Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Three: No Contact)

Non-Fiction | published in Real Change on May. 23rd, 2012

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Finding a way back in

Brandy questioned if getting back with Richard was the right move.

When she thought about him, she experienced a tug of war of emotions. Pulling on one end were memories of how nice he could be, his claims he’d protect her. He’d worked to pay for a motel so she didn’t have to spend her pregnancy in a tent. Plus, she loved him. And when you love someone, you stick by his side, don’t you?

But then the other end of the rope pulled. Attached to it were memories of the put downs, the insults. The stalking, the black eye, the fractured foot. The way she spent her pregnancy in tears, swearing she’d leave. “When I think about the stuff that’s happened,” Brandy says. “I kinda think to myself, ‘Why was I there?’”

She had one answer: Ian. She thought a son should know his father. Brandy reminded herself that even if Richard did horrible things, he wasn’t a horrible person. So after speaking to Richard in work release, after hearing his apologies and his promises that he’d change, she felt the rope tug. Yes, she’d try again.

But before Richard finished his stint in work release on November 9, Brandy had already moved from the safe house into a two-bedroom duplex in Renton. She’d found the place through Way Back Inn, a transitional housing program that assisted homeless families. Before Brandy gave Richard the address, she laid down a ground rule: no drinking. Then she counted the days before his arrival.

Richard was still mad he’d been arrested for assaulting Brandy, so when he arrived at the door, he didn’t know whether to hug her or yell at her. He settled for a hug.

The pair made small talk, and Brandy was surprised: Richard was so nice, caring. It brought back old times. Richard went to see Ian, rousing his son so he could hold him for the first time. Startled, Ian crumpled his six-week-old face into a grimace and bawled. Richard wept, too. Father and son, together, in tears.

Brandy sensed what a good dad Richard might become. Even though she couldn’t shake an uncomfortable feeling, an intuition that raised a small red flag, she told Richard he could stay. “I just really wanted to make it work,” Brandy says.

Besides, Thanksgiving wasn’t far off, and, with the family together, maybe they’d feel thankful. Things worked out for the first couple of weeks, but the holiday was a bust: Richard ate the turkey Brandy roasted, then drank, a violation of the no-drinking condition, until he passed out. The situation worsened two days later, November 28. Black Saturday.

Richard started the day with a few caffeinated malt beverages. During the late afternoon, he purchased more. He tilted back can after can. Tired and a little drunk, Richard stumbled to bed.

For nine months, Brandy had been sober. Beer and meth lay in the past. But with Richard drinking in the duplex, she couldn’t resist the urge. She downed a malt beverage, too. Wide awake, a little intoxicated and in the mood to hear music, Brandy searched for a station. She cranked up the volume.

The noise woke up Richard. Shut the fuck up, he screamed.

Brandy walked into the bedroom. You shut up, she told him, then she returned to Ian in the living room.

Richard stomped over to her. Brandy punched him. He slapped her. Brandy, with Ian in her arms, glared at Richard. Why’d you do that? she asked.

You shouldn’t have punched me, he said.

Get out, she said.

Brandy, still holding Ian, stood near the door. In a flash of anger, Richard pushed her. Brandy almost fell, but caught herself and Ian. Richard stormed out.

That’s when Brandy got scared. She could defend herself, but Ian? True, Richard had never harmed his son since he’d moved in, but Brandy felt compelled to protect the child — and herself. So she called the police.

A female officer from the Renton Police Department showed up minutes later. She questioned Brandy, who, crying, tried to explain the fight. Then her phone rang. It was Richard.

Don’t you fucking tell the cops anything, he yelled. The officer, seated in a chair near Brandy, heard every word. While he screamed, Brandy’s body shook. She hung up.

When the officer asked if Brandy would sign a written statement, Brandy was too scared. If I cooperate with you, she said, Richard might get more violent.

The police dispatched a K9 squad to search for Richard. No luck. Concerned about Brandy’s safety, the officer contacted a Way Back Inn employee, who moved Brandy and Ian into a motel. As she prepared to settle in for the night, her phone rang again: Richard.

I’m sorry, he said. I won’t do it again. Promise. I just want to be with you and Ian.

I don’t want be with you, Brandy said.

Which was true. For the moment. But Richard insisted, sweetly, they should be together. When Brandy considered how he had moved out to Renton, where he didn’t know anyone, to start a family, she felt responsible. His words raised doubts she could care for Ian alone. With Richard around, wouldn’t it be easier? “And I thought if I loved him enough,” she recalls, “he’d change.”

Richard swore he would. Honestly. She told him the motel’s address. A little while later, he knocked. Brandy let him in. And hours after the assault, they were together again.

