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Followed by highlights. How are you? I'm good, how are you? I'm good. Thank you so much for talking to us. So should I just start whenever and if you could read the title as well, that would be great. OK. Powered by string. At 11, I was the youngest in the eating disorder program in her 60s. Shelley was the oldest trapped in armchairs that smelled like scrambled eggs. We fiddled with everything, thread's, tissues, clothing, beads.
When a counselor confiscated my playthings, Shelly intervened. She's just a baby. After 100 days I was released, Shirley pressed a bracelet into my palm, tiny opalescent bead strung between two leather cords.
Seven years later, my risk is too big for Shelly's bracelet. But looking at the beads nestled in the tough leather, I think of the young girl in the veterans arms. Do you remember the first time you saw Shelley or met her? Um, she was there on my first day. She sat in the same spot. So when you walked into the room, she was like right on your left. Were you sitting in a circle? Yeah, it's kind of set up.
So we were just mostly in one room all day and we weren't really allowed to move because that burns calories. So we kind of just like parked in one spot. I kind of kept to myself because I was so young and terrified. Yeah.
And what do you think it would have been like at the program without Shelly there?
I definitely would have felt even more alone than I already was. I very much felt like she kind of protected me from the people who ran the program, because even though they were trying to help me like their priority was, you know, making me gain weight. And although she didn't get in the way of that and she kind of helped turn down their harshness because they weren't really used to dealing with children, have you been in touch with her at all or we're not allowed to have each other's phone numbers.
What do you think you'd say to Shelly now if you could meet up with her or if you saw her like on the street or something? I don't think I ever said thank you to her. So I think I'd say thank you. I'm kind of, you know, ask her how she's doing and she's gotten better. She'd been in and out of programs in their 20s. So, you know, she didn't have a lot of hope.
How are you doing after this program? Well, the program got me to a point where I wasn't dying, I haven't know, officially relapsed, had a little bit of blip when I went to college. But, you know, I have a support system, I have medication, I have therapists, I have friends who check in on me. So I'm doing better than most people who have anorexia. I think I'm glad to hear that.
And thank you again for sharing this piece. Bye bye. Bye. So we start every show with a short love story, they are from our column called Tiny Love Stories, which are love stories that are no more than 100 words. And we love them so much that we made a book of them.
It's called Tiny Love Stories True Tales of Love in 100 words or less. There are some of my and Dan's favorite tiny love stories.
We are so excited for you to read this collection of amazing stories.
And Dan and I are celebrating with a virtual event on December 15th will be live on your screen and we'll have video performances by the actors. Diane Wheezed.
Andrew Rannells and Marcia Stephanie Blake will also have screenings of animated shorts and live conversation with the authors of these powerful, tiny tales. If you are a New York Times subscriber, you can find out how to register at Times events dot NY Times dot com. And don't worry, we'll put a link in the show notes as well. We hope you'll join us. Now in fa la la la la la la. Stronger than any. You never loved anyone who they love and they learn to love.
Today's essay is The View from the Victim Room, published in June 2013. It's written by Courtney Queene and read by Julia Whalen and a warning that this story contains descriptions of domestic violence. The domestic violence division of the Circuit Court of Cook County is in a surprisingly pretty brick building. No one there seems to stir much if you sob while you were waiting for your lawyer, the guard who asked me to remove the pin in my ponytail so I would clear the metal detector did so with impressive grace.
Everyone is gentle. The price of admission is abuse. In this court, your ex is referred to as the respondent. I was there because my ex beat me. If anyone had asked me before my beating if I would defend myself when attacked, I would have said yes, of course I would. But I didn't hit the respondents back. It never occurred to me that someone who claimed to love me would hit me so deliberately and repeatedly. As he hit me, my field of vision shrank to the space inhabited by his swinging fists, and I was too busy shielding my face to do much.
It turns out protecting your face takes a great deal of effort when someone is hell bent on wrecking it. I remember thinking getting punched really hurts, as if this were some profound epiphany when I found myself cornered by a phone, I didn't hesitate to pick it up and dial 911 one. I didn't think about the legal or personal ramifications. I didn't think at all. But when I said help and started rattling off the address, he wrenched the phone away, which was when I fled out to the elevator and down to the building's front steps where I waited shuddering for the cops.
In five minutes, they arrived. Eight of them, half went up to talk to him and have stayed with me. They wanted me to press charges. They wanted to take me to the hospital. They were kind and didn't question my taste in boyfriends. They patted my bruised back and muttered gentle nothings like a posse of protective big brothers. They insisted on idling in their cars until a friend came to fetch me. It was triage at first, then the people closest to me kicked in.
You should press charges, they told me. I went to the hospital the next day worried because I could not really open my mouth or see, well, I needed a written record. The doctor was shocked and impressed that nothing was broken in my face. It felt like a win. You need to get a restraining order, my friend said, you should move home, you should move, period. He has guns. I said no to everything, even though I couldn't eat, sleep or speak to anyone without crumpling, I couldn't sit or lean against anything comfortably because my head was still a battered, crusty mess.
