On a night in February, a 24-year-old illegal immigrant from the south of Italy whom I will call Gelsomina was rushing to take orders and serve food in a Midtown Italian restaurant. One of the dinner waitresses was out sick and the restaurant was filled to capacity with bawdy drinking men, wolfing down meals to make it to Madison Square Garden in time for the opening face-off of the Rangers game.
Gelsomina was new at this kind of work and was straining to keep food and drink orders straight in her head. Throughout the noisy room men were beckoning to her, or calling out, “Miss” “Waitress” “Honey.” The kitchen bell was ringing almost without pause: Food is ready! hurry up! Gelsomina was falling behind and worried her boss would notice. Losing this job would be a disaster. She had virtually no money and no visa to be in this country.
“Where’s my food, Gorgeous?” called a white-haired 70 year old seated at a table with three men somewhat younger. “Come on over here,” he said, and when she was alongside she felt his gnarled hand settle on her hip. “Isn’t she a tasty thing,” he said grinning to his friends like he owned her or could if he made an effort.
“You don’t compliment too much the way I look,” she stammered while rushing back to the kitchen. All four men at the table laughed.
Twenty minutes later she was back at the same table with a tray bearing coffee and dessert. By then it was nearly game time and everyone in the place was calling for the check. Gelsomina served the four men as quickly as she could and was about to rush to another table, when the same man asked something she couldn’t make out. When she moved a little closer he grabbed her neck with two hands, pulled her against his mouth and pushed his tongue into her ear. He held her this way for an unbearable long moment. Then he let her go and calmly asked for the check.
Gelsomina ran into the kitchen gagging on her tears. “What happened?” asked another waitress who took hold of the distraught girl and tried to calm her. “Did this really take place, for real?” she managed, “after everything that happened to me?”
Three days later, on a snowy afternoon, I was having lunch with a friend in the same restaurant. By the time we finished our meal, we were the only patrons left in the place. We struck up a conversation with our pretty Italian waitress who mentioned that in college she had been a student of comparative literature. We talked with Gelsomina about books and a little about the way of life in Bari, a small city in the heel of Italy, where she grew up. But she seemed preoccupied and soon grew impatient with our chitchat.
When I asked how it happened that she was working in this restaurant, she paused for a moment or two. Then she launched into a darkening history with such urgency and openness it was unsettling, as if this young woman had been dropped into the world without restraint or protective skin. During this talk, and several others later on, her unfiltered honesty and lack of artifice was so jarring that it made me feel uneasy about my own defenses and hidden agendas. I wondered if she had had this effect on others and how this quality might have informed her history—if somehow she provoked the devil with her beguiling innocence and sparkling black eyes. As I got to know her better I worried what horror would befall her in the next days before we met again.
Gelsomina had harbored two dreams for as long as she could remember. Like many poor Italian girls she’d fantasized about immigrating to the United States, falling in love, and making a beautiful life perhaps as a celebrity writer or actress. Making it in New York City was the biggest success story a poor Italian girl could imagine.
The more realistic Plan B was someday to own her own business or shop in her city of Bari, just across a short stretch of the Mediterranean from Greece. As a 23-year-old, eight months before I met her, this dream had also seemed unlikely. Studying the works of Pirandello and Italo Calvino had not prepared Gelsomina for making money. Also, business was not one of her talents. Since childhood she thought of herself as an outsider who loved reading and painting and keeping her own company. She was moody and insular, a loner who sometimes felt burdened by disturbing intuitions.
Then, one evening at dinner, her hard-working father placed a miracle in her hands. For the last 20 years, unbeknownst to anyone in the family, he had been saving a little bit each week from his small salary as a house painter. He gave his daughter this money—his entire life’s savings, which was enough to make the down payment on a small building in the city, just barely enough for Gelsomina and her mom to open their shop.
Within a month the business was open and Gelsomina was working long days with her mother selling jewelry, some scarves and craft items, including bottles on which Gelsomina painted charming figures and landscapes. Days in the gaily-decorated shop were a celebration. Friends came in to buy things and told everyone about the new store. People in the neighborhood wanted the best for this family business born from a girl’s dream. Soon they were making enough to pay the monthly mortgage on the building with a little extra beside. There was reason to believe the shop would give Gelsomina a life and someday make enough to support her parents in their retirement.
Gelsomina was blessed with a loyal affectionate family, a few close friends, and a handsome young man who was her confidant and best friend in the world, “Until the day he said he said to me, ‘I really love you, Gelsomina. I have to tell you this. I have deep feelings for you. I can’t ignore anymore how I feel. I want to make a life together.’”
She hadn’t thought of Tony this way, but she was bowled over by his ardor and decided in time the affection she felt would grow into something much larger. Gelsomina’s life was beginning to take shape.
One morning a good-looking young man came into the store, admired it, and said to Gelsomina that to be safe from robberies and vandalism her shop needed protection. Protection was his business, he continued thoughtfully, and she could count on him to look after this cherished family business. For 500 Euros each month, she would be able to concentrate on her work without fearing calamity. He made the arrangement sound conventional enough and not unattractive like a luxury car if you could manage to afford it.
She explained to him her shop was barely breaking even. She wouldn’t be able to put food in her mouth or pay the mortgage if she gave him this sum of money or any money. She wouldn’t be able to help her parents. The man seemed kindly enough and he never pressed her. Perhaps he was enchanted by the music in her voice or her dark fiery eyes.
