By Corin L. Hammond
CW (click to show)

he won’t leave

It was a lazy summer evening, June, 2021. David and I were on the sofa watching Jeopardy when I got the text from Chloe. “He” was her on-and-off abusive partner of three years, William, and he was visiting her at her college apartment six hours away. This was the first time they were truly alone for an extended period, with no parents or roommates around. He’d never visited her before—he lived with his mother and didn’t have a car or job, so couldn’t afford the bus—but had somehow come up with the money now.

She hadn’t wanted the visit. A few weeks earlier, he had texted her, either i come to you or your mom’s house. you pick. I wasn’t too scared about him harming me, even though he lived about twenty minutes away, because he had been making those threats for years without ever contacting me directly. I assured her I was safe. But he’d bought that bus ticket and said he was coming.

“You don’t have to let him in,” I’d said.

“He already has a ticket. I can’t just let him come all this way and not see him.”

“I’m really worried about this visit,” I’d said.

“I know, Mom, I’m worried too. But it’s going to happen and instead of assuming it will be bad, I want to try to be positive.”

That was Chloe. One of the ways she dealt with being in an impossible situation was to convince herself that she could manifest a better future with William through positive thinking. It still seemed impossible, in her mind, because he had a compromising video of her that he threatened to share if she didn’t comply with his wishes. “If he shares it, I will come at him with everything I have,” I’d said. But she was too scared. So, she wasn’t going to say no to the visit, and now her job was to find a way to get through it. 

 But now he wouldn’t leave, and her roommate wasn’t due back for several more days, and there was no room for positivity. 

I thought she had been settling in. COVID had disrupted college and brought her home for a year, but now she was back at school and spending more time with her roommate—hikes at the National Park nearby, picnics on the campus lawn, binge-watching Bojack Horseman on their cat-clawed apartment sofa. She had seen William on her last visit home, but when I’d gone to see her earlier that summer, she was pulling away from him. He didn’t like her job—she worked as a receptionist at a massage place, and he said that made her a whore. But she liked that job and was keeping it despite him. Maybe she was finding her voice, her strength.

The first few days of the visit seemed to go okay—she would send a text to check in every once in a while. Usually just to say hello, but that was all I expected. If I asked how things were going, she’d say fine

He didn’t like her to be on her phone, so whenever they were together, I would only get texts while he wasn’t in the room. She and I had made a deal that, when she was with him, I would appreciate her making contact now and then, just so I would know if she was okay, and she was pretty good about doing that. 

So, while I was on alert to some degree—any time they were together, some part of my brain was catastrophizing around what might be happening—I had let my vigilance fade a bit. It’s hard to maintain a high level of hypervigilance, and after a few days, it was slipping. I was shocked when I got that text. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. 

he won’t leave

For a second, I couldn’t breathe. Electricity flowed through my whole body—every nerve awakened and on fire. A flashing mixture of heat and cold, outer layer aflame but inside frozen.

Even though I knew she would never do it, I texted back, police?

No reply.

 If you don’t reply in a few minutes, I’m going to call the police.

No reply. 

Not even the little dots showing she was composing a reply.

I was thirty when I had Chloe. I remember the joy of seeing the little pulsing blob—boom, boom, boom—of her heartbeat on the eight-week ultrasound. David and I called her Boom Boom until the next ultrasound told us she was a girl, a healthy one at that. We treated ourselves to a fancy fondue dinner, naming her Chloe over melted cheese and chocolate.

It was a difficult birth. Chloe was late, so I had to be induced. We went to the hospital in the evening, I got the Pitocin, and we settled in for the night. Throughout my pregnancy, David would read to me at night—his voice distracting me from the discomfort and, we hoped, filtering through to Chloe. There in the hospital, he read until I dozed off.

Around hour six of labor, I woke in the dark to a series of loud beeps coming from the bank of machines next to my bed. I opened my eyes—circle of masked faces hovering over me, adjusting the monitor strapped across my belly, barking urgent orders at each other. I struggled to wake up, looking for David and finding him outside that circle, tears in his eyes.

