If you told me I’d be a survivor of domestic violence—that my ex and I, of medicine and academia, the son of a cop and a foster kid—I’d have laughed. That was precisely my failure: the danger of being human, of being unable or unwilling to see that who was closest was the most dangerous. Even when I suspected he was the one who harassed, cyberbullied, threatened, and stalked me, I believed I was paranoid. After all, I’m always paranoid. I serve in foster care and know too much of it to believe, at times, there is anything beyond it. And once my friends told me I was paranoid, I was convinced I made up my domestic violence in my head.
At the time that I was attacked—I went to teach my 9:30 a.m. honors English class and, before stepping into the classroom of eighteen students, my ex was waiting for me in the hallway: threatening that I was the one stalking him, and this was him doing something about it—I was on top of the world. My debut book was to be published in four months. I had been assigned my first court case as a child advocate for foster kids, someone whose history, lightnesses, and darknesses mirrored my own. I had done everything right. I’d blocked my ex after receiving a series of threats at the end of the summer and I hadn’t heard from him in two months. He was out of my life. I was oblivious to the fact that he had been following me, physically and electronically, for six months.
Around this time and for the months following the emergence of Harvey Weinstein under a new name, one spearheaded by the women and allies behind #MeToo, I received submissions on the following subjects: sexual assault and harassment. Domestic violence. Child custody. Substance addiction: one or both of the partners are addicts, including my ex. I worked and spoke with many women, and, to a smaller group of men who offered their stories. Mostly for reasons due to rescinding their statements, or not being ready to have the world read them, I have not published all of them. I understand this hesitance more than I want: it is a risk to offer your own words that your defendant could use against you. Certainly, that is my story. I have been asked repeatedly over the past year why haven’t I written about it—it’d make a good essay. It’d make me look like a saint, or a victim, or just better because I’d be the one in plain sight; I’d not be hiding.
I want to work towards helping others who were or are me get to that blank space. A provocation. A coming to terms.
I am grateful for both the stories which did not make it in this space we call publication and for the stories which did—they work in the same vein of it is okay, and more importantly, acceptable, to say, yes. Me, too. I say this as someone who has failed to write her own: I am scared. It is June 25, 2018, and in 120 days, my ex can have his firearms again. I’ve assumed he’s left town, but who knows, I made that mistake only a few months ago. When I think about how, on the day I had to face and address him in court, I was shaking—hands throbbing, voice wavering, lisp prominent—I do not know how I did it. How I represented myself and won. How I am a trained court advocate yet, when tasked with defending myself, I almost burst into tears and just walked out.
Instead, I rocked on my feet, sloshed the pile of artifacts I had with me—most of them for the illusion of an “argument;” I’d only planned to admit four or five of the ten I brought with me. Level-headed yet compassionate. What he loved about me. I repeated the refrain I had been directed by my colleague’s friend, a counsel who specialized in order of protections, to say: He made me fearful for my safety.
When I won, my ex did not look at me. He shook his lawyer’s hands and they whispered. I mouthed thank you to the judge and left with the Victims Assistance advocate I’d requested—the person you ask for when you have no one. She said, “Goddamn, you did not need me.”
To this day, my mother does not know. Or my father. Or my sisters. That is the power of being slightly estranged and of the foster care system: unless there is a monetary or legal or health problem, nobody asks of me. My ex knew this: he is the opposite, of a comfortable, middle-class upbringing where sons are valorized for being born. He spent his entire life running away from their scriptures and dogma. My friends who know—they haven’t asked again. Only one, who has been frenetic over her breakup, compared getting dumped to my domestic violence. I just stared at her and looked away. I regret not telling her to shut up. How do I feel that my ex went after me during Domestic Violence Awareness Month? (Serving him on his birthday felt gloriously Schadenfreude, although he was just stupid. Or am I supposed to tell this friend, Shut up?).
The school where I am still employed did everything they could, but, always, to a limit. I did not succeed in getting him banned from my campus. For parts of the remaining semester, police officers were stationed outside of my classrooms or within the building. For the next semester, they placed me in underground and central classrooms where I was surrounded by other boys of the department: another lecturer, a bunch of MFA students. One of them commented how nice it was to see me: that my department put the creative writers together. I did not say he had a nice classroom because he was supposed to protect me.
