People May Surprise You

 

Names of the people in my story have been changed to protect their identity.

 

           There are people in this world that don’t take ‘no’ for an answer or don’t handle rejection.  Some call them sociopaths.  Sociopath or not, there are people that change in the face of rejection.  They can be nice until there is a situation they don’t like.  Then they flip.  As a response to my filing a restraining order against Paul he filed battery charges against me.  Between the stress and dealing with all the legal issues, exhaustion was setting in and all I wanted to do was curl up in a corner and sleep for days, hoping when I awoke everything would be back to normal.

           The next morning I was sitting on the lanai of Amber’s second story condo trying to make sense of the events of the past 48 hours.  How did that happened to me?  It felt like a movie I had watched, and I was the main character.  As I gazed out to nothingness I could see cars entering the development.  My mesmerizing gaze turned to heart wrenching fear in a moment’s notice.  There he was!!! Paul had a unique older car and there was no doubt he was here.  How did he know where I was?  What should I do?  I wanted to run inside but I couldn’t.  It felt like a million needles were sticking into my body.  Could he see me?  How could I protect myself?  The only emotion I could feel was that paralyzing fear!  No thought process could override that fear at that moment.  It seemed like minutes before I could move from the emotion that held me immobile.  I finally got the courage to get up and go inside.  I closed the sliding glass door as my heart felt like it was going to explode from beating so fast.  All I could do was stand there and wait.  Wait to see if the doorbell would ring with him on the other side of the door, wait to see if the nightmare would start all over again. I finally explained to Amber what I saw, and she reassured me that he had no idea exactly where she lived.  He didn’t even know I was there.  He was just grasping at straws because he knew we were friends, and he had an idea of what development she lived in.  Finally, enough time had elapsed that it became apparent she was right.  Thoughts ran through my head, as they would many times in the future, would this be how I would live the rest of my life?  Would I always fear that knock on the door that may or may not ever come? 

           In the future there would be more moments frozen in time, when I would look in the rear view mirror of my car and see someone that looked like him.  Or when in the middle of the night I would wake to a noise that may be him breaking into my house.

           I spent a few days away from work.  The thought of going there and facing my co-workers was something I dreaded.  As I look back I see a different person than the one I am today.  I see myself as someone who was hard on me to the point of judging myself for things that I could not control.  I was afraid of what others would think of me.  Would my co-workers, friends, and family treat me differently once they knew what happened?  Would they blame me for Paul’s actions?  Would they take his side and condemn me?  With these thoughts in mind all I wanted to do was disappear.  I didn’t want to see people ever again.  That next few weeks were going to be tough times for me.  I would need to make life changing decisions while in a fight or flight mentality.  It was three days after the hostage situation/battery occurred.

           Our home should be a place where we feel safe and a place in which we feel comfortable.  I wasn’t sure I would ever feel either of these again. With Amber’s help I found a gated community, second floor condo for rent.  What would be better than a guard house gated community and a place on the second floor?  I took the precautions I thought I needed to in case he decided to come back.  I had a restraining order, was going to live in a gated community with a guard, and would be living on the second floor.  Security isn’t just about keeping people out or keeping people in.  It is about the feeling you get where you are.  It is about how you feel when you are there. I believe other people can help you feel safe and secure but you have to feel it when they aren’t around.  You need to decide how you can provide yourself with that sense of security.  I decided to go to a counselor to help me through all this.

           Along with my full time job I had a part time position as an aerobics instructor at a local fitness center.  When you have a restraining order against someone you need to make your place of employment aware of the situation and present them with a copy of the paperwork.  I stopped by and informed them of the situation and provided them with the necessary paperwork.

           Another day had gone by and the idea that this would all fade away in the near future was apparently not going to happen.  I returned to my apartment with Dean.  This was the first time I returned there since the incident.  I wasn’t sure what I would find when we opened the door.  I knew it was no longer my safe haven that I once called home.  It seemed to be just the opposite.  Stepping inside the doorway brought back memories of fear and invasion of privacy.  I had flashbacks of sitting in the corner of the dark bedroom peering out the sliding glass door wondering if he was coming after me.  As I walked into the bathroom I was overwhelmed with the emotions I felt that night I thought I was alone until I pulled the shower curtain back and found Paul sitting there quietly on the toilet.  My jewelry had been thrown into a bag and a container on the counter had been rummaged through.  Paperwork I had left on the counter was gone.  As we walked through the apartment it was apparent he had been there.  Would there ever be a place that I could feel safe again?  I decided there was the possibility that he had a copy of my car keys so I went to the garage that day and had the door locks and ignition rekeyed.