It turned out that Chloe’s heart rate had dropped suddenly, but it went back up when I rolled onto my back. From that point on, I had to lie flat on my back in one position. I gripped the bed rail and breathed through the contractions like I’d learned in birthing class. At one point, David started to pry my hand off the rail so he could hold it, and I snapped at him. I needed to stay perfectly still to survive. For both me and Chloe to survive.

I labored for twenty-eight hours, watching that monitor, worried about Chloe possibly dying. I was stuck at eight centimeters dilation for hours, and finally, my doctor said she needed to do a C-section. I was afraid to believe Chloe would be okay, and I cried as they wheeled me into the operating room, grieving the loss of a birth I could be joyful about. I was already failing at my most important job.

They put a curtain up by my chest, so I couldn’t see the surgery, but David was able to stand on that side. I watched him, awed into silence, as they pulled her out of me. And there she was, looking just like the blonde-haired baby I had dreamed of weeks before, and the twenty-eight hours disappeared. The grief and pain evaporated, and relief and love rushed in.

The doctor said she was face up and staring right at her as the incision was made—ready for the world, but only on her terms. 

We gathered at my grandfather’s house for Thanksgiving the year Chloe was born—my grandmother had died late in my pregnancy, so my siblings and my mother and stepfather all traveled to Kentucky to be there for him. 

At one point, my mother was holding Chloe, then about two months old. She had her on her lap, with Chloe’s head on her knees and feet towards her stomach. It was the one position that allowed for the least interaction, the least amount of touch. She’d lightly hold Chloe’s hands and maybe jostle her a bit, but kept her eyes focused on the TV, the other people in the room, whatever was outside. 

Anything but Chloe.

I wanted to grab my child, put her on my shoulder, rub her back, make silly faces with her until she smiled and gurgled. 

I wondered if that’s how my mother had been with me.

It was a brief thought, and it came with a quick burst of deep sadness that dissipated just as quickly. But it was the start of something, a spark of awareness that bloomed as Chloe grew and the barriers between what was and what I could allow myself to know started to come down.

I was sexually abused by my mother when I was very young, and later by my stepfather. It took me years to fully accept this reality, but from the beginning, I was so focused on being not-them. I didn’t yet know the term “intergenerational trauma,” but I knew in my bones that now that I had brought a person into this world, my job was to keep her safe, to break the cycle. 

It sounds so simple, “break the cycle.” Like you just decide it’s a thing you are going to do, and in deciding, it’s been done. I’d had therapy in college, unpacked some of my history with a kind Christian therapist who prayed over me in session. I thought I was set, and all I had to do was love my kid and not abuse her. Read to her at night. Soothe a tantrum with a hug instead of a time out in the corner. Go for family hikes with her packed into a front carrier, waving at people as they pass by. People say, “If you’re worried about being a good parent, that means you are a good parent. Bad parents don’t worry about it.” 

You can’t see, or at least I couldn’t see, how your own traumas create a different kind of trauma for the person you love most. Even before a baby is born, it absorbs the mother’s cortisol, or stress hormone, through the placenta1. This can have an impact on the child’s whole system—central nervous, autonomic, limbic. After the child is born, the parent’s difficulty regulating emotions and their difficulty with attachment can translate to a child’s difficulty forming a sense of self and processing and integrating their own experiences. 

I traumatized my child without ever needing to touch her inappropriately or say terrible things to her. The damage leaked out of me and into her.

I waited three minutes after texting police? I know it was three minutes because I was timing it. I knew I had to give her a chance to reply, but I also knew every minute was precious if she was in danger. I had only he won’t leave to go on, but my gut told me to act fast. “We need to call the police,” I said to David. 

My brain had split in two at that point. One half was calling our local 911 and asking how to connect to 911 in the city where Chloe was, then being told that I had to call the police there directly. I grabbed my laptop off the coffee table and googled the number while the 911 operator was doing the same, and got it myself more quickly than they could give it to me. Then I called them. 

“My daughter’s boyfriend is in her apartment and she said he won’t leave, and now I haven’t heard from her. Can someone go out there and check?” They didn’t stay on with me like they do with a regular 911 call, but they said they would send someone out. I started pacing around the living room, checking my phone every two seconds. 