There were other things, like getting scrubbed from the public course catalog (how my ex tracked me down) and from the department website—both only for a semester because permanency was impossible—and having a fake office for the rest of the year (I was never supposed to be in my real office since my ex had the address and had gone there as well). Because eighteen students witnessed the attack, the rest of my classes heard what happened before I’d even left the police station and several of them told their parents; some of whom reached out to my administration about my state of being: was I fit to be their child’s professor? These minute precautions took so much work—it is not easy, apparently, to disappear as a public state employee. Some of my colleagues were jealous I got a temporary nicer office so the rumor that I’d moved up the promotion or favoritism ranks—this went back and forth, with the four persons who knew about my DV—moving gracefully to defend me. I watched this gratefully and quietly: after all, I was to stay at home and to shut up, to let it go.
I have outrun a grown man. That is how I got away. I have survived a rumor mill. I have returned to teaching and somehow explained to my students that I am okay, that I am still their teacher, but even as I said those things, there was no way for me to have processed that quickly in the span of two days. I went through the steps: I spoke to all the campus people who reached out to me—police officers, director of Wellness, department heads, college heads, university legal. I started to train myself in how to represent myself—in case I’d have to do this again. I asked two friends to track my location on their phones. I attended sessions for domestic violence survivors for two months. One of my tasks was to write one scene between us that I’d call “domestic violence:” what did it look like? I did not write anything that day. Was it cooking lamb stew together and laughing of my failure to cut uniform vegetables, so that none of our potatoes would be crunchy?
What, exactly, was my trigger? Cooking imperfect dinners was reconciliation and calm—steps three and four in the cycle of abuse. In his calamity, my ex’s sincerity, even when I knew he was lying, still meant he was trying because he told me when he was in pain, and he asked for forgiveness. Was it normal for him to ask what it felt to be with him—did I think about my guardian sitting on top of me in the box freezer; did I think about my childhood sexual abuse every time I was with a man? I remember looking at him and being clear with my no: I don’t carry that weight with my sexual desires. He gave me the huh, you are the exception: the psychiatrist in him wanted to probe me further, to test the extraordinary mental health genes that made me built for him.
How could I sum this love, contempt, distress, and apology in one moment? How could I write about my fear of every man who looks like him, of his name stitched into my legal papers, of our good memories—to a timer on the prompter’s iPhone?
I did not feel safe. With the new year, I was expected to promote my book. I had no desire to be in public. I was told to get over it, that to dwell upon the stigma of domestic violence was to glorify it. I felt ashamed for thinking I didn’t have it so bad because I was physically okay; I got away. That I shouldn’t even call it domestic violence, but because the state of Arizona does, it seems harsher than it should be. As if I am pardoning my ex after he tried to harm me. The man lost his firearms: why is it I don’t see that his intent is what constitutes domestic violence—not whether I am dead? What is wrong with me? That the same compassion and commitment I give to everyone I care for—these were the tools behind my emotional abuse: I did not see that by feeding him, checking up on him, and giving him the details of my past and present life, that my virtues had become my flaws. He took them and called me the orphan who croaked. A pregnant trashbag kid. A fuckin’ evil foster freak. These epithets became his truths: he believed I was all these things, and the one who deserved his harassment.
Two days before my book was to be published, I was asked by police to match an identifying photo to my ex: was it him? (It was not. But how many straight, blonde, blue-eyed men look the same? A lot, as I’d come to know. I’d do this again. And again. Twice, four times). I decided not to have a book release party. I felt good about this, although all my friends said I was throwing away my success for someone who didn’t deserve to have changed my life.
The hardest parts were—and are, even now—the summer nights. We’d stay up late and cuddle and fuck and watch movies we never finished; we’d talk for hours which bled into mornings into nights about our humanitarianisms, what bound us in the first place. To know someone whose heart was as big as mine, who used his weekends to serve with No Más Muertes—that was the spell. That I justified his compassion as the reason to keep harassing me, long after we’d broken. My fault, too.