I had night terrors, day terrors and panic attacks. Not even spackling paste would hide the bruises, so after one attempt with concealer, I gave up and wore my battered face out. I told everyone who needed to know, which astounded the respondent. He called me offended and said, you told your family as if this was somehow an affront to him. I looked up every unpronounceable word on my hospital chart, my injuries included blunt head trauma, burst blood vessels in my eyes, swelling of the brain, bruised jaw, bruised ribs, defensive bruises on both arms, bruises on my back and swelling on the rear of my skull from where his fist sent me, flying into various hard surfaces.
In trying to persuade me to file charges, my father said, what would you tell your little sisters to do? I did eventually petition the domestic violence court house for an emergency order of protection, which it granted this was the easy to get after the respondent put into writing details of how he would like to torture, mutilate and kill me and then sent these details to me in the mail. He ended that written missive by reiterating his love. I read it on a bus and got off several stops early to vomit on the sidewalk.
I wanted a whole room of things to smash. I didn't have one. Instead, I had scattered bright spots. One morning, a friend on whose couch I was crashing walked out of his room while I was working my way through one of his overflowing bookshelves. When I finished the paragraph I was reading and looked up, he was standing there grinning. What? I asked hand stealing up to my face. You're smiling, he said. I can't remember the last time I saw you smile.
Soon I was able to find things to laugh about when there didn't seem to be much to laugh about, I worshipped my lawyer, I idolized her in turn. I wanted to take her to lunch, but I had no appetite. I went to see my doctor. He looked at me and said, you were way too skinny, which made me burst out crying. I had to go to court every two weeks to renew my emergency protection order, if the respondent showed up to accept or contest the full order, I would have had to wait in the victim room where you don't have to see him until your case is called.
If this happens for the rest of your life, you will know you once had to sit in a space called the victim room. But he never showed. After some months, I finally got to the point where I no longer sobbed at court, I made friends with a girl named Caitlin who shared my lawyer and therefore my court schedule. We gawked at one male lawyers. Ridiculous. Yves Saint Lauren, duffle bag. What is that? We asked each other.
It was so absurdly out of place in the courtroom, so hilariously garish that we both clung to the image of it, giggling until we were shushed by the bailiff. I would listen reverently to other people's stories as I waited. The woman whose husband gave her car to his mistress, the woman renewing her protection order because as soon as her first one expired, her ex scaled a wall to break into her second floor apartment. I thought, thank God that's not me.
I thought, what if that becomes me? My lawyer explains that the sheriff couldn't locate the respondent he had moved, I understood the logistics, but I still asked every time I wanted a different answer. I would never learn why Caitlin was there or what her guy did. It didn't matter. And yet it was the most important thing in the world.
On my last day, the judge made me laugh by mocking the respondents death threat love letter for being so terribly written, which was only funny because the respondent called himself a writer. I dated a terrible writer who beat me and sent me death threats that were more terribly written than some child's diary. I dated a violent substitute yoga teacher. It seemed like a huge joke, except it was my life.
I could laugh by then because my jaw hinged open all the way, it was almost like my old jaw, the same way my face was almost my old face and my ribs were almost my old ribs and my back was almost my old back.
In the respondents absence, the judge finally granted me a two year order of protection, Caitlin got hers to, as we said, goodbye in the hallway, I added, I never want to see you here again as I gave her a high five. I always had been the teary one, she's at least a decade younger, but had been stoic throughout, but now her eyes got glassy and she said, you're the only person here who ever even talked to me.
I walked out of court into so much sunshine gripping my flimsy piece of paper, which I would add to the inches thick file I already had amassed on the respondent, I loved everything. This feeling wouldn't last, the insomnia would be back. The vomiting, the panic attacks and the night terrors. But right then, I loved the fast food wrappers in the gutter and the pigeons roosting in the bridge girders and the river sending shockwaves of sun off its ripples and the creaking rails as a train sped overhead, carrying people to responsible places like jobs.
I didn't flinch when a taxi gone through an intersection. I didn't feel my pulse thud louder in my ears when a stranger stood shoulder to shoulder with me at the crosswalk waiting for the light to change. It sounds so banal, but I loved my life maybe the most in my 34 years, the respondent could have taken it. He could have snapped my neck, he could have gotten to his guns if he weren't so busy punching me. I wanted to weep with joy because he didn't.
And I did weep. And then the light changed and I crossed. Hi. Hi, Cardini. Can you hear me? I can hear you just fine. OK, we had some technical difficulties.
That's what that's what happens in our brave new world. Well, I am still somebody who writes by hand, so. Well, it's really good to hear your voice and to see you again. So I want to I want to start with how your essay ends, which is you, you know, walking out of the court building with this order of protection in your hand. What did that document mean for you legally?
Legally, it meant he was for 18 months not allowed to contact me in any way, shape or form. He couldn't email me. He couldn't call me. He couldn't write me letters, and he couldn't be physically within. I think it was five hundred feet of me.
