“Jason was head of the History Department when I started as a substitute teacher at Anderson Southern High School: Teacher of the Year two of the last three years, remarkable with his students, potential to be an administrator. For me, the work was steady, at least four days a week just at that school. We started dating, maybe a couple weeks, when one of the full-time teachers in his department went on medical leave. He put in a good word for me and I got to cover for her for the remainder of the school year. We kept our relationship secret because if they knew we were dating, I never would have gotten the position.
“After the first quarter ended, we decided to move in together. I gave up my apartment, put my stuff in storage, and moved into his place. We drove separate cars to work, just to be safe. I was improving his life. I’d help him grade papers and read student essays so he could focus on getting promoted to eventually become a principal.” Even just thinking about the time before he became violent, I couldn’t sugar-coat the memories, just state them matter-of-factly, unfeeling. Now that I started, I wanted the toxin out of my system, and I could already feel the physical effects of verbalizing.
“One night, after he had been turned down for his first administrative promotion, he had too much to drink, maybe we both did, but suddenly he became fixated that it was my fault, that I hadn’t done enough to support him. I didn’t know what he meant, so I pressed him, and he got angry and he grabbed me by the arm, dragged me to the bedroom and beat me until I couldn’t stand up. I remember it started that night. It was a full moon.
“He told me how sorry he was, how much we loved each other. He made me get on my knees and show him, in his words, how much I still loved him. That’s what he called it.”
I remembered that night vividly. The lights were off, the blinds were angled upward and I could see the moonlight shining in my eyes. He kept telling me to look up at him, but all I could see was the moonlight. I always loved nights with full moons, especially blue moons, until that night.
Now, the moon reminds me of him, not just when I see it, but when its presence is mentioned. It dominates the night time, forcing the stars to hide in its brightness. When it’s full and rises over the horizon, dark, deep and colored in anger, I cannot watch it rise or set unless the sun is also awake. I love moonless nights when the stars dance and shimmer and the sky comes alive. The night the Lumberjack and I spent together in his tent was a perfect night. As my mind drifted through the chaotic images of Jason’s abuse, I felt myself getting physically weaker.
I wished there was something to drink, but I’d finished my bottle of water. My stomach ached, maybe from the tightness, maybe from the brutal, bitterness seeping into my body. I contained all these evil emotions and painful memories for months, but now they were oozing, molten, unstoppable in their flow. I survived what happened, the destruction, but retelling hurt, and I never expected to know this pain again. He waited silently for me to continue, focused on the road and my words.
“During the day, he was the model teacher. The students flocked to his classroom and just down the hall, I would be wearing long sleeves in May to hide bruises. The staff and faculty admired him, while I was dependent on him for my job. If I had drawn battle lines, he’d have an army behind him. At least to maintain his cover, he gave me glowing reports to the principal. On one he wrote that I possessed, ‘…an unfailing ability to respond effectively to the demands of superiors.’”
I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to remember these surroundings with the tranquil settings outside the truck in association with this revelation from my past. What my superior demanded of me had nothing to do with my school performance and everything to do with keeping his violence a secret. I kept my eyes closed as I continued unraveling.
“He didn’t drink often, but he also didn’t need alcohol to find new ways to control me. Once he drugged me and took pictures of me, all of which conveniently excluded himself making me think he intended to use them against me. I stumbled upon them one day when he had left his phone at home. I deleted all of the pictures as soon as I found them, but it took him almost a week to notice they were missing, but he knew I had done it and he punished me for it.
“When I regained consciousness, sometime during the night, I noticed he’d written ‘Now we both touched my stuff without permission,’ on the inside of my thighs.” I remember fading in and out for hours, through dark, and then brightness of day, then into swooning into night again. He left me handcuffed to the staircase for a full day, dangling beneath my arms, locked away from anyone.
“When he finally came home the next night, before he unlocked the cuffs, he insisted I show him how much I still loved him.”
I felt ill as I remembered that night, although so many of the details still eluded me – how I got to the stairs, was I dragged or pushed, when did he write on me, how many times did he assault me, what did he tell the people at the school when I didn’t show up for class. Worst of all, how did I ever let myself get trapped with a man like him?