Updated: Mar 29, 2021
By LJ Livingston
TW: This story contains graphic violence, domestic abuse, and harsh language. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, there is help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) for immediate assistance.
She couldn’t believe he was actually gone.
As she walked back into the home they’d shared for four years, she was flooded with memories. It was his house, but it was almost completely bare when she moved in, so she was the one who decorated and made it feel like a home. He had worked as a police officer for 22 years and was close to retirement. For the last eight years, he’d trained every new cop in their small town. They were completely infatuated with each other, and every moment felt like the stuff of fairy tales.
She stood in the doorway and looked in at dusty shelves and what felt like a whole life frozen in time. Almost like a movie playing in front of her, she could see him carrying her through the doorway and laying her down on the sofa, kissing her gently and sweetly. But, it wasn’t long before the infatuation faded.
As she walked through the entryway toward the living room, her memory flashed to the first time she called the cops on him. He’d beaten her badly, and after he passed out in a drunken slumber, she crawled into their bedroom to grab her phone and dial 911. After a while of banging on the door, she heard him wake up and stumble to answer it. She was too weak to make it out of their bathroom where she’d been lying, the cold tile floor soothing her purply bruised cheek. She could hear a group of at least three or four officers walk through the door, all greeting him as their buddy, not as someone who’d just committed a violent crime.
“Now what’s this about a domestic dispute?” A familiar voice of one of the female officers asked with a tone of sarcastic disbelief.
“You know how dramatic she can be after a glass of wine.” He grumbled flippantly.
They chuckled and continued to chat about the results of the football game and the new rookies coming in next week. He was so cool, like nothing had happened. They left without even checking on her.
“Call us if you need anything!” One of them said in a friendly tone.
As if he was the one who needed them, she thought.
She listened as he closed and locked the door. She’d never felt so alone. So helpless. She remembered hearing his boot knock the door open.
“You dumb slut.” His slurred words echoed between her ears. “You ever try anything like that again, I’ll kill you. And there ain’t shit you can do about it.” His voice was low and eerily calm, his lips curled up in a sneer.
She knew he was telling the truth. From a man who spent every word on a lie, it was easy to notice the difference.
At the time, she was in such disbelief. She couldn’t even figure out how she ended up there. She was smart and well respected. She worked as a Registered Nurse in the hospital in the nearest city. She’d seen so many women come in, obviously beaten by their spouses, and always thought to herself, Why do they stay? Why do they lie for these dirtbags? And now here she was, staying and lying for her dirtbag. She understood it now. Even with her smarts and status, she was trapped.
The abuse only got worse from there. He’d always known he could get away with it, but after the way the cops handled her calling that first time, he was so much more arrogant. As if every strike was meant as a reminder that he had all the power.
The cycle she’d learned about in a Domestic Violence training at the hospital several years ago was playing out right before her eyes just as it was described. Calm, tension building, incident, reconciliation. She remembered one incident that was so bad, he’d taken her to the hospital and told the doctor she was in an ATV accident. When she woke up, he was the only person in the room and was holding an enormous bouquet of beautiful white roses. He told her that if he hadn’t taken her to the hospital, she would have died. He said he didn’t mean to hurt her, but she was supposed to be the one who kept him calm, and work had been so stressful that day. She listened to his story because it was nicer to believe. He saved her life. She was in an ATV accident and he saved her life. He always used apologetic-sounding words that ended up making her feel like it was somehow her fault. Then the cycle would start over again. Sometimes the calm moments would last up to a couple of months, sometimes she’d even think he might not hurt her again, but inevitably, something would set him off. It didn’t matter how hard she tried or how compassionate she was, once the cycle started, it always ended with her lying on the cold tile floor of the bathroom.
He came home from work seething one night. Tension had been building for a few days, and she knew it wouldn’t be long before the next incident. Her trauma response had been set to freeze since the start of the abuse. She would dissociate and sometimes black out completely, it was the only way she could protect herself. But that night, as she heard the slam of his car door in the driveway, something in her made her want to fight back. It had been almost three years since the first incident, and she’d lost count of all the times it happened since. There was usually a longer period of calm, but her bruises hadn't even healed since the last beating. She was making dinner when he stumbled into the kitchen. The smell of Jack Daniels and cigar smoke filled the room, overpowering the onions and peppers sautéing on the stovetop.
