Chapter One

They say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die. It turns out…that is also true when you’re sitting in a holding cell.

My mind is numb—numb from the chaos. My body is cold—cold from the concrete floor I’m sitting on. If you would’ve told me this morning how my night would turn out, I would’ve said that YOU are crazy. Now, I am the one feeling crazy…trying to reconcile the events that got me to this place.

Trying to process the utter shock and disbelief quickly became an identity crisis I’d hoped I would never have again. After all, I am just a country girl from Idaho. I am a responsible employee and an accountant. I am a loving mother, sister, daughter and friend.

My sense of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair is completely shattered. How am I the one in here and not him? He attacked me—I only wanted to defend myself.  

Being in jail is nothing like I expected. In the movies, it’s a small holding cell with bars, everyone sitting on the bench and making small talk, as if they care. 

Nothing about this holding cell is familiar—it’s enormous, it’s cold, it’s quiet, except for a girl sobbing into the payphone. She is hysterical about catching her boyfriend with another girl, the ensuing fight landing her in here—and now she’s on the phone with that boyfriend. I first thought it was pathetic how she was groveling and apologizing to him—for a situation he created. Was she really begging him to forgive her and take her back?

My mind quickly shifted as I realized we had more in common than I would care to admit—we were here for practically the same reason. And we were both feeling confused and ashamed. Angry and hurt. I feared that other people would judge me the way I momentarily caught myself judging her. I couldn’t help but wonder how many other average people were in here, too? How many found themselves in relationships like this? 

There are a lot of girls here with me. I usually love people-watching, and this would’ve been a prime spot for that. But it didn’t feel safe to make eye contact with anyone. A few girls are lying on the benches, using toilet paper for a pillow. Others sit on the cold concrete floor; a few others are standing. A handful of the younger women were still wearing green paper wristbands—like those we used at the bar. I guess they were all arrested at the same party? I’m one of those who staked out a spot on the floor, in a corner. It felt a little safer there. 

The girl closest to me, wearing a tank top, pajama shorts, and slippers, was shivering, her legs and arms nearly blue from the cold. The jailers didn’t care—they didn’t help her. I was cold too, but thankful to be wearing jeans, a hoodie, and shoes.

At first, I couldn’t tell which hurt more, my stomach, the pounding stress headache, or my pride. The humiliation of the booking process. Mug shots. Blood work. A million questions. The invasive pat-down. Every second of it racing around in my mind. Then I realized what hurt the most—it was everything, and I just wanted to scream.

As the pain in my stomach intensified, I tried to convince myself I didn’t have to use the toilet. There was only one. A short wall on each side, but still, it was open for everyone to see. I’m sure all the toilet paper has been used for make-shift pillows at this point.

I put my head down on my legs, hoping to sleep and drown out everything around me. It’s gotta be close to 9 pm. I’m told I have to be here until they take me to court in the morning. I need this night to pass quickly. I need to get out of here.

My mind replays the events of the evening…

This fight seemingly started over football. The Colts were one of my teams and they were playing the Ravens in the playoffs. Kristopher’s head was in my lap as I cheered—another first down for the Colts. I was enjoying the rare opportunity to spend the afternoon with him. Football season was a hectic time for our bar.

The next play was a sack, and he cheered for the Ravens. “Hey,” I said, “you can’t lie on me if you’re cheering for the other team,” and as a joke, I nudged his shoulder, laughing. He got up and moved to the opposite end of the couch. He sat there in silence for a couple of minutes, then stood up, saying, “I don’t want to watch anymore—I have to go get some work done,” which meant he was going to the bar. He left the house.

As was typical, he turned a joke into an attack on his pride. Lately, there have been a lot of ups and downs. Passive-aggressiveness. Leaving. Silent treatment. I brushed it off for now—he just stressed out because of the bar, and I could handle whatever he was about to dish out.

A couple of hours later, though, the Colts lost to the Ravens (final score: 24-9), and Kristopher hadn’t returned. He couldn’t still be this pissed off, could he? Now that the game was over, I hoped this would be too.

I texted him to ask what was going on. Three seconds later, I hear his phone chime from the other room. In his huff, he left the house without his phone. Or maybe he did it on purpose so I couldn’t get a hold of him? Fine, I thought to myself.

