By Arati M. Jambotkar / JDSA Intern
Summers in Los Angeles can be excruciatingly hot. The undersized, overpriced studio apartment where I was living was part of a shoddy complex in a dangerous section of North Hollywood. But the key perk was the reliable air conditioning. So instead of spending my summer days at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, as a lot of young people were prone to do, I chose comfortable “ghetto isolation.” When a twenty-something becomes a summer hermit, there’s only so much she can do.
Video games: check. check.
I met her in a chat-room on an online dating site for single lesbians. Her profile seemed enticing enough: thirty-two year old Argentinian, long blondish-brown hair, green eyes, very athletic, college graduate, loves to party. Her picture screamed cuteness. And since I was feeling particularly bold and invincible, I decided to meet her.
“Loves to party” apparently meant “LOVES TO PARTY!” Our first date consisted of getting high and having sex. I remember not wanting to sleep with her that soon, but I struggled with a deep loneliness of not having dated in quite awhile. So I was submissive, and I stayed so throughout the entire course of what would be a two-year relationship of the worst kind.
The initial dating period was textbook romance. Occasionally, we’d go out to dinner, catch a movie, and engage in other activities those in the early romantic stages do. She held doors open for me…even bought me kiddie meals at fast food places because I liked the cheap toys inside. I thought these little moments would serve as fond memories later in our relationship. They didn’t. Instead, they faded quickly…hopelessness and pain taking their place.
I remember the first time she hit me. It was about a month into our relationship. I was at my friend Marc’s house when she called my cell, politely asking when I’d be home. She was leaving her sister’s place in Woodland Hills, she explained. And wanted to visit me. I told her I’d be home within the next two hours, and she should come over. Although, not before me, as I didn’t want her waiting alone. Half an hour later, she called again. She was waiting for me. In her van outside my complex.
Honestly, my initial feeling was fear – not fear of what I now know were the unreasonable demands of an unstable woman, but fear of disappointing the person I thought was the solution to my inherent loneliness. I asked Marc to rush me home. He dropped me off next to her van and I climbed in. She was angry and disappointed. Strangely enough, I found myself excusing her anger just so I could appease her disappointment. I think that’s the moment I was reeled in…hooked.
I invited her back to my apartment. Unlocking the door, I walked in first and heard the clicking sound of the deadbolt behind me. I turned in her direction, and what seemed like one simultaneous motion, my feet fell out from underneath me, my head slammed sideways against the thin, brown carpet with my right ear bending backwards on the ground. I remember the taste of that carpet – wooly, gritty, coarse. And I remember feeling stunned – not just emotionally, but physically. The physical shock, it seemed at the time, trumped the emotional response. I remember her spitting out paranoid accusations of sleeping with Marc. I was too scared to object – then and always thereafter.
The next two years were filled with constant drug use and an endless barrage of physical assaults. There was slapping, kicking, choking, breaking – destroying me from the outside in. Once, despite my 103 degree fever, I was dragged by my hair into her van to visit her family for Thanksgiving dinner. Another time I was punched directly in the nose, forcing it to bleed onto the white linen of our bed. She told the doctor I tried to burn her with a cigarette, and she had kicked me in self-defense. I didn’t object. Unfortunately, neither did the doctor.
She once chased me around my entire apartment complex in the middle of the afternoon, accusing me of doing the last of the drugs. I knocked on every door in desperation. Everyone was somewhere else. She finally found the drugs in her own pocket. I really think she would have killed me right then and there if she hadn’t stuck her hand in that pocket.
My parents were gravely worried, and bought last-minute tickets to Los Angeles with the intention of taking me home to Louisiana. But I wouldn’t go. Despite everything – everything – I wanted to stay. At first, I thought the loneliness was greater than any physical pain she could ever inflict. But soon enough, through something I can only describe as the love of a Higher Power, I realized that the pain of living the way I was had become greater than my fear of that loneliness. It was only then that I could seek treatment.
I got on that plane. And I never went back.
A few months ago, she sent me a friend request on Facebook. I took a deep breath and clicked the ‘Not Now’ button. I’m worth more than that today. I don’t need to numb myself at the hands of another…even at the hands of myself. I can find self-esteem without being controlled or manipulated…without being abused and coerced. I have an identity apart from that loneliness these days.
So ‘Not Now’ is so fitting. Not today. Not ever again.