Trigger Warning * Violence * Language
The first day of 1990, Nate pretended nothing had happened. In fact, I wondered if he even had a clue what he’d done to me. I needed to know if he meant to hurt me, or if it was the alcohol controlling him. I couldn’t bear to think it was on purpose, not when he was the kind of man who gently rubbed my belly at night, who watched over me so much.
“Do you remember last night?” I asked.
“Of course I do,” he said, kissing me. “And you were wonderful. Thank you for making sure I got home ok.”
I didn’t understand. Either he had no idea, or he wasn’t going to own up to what he’d done. How was I supposed to handle this? Do I drag it out and make him see how much he hurt me, or do I also pretend it never happened? I wanted that more than anything. No, more than anything, I wanted it never to have happened at all, so maybe putting it behind me was the best thing after all. If he wasn’t going to talk about it, I wasn’t either.
We finally got our apartment in the middle of January, and I was so happy to know we could finally live like a real married couple. Of course, we didn’t own anything, so we relied on others to give us whatever they could. Mix-matched plates and cups and towels and washcloths filled our new little home, and it didn’t matter. We were happy for everything we could get, and as my belly grew, people started giving us things for our baby.
We spent a lot of time riding bikes and looking for cans to recycle. It was fun to ride with the wind blowing in my face, making a game out of who could spot the most discarded cans on the side of the road. We laughed and collected our cans almost daily, watching them add up to so much but still so little compared to what we’d get in return. But it was a great way to spend time together, and it made me feel like I was helping contribute to our financial needs.
At some point, Nate began to talk about taking things instead of can collecting. “It’s so hard trying to take care of us on what I make cooking. It sucks that so many people around here have so much when we have nothing. They just leave stuff in their front yards! I wish I had that kind of money to buy us things we could just leave lying around, as if ‘So what if someone steals it…I can just buy another.’ It pisses me off.”
He grew more and more resentful toward anyone who had more than us. He’d point out things in people’s yards, missing cans to recycle, and focusing on what they had instead. “Check that out. Wouldn’t you like to have that?” And I’d say I would, and eventually some of the things he pointed out would appear in our home. I felt guilty and silly about it, all at the same time. We needed things, and we wanted things, and there was no money for either. I used to shoplift when I was younger, but after getting caught and being hauled to the police station for a good scare, I learned my lesson. And yet, I didn’t really tell him he should stop. I didn’t really say anything.
After awhile, he began to brag about his nighttime adventures. “The people were right there on the front porch, and they never even saw me take this!” It was a ceramic frog. I wondered where it fit into our needs, or even our wants, but I realized it was a thrill to him, no longer just about us.
I shrugged. “Why’d you take that?”
“Because I could,” he said. “They don’t need it!”
“Do we need it?”
“That doesn’t matter. We can sell it,” he explained. “I can get all kinds of things like this, and then we can sell them and have the money we need. I’m not staying in this shithole forever.”
I didn’t quite adore our apartment, or even the small town, but I didn’t hate it, either. I had him, and that was all I needed.
Our daily bike rides turned into night rides, and we began seeking out things to steal, no longer even looking for cans to recycle. We’d ride the small streets and scope out the neighborhood in the daylight, and Nate made note of what he wanted to come back and get later. One late night, I saw the cutest lawn ornament and I asked him to get it for me. He seemed proud of me for suggesting it.
“You should get it,” he encouraged. “Then you’re helping out, too.”
I laughed. “I can’t steal that! I don’t steal.”
“Me, neither,” he said. “We’re just borrowing. One day, we’ll be so much better off, I’ll have my own restaurant, and we’ll pay all of them back.”
I knew he wasn’t serious. And I knew I wouldn’t steal it, but I secretly hoped he would get it for me anyway. It was wrong to want it, but I didn’t care. I was starting to think like him.
Several nights later, as Nate, his brother, and his friends were hanging out, I was too exhausted to keep up. As my belly grew bigger, my energy seemed to shrink. I went to bed early but woke up to someone beating on the front door. The sound echoed through our near-empty apartment.
“Nate Warner! This is the sheriff’s department. You need to come out now!”
I froze. Our bed was right under the window and a spotlight and flashing lights from police cars lit up the room. Shadows of people walking back and forth spilled onto on my wall. I was alone in my bed. I thought Nate had come to bed, and I thought we had been to sleep together at some point. I didn’t understand why the police didn’t just come in, why they just stood outside calling his name. I was too scared to move, afraid if I suddenly stood up, someone would shoot me.
For at least fifteen agonizing minutes, the police shouted for him, shining their flashlights through our bedroom window. I just lay there, not moving, barely breathing, my heart racing.
When they finally left and I was sure no one was still around, I rolled out of bed and crawled on the floor, peeking around the corner into our tiny living room. The door was standing wide open and a shotgun I’d never seen before was leaning against the wall right inside the room.
I sat back against the wall, hidden in the hallway, afraid to walk out into the open. I didn’t have to wonder a second longer where Nate was because the backdoor flung open and in he came, followed by his brother and a few of the other boys trailing behind.
“We have to get this shit out of here,” he said as the sweat poured off him. “Some asshole saw us and must have called the cops. I think he must have recognized one of us, or else why would the cops come here?”
I didn’t move from my spot in the hallway. My heart hadn’t stopped racing, and as I glanced around into the kitchen, I saw that the counters were full of groceries.
Nate ran through the apartment, slammed and then locked the front door. “Holy shit, they didn’t even take the gun!”
“What…where were you?” I asked.
“I was getting us some groceries,” he said. “But one of these idiots went out before I told him to, and now we’re caught.”
“I said I’m sorry, man,” one of the boys said, shrinking back.
They all gathered as much as they could carry, Nate kissed me, and they left to get rid of the evidence. He was sure since he hadn’t been seen, and with nothing left in the apartment, he would get away with it.
But the following night, as soon as Nate got home from work, the cops pulled up and knocked on the door.
“Please come to the door, Mr. Warner. We have a warrant for your arrest.”
I recognized that voice from the night before, and my heart jumped as the same fear flooded my body.
“For what?” he yelled, immediately pleading his innocence.
“Breaking and entering. Ma’am, please stay back,” they said, as I tried to rush forward to hug him. “You can see him in court in the morning.”
They clasped the handcuffs on him and began reading him his rights. I felt dizzy. I kind of expected this, but it surprised me all the same.
“I love you, baby,” he yelled as they pushed him into the backseat. “Wait for me!”
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!