By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Bobby told his story on KPFT. He recounted the day he decided to leave, after his partner had kicked him down the stairs and chased him in the street. "He was using my head as a basketball down Richmond, slamming my head into the pavement. Then he ran into the street and dared cars to hit him. I ran like hell and never looked back. I saw a cop point a gun to his face that day, and I wished the cop had actually pulled the trigger."
It was after two in the morning when the producer asked Bobby when he had stopped loving his ex. In a heartbeat Bobby answered, "Six months into the relationship, when he broke my nose by kicking my face." But now, sitting with Gary and Russ, he reconsiders. "I was wrong. I never stopped loving him. I stopped being in love with him."
Lisa always made a big show of being kind to Nichole. For a while, after the first few pets vanished, Lisa would sob over how much she had loved them, then she would bring home a new puppy or kitten and expect Nichole to be grateful. She even attended counseling for her grief over the loss of the animals. Nichole accompanied her, waiting in the anteroom. During one session, while Lisa was in the restroom, the therapist pulled Nichole aside and handed her a number. I know something is very wrong here, she told Nichole, I think this person can help you.
The number belonged to another therapist, the first person in Nichole's life -- and straight at that -- who told her that she didn't deserve to be abused, that it was not her fault, that she must leave or someone would die. Nichole saw an example in her therapist, a strong, educated woman who fulfilled her own needs and pursued her own goals.
Taking advantage of Lisa's many invitations to "get out of the house," Nichole did. Saving her earnings from a new traveling photography job with Wal-Mart, she signed an apartment lease. When Nichole announced her departure, Lisa was speechless. "That day I realized she was not as powerful as she made herself out to be," Nichole recalls. "She had absolutely no reaction.It was a side of her I had never seen before. That night when I left, I could hear her screaming from the street, 'Don't go, don't go!' That is the most puzzling thing to me, that you can beat someone like an animal, yet be so hysterical when they leave."
In no time, Lisa began stalking Nichole. Once, Nichole was laughing on the phone when Lisa smashed through the door, ripping it off the hinges and snapping the chain lock. Before Nichole could see who it was, Lisa knocked her to the floor, choking her, howling, "What do you think you're doing? How dare you be on the phone laughing, laughing at me." "She took it as a personal insult that I was living a life that she didn't give me permission to live." Lisa left Nichole with a black eye, bloody nose and bleeding head, and with Nichole's keys and her black lab. Nichole waited for an hour and a half before two officers arrived, asking snidely, "You had a little argument, a little spat with your friend?" There was nothing they could do, really, they said. "It almost makes you embarrassed because you inconvenienced them," Nichole says. "If you've been oppressed for so many years, and call the people who are supposed to help and they don't, it forces you to stay in the same situation."
Nichole stayed in Indianapolis for another two years because it never occurred to her to move away. Her family was a close-knit group that didn't stray from Indiana. Even in 1995, after Nichole had found the job in Houston and packed her life into a U-Haul, she thought that she would return home. The longer she stayed in Houston, though, the more she realized she couldn't go back. "It was like someone had given me CPR. I decided it was a healthy place for me."
Nichole attended a support group for female victims of abuse, most of whom were straight, and talked about her father. She was deeply depressed and started seeing a therapist. "The most difficult part of healing is admitting the role my family played in it," she says quietly. She joined a church, and at Bible study class one day, a woman walked in who stunned her. Nichole spent a year pining after Frances before she found the courage to ask her out. Eventually Nichole moved in.
Nichole and Frances bought a town home together, sharing four cats, and since March, three foster children. She and her mother began speaking again. Two years ago Nichole visited her mom during Thanksgiving, and Lisa called the house, inviting Nichole for dinner, saying how much her son wanted to see Nichole, who had been his mother figure. She refused.
After that, the eerie mail addressed to Lisa began to arrive, disguised as innocuous publishing house sweepstakes and specialty catalogs. Nichole's mother also received mail marked with Lisa's name. When Nichole received her credit report in May, Lisa's name was on it, though she had never jointly purchased anything with her. She called the credit agency and the postal service, but no one could offer an explanation.