This puppy—all 88,000 words—is finally heading off to my editor! Woohoo!! "TNF: A True Story About How Kids in Spirit Helped Me Survive and Heal from Abuse" is the working title/subtitle but that could easily change. Thought I'd share part of Chapter 18 (the unedited version, of course)......
The restraining order made me feel like I’d done everything I could to protect myself but there was also the minor detail that I still lived on the first floor of the apartment complex. And he knew that. Given what I’d endured and the fact I was standing up to him, I worried he might try to confront me in person. I’ve never known anyone to drive all night like he did when we were together. There were times he prided himself on driving across the country in 3-4 days time.
All of this led me to knock on the apartment manager’s door and explain what had been happening, that Scott and I had reunited, and that I now had a restraining order against Blane. “Luck” would have it that the apartment complex manager had dealt with a similarly abusive ex and had, at one time, woken up to her abuser having snuck into her first-floor apartment. He hid under her bed before he made himself known to her. She knew all too well what I was potentially facing.
To say she was sympathetic is an understatement. She was super happy to see Scott and I back together and not the least bit timid when she told me that other tenants frequently called the office to complain about the yelling they heard coming from my apartment. It turns out, others were equally as worried as the maintenance man was when he called the police.
She said because I held in my hand an official restraining order against him for domestic violence, I was legally allowed to get out of my lease. Scott was not; however, because he wasn’t on the order. He would have to file his own case against Blane and that wasn’t a viable option. In that moment, we hatched a plan. His two-bedroom apartment was about to become a four-person home until his lease ran out.
Later that night, we sat down with the kids at dinner to tell them what we’d learned and what we wanted to do. They’d been through so much but we had a feeling that this move would be welcomed. Especially because we let the kids have the two bedrooms and we set up our bed in the living room. Loft-style living for seven months sounded like a fun adventure. And who could argue that placing your bed just inches from the kitchen was a bad thing?!!
Grace and I scooted out after dinner to run errands and when we came back, part of our apartment living room had been moved up to Scott’s place by Scott and Noah. It was so fun to see the excitement on both of their faces when we walked into his apartment.
We had a blast making our “tiny home” work for us and took pride in our innovative layout. Being under one roof again was a dream come true and a financial godsend. Having hemorrhaged money with Blane, it was nice to feel like I could breathe a little bit, again.
But mostly, I was just relieved to feel like I could actually physically breathe again. I’ve never been a real “cuddler” but the first few months we were back together, it’s all I wanted to do. I felt safe and happy again nestled in Scott’s arms while we watched movies in our living room bed. Life was beginning to normalize thanks to Scott and the kids, my therapists, my friends, and my resolve to undo the subconscious programming that kept me locked in the cycle of abuse.
It took about six months for my body to calm down chemically from the addiction to the abuse known in many circles as trauma bonding. Normality and awareness were the cures. Then it came time to kick the cigarette habit that had spiraled out of control towards the end of my time with Blane. Intuitively, I knew I could do it and it wouldn’t take much effort since I was out of the abuse but it took two tries to get there. On the second try, I quit cold turkey. I surprised myself with the sudden switcheroo after using cigarettes for coping with relationship abuse for so long.
Even when I received a Facebook message from a man I didn’t know who shamed me for speaking out about the abuse I endured, I didn’t race to the closest convenience store to buy a pack of Virginia Slims. I simply sat at my desk, frozen.
I didn’t know this man named Scott Tullman but I decided to accept his private Facebook message out of curiosity. I didn’t know what to expect, but in that moment, I didn’t think it would be something scathing and shaming. Turns out, I was wrong. Mr. Tullman told me how horrible I was for talking openly about the abuse I endured in addition to lots of other lovely digs. It didn’t even occur to me at the time that this message could be my ex.
I wrote back that I thought it was so strange that he was writing me about something he had no experience with, and that maybe he should support women who report abuse versus shame them. Naively, I still didn’t think it was a fake profile. After I wrote back, I blocked him.
About an hour later, I received another message request from a woman named “Karen” claiming to be Scott’s wife. My jaw hit the floor. Who were these people who were so invested in shaming me for sharing my journey? Did they know my ex? Maybe I was a bit slow that day, or maybe I just generally believe people and what they are presenting, but I still thought the whole thing was real.
Hours went by when suddenly it hit me: they aren’t real people. They are one person (or one person and an accomplice) disguised as Scott and Karen in order to get the last word and circumvent the law.
I went to work investigating who Scott Tullman and Karen Marie were, starting with Google image searches that revealed both profiles used photos of other people who were traceable. Scott’s photo was of a well-known photographer named Lee. I let Lee know his picture was being used on a fake profile; he was grateful.
Karen’s photo was of a bartender in NYC. I used my detective experience to connect more dots: Karen and Scott lived in different areas of the country yet Karen and Scott both reviewed the photography business of a woman named Kim on Facebook. Kim was connected to— you guessed it—Blane. Kim reviewed Blane’s HOUZZ profile yet when questioned directly by Egan, she denied knowing Blane or Scott, her supposed client. The connections were pretty clear to me but getting Facebook to give me the IP information proved impossible.
I remembered what the detective at Flagstaff PD said: “You know that when you file a restraining order, it doesn’t guarantee your safety, and you can pretty much bet he will try to get around the order by sending messages somehow.” I immediately sent her all of the evidence I found and she urged me to see what I could get from Facebook but warned me it would be difficult. Again, she was right.
He violated the restraining order which technically meant he should have been arrested and taken to jail but I could never get the IP info from Facebook which was the very thing I needed to present to the court. This is just one of the ways abusers can break restraining orders regardless of how much evidence piles up. It was beyond frustrating, to say the least, but not something I wanted to dwell on once I realized I had no recourse.
The only thing I could do was help others who were in similar positions so I wrote a blog post about how to research fake profiles. Maybe, just maybe, I reached one person who was able to put their abuser behind bars for breaking a protective order. I know I reached Kim and Blane because miraculously Scott Tullman’s profile photo using Lee’s image disappeared and was replaced by an untraceable stock photo. Someone had been reading my blog.