Raging Rapids

by Jessica Simmons
(Denton, Texas, USA)

I remember floating in my kayak in the middle of the calm Guadalupe River early one summer evening not long after we’d first met, buzzing from beer and the excitement of brand new love. The guy I affectionately referred to as “the sexiest lead guitarist in Texas” rested in his boat next to me. “This is heaven,” I recall thinking. “Right here, right now, on the water, with him.” Kerrville, Texas, with its tranquil river, green hills, and vibrant sunsets, provided a postcard perfect backdrop for romance built on unrealistic expectations.

We had met online, although I lied and told my mom and half my friends that we met in a bar. I was five years outside of my divorce, a single mom of four daughters, a discontent school psychologist, and a gal lonely for affection and adult companionship. I’d had plenty of dates--the nice doctor next door, the sweet, overweight school principal from work, the hot young lead singer in a local country band. However, I’d yet to find someone who compelled me.

Two weeks after posting my online dating profile, I received an email that simply read, “Hi. I would like to take you out. Here’s my number.”

He was seven years my junior, with dark hair and eyes, heavily tattooed arms, and a charismatic smile. He worked in retail management, had two young children, and played lead guitar for a local band.

We met on a cool, clear, Friday night, at a restaurant with outdoor patio seating and a live band. He smiled, hugged me, and whispered in my ear, “You’re even prettier in person.” We drank vodka and tonics, laughed, and shared our secrets and life stories. Six hours later, we were still at the restaurant after the band had stopped playing, kissing at our table. I texted my best friend when I got home in the wee hours of the morning and said, “Girl, he feels like trouble. Delicious trouble”

The next several months were a blissful, intoxicated, whirlwind. Talking for hours, taking trips to the river and into the hill country, and me watching him practice, perform, and write music. We didn’t spend a single weekend apart. The wine and vodka flowed liberally into our glasses, all day and night, until we passed out after making love. When I went to the bars to watch his band perform, he would sit next to me in between sets, and we would kiss and hold hands and stare into each other’s eyes.

I still smile when I read my Facebook posts from this time. “Headed down to that gorgeous little town by the river to be with the sexiest lead guitarist in Texas!”, and, “Taking a boy home to meet my mama for the first time since I was 18!”

After six joyful months together, he said, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I love you in a way that makes me want to move mountains. I’m going to use my savings and add on to my house. I’ll build two rooms, for your daughters. Let’s live together. In a year.”

Two months later, I resigned from my job of nine years after getting into trouble over late and inaccurate paperwork. My Master’s degree in psychology was from a reputable college and I had no doubt I’d find a new job right away. Months after my resignation, I hadn’t even landed an interview, much less a job. I could no longer afford the four bedroom home I had rented. I moved in with him, with two of my daughters in tow. It was months before the new rooms would be finished and well before the year we had agreed to wait before living together.

I had cashed in my 401k, so we were getting by financially. I cooked dinner most evenings, and he rushed home to be with me after work. Laughter, music, and lovemaking filled our nights. We drank vodka from the minute he walked in the door until we went to bed at night.

On the evening of my thirty- seventh birthday, I walked into the house after picking my girls up from school to find the kitchen decorated with dozens of balloons, roses, and presents. He took me to dinner at an Italian restaurant overlooking the river. We drank wine, held hands, kissed, and gushed about how happy we were.

About two months after we had moved in, I asked my 16 –year- old daughter, “So what do you think about him?”
“He’s awesome, Mom. He’s funny and nice, and he treats you so well. I’ve never seen you this happy. He gives me really good advice, too. I’m glad that he’s going to be my stepdad.”

One Friday night, while my girls were visiting their father for the weekend, we went to a local bar to hear a band. We consumed more vodka and tonics than a bar should serve anyone, ever. The lead singer from the band recognized me because his sister had been a coworker of mine at the school where I’d worked. The guy greeted me with a hug and struck up a friendly conversation with my boyfriend.

When we got home that night, I got ready for bed in the bathroom, anticipating another night of lovemaking. Instead, I walked into the bedroom to feel my boyfriend’s hand wrap around my throat in a quick, sudden, snake-like movement. He pinned me against the wall and squeezed my neck with both hands until I was struggling for air. His eyes were vacant, glassy, and wild. “I’ll kill you. I’ll freaking kill you. You think that guy’s better than me? Is that what you think?” He removed his hand from my throat, grabbed my shoulders, and threw me on the bed.

I collapsed on the bed, shaking from head to toe, crying from a place so deep inside that my entire body hurt. When I looked into his eyes, the man I loved was not there.
His rage receded almost as quickly as it had emerged, and he sank into the bed and passed out. I slept on the sofa in the living room.

The next morning, I asked him, “How could you do that to me?” He claimed to have no idea what I was talking about. When I told him, he seemed devastated, remorseful, and mortified. He held me and kissed me and vowed to stop drinking. I didn’t want to end what had been an otherwise ideal relationship. I also couldn’t realistically afford to move out without a job.

I sent my girls to live with their father while I stayed and made plans to move out. For several weeks, he was the same patient, gentle, creative, kind man I had fallen in love with. He lavished me with an excess of physical affection and words of adoration that seemed to fill some needy emotional void I’d never recognized I had. I felt an almost physically dire addiction to him. There were moments when I contemplated counseling, church, AA, anything that could make it safe to spend a lifetime together.

At some point vodka returned to the house. We argued and I threw a drink on him. He pushed me to the kitchen floor and dumped glasses of water on my face, one after the other while I gasped for air.

I cheated on him with the lead singer of his band, his best friend, on one drunken night I barely remember. I suppose it was out of resentment. I was without a job, apart from my girls, and in love with a man I feared could kill me. In the not so distant past, I’d been an independent mother with a career and four bedroom home. My life felt like a freefall into raging rapids in which I was sure to drown.

The last incident of abuse before I finally moved out left me with bruises, bite marks, and a fear that I wouldn’t live to see my children again.

I found online work, got accepted into a Ph.D. program, and moved to a town five hours away. As beautiful as Kerrville is, just thinking about the place still makes my heart feel heavy and my stomach turn. I’d always imagined that abusive men came with red flags or warning signs. That was not the case with my boyfriend. When he wasn’t drunk and abusive, he was the ideal lover, partner, and friend.

Two years later, I must admit there are times when I still miss the man I referred to as the sexiest lead guitarist in Texas. I miss our late night conversations about life, cooking, and slow dancing in the living room. I miss his warm and gentle touch and the sound of his voice when he called me “beautiful.” Most of all, I miss the sweet anticipation of a future with a partner I felt certain of and excited about.

There is no doubt in my mind that this man would never have harmed me while of sober mind. When I drank, my words became caustic and cruel. When he drank, his gentle musician’s hands became weapons. As much as he loved me, he wasn’t willing to quit drinking. Pathetically, neither was I.

Today, I am grateful to be safely under the same roof as my daughters. I’m embracing the calm river that is now my life and have lost my desire for whirlwinds and raging rapids.

I do often think back and regret the fact that I never called the police or did anything to protect the next girl he gets into a relationship with. A conversation with his ex-wife revealed that he's had a pattern of violence since his early teens. I worry, and I pray, that by some miracle I might be the last victim of his abuse.

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