I wanted to make this a humor piece, but I just couldn’t figure out how to make domestic violence, drug addiction, and abortion funny. But I want you to know that I’ve told this story as a public speaker many times and people do laugh. So even though it sounds sad in the telling here, like most tragedies it is in some ways comedy of errors.
Whenever I’m invited to tell this story I always begin by telling the audience:
Kids, don’t try this at home.
Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, says that every couple has their very own ‘creation myth’ and that the key to understanding the story of any relationship is knowing what drew a couple together in the first place.
I met Jeff on January 15th ,1986, in the doorway of this very house:
I had been living at Turning Point for five months recovering from a very nearly fatal relationship with a man named Chris who just happened to make his living dealing crystal meth.
Apparently crystal meth dealers don’t make really great boyfriends. Who knew? (And to imagine that I graduated high school two years early because I’m supposed to be so flippin’ smart.)
I had run away from Chris before, but in August of 1985 it was different; I was different.
In March, I’d had an abortion I did not want, but Chris did not want our baby and the physical violence I endured during the two weeks I tried to convince him otherwise reached a fevered pitch. Chris was assaulting me on a daily basis and there was nowhere for me to go.
After my abortion I made one very lame suicide attempt.
Sure, I’d messed up my life before, but I’d really fucked it up this time.
Shortly after my abortion I started attending 12-step recovery meetings. I think it was nothing short of a miracle that Chris, who never let me out of his sight, allowed me to go unaccompanied to these meetings. Thank God he did.
Chloe will Go, Go, Go to Rehab
I heard about Turning Point at one of the 12-step meetings I’d attended. After a particularly brutal night with Chris, I called and made an appointment with the manager, Corkie.
Corkie looked just you’d imagine a Madame of a whore house would look if the whore house was filled with recovering whores. She had a deep whiskey voice to match the deep lines in her face, and you knew immediately when you met her that she’d seen and heard everything. Thank God for Corkie. She saw my need was so urgent that she bumped me to the top of the waiting list and told me I could move in the very next day.
I called on a brave lady I had met in a recovery meeting and–after Chris left the house in the morning–she came over with her truck and helped me move out as fast as I could.
I wish I could say that I easily escaped this dangerous relationship, but that was not the case. Chris found me within a few weeks and began exerting major romantic effort to win me back.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you’d never stay with a man who hits you. But let me give you a word from the Sadder but Wiser Girl: Abusive men are very, very charming. Being difficult to resist is the key to their evil essence.
When Chris found me hot tears were shed, solemn promises were made, and diamond jewelry was given. For a time we were even engaged, but I stayed at Turning Point despite his passionate reassurances that he was a changed man and moving back in with him would be safe. Hey, maybe I’m not entirely stupid after all.
What’s the Answer?
During those first five months at Turning Point I got a job and found a good therapist with whom I embarked on my first foray into serious self-examination.
I needed to find the answer to the obvious question: Why was my life such a fucked up mess that I was living in a women’s recovery home?
It immediately became clear in therapy that I have major issues from my completely fucked up childhood, and that I’d been running from relationship to relationship trying to fix myself through men. Duh.
And it wasn’t just that I chose bad men, in fact sometimes I’d chosen very, very nice men, but all these men quickly bored me, and before long I’d run off with the next dark and thrilling man who was going to make it all better.
Apparently, the very foundation of all my life’s choices was fundamentally flawed. I learned in therapy that you can’t make all of your major life decisions with your vagina and expect things to turn out well.
I was 23 years old, had lived with three different men, been married to one of them, had recently had an abortion that I didn’t want, and now was living in a women’s recovery home without a penny to my name. The only thing I’d done even remotely right since I’d left home at 17 was continuing my long plod through college.
But the real kicker was that even though I could cite several incidents from my childhood where my psyche had clearly become twisted, I had to face the hard fact that I had left home at 17 and hadn’t seen my parents more than once in 6 years.
I couldn’t keep blaming my parents for my piss-poor decisions. In order to be free to start making new decisions I had to face the hard fact that everything that was wrong in my life was my own damned fault.
I was the one who kept making the same terrible choices that resulted each and every time in my life completely blowing apart.
But the bad news was also the good news. If I was responsible for all the problems in my life that meant I also held all the power to fix those problems. If I wasn’t a victim, that meant I had the freedom to change things anytime I wanted.
Ending the Ride on the Crazy Train
Finally, right after Christmas, I became strong enough to reject Chris completely and end the relationship for good. In early January, in a desperate attempt to win me back, Chris sent me 100 red roses and 99 red helium balloons along with a letter declaring his undying love and his belief that we were meant to be together.
I felt nothing.
I burned the letter, gave away the roses, and released those balloons off the balcony of my bedroom. I was finally free.
I re-enrolled in college, applied for student aid, and embarked upon my new life.
A couple of days later Jeff knocked on my door.
(to be continued…)
I dedicate this piece in honor of Christopher Oliveira who died in 2001 at age 39. It just goes to show that not only the good die young