Lindsey met James* in 1992 when he was 21 years old—a hero soldier returning from the Gulf War. The Marine was cute, smart and funny, she remembers, and also a little bit dangerous. She was instantly smitten. There was just one hurdle —Lindsey was only 15, a high school student. Her mom forbid her from seeing him.
But you know teenagers and first loves. The two met in secret, talked, kissed once. Eventually, Lindsey would leave Shreveport, La., for college in California. She chalked her first love up as “the one who got away.”
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Two years later, she’d return home for a wedding and there he was. The two picked right back up where they left off, only this time, Lindsey’s mom couldn’t stop her. Their romance was a tidal wave of love-bombing that culminated with a beach proposal just a few months later. Lindsey was just 20. She took a chance, said yes. James moved out to California so she could finish school. Almost immediately, Lindsey could detect two things had shifted: James wasn’t happy in California and he was determined to take it out on her.
“He was crazy possessive,” Lindsey, now 44, remembers. “I knew he had a little bit of that bad-boy edge, at the time, that was interesting to me. He was still clean cut enough and had that military background. I felt safe.”
Except when James exploded, which he did often in anger. He said it was just California–too much traffic, too many people. Lindsey decided maybe it’d be better to move back to Louisiana. But it didn’t make much difference—James didn’t seem any less explosive there.
Eventually, however, the two married. Lindsey was 22. The first year was tumultuous.
“We would have a lot of arguments— he would just blow up in stores about whatever. He would say he was trying to embarrass me.”
He especially didn’t like Lindsey going out without him.
“My friend—he was gay—lived upstairs in the same building. We were very close. I’d go out with him and his friends to gay bars and [James] would get really upset about that. He wanted me to stay home.”
Once, before she went out with her friends, James spotted sparkly glitter on Lindsey’s face, another infraction. He called his new wife a whore.
No longer in the Marines, James couldn’t seem to hold a job, and if he did, it was fleeting–eight or nine months, tops. Lindsey was the breadwinner in the family and says James liberally took advantage of that, using her bonuses from work to buy expensive gaming systems, demanding the couple get a new car every year. When Lindsey tried to say no, the belittling began.
“He’d call me a dumb bitch.”
When Lindsey’s job required them moving to Dallas, James’s abuse escalated. He would grab Lindsey by the arms, shaking her when he was angry. He slapped her across the face once when she called him a name. In another incident, he grabbed Lindsey by the neck, holding her down and strangling her. She couldn’t breathe.
She told her mom about his abuse. Distraught, her mom demanded she leave him. She stayed with a friend for about a week and then returned home. She desperately wanted things to be normal again, when James was sweet. And, sometimes, he still was. He’d surprise her with flowers, a homemade meal, romantic gestures. But Lindsey was constantly walking on eggshells.
“I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to do it.”
Then, Lindsey’s mom surprised her with a girls’ trip to Vegas for her 30th birthday, which ended up being a turning point. “Something happened at home and James was psycho-dialing me the entire trip. He just wanted to ruin it for me.” Lindsey knew her marriage was over.
“I couldn’t do it anymore.” She told James and, surprisingly, he seemed to take the news OK. Lindsey moved into the guest room. She began staying out late to avoid her husband. But one night, she came home to find him drunk and livid.
“He kept coming in [the guest room] all night long, yelling in my face drill-sergeant style, while I tried to sleep. He took my keys and wallet so I couldn’t leave. He broke my phone so I couldn’t call for help. He screamed at me all night long.”
When he finally passed out, Lindsey saw her chance. She hurriedly packed a bag, gathered up the pieces of her destroyed phone and left for a friend’s house. She took a risk, knowing her husband could easily find her. She jumped at every knock of the door, fearing he had come to retaliate.
She stayed with a friend for a few weeks and gave James money to put down a deposit on an apartment so he would move out and she could move back in, alone. But for months, James would break into her house, leave creepy notes, destroy her belongings. When she changed the locks, he broke down the door. She called police and filed a report, but it did nothing. He stole her dog. (Lindsey says he eventually returned her.) He cleared out their mutual bank account. Lindsey says she couldn’t sleep. She lost 40 pounds.
It took several months after the 2007 divorce and Lindsey moving to the West coast, but James’s stalking stopped. After eight years of his abuse, Lindsey was free. But as she settled into a new life, James did too, with a woman named Robin* that he married just six months after his divorce with Lindsey was finalized. Lindsey found this out when James texted her. Things are just so good you wouldn’t even recognize me, he told her.
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Lindsey would find out only a few months later that James was abusing his new wife, too. She got a message from a mutual friend who knew Robin, asking on her behalf if James had ever abused Lindsey. She said he had, but that she couldn’t talk to Robin about it. She was too scared of retaliation.
“To this day, I’m haunted by that choice,” Lindsey says.
It was Thanksgiving weekend, 2013, when she got a strange call. An employee of an animal shelter in another state said they had her dog. The dog she used to own with her ex, the microchip still under her name, had run out the house after her ex-husband and his new wife were taken to the hospital.
Lindsey knew immediately: “Something had gone very, very wrong. A quick Google search confirmed it—Robin had shot him. In the face.”
* Last names withheld for safety.
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