Another hour passed. Not knowing what was going on, what mood he was in, was getting to me. I knew his phone code, and I could pop onto the surveillance camera app for the bar to see if he was still there.

I could see him on the camera, eating pizza at the tall table closest to the bar. He laughed and did shots with some regulars I knew, along with a couple of people I didn’t recognize.

I watched him for a while—getting madder by the moment that our minor disagreement had turned into another excuse for him to party. Kristopher, the bar manager, and a woman I recognized left the table and went into our office. It so happened that the office camera also had a microphone and I could hear their conversation. She commented on the bookcase that pulled down into a bed. A customer made it for Kristopher after hearing him talk at length about how much time he spent at work. It wasn’t uncommon after a late night of “working” for him to sleep there.

“Well, isn’t that convenient,” the woman commented with a playful laugh and nudge.

“Yeah, we don’t talk about the things Kristopher does,” the bar manager said, and all three of them laughed.

I hadn’t until this moment ever suspected Kristopher of cheating on me. He was many things, among them a master of storytelling and exaggeration. Was this another of his stories to make himself look good to the fan club? Or was there truth to what the bar manager implied?

They walked out of the office and returned to their table. There was no microphone, so I could only rely on what I saw. Immediately, another girl walked up to him and leaned against him. He put his arm around her. She rubbed her hand on his arm and then on his chest. She looked up at him as he spoke to her. Then she threw her head back as they both laughed. The flirting was obvious and hard for me to watch. He didn’t even try to hide it.  

My face started to flush and my hands trembled. I felt sick to my stomach. I immediately called the bar and asked for Kristopher without identifying myself.

“He’s not here.” The standard reply whenever someone asked for him or for “the owner.”

I told the manager, “It’s Bella.”

“Oh, okay.” While I waited, I watched the bar camera on Kristopher’s phone. When the manager told him I was on the phone, he made a sarcastic face while rolling his eyes and sticking out his tongue. His candid gesture garnered the laughs of his little fan club, and I could just imagine what he was saying to them.

It took everything I had to remain calm as I watched him pick up the phone. Steadying my voice, I said, “You forgot your phone at home. I was calling just to see what you were doing—when you’d be home. Have you eaten yet?”

A pause. Then, “No, I didn’t eat. I’ve been in the office doing paperwork this whole time. I’m almost done—I’ll be home in a bit.”

“Okay,” I said, then hung up.

I watched as he hung up and walked back to the table. The girl leaned up against him again as he put his arm around her. He said something, and then everyone started laughing.

The hurt, the anger, the full-scale betrayal. The humiliation surged up. I watched for what felt like an hour. He was in no way close to leaving the bar. I was furious that he had lied to me. I wondered how I could be headed down this same road again. We were engaged—how could he do this?

I tore off my sweats and fuzzy socks, then threw on jeans and tennis shoes. My tank top and hoodie were good enough. Tied my hair up in a pony. My youngest daughter, Maya, was in the refuge of her room watching movies. I wasn’t going to be gone long, and she was old enough to be left home alone for a bit.

My anger only grew on the drive to the bar. My mind was racing.

Both of my previous marriages were poisoned by infidelity and mistrust.

Kristopher swore he never would cheat on me.

Despite telling me many stories about being unfaithful to his ex-wife, he told me it was different this time and he would never do that to me. 

I had reason to be suspicious in the past but lacked proof.

Now, there was the bed and the joke over the bed in the office. The young woman rubbed up on him as he willingly reciprocated.

In front of people we knew. Not trying to hide anything.

I caught him in a lie. I have heard him lie so many times to OTHER people. But I thought I would know when he was lying. I knew all his “tells.”

I was so dumb for thinking he wouldn’t lie to me.

I was the butt of his jokes.

I had proof that I wasn’t very important to him.

Our relationship obviously wasn’t a priority.

By the time I got to the bar, I saw red. My whole body shook as I stormed into the bar, up to the table where they were all standing. He was standing with his back to the door and didn’t see me coming.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder and pointed—he turned around.