The other half of my brain was filled with images of violence. I didn’t have a clear sense of how much physical violence had been a part of Chloe and William’s relationship, which at that point had been off and on for three years. I still don’t today. Most of the abuse was coercive control—making her respond to texts within minutes, threatening to share the compromising video if she didn’t—or verbal abuse, calling her a whore and telling her nobody would ever love her. He was perpetually convinced that she was cheating and asking for proof that she wasn’t.

But sometimes he would lie on top of her so that she couldn’t move. Once he had thrown her on the floor after she got a text from a male friend. He destroyed her things or threw them away—emptying her bag into a dumpster, tearing her favorite sweatshirt—and in preparation for this visit she had actually placed her most precious things in storage to keep them safe. 

The space created by her silence was a world of possibilities. 

David, throughout this, sat paralyzed next to me on the couch. Or maybe he was talking and I just couldn’t hear him. 

In my memory, it’s just me and my phone.

Chloe loved stories. As a pudgy, towheaded toddler, she used to climb up into our laps, book in her hand, flipping the pages as she wove tales about mommies and daddies and kitties and friends. Silly stories that made no sense; stories about loneliness; goofy and wild adventures. At night, David would tell her stories about a little soot sprite named Mooshi, while my stories about Froggy and Chester were a way to talk about struggles she was having—Froggy and Chester’s spats mirroring her tussles with her daycare friend Sydney.

When she was about two, I read Chloe a little book called Hug, about a baby monkey walking alone through the forest. He keeps encountering multiple other animals along the way, parent animals of various species hugging their children, and he says, “Hug” each time, at first with curiosity and a smile. But as the story proceeds, the monkey begins to get sad, missing his own mother. There’s a page where he shouts, “HUG!” and then the next page shows him quietly crying with a much smaller “Hug” speech bubble, as the other animals gather around him with concern.  

The first time we read the story, Chloe fell apart at that page, sobbing and pointing at the sad little monkey. The very next page has his mother staring down from a cliff above, yelling “BOBO!”, and then they are reunited in a giant hug. I knew this was coming, but Chloe didn’t. She grabbed the book from me, opening it again to the page where the baby monkey is most upset, sobbing again, closing it, and then starting the whole process again. 

I had to wrench the book out of her little hands and coax her to look at the next page. “He’s okay, see? His mommy comes!” But she was still inconsolable. 

Over the next several days, she kept wanting me to read her the book, weeping each time at the saddest part and needing encouragement to turn the page. I eventually hid the book away because it was too much. For many years after, she would sometimes call me Bobo or Squishy Bobo while we snuggled, pressing her finger gently into the fat of my stomach. 

Mama and Papa, my mother’s parents, would always sit up straight in chairs when they came to visit when I was a child. Him in a tie, her in a perfectly matching polyester suit with coordinating leather shoes. Hugs were not a thing, kisses a stiff peck on the cheek at arrival and departure. Girls should cook and sew; boys can run wild; neither should speak in the presence of adults. 

Maybe when she came to me at night, my mother was trying to heal this wound, correct for this lack by giving her own child the touch that never came her way. Maybe her body was, in those moments, a child curling up with another child, a child awakened by the feel of another child’s skin beneath her fingertips, a child growing older in the space against her will until the need and touch were transformed into something else, dark and urgent. Her giant body rendered small again beneath the covers.

I disappeared. I reached my hand back to touch the sticker on the headboard—a cartoon bunny outlined in white—that served as a portal to the Other World. A dark, empty place where I would float and float until sleep came. I was no longer the child being touched. I was no one. I disappeared.

In the morning, I woke up as myself again. Maybe that day, my brother and I ventured to the place on the side of our street where bushes full of wild blackberries grew. We folded the bottoms of our t-shirts into pouches and filled them with berries, then raced home to bug our mother until she agreed to make tarts. Later, spoiling our dinner, we ate the tarts warm from the oven, the scoop of vanilla ice cream on top melting into a sweet purple soup before we could finish, our mother laughing at the streaks of purple on our chins.

Or maybe my mother and I sat across from each other on the living room floor on a Sunday afternoon, playing Double Solitaire for hours. We giggled and groaned as we raced to get our cards piled up on the shared Aces in the middle. We celebrated the rare games when we both could play all our cards.