His tongue protruding in the tiny slit that was my mouth—an easy way to get me to shut up. I want to say how visceral everything still is, long after we’d broken. This does not mean I’m hung up. It means I have nightmares about the real darknesses I’ve lived through, and I still don’t understand it. I should’ve been able to see him coming. I want to tell the man I trust and hope, in due time, to act more than a friend: it is as if he knows something is not right with me. I can see it in how he takes care to withdraw, even as I know we care for each other. A man focuses on a woman when he feels she can be his, and this, I am willing to admit: that I have continued to desire and to love after domestic violence.
This is why some stories emerge and some stay hidden. It is not easy. I write to you as an editor who is a human being: if you are willing to give a body to your story, no matter how incomplete, we will allow it. One of the things that attracted me to Entropy when I first came aboard three years ago is its safe space cultivation: we don’t have to be literary or academic or civic or personal. It is hard to be all those things without losing my subjectivity—what makes me uniquely human. And safe space goes beyond the utterance of those words: it is recognizing relentless engagement; it is honoring and accepting different intelligences and approaches to thinking, reading, speaking, and writing; it is honoring our strengths and disciplines towards those strengths; it is navigating and accepting traumas.
These are the goals that made me fall in love with Entropy, and the same goals I aim to replicate in my own foster care project for my community. Note how I identified that as my community, and they are. So is the group of bold, brave, unflinching women and men who submit their stories—or other stories, including of those who wish to remain unnamed—on domestic violence, #MeToo, public and personal figures, legal proceedings—over the span of the last year. I refuse to ignore that trust in my readership. In addition to running one half of nonfiction and the Literacy Narrative and fledging Foster Care series, I will step up to uphold this space for #MeToo and domestic violence—for publishing, encouraging, and cultivating the diverse voices of what it means to be sexually assaulted, harassed, harmed; what it means to watch your loved ones go through this pain and work with it—not get rid of it; what it means to empathize regardless of any limit on our lives and our bodies. The people I love most have no idea what I have lived—and for that, I am grateful, but, when they are ready, I want them to read this.
I want to be clear that I hesitate to conflate #MeToo with domestic violence, even as the two function in similar veins. Even if sexual abuse is part of domestic violence, it is not treated the same. I was never sexually abused by my ex, but I fulfilled every checkmark next to survivor of: gaslighting, cyber and physical harassment, stalking, threats, victim blaming, waking up to a man who claimed he cared for me, as if he didn’t justify his body over mine. I spoke with two clerks who affirmed, yes, you are a domestic violence case; again, with the judge, who looked at me and said, “Your partner attacked you at your place of work on a college campus. I am granting your protection.” Domestic violence is insidious: six months passed before I realized my ex’s pattern of power and control had been there long before the domestic violence, that this was it. And, were it not for my ex’s attempt to harm me, my story would be nothing: if I did not have to go to the police or to court or be confronted with the possibility of dying by his hands, there would be his words against my dead body.
I want to be clear that this is a call for submissions for essays of sexual assault and harassment and domestic violence. Entropy has always been about working with the people who most need to speak: it is that editorship that makes me proud to say this is mine, and, in turn, what I will offer to you should you write your story and give us a chance to help bring it to this world. If your story is not ready, I will work with you. I recognize that in the process of committing your voice to your words, you may have reservations because you have exemplified what happens to the victimized—we are often expected to not extend more domestic violence than the world can take. That’s okay. I have mixed feelings about being told my story is “incomplete” because it’s missing a few months of my life—because I can’t remember it. The dailiness. But I understand it is not a story for others if I am not yet able to describe the moments of vulnerability and intimacy that make me proud I am still here. How he’d cup my belly when he called me beautiful as I felt harried or tired or ordinary coming home from work or court or making eggrolls for foster kids. How his fingers tugged my panties, arms rubbing my waist, the brush of his skin a stilted electricity. My pining was a deceptive love: I did not love him. But I wanted him to touch me everywhere. It was someone who knew how to lean down, who knew how to love me, which, perhaps, is the greatest failure—in choosing someone who has repeatedly wronged me.