Days later, Brandy returned to the duplex. Aiming to protect her from Richard, program staff secured another space, further south, in Tukwila. No one at Way Back Inn ever knew Richard followed her to the new apartment. He moved in.

But the crying. Ian wouldn’t quit crying. Richard knew that’s what babies did, but still. “If you’re not used to it,” Richard says, “there’s no getting used to it.” Add to that another fight — again Brandy holding Ian, again Richard pushing her, again Brandy falling, again Ian safe — and Richard decided he had to get away. He’d go to Boise, where they first met. Brandy welcomed the breathing space. So they bought him a bus ticket, and the pair said goodbye.

Richard figured it was their last goodbye, because he had no intention of returning to Seattle. Sure, he cared for his family, but the crying, the nagging, the fighting — good riddance. He swore he’d never come back.

But never, it doesn’t always last forever. Sometimes, it lasts only a few weeks. So Richard, after barely a month in Idaho, made another decision: He’d try it one last time with Brandy.

One coincidence after another

With Richard gone most of January 2010, Brandy enjoyed the quiet. Ian had turned three months old. A new year, a new start — broken by an old pattern: Richard returned.

Strapped for cash, he went back to TLC. He landed a job at a construction site in south Seattle, a partially built residential complex containing 351 luxury apartments called the Station at Othello Park. Richard rode the bus, and Brandy often met him in the late afternoon at the TLC office. Sometimes they went out for Mexican and had a beer. Then they bused home, mother, father and child. A family.

But the transitional housing at Way Back Inn only lasted three months, so the search for a place to live began anew. As February approached, Brandy heard from Hope Place, a shelter run by the Union Gospel Mission that served roughly 80 female-run households. The shelter took boys up to 18, but no adult males. That would force Brandy and Richard to separate.

Or maybe not, because Hope Place stood in all its five-story glory on a recently developed tract of land on South Othello Street. Walk three blocks due east, and you’d be standing in front of a squat, gray apartment building. Directly across the street was the Station at Othello Park, Richard’s new workplace.

The day Brandy and Ian moved into Hope Place, Richard, by then 37, had nowhere to live. He worked his shift, met Brandy afterward, then walked to a church near the construction site to camp out for the evening. He curled up in a sleeping bag, but it offered little protection from the rain. Drenched, he barely slept at all.

When Francisco Mitchell, Richard’s work buddy, showed up the next day, he noticed Richard looked a little rough around the edges. He asked why.

I’m homeless, Richard said.

Francisco could relate. Not long after meeting Richard the year before, Francisco had spent nights in a shelter. If a friend hadn’t rented him a room in an apartment in Everett, 30 miles north of Seattle, who knew where he’d be now.

You can come stay with me, Francisco said.

Cool, Richard said.

And like that, a skinhead and a biracial man became roommates.

One day, two police officers showed up at Hope Place to talk to Brandy. Richard had missed a court date for a domestic violence review. Had she seen Richard James Duncan? No, she said. Did she know where he was? No.

On one level, her answers were lies, but on another, they were part of a strategy. If she told police Richard worked three blocks away, he’d become angry, and he’d be arrested. When he got of jail, he’d be even more angry. Lying was her way to stay safe.

Brandy and Ian ate lunch with Richard almost every workday. On weekends, she and Ian would venture to Everett to hang out. Because of the no-contact order, they kept their meetings quiet. Because Richard had missed the court date, the court had issued a $25,000 warrant for his arrest. Richard knew the police would catch him, one day.

During the week, Richard and Francisco followed a routine. “We just drank a couple beers after work,” remembers Francisco, “because we had to get up early in the morning.” Taking buses to and from Everett, they endured long commutes, sometimes two hours each way. “It sucked,” says Richard.

But not for long. Francisco’s original roommate got a new job that required he move and give up the Everett apartment. Francisco and Richard needed to find somewhere new. With the long commute, Francisco wanted to live closer to work, so he asked his boss for ideas. His boss talked to someone who owned an apartment building in Seattle. Yes, there was a two-bedroom opening up close to work. Actually, it was in the gray building right across the street from the Station at Othello Park.

Francisco jumped at it. So did Richard, who’d be his roomie. But Richard had a long felony record from Nevada, so the landlord wouldn’t put Richard’s name on the lease. They needed someone else: Brandy.

Richard pitched the idea. We’ll all be together, he said, and you can leave Hope Place. “It sounded good, in theory,” Brandy recalls. But live together again? Doubts consumed her. Richard convinced her the violence would be over. She signed her name. On March 1, 2010, Brandy, Richard, Ian and Francisco moved into 4222 S. Othello St., into Apartment 21.

Within two months, their attempt at a happy home life would come to an end.

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