And how did that make you feel? Frustrated, because I knew he was not going to pay attention to it. And he proceeded to stalk me for the next eight years. Really? Yeah. So I mean, we dated for three and a half months and it took eight years of me telling him no. And every time he contacted me, I had to go file police reports. So I felt proud of myself for showing up every two weeks. But I knew it wasn't really going to do anything.
So it was eight years. Wow, I mean, I'm struck by the overall what seems like an overall lack of legal recourse to what happened for so long. None of that adds up to legal consequences.
Yeah, and I, like, had everything on my side. I mean, I have a lot of privilege. I'm white. I called the cops. I went to the hospital. I had everything documented. You know, I came in prepared to court in case you showed up with my stack of papers. I didn't have a job so I could show up every two weeks. I mean, I was very, very lucky. And a lot of women in my similar situation are.
And one of the things I've noticed as how so many women and mostly women downplay what happened to them. And in the women's group I was in, all the women were either divorced or getting divorced and they all had children with their abusers. And I'm just sitting there thinking like, I am so lucky I don't deserve to be here.
And every one of the women in that group said the same thing, huh?
So women who had, like, two little kids and were still living with their abuser would like apologize to me because I've gotten beaten the most badly. And I'm like, no, no, I'm like, I am. But it's like we were the people who deserve to be there. We could see it about everybody else. So, like, I'm not worthy of being here.
Right. How do you see if you see yourself as trying to get to the other side of this? What does that look like for you?
I guess I just want to be I want to have less fear in my life. For instance, I live in, like the safest neighborhood in the world. And now I take a lot of walks because I have a lot of anxiety. And, you know, when people, like, bring their Bibles, I still jump and yelp like a kicked dog. And it's literally a person trying to say, like, I'm passing on your last. Yeah, my startle response is still like crazy, I'm hyper vigilant, I don't sleep because when you sleep, you're totally unprotected, which is not fun.
I just want to get. Somewhere back to whatever my normal was. So I actually I'm going to do this 40 hour training, one of the things you can do is become a court advocate so you can't give legal advice, but you can help people fill paperwork or get in touch with emergency housing or food banks, things like that.
So what would that be like as far as work?
I guess I feel like I had so many people and people I will never be able to think adequately. I mean, the X-ray technician or shaking so hard and the emergency room, I couldn't get my feet in the little stir up things in the wheelchair and have to, like, lift my feet up for me. Dr. Beach, who was my physician in the emergency room, all the lawyers who helped me, my therapist said I've had three therapists since then.
I'll never be able to adequately thank all of them for what they did for me. And I'm a stranger to a lot of them. But what I can do is be that person to somebody else who needs a person. How do you think about your future in terms of romantic relationships, or have you have you had romantic relationships since this happened?
Yeah, one. Mm hmm. But it's somebody I've known since junior high. I keep telling him I keep reminding him that he's not my boyfriend just so he doesn't get any ideas. I feel like I kind of want my life back more than I want a boyfriend. And what is your what is your life back look like? I mean, I'd like a job. I want I can leave at the office or whatever and then go home and do my stuff, my reading and writing, right.
I feel like I generate enough stress on my own that I don't want. Something stressful. Mm hmm. How do you spend your average day? Do you have a routine to your days?
Yeah, I try to go see the sunrise at one of the beaches and I'm kind of distant, so I go see the sunrise. You try to do that every morning?
Yeah, I don't set my alarm, but if I'm still awake or if I've already woken up, I figure I might as well go, wow. And I do that. And that's about an hour. And then I kind of come home and I read and write and usually go on another walk. I walk like sometimes I walk like ten miles a day just because I have a lot of anxiety. Go to the library.
I read a lot and then sometimes I go hang out with my fellow at night. It's boring. I'm OK being boring.
Yeah, but when you're at the beach in the morning watching the sunrise. What are you thinking about? Sometimes I write, I'm going to always have my notebook on me. Sometimes I just sit. I mean. When the sun comes up and hits the water, it literally goes gold and I just kind of sit. And try to empty my brain out because I my brain, I have a lot of intrusive thoughts and it's quiet, you know, and I haven't checked my email yet or I haven't read anything horrifying in the news.
Are there moments of happiness when you're in that spot?
Definitely. I mean, it's not so much, I guess, happiness as it is like peace. I guess I don't pray per say, but it's the closest thing that I do to prayer.
Courtney, I'm so, so sorry that you had to experience this, and I'm very grateful that you talked talk to me about it today. Thank you so much for having me. Modern Love is produced by Kelly Prime and Hans and edited by Sara Sarasohn and Wendy door music by Dan Powell. Special thanks to Julia Simon, Nora Keller, Mahima Chaligny, Laura Kim, Bonnie Wertham on your Streamy and Sam Dolnick, Corey Seager and also to Ryan Wagner and Kelly Rogers.
At Autumn, the executive producer of New York Times audio is Lisa. If you or someone you know is being abused, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotlines website at the hotline dog or call one 800 799 Safe one 800 seven nine nine seven two three three will include links in the show notes as well. I'm Dan Jones. I'm really see you next week.