Sunday, February 7, 2010

Confessions of a Survivor

So, it's now after midnight on February 8 and I feel more comfortable writing on this topic than I do on February 7.

I've talked about the inspiration for the plotline, some of the fundamental philosophies that I'm working with, etc. but I'd like to address some of the characterization and plot issues based on my own life.

So, as I mentioned before, I'm a Bostonian Mormon. No, that's not like a Roman Catholic, more like a New York Jew. Regional attitude+religion.

Anyway, so some 10.5 years ago, I met this really nice guy named John who was from the Detroit area. He made me laugh, had little fear and was a good friend to me. A year later, he left to be a missionary in Nevada. By the time he finished his two years as a missionary, I'd left to be a missionary for 18 months in California. On my first day back at our mutual alma mater of Brigham Young University, I ran into him again and spent 5 hours of the next two days talking to him. Three days after we ran into each other again, he called to ask me on a date for Sunday, but ended up taking me to a Star Wars marathon that same night.

I fell hard in love with him. We were history nuts with a lot of things in common, were supportive of each other and he made me profoundly happy. On June 12, 2004, we got married in Salt Lake City so both sets of grandparents could make it.

On February 7, 2005, my friend Amy picked me up from my apartment. Dad had offered to let me have a small vacation by giving me a plane ticket to Virginia, where my sister lived. I kissed John, promised I'd try to be back in time for Valentine's Day and that I'd call as soon as I could. Amy drove me to the Mt. Timpanogos Transit Center a few miles away and put me and two suitcases on a bus to Salt Lake City.

That was the end of a very long week. Two weeks before then, John had tried to choke me to death for wanting to go to choir rehearsal because they didn't want "lying b****es" like me there.

A few days later, Dad had a fight with John and offered the plane ticket because John seemed to be emotionally abusive. I got that voicemail just before singing a concert with BYU Women's Chorus and when I couldn't stop crying between the rehearsal and the concert, I told the conductor that it was because of my broken tailbone.

The following Monday, I was on my way to apartment-hunt with John when my sister called to convince me that I should take the plane ticket and get away for a little while before John got physically abusive. I blurted out the truth and only convinced her not to tell my mother by saying I was going to talk to my aunt who's a family therapist the next day.

On February 1, I met my aunt for a concert and asked to talk to her outside for a few minutes. She convinced me of the same thing that my sister and father had suggested. As we were leaving the concert, John became worked up over the traffic that was caused by the concert and attacked me again. The police were called, but I didn't press charges. The people who kept him away from me until the police arrived were two missionaries assigned to work with the Church's Family Services and they offered to provide therapy to me if I should ever need it. By the end of the night, I had asked Dad to arrange my flights. The missionaries would later become my therapists and good friends.

On February 3, I wrote my mother-in-law to tell her that John had become physically, emotionally and sexually abusive and that I was going to take a few days away to let things cool down. I warned her that I might have to simply leave before that date and she responded to say that she supported that and was willing to lend me any money I would need to leave.

Money was tight because of our status as starving students as well as my medical bills from a recent surgery. The next day, I went to my usual Women's Chorus rehearsal without having had food to eat all day and needing to walk home because I didn't have bus fare. One of John's friends who was a fellow Alto II gave me a granola bar and bus fare because of my rotten day. On the bus, I ran into Amy, a friend I hadn't seen in months who knew both John and myself from our honors program. She was the first mutual friend that I told about the abuse and she called in 'sick' to work, bought me dinner and then kidnapped me for a night. By the time she gave me a ride home, we had set a date and time for me to get out.

I took the bus on February 7 to my parents' place in Salt Lake City. My Mom had been on tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when my sister blabbed the news that I might be leaving an abusive marriage. She immediately asked about any current bruises or injuries, but my major complaints were a sore wrist that had been bothering me since August and a pain in my ribs. Neither was serious and there was no bruising in the rib area, so we gave no thought to it. I learned 4 months later that the sore wrist had actually been broken when he beat me on Christmas afternoon. It was not until February of 2009 that a chest x-ray looking for pneumonia showed a growth on one of my ribs that was thought to be cancerous and turned out to be an improperly-healed fracture from my days as Mrs. Lambert.

I spoke to John several times over the next week, but when he threw a telephone through our wall when I said I wasn't able to come home for Valentine's Day, I decided to take further action. My parents helped me find a divorce lawyer who suggested that I seek an annullment and I went into hiding until the papers could be signed. I tried to make arrangements to return to BYU while my parents worked out possible ways that John and I could attend the same university without coming to blows. I was on-campus for a meeting with an advisor and Dad one day when John spotted me across the street. He ran over, ecstatic that I had come back to him when he thought I was still in Virginia and Dad physically kept me away from him until we got into the car and left. John followed us to my parents' apartment and tried to get into the apartment while I hid in the master bathroom and hyperventilated. Dad convinced him to go outside to talk and with the doors closed and thirteen floors of apartment building between us and the sidewalk, we could still hear John's screaming fight. He fled to his grandparents' house, where they took him to the hospital to be sedated and had him restrained by police. A few days later, he had been ejected from the university and his parents removed him to Michigan where he spent some time in a mental facility and was unable to hold down a job because of his mental instability. We know now that his diagnosed ADHD was actually Aspberger's Syndrome and he has been treated accordingly, but on May 19, 2005, a judge ruled that our marriage had never existed.

Five years later, I'm still single and still have times when this affects me as profoundly as it did then. I have had clinical depression since I was 14. Last year, when I found out that all my fear over having cancer were due to the fact that I never got that pain in my ribs diagnosed as a broken rib, I plunged into an abyss of anger and profound depression that affected me until several months later.

Sometimes, I wonder how much of my writing is influenced by all of this. I wrote a draft of a novel in 2005 and one of the major themes was the destruction of a friendship by abuse and unrighteous dominion. I still haven't gone back to revise that novel because I'm not sure of how I would write it now.

As I've said before, a central theme in this book is the question of who you are really able to trust and the unreliability of traditional mentors. I have to wonder if some of those philosophies stem not from my original interpretation of The Matrix Reloaded but from my anger at having been denied traditional happiness that's supposed to result from marriage to your soulmate. Mormons believe that marriage can be eternal; my marriage lasted 11 months and 7 days and is now annulled.

Sometimes, I look at the writing that I've done so far and castigate myself for seeing Alex too much as John and trying to turn Ella into what I think I should have been back then. I certainly have more empathy for her because like me, she is forced to turn her back on someone she trusted implicitly for her own sake.

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