’s been seven years since I left him.
Most days he doesn’t cross my mind. I forget that he existed. The things that he put me through are filed away somewhere that never gets opened. I’ve done the work of understanding what I went through, of forgiving him for the abuse, and moving on with my life.
I’ve been an intimate partner violence (IPV) awareness advocate for years now. I can name everything on the power and control wheel. I’m an expert on abuser dynamics. I know how to support a survivor of intimate partner violence and most of the time, I remain comfortably numb from the experiences being shared with me. I can hear stories of abuse and talk about the dynamics of IPV and always feel detached, like these things happen to people that aren’t me. I forget that I, myself, am a survivor of intimate partner violence. This is not hypothetical — this is my life, too.
And then, one day, something triggers a memory. Maybe it’s his name in my inbox (which would indicate that he has broken up with whatever poor girl he most recently victimized). Maybe it’s a photo on Facebook. That’s what it was this time — a photo of him and a girl I’d never seen before. My stomach flipped and dropped. I felt sick. I could hear his laugh; smell his musk. It’s like he was standing in front of me. Memories flashed through my mind in a rush. Without being able to stop myself, I clicked through photos to get a sense of how long he’d been dating this one. Long enough. Long enough that his pattern must be starting by now.
I want to message her. To warn her. But I don’t. How crazy would I look, this ex-girlfriend of almost a decade, happily married to someone else, messaging his current girlfriend? That’s how he would spin it, too. I never could get over him, he’d say. I’m crazy, he’d say. That’s what he told the first girl that I tried to warn, the one he dated after me. It took a year, but she finally saw what I had already seen and reached out. After her was another girl. And now this one.
Those of us who have left our abusers, we all have the same stories. His pattern never changes. He is predictable. He is an abuser. I want to tell her, this new one, but I don’t. And I hate myself for this, for not warning her. I feel like somehow it is my job, my responsibility, to tell her who he really is. But I can’t. Instead, I message the girl that was right after me. I ask if she wants to get coffee. Sometimes, when I’m triggered, reaching out to her makes me feel better. We don’t talk often, but we share a special bond. We were victimized by the same person, and we both have scars as a result. Different scars, each of us, but scars nonetheless. We belong to a secret society that I hope no one else ever joins.
I’ve forgiven him. I don’t hate him. I’m no longer angry with him. I truly hope that he changes one day, but I don’t have faith that he will. He’s an abuser, after all. It’s been seven years since I left him, but it never really goes away.