Today, I am still scared. I loathe being told to live my life by writing to forget, or forgetting by writing, as if these two verbs can erase my coming-to-terms with my story. It has been one year since I looked in the mirror and saw the rest of me was unremarkable: twenty-two pounds thinner, dark eyes, lighter skin from being inside, and, at night, when I lifted my shirt, I had bruises on my torso, including the one beneath my right breast I knew would scar because he held on so tightly, he left his mark. Six fingernail strokes, woven like a tapestry. Being comforted by a man who would hold on till I couldn’t distinguish between my shaking and his insistence I was just playing him—our sounds rang our four walls as much as the crickets called from out the door.
I hope you send your stories to me when you’re ready. Send them to email@example.com. You will hear from me. If it is not ready for Entropy, I will work with you. That is the purpose for this series: I want to have my hands on every single story on #MeToo, sexual assault and harassment, domestic violence; on their intersections with mental illness, substance addiction; on legal remedies and failures. That is also what I am honored to say about my community: when I said, “Something like #MeToo happened. I am okay, not really:” Janice Lee, our Editor-in-Chief, and Sara Finnerty, my nonfiction co-editor, were there—more than there. They believed me. I did not tell them anything other than I need help. I understand if we are lucky, we have these people in our lives, that they choose to watch over, to love, and to let us live. That is Entropy, too.
I want to end on how I am today: reflecting on one of the more beautiful moments with my ex that I loved about him. Domestic violence is also that: making everyday atrocities palatable—that is what I want for myself, to tell you I remember this weaving of our limbs most. Often, while watching films or TV, I’d fall asleep on him. He’d nudge me awake, pushing back the hair from my eyes, and kiss me on the lips in the way where he’d just let me sleep on him for the entire night. I asked him once why he did that, and all he said was that he cared: he wanted me to wake in his embrace—for us to move like water.
Guidelines for Submission:
- Original essays on #MeToo and #DomesticViolence, on sexual assault and harassment, on their intersections with mental illness, substance addiction; on their legal remedies and failures.
- No pitches. Write the essay. Send when you’re ready.
- By submitting for consideration of this series, you submit your intent to publish with Entropy as you will be working with me, if selected for the series. This is not a series for simultaneous submissions.
- You will receive a response from me. I will be very clear with my response times: if I say, I’ll get back to you within the week, you can expect that; if I need three weeks, you can also expect that. If I need six weeks or longer, I am here—just slower and living my life. I will get back to you.
- This series is curated entirely by my volition and aim to work with every single person who writes and submits to this safe space. I know what it’s like to need a space and to want it, especially when it feels as if no one can possibly take what I have left, as if I’m defined by offering my pain to you once, twice, four times. That my pain is disingenuous if I no longer write it. That I have more to offer than what you will remember about me—the editor who is tired of rejecting pieces for which I feel needs someone to say, “Hey, this is not an editing thing; this is a human thing. Write ten more pages. Write me back when you’re done.”
- I mean it: this is a safe space where I believe you and I want to provide the editorial oversight to publish your story. I am a writer who is safer, if only by ingenuity, persistence, and luck, because I have been able to describe what happened to me. To a judge. To police. And, within the last week, to myself. “Today’s different,” I told myself eight months ago, four months ago. Yesterday. I wonder how many others denigrate their own bodies, doubt their own safeties, because they think it’s not sexual harassment and assault, it’s not domestic violence; I’m not a dead woman; I’m alive. Or male-to-male violence. Female-on-male harassment. Psychological violence. Marital violence.
- If I can provide the space for the different voices and approaches of these subjects to come together, that is one slow and enduring step towards saying, We’re here. We believe you. I don’t know what a compilation of all these stories will do to us. I just know I can do more than accept and reject your writings: there is a grief which encompasses all of us—and a trust. I don’t want to forget that.
- Don’t forget: reread our archives: the ones we have published and the ones we have yet to publish.
- Send to firstname.lastname@example.org. And thank you, reader, for getting this far.