CW: Today’s story is a work of fiction which deals with intimate partner violence and its aftermath. It is also suggested that one character may be a sex worker. Please skip this piece if you need to. If you’re comfortable sharing it, pass it along.
If you or someone you know has questions about, or is in need of support for, intimate partner violence:
In the US you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance by phone, text or or chat.
Outside the US, you’ll find links to support services and organizations in many other countries here. Please stay safe.
“Are you his new girlfriend?”
“Looking good, if you could just turn this way?”
“Are you a hired girlfriend?”
“Over here! Nice big smile”
“How do you feel standing next to a proven domestic abuser?”
“Over here! Over here!”
I kept a smile on my face, turning my head and not blinking, so I looked good from every angle. I tried to focus on the fact that I was wearing Versace. I was at the award show of the year, just ahead of us on the red carpet was the actress who’d already won an Emmy and a Golden Globe and was expected to get the triple crown tonight. Just behind us was a singer who’d performed at all the award shows this year. I tried to focus on my boyfriend, this was a big night for him, his first night back at any televised event since the incident. An incident that the photographers just had to remind both of us of as soon as we got on the carpet. He’s still got my arm locked in a grip that’s not so tight that it hurts, but tight enough for me to feel each of his
fingers pressing into my arm.
As we walked down the carpet, people got quiet. I made sure my face stayed neutral, my boyfriend’s agent told me to act like I was deaf. My boyfriend’s agent also told us to expect a cold welcome. I’d expected rolled eyes, fake smiles, and mandatory conversation, not looks of disgust and complete silence. We made it down the carpet, his hand still on my arm and when we walked inside the theater, he moved his hand and squeezed my hand. I looked into his eyes, and I felt such a powerful surge of love in my blood for him. I could do this; this was the first step of many until he got back to where he was.
The theater was opulent, rows of red velvet chairs on top of each other. A crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling was so big that if it fell to the floor, the whole middle of the audience would die on impact. He led me to our seats, which were on the balcony, in the back corner. If anyone looked up, they wouldn’t see us, only a stone marble column. The other people sitting there weren’t stars. They were the costume crew of a film that wouldn’t win the award for best costume design. I tried not to be annoyed. If the incident hadn’t become public, we could probably be sitting down there under the chandelier. We had a perfect view from the balcony, but
it wasn’t the same as being down there. I envied the stars that could be killed by the chandelier. I knew why we had to sit here. His agent explained: “He’s not exactly in everyone’s good graces right now, so we can’t shove him down the world’s throat. The red carpet will be a good judge of how the public feels about them. Then we go from there.”
But what more did the public want from him? He’d apologized more than once, gotten arrested, lost every movie role, commercial, brand ambassadorship and connection he had. He’d lost money paying for his legal fees and the hospital bills for his ex. I don’t get what’s taking people so long to forgive him. It’s not like he’d be the first abuser to be forgiven in this industry, I don’t have to name names, but everyone knows who I’m talking about. What about the abusers people don’t know about? How many of the men in this room were abusers?
The theater filled up and I watched the stars greet each other. Handshakes, kisses on the cheeks and different tones of “How are you” filled the room. I saw so many of my boyfriend’s co-stars sitting in the main area of the theater. Did they even know he was here? Would any of them sneak up here to say hi to him? After the incident happened, they all shunned him. Some of the women he’s worked with jumped on the bandwagon and said that he’d been aggressive, or he’d shown signs of rage while doing scenes. I thought that was hilarious, since I knew that he
slept with some of them. His male costars stayed quiet, probably because their closets had some skeletons waiting to be discovered, so they let him take the heat.
He squeezed my hand again and I looked at him. He was beautiful, I always thought he was. Because he was beautiful, he was unattainable. How can you control a beautiful famous man that has girls throwing themselves at him every time he went for a walk in his neighborhood? Not so much after the incident.
The host, some comedian, walked on stage to a polite sprinkling of applause. Only a
sprinkling because this comedian became prominent by telling stories about most of the people in the room and doing a poor job of hiding who he was talking about. His monologue started, the crowd got quiet, and my boyfriend moved his hand to my knee in a gentle squeeze. So far so good, the comedian was going over who got divorced, who’d fathered a secret child, who was a diva on set and who’d gotten drunk and attacked paparazzi. I sank into my seat in relief when the first presenters came out. No mention of the incident. His agent had assured both of us that it wouldn’t happen, but it was nice to see that it wasn’t a lie.
It’s so funny how an article about something that happened becomes fact. Articles can omit key facts, lack crucial context or be written by a journalist who’s catering more to a following than to reporting the facts. When it became clear that the night would stay tame, I excused myself and went to the bathroom. Even the bathroom was opulent. Teal-green stalls, updated sinks that only turn on when your hands are under the faucet, steamed towels and spotless mirrors. I stood in front of one. I looked perfect, but there was a raging war going on inside my head.
One of the stalls opened behind me and the actress expected to win the triple crown
walked out. She walked up to the stall right next to me. I wanted to say something, make an impression, have one memorable story to tell from this night. But she beat me to it. She wore Chanel. Even though I was in Versace I felt frumpy next to her.
“Are you okay?” She asked this while lathering soap onto her hands, she didn’t even look at me.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” It sounded harsher than I meant it too, but why couldn’t she look at me.
“I’ll always be concerned about a woman who shows up as the date of someone who
broke a woman’s jaw and hit her so hard her eye wouldn’t open for a month.” She rinsed her hands and now looked at me, she’d taken an issue with my tone.
“Thanks for the concern, but that won’t happen to me. I know how to keep him happy.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it. People don’t change unless they want to, and I know you’ve
supported him but since this industry and country have a habit of forgetting, when he comes back, are you sure you’re going to be the woman next to him?”
She grabbed a freshly steamed towel and dried her hands.
“I’m not one to judge, but you’re a very pretty girl. Don’t stay with someone based on
what they promised you. If you see red flags leave.”
She left and I stared at myself in the mirror. I was embarrassed and angry. I walked back to my seat slowly, in no rush to go back to the corner. What did she know? It wasn’t easy dating him when the incident was fresh. After a message on Instagram, I had to meet him at his house in the middle of the night dressed in all black with a hoodie on, in case there was a paparazzi hanging around his house. That first meeting was awkward, imagine trying to talk to a celebrity who beat up a woman. But the night passed, and I left his house just as the sun was rising, more relaxed than I had been when I walked in there. From then on it was the anger management classes, learning what not to talk about unless I wanted to end up like his ex. It was losing my friends who couldn’t understand why I was with an abuser. They said that there were other ways to gain fame, and being with him wasn’t the best. I brushed it off. Look at where I was. It was better than competing with the other girls that flocked around the celebrities that sat in the middle of the theater.
I made my way back to the balcony, more grateful. My boyfriend was still in a good
mood. This time I grabbed his hand, and I squeezed it, he squeezed it back. I felt calm. I knew I was in this for the long haul.
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Gaby Holly is an avid reader and writer from Florida