I remember the day there was a huge storm (someone called it a “half hurricane”) and the power went out, wind rattling the windows and scaring even my older sister, who was usually too cool to show fear. My mother piled up blankets and sleeping bags and pillows in front of the fireplace, and we all huddled beneath them, telling stories and reading by flashlight, trying to ignore the rage outside. When the eye of the storm passed over, we all went out and stood in the driveway, our arms outstretched, stunned by the sudden peace, the magic of transformation. I felt like my mother was somehow partially responsible for this miracle, this quiet blue sky in the middle of the storm.

There were two of my mother and two of me. Day selves and night selves. Awake selves and sleepy selves. The silent pact to keep them separate so deep within each of us, I suspect neither of us even knew it existed.

Chloe and William were friends for many years before they dated, part of a gang that hung out at the local mall. One night, in the summer before her senior year of high school, they went for a walk. His father had passed away suddenly a month before, and the two of them had grown closer after. I remember sitting on the sofa with her after she got home. She was giddy, scratching at the mosquito bites on her legs, saying they just walked and talked for hours. At the end, she knew he wanted to kiss her, but she kept it from happening. 

“I’m just not sure I want to date him,” she said. “I think I like him, but I also don’t know.”  She talked about how nice he was, how they once drove past a medical building and simultaneously said, “I used to get therapy in that building.” I was encouraged by this—a young man who talks about his therapy is probably a good young man, I thought. 

I googled him and found an old news article about his participation in an event at his school to raise awareness of depression and suicide. There was a photo of him standing next to a woman whose son had died by suicide. He towered over her, six foot four inches tall, a shy smile on his face. The woman beamed up at him.

They started dating that February. He was Chloe’s first boyfriend. Before then, she had never been interested in anyone, but William was different. “He just gets me. I can be myself with him.” He was sensitive. He wrote his own songs, many for her. It seemed like he could read her mind—he knew what she wanted or needed or felt before she expressed it. Because they had been friends for years, she felt safe with him. He was okay with taking things slow. 

And David and I liked him. When the dishwasher broke, he tried to help David fix it—I came into the kitchen to find them both sitting on the floor, metal parts spread around them, and it felt like I was looking at the future. When Chloe had a huge history project due for school the next day and was overwhelmed—piles of articles and books and sticky notes, a blank posterboard, and markers spread out over the living room floor—William came over and helped her break it down into parts, stayed until it was done. 

My baby was falling in love.

I need to tell you it wasn’t always gentle, a body curling up against a body, child self with child self. 

I need to tell you that sometimes, in the dark, my mother would come wobbling in, rancid and mad. Her hand would find me, shove into me, bruising tender flesh. Punishment for a crime I would never be able to understand, one I hadn’t even committed.

One day towards the end of their first summer of dating, Chloe and William had an argument at our house. As she was getting ready to leave for college hours away, the relationship started to get tense. We only knew about this argument because William quietly left, and then Chloe texted me to ask if David or I could take him his blue Nike sweatshirt—he was outside waiting for it. The sweatshirt was maybe the equivalent of a letter jacket from my high school days, or a class ring. A symbol of being together.

David grabbed the sweatshirt, and I went to talk to Chloe. She was sitting on her bed, folded up under the pale green comforter, shaking and crying and clutching one of the Squishmallows that took up half of the bed. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. 

I hadn’t seen her that upset in years, full-bodied weeping. I sat on the bed and held her for a while until she started talking. William had accused her of cheating—his friend had claimed she slept with him. He’d called her a whore and a cunt. “He does this sometimes,” she said, “but he has a good reason. Two of his girlfriends have cheated on him. He’s paranoid.”

I’m sure I said something about how unfair that was and talked about how it wasn’t okay for him to call her those things. She agreed, but said it wasn’t really how he was. He couldn’t help it. 

She paused then, looking like she wanted to say more, but stopped herself.

“Is that all?” I asked. She was a lot calmer, but still shaking.

“Well. . .” 

I waited, keeping myself from interrupting.

“I woke up to him, like, going down on me.” Her eyes got teary again, but she didn’t cry.