           A week had almost passed.  It was time to move into my new residence.  It was a bitter sweet time.  It was like a new start but a part of me didn’t want to be on my own.  I wanted to stay with Amber.  I will admit I was afraid to live alone.  With the help of my friend I got packed up and moved to my new place. 

           Two big things that I had to do in the next couple of weeks were to return to work and face my co-workers and the thing I dreaded most, tell my parents. 

           It was time to tell my parents what had happened.  They lived in Sarasota, and our regular meeting place was a Cracker Barrel located between us.  Our usual thing was to meet there on Sunday morning for breakfast.  I called my parents and setup our breakfast meeting at Cracker Barrel.  Sunday morning arrived; I reluctantly got in my car to start my drive.  I had about 45 minutes to figure out how I would tell them what had happened.  I had gone over the conversation in my head a million times in a million different ways during that drive. I pulled into the parking lot and as usual they were early.

           As I got out of the car I felt my heart rate increase and tears start to well up in my eyes.  I tried to greet them with a smile but it quickly turned into a tearful greeting.  All the planned conversations I had in my head went out the window.  The carefully orchestrated event turned into just blurting out what happened right there in the parking lot.  I patiently waited for the judgement and condemnation but instead found nothing but love.  They each gave me a big hug and told me how much they loved me and would be there for me and wanted to know what they could do for me.  There was a part of me that feared Paul would go see them and possibly hurt them since I was no longer doing what he wanted.  They needed to know everything so they could be careful and on guard for anything unusual. 

           We ended up having an enjoyable breakfast.  My anxiety over how they may react was gone.  I felt even closer to them at that moment, if that makes sense.  I will never forget the love and support they showed me.  There was still that fear inside me that Paul would try and hurt them to get to me.  With that hurdle under my belt I still had one more thing to do that was eating away at me.  That was go back to work.  I am not sure why I thought that someone else’s actions would influence how people would look at me and treat me.  I had to keep reminding myself I did NOTHING to deserve what he did to me.

           It was time!  It was time for me to face my co-workers and go back to work.  Looking back, I see how I was letting what people thought of me play a part in what I thought of myself.  Where was that strong confident woman I wanted to be?  Somewhere along the way, I locked her up inside me and threw away the key.  I wasn’t sure if I would ever let her out again!

           It was my first day back to work after the incident and it seemed to take forever to get ready for work that morning.  I am sure word of the event had traveled like wildfire through the office.  I think office chat is faster than any text or Facebook posts.  I pulled into the parking lot like I had done so many times before, but this time was different. It almost had that feeling you get on your first day, but worse.

           I don’t remember who I saw first, but I do remember the thought that was going through my mind like it was yesterday.  “Do they know?”  “What are they thinking?”  I hurried back to my office as quickly as possible, making as little eye contact as I could and making my “hellos” brief.  I kept moving.  My goal was get to my office and bury myself in my work so I didn’t have time to think about what had happened or what others may or may not be thinking.

           There was one guy in my department that I had worked with for a number of years.  I wasn’t sure how he was going to react.  He is one of those people I have a lot of respect for and also someone that you want to have working for you because he makes you and the department a better place.  He is a lot like me in that we both are very private people, and do our best to keep personal lives separate from the work life.  There was no way I was going to be able to keep this event private.  After we spoke I felt a sense of comfort and support.  I knew he had my back and would be there to help and protect me if need be.  One thing I know for sure is he will always have a special place in my heart.

           I felt awkward the entire day.  I don’t remember talking to too many people.  As I look back there were a lot of self-induced feelings of judgement and efforts to read minds and try to figure out what my co-workers thought of me.  I had known many of them for a number of years and I didn’t realize how much I cared what they thought of me.  Would this incident effect how they treated me and worked with me?  These are the types of questions that ran through my mind.

           As I went along with my day I tried to get back into the grove of things.  I spent as much time as possible in my office doing paperwork and answering the phone.  The phone rang, and when I answered it the voice on the other end made me gasp for air.  I immediately became nervous and started to shake.  The voice belonged to a relative of Paul’s.  They were calling to tell me they were worried about Paul.   I needed to end that call immediately. I said I was in a meeting and couldn’t talk and hung up the phone.  Was there no place for me to go and not be reminded of what happened????

