I’m near the end of a six mile easy run. The sun has set and I’m trusting the ground I can’t see as I run through Durham.
I wondered days ago with a friend if my abuser had left town. It would be a big relief to know I was unlikely to encounter that person anywhere, so she looked. She didn’t search for the name of the man I met and married, the name of a person who isn’t real–but the chosen name of my abuser. She scrolled through the Facebook timeline for me, narrating the types of posts she was seeing. She described the picture. I got curious. “Are you sure it won’t be triggering for you?” she asked.
No, I wasn’t sure. She held the phone and I glanced, like a child peering at a stranger from behind a parent’s legs. I looked a little longer at the unfamiliar person with longer hair, a nose ring and a hesitant smile. I felt confused; my abuser appearing happy and changed was probably a good sign, a non-dangerous sign. This person with softer hair and a more relaxed bearing had still, after all, caused me to fear for my life. This person has caused me to have a major mental illness I may struggle with until the day I die. I felt curiosity and revulsion, hope and fear and pity all roiling up like the sea beating against rocks. Somehow I felt both bitterness and compassion as I pushed the phone back toward Jessica, uneasy.
I’m seeing that face now. I’m turning over the possibility that my abuser might be growing and healing. Yet the very things I want for the person I’d thought I’d share my life with also send a pang of indignation through my still broken heart. I resent that some of that healing was purchased at my expense. I resent the lack of personal responsibility. I resent that I’m still troubled by consideration for someone who used me like some sort of plow horse, expected to endure disrespect and untenable burdens until I was nearly completely broken.
I run under an overpass. The car sounds are just a little too loud; I run faster to get away.
I am running toward Southern High School in the dark. There is no sidewalk, and I am running by the light of the moon. I’m alone at last. The night is quiet of the video game war sounds that fill my home.
No, I’m not. I don’t want these memories. I am nowhere near that neighborhood. That happened at least two years ago and it wasn’t even particularly frightening. Focus, Laura. Almost home…well, almost to where I’m staying for now.
I come to an intersection and have to stop. I pause my Garmin and punch the crosswalk button with the heel of my hand, poised to dart across the street. When I see a break I go, leaping onto the opposite curb. In the neighborhood, there are no sidewalks. I run in the middle of the dark roadway. A dog barks somewhere in the distance.
A car approaches behind me. I jump across the ditch and run in someone’s yard, using the headlights to find my way. The PT belt jostles around my hips and digs briefly beneath my ribs. Fucking PT belt.
I’m irritated running uphill. I want to be present with the run I’m on. Why is this happening?
He stands in front of me at the door, PT belt in hand. I am not running without it, he tells me. I argue that I’m a grown woman and I don’t want to wear it, but he’s wrapping it around my waist paternally. I give up and let him; I’m tired of arguing.
I’m whimpering like a suffering puppy as I run. My shoulders are high, I’m tense and afraid. My body feels assaulted now by his presumptive sense of ownership. I’m pissed, and it hurts, and I keep seeing him standing in front of me in those fucking ratty gray Army sweats—then I can’t see anything for a moment as my vision blurs white
I cover my face with my hands and begin to cry, then I snap myself out of it, shake my hands a few times, take a deep breath and continue to run.
I see his face before me, watch cap pulled low over his eyes, face obscured by an untrimmed mustache and beard.
I’m whimpering again, unsure whether I’m in the past or the present. I feel terror at the onslaught of these memories, helpless against my unwanted past. A little voice pipes up deep within me; “Run, Laura!”
With half a mile left to go, I run like hell. I don’t feel particularly powerful or peaceful outrunning my flashbacks–but I feel myself running. I notice the lights in windows streaming by as I sprint the final few blocks. I feel relief seeing the familiar blue of the light in my friends’ front yard. Garmin chirps as I bolt up the driveway and slow to walk up the steps. I open the door and sit on the floor, breathing hard and sniffling.
“How was your run?”
I shake and fight not to cry. I’m still afraid that Kevin might not be the only person I’ll scare off with my emotional instability. I tell her very carefully about the flashbacks. I unlace my shoes with trembling hands and stay on the floor, feeling like I might shatter into a million pieces. I’m disoriented and frightened. I can’t feel my body.
I stumble to the bathroom and run my hands under freezing cold water until they stop shaking. I begin to breathe slower. I’m totally drained, exhausted from the battle within myself and the fearsome beckoning of my painful past. I feel separate and broken, haunted, incomplete. I look into my own eyes in the mirror, much too big for my pinched face and try my best to love myself as I am.