“Wait. That’s not okay, Chloe. That’s assault if you can’t consent. You can’t consent if you are asleep.”

“I know, I know. But that isn’t what upset me. He does that sometimes and it’s okay. I’ve told him it’s okay. It just was weird this time because he was mad at me. I didn’t expect him to do it when he was mad.”

Earlier that day, they had driven to the grocery store to get something to eat and gotten into an argument, and he had refused to get out of her car. She had said she would call David. William had responded with something to the effect that David couldn’t make him do anything. “You mean he would hurt Dad?” I asked. 

“No, I don’t think he would hurt him,” she said. 

“But it was a threat, right?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” She paused. “But maybe.”

Anyway, it didn’t matter, she said. She was done. The relationship was over.

At that moment, six months into their relationship, I really did believe it was the end. 

How naive I was.

From that day with the sweatshirt, we lived inside a shifting landscape. They would break up. They would get back together. They would break up. They would get back together. 

Chloe’s kindergarten teacher called me one night at home with concerns. One child had reported that Chloe had said she wanted to hit another kid with a stick, because that kid was taking her friend away. “I’m sure you’ve heard all this before,” I said, and Mrs. Bailey, who had been teaching for over 40 years, said, “Well, no. Not really.” 

So, we got a therapist. A play therapist.

I remember the therapist telling me that the fact that Chloe could read at age three was more remarkable than her desire to hurt anyone. I never worried that she would actually do anything. She just didn’t know where to put her pain. The play therapy was a short course, she settled in well with friends at school, and life went on with our tender, funny storyteller.

The other thing that came out of this, though, was that I started therapy myself. Having a child, a small body in my home and under my care, was triggering a lot of memories of abuse. I knew the stress of that was affecting my parenting. We’d be cuddling on the sofa or I’d be watching her play, and suddenly I’d feel my chest tighten. My brain would go white—like an eraser wiping away anything that could pass for thought—while my body clenched, wanting nothing more than to fold in on itself. I’d force myself to keep reading or playing, will my brain back into submission. But I knew it wasn’t good.

It was around that time that I cut off all contact with my mother and stepfather and began wrestling with my past. I’ve wished so many times that instead of starting five years after Chloe was born, I had started five years before she was born. 

Once Chloe and William got back together the first time, I dove into research. I read up on how to parent a child in an abusive relationship. Long story short: there’s not a hell of a lot you can do if they are eighteen, which she was, and not even a lot you can do if they are younger than that. Unless you want to imprison your child, they will still see their abuser, and the very act of trying to prevent it pits you against their partner, forcing them to choose. The odds were she would choose William.

Because at this point, and throughout, it wasn’t just the threat of exposing the video that kept Chloe there. I don’t even know if it existed at that point. She went back because she loved William. It may have been a love that didn’t make sense to me and David, but it made some sense to her. “He’s changed,” she said. “He’s going to be better.”

The most important thing of all was to try to preserve my relationship with her—to keep lines of communication open and help her see that David and I were a safe place. William was going to work to undermine and destroy that relationship, and any others that were a threat to his control or place of importance in her life, so everything we did took that into consideration. We couldn’t say this person she loved was evil. We couldn’t shame her for loving him. 

There were times I was tempted to take away her car keys. I wished I could lock her in her room or take away her phone so he couldn’t contact her. We’d be having an argument, completely unrelated to William, and my mind would try to find a way to use consequences for whatever was happening then to keep her away from him. But I knew it was useless.

At one point, I reached out to my friend Jason, a police officer, and he said not to involve law enforcement unless Chloe was on board, because it would place her in greater danger. If she wasn’t ready to press charges, all a police visit would do is anger William, and even though it would be us and not her making the report, the rage would probably land on her.

But we could express our fears and concerns. We could try to help her see the dangers. We could meet illogic with reality. But our focus had to be on our love for Chloe and concern for her, not on what a horrible choice she’d made or what a horrible person she loved. 

It’s a tightrope walk, one filled with fear of doing or saying something that would break our connection, but also the fear of not doing or saying something that might help her see the light. 

It was impossible.

I did set one limit, though. I told Chloe that William was no longer welcome in our home. I said I knew I couldn’t keep her from dating him and that was her choice to make, but I couldn’t support the relationship and I didn’t want him in our house. She didn’t push back on this at all. 

