Trigger Warning: the subject of domestic violence
Content warning: some swearing
Dear Diary, I’ve been finding sleep to be an elusive enemy. I’m exhausted but I’ve been trying not to let it show because I’m afraid they’d move me back to the corps. I love being a principal dancer because it’s what I always wanted. It’s hard to celebrate, though, with Ella being my partner. Every time I see her, she has this knowing smirk as if she’s holding something over my head.
To clear my head, I’ve begun taking long walks in the middle of the night. It’s better than lying in bed and mulling my situation over and over again.
The city was normally quiet during my strolls. I heard laughter and followed the sound with my eyes. It looked like a couple of women had gone for a run and were now returning home. One of them waved at me and without hesitation, I smiled and waved back.
I couldn’t be that hopeless, I reasoned. I can still smile. I can still wave at friendly people.
Perhaps I was feeling better.
As I continued my walk, I came across a woman sitting on a bench under a light post. My heart raced and my palms became sweaty. I could recognize the back of that head anywhere.
“Julie!” Her name escaped my lips and my steps quickened.
When she saw me, she wiped tears from her face and turned her back to me.
“Jules, I’m so glad I ran into you. I’ve missed you so much!”
She finally looked at me, her eyes moving from my casts to my face. I had a hard time reading her expression. Her eyes were red and puffy and she seemed thinner than the last time I’d seen her.
As I sat on the bench next to her, uninvited, she stood up.
“Jules, I’ve missed you so much,” I repeated.
“Well, you have a real funny way of showing it.”
“I don’t know what you mean. I’ve called and left you so many voicemails… I’ve texted, too. You completely shut me out. I miss us.”
At last, she turned toward me, her small frame towering over me where I sat.
“I don’t miss us. Before you reported me to CPS, everything was great between us. But you ruined it all, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know how many more times I have to say that I am not the one who called CPS on you. I did not do it.”
She regarded me with fiercely angry eyes. “Then who did? Rosetta? That’s something I could see her doing.”
“Why does it have to be someone from my household who called? Maybe one of your neighbors got fed up with all the noise Brent makes when he is beating you.” Since she didn’t say anything, I threw caution to the wind and kept talking. “You hurt me, too, you know. When you found out about CPS, you immediately thought I’d done it. You didn’t ask me, you accused me as if you already knew it was me. Which it wasn’t.”
She sighed loudly and flopped onto the bench beside me.
“I’m not going to apologize for that,” she said. “I thought it was you because of how much you love Paisley.”
“I do love Paisley, it’s true. But I’m a single guy with no experience with kids. It didn’t even cross my mind to call the authorities on you.”
She stared at me for a moment like she was trying to decide if she could believe me or not. Which also hurt me a great deal.
Instead of responding to what I’d said, she stared blankly into space.
“I have to be honest,” I reluctantly said. “If it had occurred to me to call them, I would have. Paisley doesn’t deserve to be in that mess.”
Her eyes narrowed and her voice went up an octave. “How dare you say that to me! I would do anything for Paisley!”
“Really? Is she at home with Brent now, by herself?”
“No, she isn’t, thanks to you!”
I swallowed hard. “D-did something happen to her? Is that why you’re crying?”
“She was removed from our home and put in foster care, you shitty asshole!”
For a long minute or two, I just sat there, staring at her. She still thought I’d done this to her. And now Paisley was with people she didn’t even know. Then, it dawned on me.
“You could have stopped all of this. Did you leave Brent and are you trying to get your baby back?”
Shaking her head as more tears dropped, she rubbed her reddened eyes. “You’re such a tool, Holden. They gave me a choice of staying with my husband and having Paisley ripped away, or to go to a women’s shelter with her. She’s my baby, do you understand?”
I groaned loudly as the weight of her words hit me like a boulder. “You chose Brent over your own daughter?”
“Does it feel good sitting there on your high horse judging me?”
Stunned, I ran a shaking hand through my hair. “I just don’t understand how you wouldn’t protect your daughter.”
“Oh really, you know so much about it, don’t you? You don’t know shit!”
Before I could stop her, she jumped to her feet and ran away from me. From us.