I pulled off my engagement ring and threw it on the table. “You’re a fucking asshole. You can take this and shove it up your ass.” Then I turned around and stormed out, hearing the laughter behind me as I left.

Kristopher hadn’t said anything. He didn’t follow after me.

I peeled out of the parking lot and got about a mile before I had to pull over. My sobs heaved and choked me; my eyes blurred with tears and the street lights and headlights were now a single blinding glow. Taking deep breaths to compose myself, I looked at his phone again, rewinding the camera to the moment I left the bar. He stood in place as if nothing had happened. He was still talking to the group there at the table, but no one was animated. It all looked so ordinary. I fast-forwarded to the present time to see him putting on his jacket, preparing to leave the bar, heading home.

Maya was home alone, still unaware of everything that had been going on. I couldn’t let him get home before I did, so I wiped my eyes, turned my car back on, and sped home.

As soon as I got there, I knew what I had to do—pack his shit and get him out of our lives. It was my house, my name on the lease, my money paying all the bills. I was not going to stand for this treatment.

I rushed to gather what he needed to get out for a few days. This would give me time to go through and pack up all his stuff. He could stay in his perfect little office bedroom at the bar for all I cared. I was still collecting his clothes when I heard the sound of his diesel truck pulling up to the house. My heart was going to pound right through my chest. The tension in my body was overwhelming. I knew he would be drunk and angry. But I didn’t know what to expect next.

He came through the front door and straight to the bedroom.

He threw his hand in the air and asked, “What the fuck was that all about?”

Seriously? He was acting like this was no big deal.

“You lied to me about what you were doing there. You were drinking and eating—not working. And what’s with the girl hanging on you?” I responded, my voice quivering and my body shaking.

He sneered. “There was no girl.”

“Come on.” I pulled out his phone. “I’ve been watching on your phone, the one you left here, so I couldn’t get in touch with you. How do you explain this?” I showed him the video of the girl rubbing her hand on his chest, his arm around her waist.

“You’re overreacting. She’s just standing by me. Nothing was going on.”

It was like looking at a brush fire and saying there’s no fire. “It’s right here on this video. She’s touching you, and you still deny it?”

“Nothing happened—you are overreacting.”

I heard Maya’s door briefly open and then closed again. Shit, is she used to our fighting already?

It went on like this for a couple more minutes, me pointing to the proof of his lying to me. Him repeatedly telling me I was overreacting until I finally got fed up and said, “You’re a fucking liar.” His phone was still in my hand. All the proof was there, and he flat-out denied it. I threw it out the bedroom, towards the hallway, where it ended up sailing into the wall and breaking.

“The fuck? You broke my phone,” he yelled.

I hadn’t meant to break it—I just threw it. But there I was, holding my phone, and Kristopher was eyeing that now. He moved like those nature films you see of white sharks when they attack—swift and with purpose. I knew he was coming to break my phone. He’d done it before.

I pulled my hand tight against my body, trying to keep my phone away from him. We struggled as he grabbed me. I kept trying to turn away from him and twisting my arms away from my body so he couldn’t get to my hand. Kicking, pushing—whatever I could to get him off me.

Eventually, he was successful. He ripped my phone out of my hand and took it into the bathroom, where there was a tile floor. He slammed the phone down, then stomped on it with his boot. Satisfied with “one-upping” me again, he stormed outside while I was crying and yelling. As he left, I screamed, “Don’t come back,” and then locked the door behind him and went back to my bedroom.

Now crying even harder, I sat on my bed trying to calm down before my sobbing alarmed Maya.

Then there was a knock on the door. A hard knock—not angry and drunk, as Kristopher’s would have been.

It was the cops.

They came in, and one asked me, “So what happened here tonight?”

“Can we do this outside? My daughter is here.”

“Sure, ma’am.”

We walked outside. Kristopher was standing a few doors down with one of his friends. Though Kristopher had managed to drive home from the bar, he must have realized with the cops there now that it was not a good idea to drive away on his own. He and his friend were waiting by the friend’s car, watching me while I stood in my driveway with the cops.

