I remember the scene clearly. It was the first week of January 2017. I was sitting on the couch in our peach-colored living room, writing down a to-do list. Amin sat on the floor, securing yet another box with packing tape. We were in the midst of preparing for our big move from Norman, Oklahoma to Bloomington, Indiana. This return had been long-anticipated, and we were filled with both relief and trepidation.
After all the chaos that Amin’s ex-girlfriend had wrecked, we weren’t quite sure what would await us in Indiana, but that did not cause our conviction to waver. Sure, we could have picked the easy way out, remained in Oklahoma or moved elsewhere that wasn’t the epicenter of the scandal that his slanderous ex-girlfriend had attached to his name, but we both felt it was critical to face this situation and not sacrifice Amin’s studies for petty gossip and rumors.
No doubt that is what his ex-girlfriend had hoped for, that Amin would be too emotionally beaten-down to return to IU for any length of time beyond the defense of his dissertation. Hopefully he would just disappear and no one in Bloomington who question his absence or her story in regard to that absence.
As we continued to pack, Amin’s cellphone rang. It was Amin’s khale, his maternal aunt. Amin answered it and they started to speak in Persian. After exchanging the standard pleasantries, Amin’s expression grew dark very quickly. I could not understand the entirety of the conversation, but the words I could glean from Arabic and Turkish made me realize that something serious had happened, something involving his ex-girlfriend.
Amin handed the phone to me where his aunt went on to explain to me in English that a woman had arrived at the restaurant where she was working. Not just any woman, a supporter of his ex-girlfriend (let’s called her P), someone that his ex has used in the past to cause trouble for other members of Amin’s family, such as his mother and sister.
This woman walked in and started to tell his aunt about how her dear friend from Bloomington had come to visit her in Oklahoma for New Year’s, how they’d gone to downtown several times together, how this friend had an ex-boyfriend from Oklahoma who had treated her so horribly. After dropping many hints and details, his aunt finally asked.
“Are you talking about #()$_@&?”
“Yes! How do you know?” she asked.
“Her ex is my nephew! Don’t you dare talk about him like that!” his aunt snapped.
They went on to have a heated exchange, where his aunt defended Amin proudly. I remember my stomach turning in knots as she retold this story. His ex-girlfriend had been in our state? How? Why? She has no personal or business connections to Oklahoma, so few that the only person she could stay with was P, a fellow enemy of Amin’s family. And how did they know where to find his aunt? It was so creepy…on so many levels. Whether his ex-girlfriend had traveled from either Indiana or her home state elsewhere, this was dangerously obsessive, to go so far out of her way to see what her ex-boyfriend was doing.
After telling her story, his aunt begged me to please watch out for Amin, that she couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to him. I tried to lighten the mood, telling her jokingly that nothing would happen to him because I am his fabulous bodyguard and that his ex-girlfriend was too much of a coward to try anything with me around as a witness.
Amin’s aunt has no reason to lie. She has never inserted herself in this dreadful saga beyond what Amin and I have disclosed to her. There is no doubt in my mind that this exchange occurred. It’s pointless to argue that this was a chance meeting because P is not a new pawn in his ex-girlfriend’s game. And what kind of person starts blabbing about these sort of delicate matters to a random waitress?
No…as far as I was concerned there were only two possibilities: that it was true that his ex-girlfriend had come to Oklahoma, or that it wasn’t true and she instructed P to go to Amin’s aunt’s place of work, relying this story in the hope that it might provoke Amin to do something stupid. Either way, she wanted to stir up trouble, and that says a lot about what type of person she really is.
There were a couple pressure points at this particular time that made me understand why his ex-girlfriend was driven to do this. It could have been that she discovered that we were returning to Bloomington, something she thought would never happen. Or it could have been the recent disclosure of our engagements photos on Facebook. Or it could have been a toxic combination of both.
Whatever the precise reasons were for her actions, it demonstrated to us that even after two years, his ex was not in an emotionally healthy place. She was still so strongly invested in this vendetta that she was prepared to step out of her preferred realm of cyberbullying and attempt to create harmful real-life situations. That scared me deeply. The whole ordeal illustrated to me that her self-restraint wasn’t infallible and that she could slip if she was angry/desperate enough. Would she be able to control herself the next time another pressure point came?
And that is when I resolved to start writing about my experiences with her. First it was subtle, then my writings became more direct. I decided that I did not want her behavior to escalate to that dangerous level again. Certainly as a writer, the act of committing these thoughts to paper is cathartic in itself, but a primary motivation for me has been that I feel the only shield I have to protect myself from this woman is her fear of exposure. If fear of her true self becoming known is the only thing that can influence her behavior, and writing about what she had done taps into that fear, then so be it.
Would this be my first choice? No, and for two years I didn’t publicize anything about this because that’s not naturally my style, but after the incident with his aunt I felt to remain silent would mean placing her warped feelings of martyrdom above my very safety and I just couldn’t do that anymore.
I don’t regret remaining silent for the first two years because I believe it is important to exercise patience, to be slow to anger as the Bible states numerous times, and to not react the moment one is attacked. Nevertheless, the reality is that in doing this Amin and I have spoiled his ex-girlfriend to believe that she could commit whatever type of stalking/abuse/defamation against us without having to worry about us revealing what she has done behind closed doors. In our silence we gave her the reassurance that she could harass us and Amin’s family privately without any fear to her image. Not anymore. She had our silence and she chose to exploit it. She chose to interpret our act of mercy as a sign of weakness. As with any child who abuses a privilege, eventually that privilege is taken away.
Of course she can always deny what I write, and I’m not so naïve to believe that writing these events down is going to quell her antagonism completely. In some ways my writings will only increase her sanctimonious attitude, but at the very least it forces her to think twice before allowing her behavior to regress to a level of stalking/harassment that would prove threatening to her façade as the victim, because now she knows she can no longer rely on us to be quiet about it.
After all, this trip she made to Oklahoma does nothing to promote her narrative of victimhood. What genuine victim would actively seek out their abuser and tempt fate by instigating drama like that, especially after so much time has passed? She made herself scarce quickly afterward because there were implications to her remaining in Bloomington. She couldn’t (and still cannot) bring herself to face the natural legal consequences of her actions. So now she hides, but she made a point to make herself known before her desertion. That’s not victim behavior. That’s a wounded abuser who knows she cannot win long-term, but still is too obsessed to completely let go.