           Even an elevator ride was no longer normal.  I remember getting into an empty elevator, it stopped at a floor, and a man was about to enter.  Questions entered my mind about this person.  Was he going to hurt me?  Did Paul hire him to contact me?  I am not sure what kind of look I had on my face but for some reason he asked if he could ride with me. Would every person I see and interact with face the consequences of what happened to me?  I was so glad when it was time to go home!  Day one was over and I hoped it would get easier.  As time went on I was hoping for the normalcy of my life to return.  I regret to say, it didn’t. 

           Time had gone by, and I believe there is a saying about how a crisis can draw people together, but I don’t recall it right now.  It happened in my case with Dean, my law enforcement friend.  Dean and I had known each other for a number of years.  There was interest in each other, but it seemed one of us was in a relationship when the other was available.  This time neither of us was in a relationship, so we started dating.  Getting right into a relationship after ending one is not something I recommend, but I did it.

 

           A month had almost crept by and it was time to extend the restraining order to a year.  I went before the judge with my attorney and it was granted.  Now I wonder how important that was to have in place.  I learned that for someone to break a restraining order it has to be witnessed by a law enforcement officer.  They don’t go by what you or anyone else says happened.  Unless you have a law enforcement officer with you at all times it is unlikely that anyone will be caught breaking a restraining order.  Even though I was dating a law enforcement officer it didn’t mean he was with me at all times.

           The next phase was Paul fighting the restraining order.  I had no idea that was even possible.  I learned it is because it cost me thousands of dollars in attorney fees to keep it in place!  Since he was a sub-contractor where I worked he wanted to fight it so he could come back to the office.  I couldn’t imagine having to see him at work.

           It wasn’t bad enough that I had to spend money to keep the restraining order in place but I also had to attend a mediation session with him.  Mediate a restraining order!!  This was supposed to help me feel safe, not force me to confront him!  During mediation all parties are in the same room trying to negotiate something.  Yes… I was required to be in the same room with him.  I don’t remember if I could even look him in the eye.  Today there is no doubt I could and would.  I have seen myself change over the years to be more confident in myself.  I do remember him sliding an envelope over to me with a card in it.  People do some crazy things when they feel their back is against a wall as you will see as we dive further into my journey.

           To summarize some of the legal stuff that was happening, there was a deposition set up by Paul’s attorney, mediation with me, my lawyer, Paul and his lawyer.  I was accused of perjury because I signed an Affidavit of Insufficient funds when I filed the restraining order, and it was filed under a statute that required us to be married or living together when we weren’t.  There was a motion of contempt, Motion for Protective Order, Motion for Rehearing and more legal jargon then anyone should have to go through when they are dealing with so much stuff!!!

           The restraining order was dissolved because the Domestic Violence Injunctions requires parties to be married or living together.  Eventually a mutual restraining order was drawn up by my attorney and signed by the judge.  All the legal warfare was just adding more stress onto my already stressful life.

           As I look back I find I had no concept of time.  What probably was days seemed more like weeks, and weeks were like months.  I am not sure if that is a protective mechanism for me or not.  Time went on, and I was able to keep the restraining order in place.  I learned that not everyone was my supporter.  There will always be people that don’t agree with you or back you.  At first I took that as an attack on me, personally.  I try not to anymore.  People will be people. They don’t control who we are or how we react unless we choose to let them.  I know that’s a mouth full and I don’t always do it, but I try. 

           My daily routine was going to my regular job and then to my part-time job as an aerobics instructor.  I didn’t go out much more than that.  I kept to myself a lot.

           Over three months had passed and more legal issues then I want to count.  I was teaching an aerobics class when the relative of Paul’s that called me at my office showed up with a friend.  They walked through the gym.  As they passed me they said ‘hello’.  My heart rate increased and I started shaking.  It felt as if all the blood rushed to my feet.  I watched them go to the water fountain for a drink and then they left.  It was as if Paul was sending a message without saying a word or breaking the restraining order by sending them in and making sure I saw them.  What does this mean??? What do I do?  That all too familiar emotion called fear overwhelmed me.

           Two days later I was scheduled to teach my regular aerobics class; I got there a little early like normal.  As I walked to the aerobics room Paul’s relative and friend were waiting outside the classroom.  I ignored them and walked straight in and started participating in the class that was already in progress so I didn’t have to sit outside with them.  They both sat there until my class started.  Why did they keep showing up there?  Was it a threat without actually saying or doing anything?

           A few more days had passed and it was time for me to teach class again.  This time Dean went to the fitness center with me.  Sure enough they were there again.  This time they left a package at the front desk for me.

Read Chapter 4  “Unspoken Threats and Intimidation”