Warning: Elements of this story may be triggering.
How I Survived Domestic Chaos
Ask any author and they will tell you that their characters are like family. We talk about them as if they are our children, as if they are actually walking around in our reality. In fact, characters can be worse than petulant children, and for good reason: they are manifestations of the writer’s subconscious, and as such, will fight tooth and nail with us in the hope that we will write the story that needs to be written, not necessarily the story that we we want to write.
Sometimes, a character is born out of necessity. This is the case with Taris, the protagonist in my upcoming novel, Chaos and Moonlight.
Taris is an unlikely hero born out of my own domestic abuse.
Rewind the clock to 2000. I was young and head over heels in love with a boy. He was dark and mysterious and said all of the right things to a girl who had just enough of a rebellious streak to buy into it. It wasn’t long before we were married, one day after work, by a justice of the peace. We went to dinner that night, and he announced to everyone in the restaurant that I was his brand-new bride and he was thrilled to have me. Not to be married to me or to share in this experience called life with me, but to have me. I didn’t see it then. I thought that his need to be near me all of the time was a romantic gesture, like something out of a novel. I equated it to him needing me like people need oxygen. It was exciting and scintillating…and horrifyingly incorrect.
The first time he hit me was two weeks after the wedding.
Prior to saying ‘I Do’, I had never seen that side of him. He had always been accommodating, loving, and kind. But once the ink had dried on our marriage license, he turned into a different person. Angry and vindictive, he blamed me for everything. If I made dinner and he didn’t like it, the verbal abuse began. If I came home from work even five minutes late, he gave me the third degree, called me horrible names, and slapped me. He belittled my intelligence and told me that I was lucky to have him because no one else would want a woman so stupid. It’s hard to verbalize even now, but I was raped by my ex-husband. Frequently. (Allow me to take this moment to say that no means no, regardless of whether there is a ring on your finger.)
Ours was a private war, waged behind closed doors. To the outside world, we were a perfect couple. In private, he regulated what I ate to keep me the size he wanted, and consistently made me dye my hair the color he thought it should be. But in public, he doted on me. He wore such a convincing mask, no one had any idea. I certainly didn’t tell them. I was afraid to let anyone know what a horrible mistake I had made. I made my bed, and I was going to lie in it. At the same time, part of me secretly wished that someone would see him for the monster he truly was…
And then one night as I lay on the couch, I found my most unlikely of saviors: Taris.
The scene played in my head like a movie: a tall, dark, and terrifying being rose up from the corner of the room, casually strolled over to my husband, and with one hand lifted him up, and threw him out of the house. I must have replayed this in my mind about a million times. At first I felt insane, for creating this thing. I didn’t know what he was, but I knew he was my protector, my confidant, and exactly the kind of hero I needed to step up and help me escape.
And so, I made him a promise: if he helped me get out of my situation, I would tell his story.
Did I realize Taris was my subconscious? Yes. It didn’t matter, though, because to me, he was real. When I learned he was a vampire, I wasn’t at all surprised. He was inherently tortured, and there was an undercurrent of pain to his character that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Taris was broken, but only because he loved too hard and fought to save those closest to him, despite the odds stacked against him. The oldest of his kind, he waged a daily war against a silent battle of extinction that saw him as the protector of his people and the savoir of their race. His narrative was allegorical in that his greatest enemies were people that he once loved, people that allowed the violence of their existence to lay waste to all that was good and decent in his life.
And so, I made him a promise: if he helped me get out of my situation, I would tell his story. It sounds insane, but at the time, he was all I could cling to. I would jot down little scenes in a notebook that I kept at work, because I couldn’t risk my husband finding out. All the while, Taris was prodding me to make a move, to save myself, but I was still scared.
Until I found out I was pregnant.
In an instant, the flickering hope of saving myself turned into an immediate, raging necessity, and I knew that when I had my chance, I would take it. I was willing to do things for my child what I was too terrified to do for myself. While I was pregnant, the abuse stopped; rather, the physical abuse stopped. Because of the stress, I was bed-ridden for most of my pregnancy. Once my child was born, I thought I would have to bide my time, but my doctor told me to go. In his voice, I could hear my Taris screaming, “Run. Don’t look back.”
I left in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on my back, a baby in the car seat, and a fictional character cheering me on, telling me to keep driving.
I left in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on my back, a baby in the car seat, and a fictional character cheering me on, telling me to keep driving, to push the pedal harder. When I got where I was going, I ditched my car, hopped in a new one with my mother, and never looked back.
The people that saved me were my mother, my mini-me, and my monster. He spurred me on and kept his promise. Now I needed to keep mine.
Fast forward several years. I met and married a wonderful man who loves me and my child in ways that I never dreamed possible. I never forgot Taris, but thinking about him was painful. The memory was so fresh and his story was so parallel that I didn’t feel like I could actually put it on paper. I had pushed what happened to me deep into the darker parts of my soul. Rather than telling anyone what happened, I put on a happy face and pretended that it was all a bad dream, but the only way I could recover and heal was to let it bleed out onto paper. With this in mind, I kept my promise to my monster.
I’d agonized over Taris’ tale, and when all was said and done, it became an almost 100K word behemoth: Chaos and Moonlight.
Love should not hurt, and no human being has the right to harm another. Find your Taris. Seek your rock: in someone else, but most importantly, in you.
For me, Chaos serves a greater purpose: It’s hero was an anchor for me in my darkest days, and the story of Taris’ redemption was catharsis after years of pain and abuse. Domestic violence is a heavy theme in Chaos, though it might not seem so to the unaware reader. For those never affected by domestic violence, this book may not be reminiscent of abuse at all. Or, to any survivor or victim, it could be a trigger. But it is my hope that for anyone who is trapped in an abusive situation and yearning to break free, this story could perhaps be the final push that they need to leave.
I’m open now about my battle with domestic violence; the make-up covered scratches and bruises, the subtle twinge of pain that I tried to hide when I moved to do even the simplest tasks; the sexually coerced things I did because he told me to in order to “keep the peace” that sometimes still make me feel filthy, even fifteen years later.
Domestic violence is an atrocity that will only be eradicated if we chose to end our silence, which is what I have attempted to do by my decision to publish Chaos. It is my clarion call, my battle cry. It is my way of speaking up and reaching out. Love should not hurt, and no human being has the right to harm another. Find your Taris. Seek your rock: in someone else, but most importantly, in you.
A.D. Marrow is a writer living in North Carolina. Her new novel, Chaos and Moonlight, was inspired by her own experiences with domestic violence.
To get help or information on domestic violence services, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or live chat.
For dating abuse help and resources, visit loveisrespect.org, call 1-866-331-9474, or text “loveis” to 22522.
For sexual assault counseling and services, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or live chat.