Story – I wasn’t afraid any more, I didn’t blame myself’: the women who rebuilt my life after a coercive relationship – Chimene Suleyman

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The day I found out, I was sitting in a bar alone in Brooklyn. A woman on the other side of the world had drawn a picture of my ex-partner’s face and posted it on Instagram. Beneath the stark black and white image of him, she had hashtagged his name and alongside it came the warning. Beneath that, women who had previously not known each other were now commenting. “So sorry he did this to you, too,” one woman wrote.“Took $5,000 from me. Lived with me for a year while he impregnated me and stole from other women. He’s a piece of garbage and I bet you’re wonderful. Be kind to yourself as you work through this.”

The comments all read the same. Tens of thousands of dollars stolen, items from their homes gone, women who had become pregnant, suicide attempts, dead relatives, lie after lie after lie, until finally the man was gone. The women, it seemed, had all found the post the same way: abandoned and confused, they had searched his name on social media looking for answers. Beneath an illustration of their ex’s face, they had finally got one. This is how I, too, had come to understand what had happened to me. How a relationship that had started with so much potential had descended into horror.

In 2016, I was still new to New York, after moving over from London. I don’t believe it’s true that New York is the London of America. To think so sets you up… the cockroaches and rats that hold court around the bins brimming over with half-drunk coffee cups and mustard-covered napkins, the sweltering summers at Coney Island, or the relentless winters leaving rows of parked cars fully buried beneath the snow.

So when I met him, perhaps it was a relief to find something that felt familiar among the strangeness of it all. He was kind back then and seemed well liked by the people around him, interesting and interested in equal measure. This was a rarity for a city like New York, perhaps most places, where people come across each other and feel attraction with little purpose, communication or commitment. Finally, this was a man who convinced me he wanted monogamy, or love, or a faithfulness that these days still seems unusual.

It didn’t last long, the gentleness. And soon, his demands began. The rules. How to be with a man just like him, or else be crossing his boundaries, or else be ableist, or else be selfish, or a bitch, or worthless, or worse. If you asked for your needs to be met, you were quickly told it was his mental health and wellbeing that you were agitating and the punishment came in the form of lengthy, condescending messages documenting his criticisms of you, before the silent treatment or the abandoned plans.

Soon, there was always a reason why he needed more. More importantly, there was always a reason why I was always wrong.

By the end of 2016, when the summer months became cooler, I was pregnant. It wasn’t the right time, my partner said. His mother was ill. And in the absence of knowing what else to do, I booked myself into an abortion clinic. There were metal detectors as a result of attacks from anti-abortionists that had occurred some years before.

I didn’t want an abortion. I also didn’t want a child. It’s important to understand that complexity. There is something that I think remains flawed among the pro-choice community: we belittle the impact of it. We argue that it’s nothing, that it’s just some cells, not a baby, not a life, not remorse, nor grief and so, unequivocally, it has to be the absolute right decision to make. And yet, I believe it can be all of this, and still feel wrong. That you can feel remorseful and yet it can still be the right thing for you. This is where choicematters. I don’t believe that absolute human rights around abortion can exist until we acknowledge this complexity, this nuance, the contradictions that come with it; the pain, and frankly, sometimes the regret. But that is true choice – to feel all of this chaos at once. And so, I was wondering on this, thinking and feeling my way through the disorder of it all, as I walked out of that clinic and realised I would never see my partner again.

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