by Arby Hodges*
“Your profile intrigues me. You seem like a wonderful, kind person and are very beautiful. I live in Cleveland, Ohio, but will be in Connecticut next week for business. Can we meet?”
So read the short e-mail that forever altered my life.
The message puzzled me. I had signed up for a free weeklong trial on a dating site six months before. No one piqued my interest, so I closed the account. Now, out of the blue, through an account that wasn’t supposed to exist, I had netted an admirer. I could not help wondering if it was some sort of cosmic sign that Mr. Right had arrived at last. I decided to give him a chance.
I agreed to meet Kevin at an Italian restaurant. When he first saw me, his eyes lit up and his white teeth flashed in his swarthy face. “Oh, you are really pretty!” he said, with almost childlike naivety. He had an adorable West African accent, though he had lived in the U.S. for fifteen years. He oozed charm and radiated goodness. Between gooey bites of pizza, he peppered me with compliments. The next day, he wrote to me: “I dreamed about you last night. I think you are the one for me.”
I was certainly attracted to Kevin, and had enjoyed our first date, but was not sure if he was really my type. While he appeared all that was charming, handsome and good, he also seemed somewhat one-dimensional. However, I decided to give him a chance. It seemed wrong not to, when he felt so strongly about me. The fear of hurting someone’s feelings ultimately led to a decision that would shatter my peace of mind.
Over several months, I allowed myself to be swept away by the flowers and poems he sent every week. Still, I never said “I love you” back. A prickly feeling in the back of my mind told me that his love for me wasn’t all that it appeared. I brushed it neatly aside, attributing my doubts to low self-esteem. Besides, if I ended things now, it would break Kevin’s heart.
One evening, while we were talking on the phone, I thoughtlessly said, “I love you, too.” Unaccountably, I panicked. “Wait! I didn’t mean to say that! I care about you very, very much, but I’m not quite ready to say ‘love’.”
“Oh yes, you did!” he crowed triumphantly. “It’s in your voice. You finally love me back!” I did not have the heart to protest. Instead of feeling as though I were flying high on the wings of love, I felt as though I were wearing ankle weights. “Give things time,” I told myself. “Your feelings will grow.” They did. Kevin spent a small fortune flying us back and forth for visits. I grew more and more fond of him, and my heart began to flutter dutifully whenever the phone rang.
One evening, he dropped to his knees and, with a beautifully worded proposal, asked me to marry him. The room suddenly felt cold. I was startled by a sense of fear. I could not explain it, so I promptly stifled it. How could I do otherwise? He was my ideal. I could not bear to hurt him.
Married life was nothing like I had imagined. I had left my friends and family in Connecticut, and felt isolated in Ohio. Kevin began staying away until early morning, refusing to tell me where he had been. I found other signs of an affair. Sometimes during our fights, he would stop yelling and say, quite coolly: “You know, Honey, a woman is supposed to love and obey her husband, no matter what. Even if he were to cut her into a hundred pieces or set her on fire, she should still love him.” My mind could not process the terrifying changes in him.
I felt as though I were sleepwalking, until I was jolted awake. One terrible day, ten weeks after the wedding, our dog tried to run away. Kevin snapped. Slowly and methodically, showing no emotion, Kevin squeezed the animal’s throat with one hand while kicking and punching it all over its body. The dog’s eyes begged for mercy while its legs churned the air. “Kevin, the dog is sorry. Please stop!” I begged when the tightness in my own throat eased enough to let me speak. He gave the dog a sharp kick in the underbelly before finally letting it go. I felt sick in the pit of my stomach. I could no longer deny that the man I had dated was not the same man I had married.
I packed my suitcase.
Kevin begged for forgiveness and promised to work on his anger issues. I promised I would return after he had undergone counseling. As he cried and proclaimed undying love, the phrase “crocodile tears” popped into my mind.
Upon moving back to Connecticut, I talked to the police and discovered that Kevin had several aliases, once served a jail sentence for money laundering, had three restraining orders against him, had been investigated for theft, and was in danger of being deported if found guilty. He had needed to be married to a U.S. citizen in order to lessen his chance of being deported. That explained the whirlwind courtship, and I deeply regretted not listening to my intuition.
Kevin fought hard to stop our divorce. He threatened and begged. Just before it was finalized, he came to my hometown looking for me. I took time off work and hid at a friend’s house. I never saw him again, except in nightmares. For years, I would wake up, screaming that he was driving a pencil through my ear. It reminded me of when I tossed our wedding album into the Connecticut River. I had expected it to sink before my eyes, symbolizing that a dark chapter of my life was through. Instead, it bobbed back up, following the current for miles. I watched it bob along until it was out of sight, still floating, waiting for someone else to find it.
*Name have changed to protect identity.