Editor's note: We are running during this holiday break some of the Best Crosscuts of 2009. This one ran on Oct. 19, 2009.
Here was my introduction to Washington.
I drove from Minneapolis: North Dakota, Montana, Idaho. Five days on the road with two incredibly bored teenagers. (No, the Rocky Mountains are not spectacular, Mom.) Our puttery little car was barely capable of pulling the U-Haul trailer. Once, on a steep incline, we almost slid back down.
What made me think that I — a lifelong insomniac — would do well sharing a room with a snoring 18-year-old and his musky, size-13 shoes, I cannot imagine. By night four, I didn’t even try to sleep.
We finally arrived on a sultry Sunday afternoon in August, ragged and queasy from too much road food, only to find my husband — the software engineer whose job drew us out here — waiting with open arms in a totally empty house. No, let me correct that. In the month he’d been living there, J had acquired: an air mattress, a deck chair, a plate, a fork, and a plastic cup. Also four bottles of really good beer.
What you have to understand is, software geniuses like my husband don’t sweat the details like mattresses and curtains. J might not notice if the living room couch were on fire (or even if it exists) but he can find the single bug in 4,000 miles of code.
Monday, after J left for work, I set off to get beds. Now we happen to live on an island, which is a story for another time. But for the first time in my life, driving 20 miles takes two hours. I went over land bridges and around bodies of water — empty trailer bumping behind me — only to arrive at the mattress store and find that my absent-minded husband had padlocked the back and pocketed the keys.
By the time I returned home, to our still-empty island house, I had that prickly feeling that comes with being either furious or bone tired. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. J came home and we opened a bottle of wine. We sent the kids out with a credit card to get dinner. Then we started to bicker in that whiny, circular, 6-year-old way married people sometimes do.
It was, finally, a cool and dusky night. So we finished our wine then did a remarkably stupid thing: We went for a walk. This was on the island’s only main thoroughfare. I said something bitchy. J said something mean. And I, literally delirious with fatigue, turned to leave and stepped right into the path of an oncoming car.
J ran into the street and grabbed me, throwing me out of the way of traffic and onto the curb. At 6-foot-2 and 200-something pounds, he came down on me pretty hard. My leg was bent under us. A passing car stopped to see if we were OK.
The next thing I knew, five police officers showed with their disco show of red and blue lights. They cinched their handcuffs around my husband’s wrists and hauled him away. J had been drinking, the officers noted (we both had, but this escaped them). He stands nearly a foot taller and outweighs me by 80 pounds. When the good Samaritan stopped J was lying on top of me, pinning me to the ground. It was a clear case of domestic violence, the head cop said.
I scoffed, telling him it was my fault, that I had walked into traffic, my husband was only trying to help.
“That’s what all abuse victims do,” he responded. “They blame themselves.”
I insisted. My husband is the mildest man I know. He’s a mathematician who wears reading glasses on a chain and celebrates the birthday of Gauss. He will not do well in jail.
“Listen.” The guy, huge and bald, adjusted his belt. “You’ve got to get it through your head, this guy does not love you. He controls you. Even if you were a great homemaker who kept the house spotless, he would hurt you. Even if you were taller and blonder, he wouldn’t stop.”
I am, for the record, a short, buxom, red-headed Jew. Also far more likely to abuse someone than my husband. But this man had a gun, so I let his comments slide and quietly limped home.
The next morning, I hired an attorney and went to the island’s shack of a courthouse where they had J’s arraignment piped in on something resembling Skype. Before his hearing, I met with the county’s domestic violence counselor who walked into court with me and said, categorically, that in all her experience I was one of the only women she’d interviewed whom she was certain had not been abused.
Didn’t matter. The prosecutor (who was about 14) demanded that the judge impose a two-year no-contact order, based on the police report — which included at least half a dozen weird, factual errors, including that the altercation started because J “refused to kiss [me]” and that we were recent transplants from the East Coast.
I pointed out that a no-contact order would cripple us. We were brand new to the area, with no friends or family to help. Our house, still unfurnished, was our only sanctuary. If we could not both stay there, the hardship would be immense.
To her credit, the judge considered. It was clear she was pained by this matter and wanted to let it drop. But after excusing herself to ponder she returned to impose the order. I was to have no contact with my husband, in person, by phone or email, until some yet undetermined court date that could happen as late as early 2010.
I left, unable to speak to J or let him know that I was leaving. He had a brand-new job. He’d done nothing wrong (except forget to unlock a trailer). He’d just spent 23 hours in the county lockup. It only seemed right to leave him the house.
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