I explained to them how it started—him rooting against my football team, me joking, him taking it personally and leaving. Then me trying to find out where he was and when he was coming home. What a stupid inciting incident, I thought. My anger grew as my mind replayed his lies. Driving over and giving back my ring before driving away. Then just wanting him out. How I had thrown his phone, not meaning to break it. How he came at me to break mine, and I struggled to keep it away from him, but he overpowered me.

“Okay, wait here, ma’am. We’re going to go over to talk to him.”

So had he called the cops? On me? Or had it been a neighbor who heard something? Or Maya, afraid of what was happening?

The full-body shakes returned as I waited for the cops to come back, the inevitable “there’s no proof he did anything wrong, so we’re going to let him go.”  Kristopher was a police officer before I met him and he got away with just about anything.  No need to worry, I told myself – I wasn’t the one who had called them for something that did not require their presence in the first place. The officer returned.

“Ma’am, we’re going to have to take you in for assault.”

It took a minute for me to register what he was saying. “What?”

He moved toward me. “Wait, but he attacked me! He started the physical altercation; I was only defending myself.”

“He is the one with the scratches on his face. You have no visible injuries. And when we get called out for something like this, someone has to go to jail.”

A scratched face was enough to take me to jail for assault? How was this happening?

“Oh my god, my daughter is here. Can I call my sister first to come to get Maya? Please?”

“Yes, go ahead.”

The officer followed me into the house while I called my sister, Jen. Sobbing into the phone, I told her an abridged version of the events. She rushed over. By the time she got to the house, I was already handcuffed and in the back of the squad car.   We drove off before Maya came out of the house and saw me like that.

As I was booked, I asked who had called the cops on me. They said Kristopher’s name. They read out his statement to me, and all I could do was laugh. He exaggerated almost everything while completely leaving out all the events that led up to the altercation, including the fact that he came after me. No mention that I was trying to defend myself from him. Having been a cop, he knew all the buzzwords to make this as bad for me as possible while making himself out to be the victim. If I’d used my phone as a weapon, then I could be convicted of a felony. He always had to take control of the situation to make sure his story was the one that got out first. He wanted the first and the last word. If he was hurt, someone would have to hurt more. That’s the way it was.

I was tough; I knew how to fight. I’d fought for survival my whole life, but Kristopher fought dirty.

They would transport me to the 4th Avenue jail in Phoenix and then back to Mesa the following morning for a court appearance. I used my one phone call to update Jen and have her call my boss, Rachel, to let her know I wouldn’t be at work tomorrow.

“I talked to Kristopher when I picked up Maya,” she said. “He said the neighbors must have heard the yelling and called the cops.”

Fucking liar! What an absolutely manipulative piece of shit.

Still sitting on a chair, waiting to be transported to the jail, I buried my head in my hands. What a terrible mother I am. How could I have let this happen? How much she has been through already in her short life. First, the move to Arizona—taking her away from her friends. Then, suddenly her dad is not in her life anymore. And now, I’ve made it a bigger mess.

Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” runs through my head, except my brain is changing the words. “I’m stuck in 4th Avenue Jail, and time keeps dragging on…” and instead of San Antone, I’m in Arizone.

Music generally calms me. If anything, it helps fill my head with some other noise than my internal screaming that HE had called the cops on ME.

Who does that to someone they claim to love?

What kind of a “man” does that over something so minor?

Once in Phoenix,  they took my mug shot and my shoelaces, patted me down and felt me up, then brought me to this holding area.

Every time I close my eyes, I try to find some reasoning, some explanation to convince myself this was just a bad dream and that I could wake up now.

There’s no clock in sight, so I have no idea how much time is passing. And finally, I can no longer dismiss the pain in my guts.

Okay, it’s no big deal. Everyone in here has used it already, and I can’t sit here for hours and be miserable; just go get it over with.

I get up, pull down my pants, try to hover, and then feel dizzy, like I’m going to fall forward. My insides rumble. I know what’s next, so I just sit down. If I catch anything, I catch it. Then, the diarrhea hits. Then, I realize the cramping isn’t just my intestines—I’ve gotten my period, and I have nothing for it. The degradation is complete. I didn’t think this night could get any worse, but I was wrong.

At least there’s toilet paper that hadn’t been used for a pillow.