“You useless cunt.” He spat. “Why’s it that you can’t get your lazy ass up and have my dinner ready when I get home, huh?”
She tried to ignore him, sometimes saying nothing worked out in her favor.
“I’m talkin’a you, you fat bitch!” He shouted. When she turned around, he was right in front of her. He grabbed her face and it felt like her jaw might crumble between his thumb and fingers.
“You’re hurting me” she whimpered, her consonants squished into his palm.
He let out a maniacal laugh as he threw her head out of his hand. Her forearm landed on the hot stove and a reflexive gasp shot out of her, tears streaming down her face.
“Serves you right.” He snickered.
She must have blacked out because the next thing she saw was a pool of blood spreading over the spilled onions and peppers. She dropped the kitchen knife she was holding and went to lie down on the cold tile floor of the bathroom.
Almost a year had passed since that night, and she’d been living with her sister throughout the trials. In a surprise ruling, the judge found that she acted in self-defense. This was unprecedented, as the charges she was facing were not only murder but a capital felony for killing a law enforcement officer. After hearing testimony from his trainees and colleagues, she’d learned that everyone knew what was going on, and it was only their fear of him that stopped them from intervening. Even though she knew she was safe now, she could still feel his presence lurking around every corner.
His pension and life insurance policy that she was now officially entitled to dwindled down to $20,000 after she paid all the legal fees and debts that had piled up. The case had taken her whole life from her. She lost her job, and even though she wasn’t convicted, her reputation was ruined.
She decided to move out of state and start fresh. $20,000 could go a long way if she spent it wisely.
Her eyes welled up with tears as she walked from the living room to their bedroom. She looked into the bathroom where she spent so many nights being comforted by the cold tile. She decided to lie down one last time, this time it felt like a ceremony. A promise to herself that she would never end up here again. As she lay there looking out into the bedroom, she noticed something under the bed hanging from the boards of the box spring. It looked like a book of some kind. How had she not noticed it before? She shuffled over and reached as far as she could, the tips of her fingers just barely able to knock it down. The jet-black, soft, leather cover opened to thick, ivory, ruled pages filled with delicate and unfamiliar handwriting. She flipped through page after page of a story that was almost identical to what she’d just lived through. The intoxicating infatuation, the red flags excused as bad days at work… pain and fear embedded in each line, every page worse than the one before. Her eyes couldn’t move fast enough as she swallowed up every word until she got to the page marked by the ribbon bookmark.
Please help me. He’s going to kill me.
It was scribbled hurriedly, the handwriting now more frantic than delicate. She flipped through the remaining pages of the notebook. Nothing. Only blank pages. Her mind raced through thoughts of what could have happened to this woman. She knew he’d been married before, but he told her his ex had moved out of the country after being offered her dream job.
“What did you do?” she thought aloud.
She packed up a small bag of her most valued possessions, and holding the notebook close to her chest, she left their home for the last time.
She made one stop on her way out of town. As soon as she entered the station, she saw the officer who’d joked with him the first time she called the police.
Now what’s this about a domestic dispute?
The words echoing in her head as clearly as if the officer was saying them again now.
The same voice spoke softly, “Hey, I’m… so sorry… I know I should have done something… I just…”
She shoved the notebook over as if it was made of fire.
She cleared her throat and with a shaky yet stern voice interrupted, “He did it to someone before me… and I think he killed her.”
She ran out before anyone could say anything else. She drove until she hit the ocean. She got out of her car and ran to the shore. For the first time in a long time, she took a deep breath. She could start over here. She could breathe here.
Months had passed, and she was finally feeling settled. She was working at a new hospital under a new name, and starting to feel like herself again. One night, while out for drinks with some co-workers, the news came on over the tv set behind the bar.
“Breaking news: A police officer who was murdered by his wife in 2018 has been proven to have killed three women, all previous wives and girlfriends. A black notebook submitted anonymously gave officers here the details they needed to locate the body of his most recent victim….”
The newscaster’s voice faded as all the sound was sucked out of the room and replaced with a high-pitched ringing noise. His picture flashed on the screen, along with a video showing crime scene tape, coroners, and detectives in a field near the precinct. She froze.
“Hey, you alright?” one of her co-workers cocked his head toward her, blocking her view of the television.
“Yeah…” she cleared her throat, “Yeah, I’m good.” A reassured smile formed as her eyes brightened. She took a deep breath and said it again silently to herself.