When we visited her for Parent’s Weekend the first fall at college, Chloe sounded grounded. She talked about how things were better. She talked about how he tried to control her sometimes, but it was okay because she didn’t comply. He wanted her to wear different clothes—We’ve talked about those shorts, he texted her once, but she kept on wearing the shorts. He didn’t want her to go out with her friends, but she kept going out with her friends and attending big game-night sleepovers that included boys. He was jealous, but she could handle it. “And I swear that if it ever got physical, I would end it right away. I would never tolerate that.” 

I tried to talk to her about how abuse works, how it escalates slowly. I said the odds were very, very slim that things would stay better, and very, very high that they would get much worse. 

“Mom, you’re talking about statistics. William is a person, and I know him better than anyone. You just need to trust me. You need to have faith in me.”

At the start of her next school break, I got home early from work one day, and William was at the house. He was fixing a plate of nachos on the kitchen counter, Chloe on the sofa nearby. I said, “You know this is not okay. You need to leave.” 

My heart was beating fast. I don’t know if I was scared, exactly. I felt my face go hot.

“Can we talk?” he asked. 

I’d had plenty of conversations with William inside my head, but I didn’t feel ready for one in reality. David was still at work. I wanted David there. I wanted a script. I wanted a real grownup to show up and take over. 

I looked over at Chloe, but she was frozen. She made eye contact, but her face was flat. 

I thought about telling him no, we couldn’t talk and get the hell out of my house. But I said yes. He joined Chloe on the sofa, and I sat on the chair across from them.

“You’re abusive, and it’s unacceptable,” I said. Once those first words were out, I felt like I had my feet under me. I was doing this. 

William just nodded. Somehow, the sitting version of him was easier to deal with. He wasn’t towering over me, his giant frame now folded up such that we were eye to eye. And he looked contrite. 

Everything came out of me in a rush. I told him my child was not a whore and the idea of her cheating on him was ridiculous. I told him he could not come to our house anymore and the only thing that would change my mind was extensive therapy and counseling, both for him individually and for them as a couple. I told him he needed serious help. 

Throughout all of this, Chloe sat silently beside him, holding his hand, that blank expression on her face.

“I’ve heard all this a lot,” he said, looking down.

“From who?”

“Mostly my mom.”

“Well, your mom is right.”

He looked back up at me. “I know I need help. I want to make my dad proud.” He started to tear up. “I love your daughter.”

“The way you treat my daughter is not the way to treat someone you love.” 

“I know. You’re right.” 

This was all too easy. And if I didn’t know better, I would have believed him. I can’t explain it, but he’s charming and convincing—even when he’s lying. I was not swayed by it, but for the first time, I felt like I had a small understanding of why Chloe stayed. He’s good at this, I thought. Really good.

After a stretch of silence, he got up and went to the bathroom.

“Are you okay?” I asked Chloe.

“Yeah.” I couldn’t tell if she was numb, or scared, or angry. My Chloe was not there.

“You understand why I have to do this, right?”


When he came out of the bathroom, they left together. He didn’t look at me or say goodbye. As far as I know, he hasn’t ever been inside our house again, and I’ve had no contact with him since.

When I was thirty-seven and Chloe was seven, I was hospitalized for PTSD and depression.

I was having trouble with one memory in particular. I kept replaying it—just a small, tiny memory fragment of my mother, a stern expression on her face, her hands angry. I was getting stuck thinking of it over and over, for hours. I made a nest in my closet and would hide in there, ignoring David and Chloe’s calls for me to join them downstairs.

I was also really struggling with the need to keep every bad thing that had ever happened to me in my conscious mind, because if I forgot, I would have to re-remember. I have a tendency to completely forget major traumas, and then when they come back, usually via a trigger, it’s this awful realization and scramble to try to remember everything so I don’t get surprised again. 

So, David and I went to the local psychiatric clinic, where I voluntarily committed myself. I ended up spending a few weeks in an amazing specialized trauma treatment program, which was a major turning point for me. I learned how to manage panic attacks and how to use art to center myself. My time in the hospital was a gift.