Sitting on the back patio at the brownstone was something that calmed me. Usually. What I needed was for my brain to take a rest so my body could follow suit. I could have raided the alcohol inside or run home to my parents’. But why worry them? No, that’s not it either. Sure, I didn’t want to worry them, but I also didn’t want to talk about what’d happened.
So, I sat there, watching a balloon in the sky. The day was crisp and cool yet I felt the opposite. Closing my eyes, I listened to the song “Heavy“ by Linkin Park.
“I don’t like my mind right now
Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary
Wish that I could slow things down
I wanna let go but there’s comfort in the panic
And I drive myself crazy
Thinking everything’s about me
Yeah, I drive myself crazy
‘Cause I can’t escape the gravity”
I felt someone touch my shoulder, and I sat up quickly, pulling my earbuds out.
“I’m sorry I startled you,” she said, as she pulled me into a hug. “I heard through the grapevine about your wrists. Are you all right? You look really down.”
My first inclination was to shrug it all off and tell her how great everything was going. But just like any mom out there, I knew she’d see through that lame attempt.
As I hesitated, her eyes grew more and more concerned. Linkin Parks’ lyrics sailed through my head again.
“I’m holding on
Why is everything so heavy?
So much more than I can carry
I keep dragging around what’s bringing me down
If I just let go, I’d be set free
Why is everything so heavy?”
So, I spilled it all… Fletcher leaving, Julie’s problems with her husband and how she went back to him then accused me of calling CPS. The more I talked, the less burdened I felt. The entire time, she didn’t interrupt me although I figured she must have questions.
She was great, letting me unload everything I was feeling. Well, everything except what happened with Ella.
“Fletcher came by the other day,” she said once I finally stopped talking.
“Right after the breakup. He still loves you and if it makes you feel any better, he seems to be just as upset as you are.”
“Is he coming back?” I asked. The thought that my relationship with Fletcher could still be salvaged made me feel lightheaded. If only he would just answer my one of my calls.
“Not that I know of, I’m sorry. I just thought you should know how he seemed. The last thing I want to do is give you false hope. My point in telling you this was to let you know he still cares.”
My heart sank again but not as deeply as before. Maybe there was hope, though?
“I can see this situation with Julie is completely out of your depth.”
Nodding, I sighed loudly. “I’m afraid my lack of knowledge in this area did more harm than good. And now she’s lost Paisley, too.”
Mom looked away and stared into the distance. “Hmm… well, I wasn’t there when this all went down, but I can assure you that none of it is your fault. No one can help Julie until she decides to help herself. You could rescue her from that house time and time again but she will return right back to it.”
“I don’t understand that at all! She knows she doesn’t have to live that way.”
“Does she?” Mom asked. “Did you know the average woman who finds herself in that situation leaves at least seven times before finally leaving for good? Some never leave that situation.”
“If at all,” she repeated.
“Why? Why would someone stay when they are being abused? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I know it doesn’t make sense to you. What kind of situation did Julie grow up in? Did it predispose her to the point where she thinks that’s all she deserves?”
“She never really talks about where she’s from.”
“Whatever you do, Holden, don’t judge her for going back. People who abuse others do so in order to keep that person under their thumb. Which is where Julie is right now.”
“So what do I do then?”
She smiled softly and patted my hand. “You just keep reminding her you’re there if she needs you. Offer to see a counselor with her so she won’t have to go alone. Whatever you do, don’t treat her like she’s stupid for going back to her abuser. Don’t condescend. Be her friend.”
“She’s pushed me away.”
“Then give her a little space but not too much. She needs to figure this out with the help of professionals so that’s where I would start.”
Whenever I’d followed her advice, it had always turned out to be the right thing to do. Why I never thought of a counselor before is beyond me. Maybe I needed counseling, too, because of Ella. The first thing, though, was to tell my mom what happened to me.
“Mom, there’s something else I need to tell you,” I began.
Author’s Note: Thank you for reading. I know this can be a touchy subject and a trigger for some. Please check out the footer of my site for the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. It’s one of the first steps to claiming your life back.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of Julies out there, and Brents, too. If you or someone you know is suffering abuse, please call those 800 numbers in the footer.
Thank you for reading and for your support,
P.S. Here is the song Holden was thinking of during this chapter: