I didn’t know it at the time, but the first time you looked at me, I burned to the ground.
Our last day started like any other. I picked you up and drove us both to campus. It was so routine that we didn’t plan it; I just showed up, as expected, and you’d be sitting on your front steps with your beautiful golden retriever, waiting for me.
When we got to campus I tried to go to class, but you didn’t let me. Also normal. A friend of mine, who hated you, finally agreed to give you a chance. She suggested that we all skip class together, hang out until rehearsal that night. I was already failing my classes, and I didn’t even know if you had any, so I agreed.
I drove us all down to my house by the water, and we relaxed outside for several hours. You disappeared into the house for awhile; I figured you were giving her and I time to catch up, talk about you — girl stuff, conversations I couldn’t have with you even if I’d tried.
When you finally came back outside with your glass bottle of Snapple and a few snarky comments, it was time to head back to campus, time for rehearsal.
I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d drive you there. I didn’t know I was already burning.
We arrived and started rehearsal, everything the way it always was. Our entire cast and crew, warming up together like we always did, and our one high school student who was getting extra credit for joining a college production. I’ll never forget her. She was a wild child, but we all liked her. She was crazy and sweet and fun.
When campus police burst into the room and asked for you, my heart fell to the floor. I had a pit in my stomach — oh god, you’d hurt someone other than me, and I could have saved them, could have warned them, could have confessed to them that you were a monster and they should get away from you while they still could. I hadn’t told anyone what you really were, and never in my life have I regretted anything so much as I regretted that, in that moment.
They made you gather your things and leave, took your backpack and your Snapple and your beautiful disturbing artwork, and told the rest of us to stay where we were. I waited just long enough for them to leave, and then cut through a back hallway to get to my director’s office. I knew this building like the back of my hand and they couldn’t catch me if I didn’t want them to. I wasn’t thinking, I just knew that I needed an adult, I wasn’t prepared to handle this, I didn’t know what you’d done and I was going down with you because I hadn’t asked for help when I should have.
My director’s office door was closed. He was my lifeline, a person I trusted implicitly. He loved me, trusted me, we’d worked together for several years. He and I had a bond; we understood each other. So I knew that for him to close the door of his office, something bad was happening. My hand shook as I knocked on the door.
When he opened it, just enough for me to see him but not the room behind him, the look on his face scared me. I’d never been scared of him before, but he scared me in that moment. I told him that you were gone, that campus police had taken you away.
He slammed the door in my face.
I found out later that you’d given our only high school student alcohol. Alcohol you’d stolen from my house that afternoon, while my friend and I sat in the sunshine. Alcohol you’d poured into that Snapple so no one would know, and convinced our high school student to down it. My director thought at the time that I had given you the alcohol, thought I was involved, was furious. We were a dry campus, it was during school hours, and above all, she was underage — a criminal offense. You could go to jail for this.
My director forgave me once I told him I hadn’t been involved, and then he sat in on my interview. I don’t think he knew how bad things had gotten for me.
I was interviewed by the police, sitting in the office whose door had slammed in my face just two hours ago. Never in my life have I felt so stupid. I cried the entire interview. I felt numb. I couldn’t understand how I’d gotten here.
I told them about the bruises; the knives, whiskey, blood; your hands around my neck; your hands imprinted on my thighs and the shadows of your teeth down my neck. They saw the dark smudges under my eyes, noticed how detached I sounded from all the horror these past five months had held. All the horror of you.
They asked me simple things. What was your name? Who did you live with? What did you do for a living? What classes were you taking this semester? How old were you?
I couldn’t answer them. You never gave a straight answer, so I couldn’t give them any. Maybe that was your plan all along.
The interview ended with the police telling me that you might be dangerous, as if I didn’t know. They asked me not to contact you in any way. You were banned from campus, so you couldn’t get to me. I promised the police that I’d report it if you tried to contact me, promised that I wouldn’t contact you.
And as soon as the interview ended, I drove to your house and picked you up.
If nothing else about my relationship with you gives an outsider any indication of how truly, horribly desperate my life had gotten, that sentence should help.
It was the first time I was angry with you. But I didn’t show that; couldn’t show that.
I had to get through this one last thing before I let myself fall apart.
I told you what you wanted to hear, gave you concern and sympathy and validation. I asked you what happened, because I wanted to see if you’d finally tell me the truth. I asked questions, for once, and never, ever let it seem that I disapproved of the answers. I listened, and heard all of the lies you fed me, and then I drove you home one last time.
Then I contacted you and let you know that I never wanted to see you again — contacted, but not in person, because I thought you might kill me for saying the words. You’d come close before.
The months that followed were the most terrifying of my life. There were dozens of incidents. You’d call, repeatedly, for hours. You texted and left facebook messages and countless voicemails, ranging from “you useless cunt I’ll fucking kill you for this how dare you ignore me” all the way to drunken, unintelligible sobbing, begging me to come back and forgive you.
You snuck onto campus, from which you’d been banned, and left messages on the windshield of my car to let me know you’d been there. They couldn’t catch you at it, so they couldn’t stop you.
Then you texted me the address of my house, nothing else. Hours later, you texted, “knock, knock.”
My parents were there at the time and I couldn’t let you hurt them. I snuck out of the house with the 9-1 already dialed on my cell phone, in case you attacked. My heart was pounding as I circled the house.
You weren’t there.
After that, you never contacted me again. I moved away shortly afterward, and was still scared you’d show up, that you’d follow me somehow. I still have nightmares about that chilling text: “knock, knock.” I have dreams sometimes that you’re killing me.
It gets better over time.
You burned me to the ground. Rebuilding from the ashes was nearly impossible; and yet, here I stand.