But from Chloe’s perspective, it was not. Mommy was gone for two weeks because of a bad headache. I think that’s what we told her because she was going to school at the same school I worked at, and I worried she’d tell her teacher. I remember getting letters and pictures from her—sweet drawings of flowers and smiling faces—and David brought her once for a visit. I had no conception of the trauma and confusion she was experiencing. I was too steeped in my own.

Chloe would probably say I’m making everything about myself, and there might be some truth to that. 

If I can make it my fault, maybe I can fix it.

I don’t know how long it was between the call to the police and when Chloe texted something like, you called the police? you just made things so much worse.

“Relief” isn’t the right word. It’s like I had been dying and was suddenly granted life again. She was mad, but she was alive. I could handle mad. Mad and alive has a future, at least.

The next few hours were a blur. I insisted that either David or I drive down to be with her, and while she said she wanted nobody, she ultimately chose David. He quickly packed a bag and was on the road within minutes. When I pushed for an update, she texted that when the police came, William went outside with them and they talked to him, and then he left and they left without ever talking to her. Because he had taken the bus to see her, she wasn’t sure where he had gone. But she was MAD. At me. 

Chloe had always said that she would never call the police on William. She said she was afraid he would get killed by the police, and I think that was a small part of it. But I think the bigger fear was what he would do to her afterward. 

We all know the statistic that a woman is at highest risk just after she has left her abusive partner. In Chloe’s mind, I had just taken away her power and also put her in greater danger. And she was very possibly right, but I didn’t see what choice I had. I told her I understood she was upset and that was okay, but that I had felt I had no choice. 

I don’t think she sent a lot of texts in those few hours. She refused to talk on the phone, but I know when she did text, it was to reiterate that I had made things infinitely worse. She was terrified, and it was easier to lash out at me than admit to herself how afraid she was. I called my friend Sandy, who had experience with being in a similar relationship and had been a support for Chloe. I told her what had happened in case Chloe reached out to her.

Then William came back. 

He started pounding on her door and threatening to damage her car if she didn’t let him in. he’s trying to break the door down, she texted.

She holed up in her closet and texted me that she didn’t know what to do. She texted something like, this is the kind of situation where you should call the police. She wasn’t going to call them herself and she wasn’t going to ask me to do it, but she was clear it needed to be done.

I froze. My own PTSD kicked in, and while I knew what I needed to do was call the police again, I was unable to process how to actually do it. I couldn’t imagine how to have the conversation with the police again. I wanted to dial the number, but it felt impossible.

I called Sandy again and gave her the number and asked her to call for me, and I texted Chloe that the police were on their way again. I think she responded okay.

When the police got there, I didn’t hear from her for a little while, then this is horrible. For some reason, they had William come into the apartment to talk things out. 

they think i’m crazy. 

he’s making me look crazy. they’re best friends with him. 

they love him.

William, now calm, had told the police he was only still there because he didn’t have a way to get home. During their fight, he had destroyed his own phone, which had his bus ticket on it, so he needed a new ticket. The police pressured Chloe to buy him a ticket online that he could get at the station, which she did. 

Show them his texts to you. Show them his threats, I texted. Call me and put me on the phone with them.

there’s no point

The police eventually left, taking William to the bus station. Later that night he called Chloe from a pay phone, asking if he could come back to spend the night because his bus didn’t leave until the morning. I remember texting her you absolutely cannot let him come back, and she was scared to say no to him, but she did say no. Dad is on his way, I said.

When David got there, I stopped hearing from her. She was still furious with me, and would be for a few days. But she was safe. 

David sent some updates. She had a swollen foot that she had hurt when she kicked, and broke, a cat tower during the fight. One of her lamps was broken, but there was no other evidence of whatever had happened. She was otherwise okay physically, and she was calm, and she didn’t want to talk. David took her lead and didn’t push. She has never talked to either of us in any detail about what happened that night. David took her to urgent care to get her foot looked at, and it wasn’t broken. There was some concern that William would come back again, but at least David was there with her.

Now that Chloe was safe, there was space for my own fear. I looked up the bus schedule so I would know when William would be getting back home. The most likely bus was due to arrive around 9 p.m. the next night. 

