I am standing in my garage, both hands gripping a hammer. My old cell phone sits on a bench in front of me. I HATE this phone. This specific device induces rage and fear at the same time.
Today, I get to destroy it.
I’ve had this phone for what seems like forever, and for the past five years it’s been a weight — an albatross hung around my neck — that I’ve carried with me everywhere. I haven’t replaced it because I no longer have the money, and the guilt of frivolous spending — along with the fear of passing on its evil if I were to give it to someone else — has kept me its prisoner. Now, however, it has finally died and won’t even turn on. I’m free to release all my frustration, disappointment, and anger onto it. That’s what the hammer is for.
I’ve fantasized about this moment many times but, as I raise the hammer, I feel unexpectedly hesitant. The phone looks small and benign as it lies there on the workbench; innocent and helpful. But it is not helpful, and it is certainly not innocent. My grip tightens as some very dark memories run through my mind:
It is the weekend and I am at home with my family. Of all places I should feel safe here, but I don’t because I never let my phone out of my sight. It is the conduit through which my abuser keeps me terrified and under his control. I am constantly on edge, incessantly checking the screen for that little red circle that tells me a new message has arrived. Each time it isn’t there I feel a tiny sense of relief, but I know that every reprieve is only temporary. A new message always appears. “Hammer wants to meet you,” my abuser writes this time. “Tomorrow.” “You should feel honoured.” “Wear your tightest jeans.” Fear grips my chest as I stare at my phone. Hammer is the local leader of the Hell’s Angels and my abuser describes him as his boss. I am terrified by the thought of meeting Hammer, but I know I can’t refuse. There will be consequences if I tell my phone no.
I’ve barely arrived home from work when my phone displays a new message. “Wanna see a dirty pic?” my abuser asks. No I don’t!! I want to scream, remembering disturbing pictures he’s sent to me before. But it won’t matter what I say. The picture will appear on my phone anyway. Before long a close-up of a woman’s contorted face shows up on the screen, her mouth wide open and surrounded by erect cocks. My stomach turns as I fumble to erase the image from my phone. I’m so afraid that my abuser will force me to have sex with his “associates” that I text him to say how scared I am. My phone gives no response. Its blank screen leaves me even more afraid of what is coming next.
An unexpected winter storm has arrived, and most sensible people are hunkered down at home. I am driving downtown because my abuser has sent me a text demanding that I pick him up. It is dark, hard to see through the snow, and the roads are treacherous. All I want is to go home. For once I make the decision to stand up for myself and I grab my phone. I text my abuser to say that I won’t be able to make it, then wait for the response. It is quick, decisive, and angry. “I’m out here waiting,” is the message that appears on the screen. “You had better show up.” I immediately regret my text. I drop my phone down beside me and drive as fast as I can, my heart pounding. My abuser steps into the car and pulls out a knife — a gift from Hammer, he tells me — and rapes me in my car. My phone displays a message from my husband, asking if I am safe in the storm.
My abuser has been in jail for a year and half and it’s been even longer since he’s been able to send me a message through my phone. Yet I still get that same rush of fear every time I look at the screen. That little red circle has a new master now, one that causes me nearly as much fear: lawyers. There have been a lot of messages from lawyers over the past two years, ever since I finally tried to escape from my abuser, initiating his efforts to destroy me. The lawyers seem to be helping him. I’ve been placed under investigation by my professional regulator and suspended from my job. Today my phone displays their official pronouncement that I sexually abused my rapist; a statement that will be posted publicly for a full year before I am permitted any opportunity to defend myself. As I stare at the phone’s screen, I feel sick.
These are my memories as I stand over this instrument of control, fear, coercion, abuse, and shame. All my anger, disappointment, and rage channel into my first swing as I smash the hammer down hard. Tiny fragments of the screen fly everywhere. Terror and rage build inside me as I strike the phone over and over again.
This is for the incessant texts; first thing in the morning, late at night, and every time in between.
This is for the dread of always waiting for that next message, never knowing what was coming next.
This is for all the demands, threats, and coercion — and for my sickening capitulation and submission.
This is for the constant, terrorizing control over my life, even after I finally tried to escape from him.
And this is for the years of countless messages from lawyers as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario helped my abuser end my career and nearly my life.
In one last burst of rage I strike the screen for the final time. The phone is bent, crushed, and completely destroyed. I let the hammer fall to my side and then I sob; deep, gasping sobs until it becomes difficult to breathe. There is no more anger left; only pain, sorrow, and at the bottom of it all, relief.
That phone was used to abuse and control me for nearly 5 years.
But now, it is shattered.