CONNECTING the DOTS
I didn’t want to write this. I’d shared what happened with certain individuals and thought that was enough, but apparently, it wasn’t. This is probably too long. It’s also embarrassing to write but I’d promised to be transparent and vulnerable in the hopes that it could help one person. Just one.
It wasn’t a near-death experience, though I worried I was suffocating at the time. In retrospect, I thought once the episode ended and called a few friends the story would be put to rest. But something kept nagging me. I didn’t see the relevance. Until today.
Sometimes stories buzz in your ear like a gnat or a mosquito until you connect the dots and release words onto a keyboard. Until then, you cannot silence them. But some stories are meant to be shared.
So, here’s what happened last Sunday.
I’ve loved the singer Jack Johnson for decades. His music accompanied me through endless occasions. Happy songs sang in unison with my kids, mellow songs listened to in solitude while contemplating my marriage, and then the happy realization that someone close to me also adored his songs.
For years we waited for jack to play locally, so I was thrilled when my beau scored tickets to see him. Not only were we going, but we’d be standing in the pit.
The eve of the concert we arrived early and wormed our way as close to the stage as possible. Despite the blistering heat and tightly-packed bodies around us, I limited my water intake for fear of losing my coveted space. As the opening band played, the sun shone strongly and sweat streaked down my belly, stopping at the elastic waistband of my sundress.
Dang, it’s hot, I thought. No breeze in the pit, no relief from the sun. The overhead fans weren’t providing a hint of comfort.
The young gal in front of me that had been sitting on the dirty floor ended up fainting. I was thirsty but refused to ask for water.
The opening act ended, and the crowd’s energy was infectious. As I glanced over my shoulder I saw nothing but bodies and smelled cannabis in the air.
Sweat continued to drip down my belly, down the side of my face. I’m usually unnaturally cold, so this surprised me more than the man I stood beside.
The crowd started to rumble and applaud.
“There he is,” someone behind me said.
I strained my neck to see Jack Johnson, and it happened.
First came the “whooshing” sound. Then a wave of heat and a tingling sensation that ran from the base of my spine up to my head. My left leg started to shake and the sound in my left ear muffled.
I felt a sickening wave of nausea, and my bowels threatened to open. I clenched my butt cheeks together and silently prayed to literally keep my shit together.
I grabbed Eric’s arm, or his neck, and clung to his body. He was asking me if I was okay and I bobbed my head but I wasn’t okay. I repeated something he later told me was “hot.”
The moments felt like they were playing in slow motion. I remember thinking don’t ruin this for him. Don’t poop your pants. Is this all the junk and lack of sleep from last week? I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
I. Can’t. Breathe.
I lifted my head and gasped for air which wasn’t enough and felt thick and soupy.
Jack Johnson had arrived and had played a few chords when I realized I couldn’t make it. Eric had been asking me if I needed medical attention, which I’d refused, but my pride and stubbornness were losing the battle.
“Can’t,” I whispered. “Hot… hot…too hot.”
I don’t remember getting out of the pit. I don’t remember walking up the stairs. What I remember is the lack of sufficient oxygen and finally seeing an empty row of chairs. I remember sitting down, slumping onto my date’s shoulder, my inability to focus. I heard music from my right ear, but my left side was still clogged. I remember thinking how awful I felt for ruining the concert for Eric. How close we’d been to the stage. The pictures I knew he’d hoped to take.
“Go take a picture,” I told Eric, “I’m fine now.”
“I’m not leaving you,” he said.
The significance didn’t hit me then. I knew I was lucky and grateful for having someone take care of me while I was under the weather, but I didn’t realize until today why this in particular meant so much.
In 1991, I’d gone skiing with my boyfriend, my ex, and my ex’s girlfriend. We’d done long runs all day and I was past my limit but agreed to do a black diamond run before we left the slopes. My inner voice said no, but my boyfriend insisted.
I wiped out halfway down. My leg was twisted at an awkaward angle, but I was able to move it, so I doubted it was broken. Duke my verbally abusive an insanely jealous boyfriend taunted and teased me. While I asked for help he called me pathetic and mentioned something to the effect of “Ask B—-. Clearly you’re more in love with him than me.”
I was in too much pain to defend myself. Duke spit on me and skied away. I felt tears and shame but don’t remember a lot after that. My ex and his girlfriend came to my aid and the medics took me down the mountain on some kind of flatbed contraption. That was almost more humiliating than being spit on.
I never told anyone that part until now.
In California, Duke became physically abusive. The night he pushed me in the kitchen and grabbed a knife and stabbed a roll of paper towels I realized I’d hit rock bottom. I ran from my apartment and rode the streets of Santa Monica on my bike wondering what to do next.
The following day I called a hotline. They guided me to an anonymous meeting and encouraged me to get out of my apartment. I bought the book they recommended: “The Battered Woman” by Lenore E. Walker and sped-read through it.
I didn’t leave immediately, because I knew my boyfriend’s cycle. After abuse—mental or physical—they go through a honeymoon period. A super-attentive, loving phase. They become the boyfriend they should have been all along.
I confided what had happened to my closest California friend.
“We’re getting him out. Today,” my friend told me.
It didn’t happen overnight, but we did get Duke out. After that I vowed I wouldn’t speak of it. I’d never let it happen again. I’d reinvent myself. I wasn’t that girl.
I moved on and kept men at bay. I promised myself I’d never be vulnerable again. I’d never marry. I’d never let a man hurt me.
I loved again. I married. He was a good man. It worked for twenty plus years. Until love ran out.
While I leaned on Eric’s shoulder at the concert, I briefly remembered a few moments of being sick at clubs. Cheap wine and cigarettes had occasionally made me sick and others had come to my rescue. Two weeks before the concert I’d gone through a pseudo-breakup, and the friend I called on a moment’s notice arrive at my house without hesitation and offered a friendly ear.
There are good men out there. Good people who support you. Friends that show love through calls, texts, food, and laughter.
I didn’t realize the significance between the people in my life now and the man who degraded me on the ski slope decades ago.
Today I shared this ugly story with you because I don’t want anyone going through this to feel alone. Today I connected the dots. I don’t want anyone to feel weak or responsible for the poor treatment of another.
Find your strength to break the cycle.
Find a good person to stand beside you.
Be brave to leave.
Be brave to love again.