William had not come to our house in the two years since I had banned him, but that next night, as nine o’clock approached, I became terrified. 

I kept picturing scenarios. Like, I hear the glass break downstairs. Do I hide in my closet? Do I hide in the laundry room, behind an open door, and then run for it when I hear him go past me into my bedroom? Do I hide in Chloe’s closet, behind the hanging cubes that hold her sweaters?

I tested out all of these options. I created a pile of blankets in my closet to hide under—the old blue Ikea comforter; Chloe’s outgrown pink fairy quilt; a spare white duvet. I tucked myself into the corner of Chloe’s closet behind those hanging cubes, which was probably best for hiding but worst for being able to actually breathe, and there was no way to know how much my presence changed the appearance of the cubes. Maybe they jutted out weirdly and were a dead giveaway.  I practiced running down the stairs from the laundry room, and while this was maybe the best option if I managed to get outside, I was too scared of being caught before I could get out.

I knew I was being crazy, but I couldn’t help myself. Sandy said I could come over to her house, but I didn’t want to leave our cats alone. I just had to get through the night.

I settled on the blankets in a corner of my closet, behind a stack of boxes. Around nine, I tucked in with my phone and waited.

One thing triggered another. Being in a closet, hiding, brought back the small me, hiding from my mother in the wooden wardrobe in my room. Brought back the me of 2007, working myself toward a breakdown and curling up in my closet because it was the only place that felt safe. 

I listened for breaking glass. Chloe in her closet. Me in my closet.

Nine months after the night we called the police, out of the blue, Chloe sent me a link to a TikTok video of a young woman talking about her dad coming to save her from an abusive boyfriend because he had a feeling that things were not okay. And she wrote this: mom, i just want you to know that this was your instinct when you called the cops, and that was the most afraid i’ve been. i don’t know what would have happened if you didn’t. and i want you to know that i made it out. that’s kind of a lot, i’m sorry, i just felt like i needed you to know that you probably saved my life.

I ask myself whether she’s really made it out. Whether we ever will.

The Talking Sun

by Chloe (age 6)

Once there was a sun that could talk.  She had only one friend.  She wondered why evrey one else was afrad of the sun.  Soon the sun and the girl grew up they fell in love with ech other then they said lets always stay together.  The girl said even if I marry somewone else will you still stay with me.  Yes said the sun I think thats a good idea.  The girl said but I dont want to marry somewone else I want to stay with you and marry you.  I want to stay with you too and marry you too said the sun but if we kiss you could die because I am made of fire.  Then I can blow kisses the girl said.  But if I blow kisses it will blow my fire toward you said the sun.  Thats ok said the girl when I blow a kiss to you I will know you were going to blow a kiss back to me.  That’s a good idea said the sun but what if you forget about me.  I never forget who I love said the girl.  We can marry tomorrow said the sun.  You are very nice said the girl.  Then the girl heard her mother calling her.  Bye she said I need to go.  It is time for my dinner I will see you again tomorow at our wedding said the girl.  Ok said the sun.  The morning of their wedding something terible happend at breakfast for the girl.  The sun did not rise that morning.  She was worried she needed to find the sun.  She went outside and saw the sun hideing in the braches of a tall tree.  Whats wrong said the girl what or who are you hideing from.  I am not hideing from anithing or anywone said the sun.  then what are you doing said the girl.  Most of my flames went out I thought you wouldent like me anymore because I wasent very bright anymore.  I love you more than ever said the girl now eveywone at the wedding wont be scared of you beacause you dont have very much fire anymore.  That might work said the sun lets try it.  Okay said the girl now we can kiss at the wedding beacause you arent firey anymore but lets try it now to see if it will work in the wedding.  Ok said the sun.  So they kissed each other and the girl dident get hurt.  So they went to the wedding and the juge said sun do you want to marry this girl.  Yes I do said the sun.  Girl do you want to marry the sun.  Yes said the girl.  You may kiss said the juge.  So they kissed.  And they lived happily ever after.  The end.


About the author

Corin is a librarian who spends their days in the company of delightful middle schoolers and their nights hunched over a laptop, attempting to craft a memoir in essays. This is their first publication.

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For Five Trees