Four weeks later, he came again and asked for the money. “Why would I pay 500 Euros a month that I don’t have for protection I don’t need?” she answered with exuberance and naïveté that surprised and perhaps even beguiled this young man who was not accustomed to dealing with women business owners—certainly not one as beautiful as Gelsomina. “It’s absurd,” she continued gathering steam. “It’s 2014, no longer time of the mafia.” Again, the young man never argued. She recalled his sad expression when he left her.
When Gelsomina locked up the shop that night she felt pleased with herself. She was growing up and learning to take care of herself.
The following week, her store was burned to the ground. Everything was lost. The police refused to lift a finger. Gelsomina’s family was ruined.
“For the first six years of my life I lived in a tiny two-room apartment with my parents and my grandparents,” she said to me. “My grandfather was very depressed. He rarely spoke and had to be coaxed to eat. My mom and dad were always worrying about him. One afternoon we came in from outside laughing and talking. I had cherries in my hand from a vendor on the street. Mom always locked the door behind her, so grandpa wouldn’t wander off and become lost. Then we all heard a terrible crash outside. Everyone stood frozen in place but I ran to the window and looked down. Grandpa had jumped from the third-floor window. He was lying on the asphalt in a twisted position. He was dead. The crushed cherries were still in my hand.”
“I didn’t talk for three months after this. I was lost in thoughts. People spoke to me but I didn’t answer. It felt like a nuisance or burden. Then I began speaking again. But from that moment I knew I was different than other children. All I wanted to do was read and study by myself. I didn’t feel like I belonged to this world. People started calling me weird. I was the weirdo of the school.
“When I was 12 years old other girls were wearing makeup and were into boys and fashion. A few were losing their virginity. I wanted to study and play with my dolls. I was still wearing underwear with penguins.
“I had a few friends from church. We played in the afternoons on a dirt playground. One of my friends was a boy who wasn’t normal. He was retarded. His mind was retarded but his body was feeling things. One day he tricked me. I was a kid. I’d never even had a period. I didn’t realize what he was doing to me, not even when he’d finished. I went home feeling pain. I couldn’t even close my legs.
“Then for years and years I was feeling such shame because of this stupid mentality that it’s a sin to lose your virginity. I would go to church and feel dirty. I never told anybody. I couldn’t even tell myself what happened.”
“Did you tell your boyfriend, Tony?” I asked. “I never told him. He believed I was a virgin. In my mind I was a virgin. I tried with all my strength to pretend it never happened.
“One night Tony took a beautiful room for us in the hotel. This was the night. But I couldn’t do it. My body wouldn’t let me. He was angry and kept asking again and again, “What’s wrong. Why not? Why not? You’re 23 years old. What’s wrong?” I didn’t know why not. I just couldn’t.
“Tony told me not to worry. He’d wait until I was ready. But he didn’t wait very long. A couple of weeks after the store was burned he stopped calling on the phone and I found out he was screwing another girl. After the store, it didn’t seem to matter very much.”
Gelsomina tells her story to me like a player on stage. She feels so much and emotes without a trace of embarrassment. Her voice is filled with music and delight and seconds later she may be weeping piteously.
The pain of recent events has not dulled her actor’s sense for the drama of predicaments, even little impediments in her day. For example, one day she was hot under the collar at some girl she knew who had given her the cold shoulder in the subway; but she was even more annoyed with herself for feeling so upset. She declared that she needed to stop “feeling people so deeply” because it was causing her stress.
She refers to her intuition like a much relied upon friend who helps her navigate life. She trusts him far more than logic and empirical knowledge. He whispers to her, makes her hypersensitive to nuances and layers of an experience. Indeed, Gelsomina can see deeply, incredibly deeply. On some days when she looks at me I feel self-conscious, as though she can see everything I’m thinking. But there are times when her friend is silent or being a troublemaker. On such occasions she goes blind. She doesn’t trust her reason and the world becomes a minefield. Sometimes he abandons her for long stretches of time.
Again and again Gelsomina tried in her head to rewrite the narrative of the young man who had come to the shop for protection money. If only she had blinked her eyes at him and paid something each month. But she hadn’t. Now, there was no shop and no money to pay the mortgage. Her dad barely made enough to put food on the table. If only…
She looked for work everywhere she could think. After four or five weeks she heard about a position in a small resort that included room and board and a small salary. She was soon laboring 14 hours a day checking in guests, helping in the office, putting out beach umbrellas each morning, and whatever else. The work was exhausting, but she was supporting herself and sending a little money home to her parents.
After a month at this job, her boss came to her and said the manager of the entire chain of hotels, of which this resort was a part, was arriving from New York with his wife and son. If she agreed, Gelsomina could be their helper and guide for their month vacation. If she did a good job, he would give her a nice raise. She quickly said yes.
It turned out that Gelsomina and the three Americans were well suited. They were together nearly every waking hour, laughing and talking while eating meals, playing in the sea, touring coastal cities. By the time the vacation was ending, Gelsomina and the 22-year-old American named Paul, were more than a little drawn to one another.
“I really liked him but I didn’t want to let myself go. I didn’t want to have my heart broken.”
When the Americans returned home, Gelsomina expected never to hear from them again—she was prepared for this—but Paul started making nightly calls to her on Skype: “I can’t stop thinking about you, Gelsomina. I realized I fell in love with you. You are so beautiful. Really. I can’t get you out of my head.”
“He couldn’t stop saying how beautiful I was. I never thought of myself as beautiful. In my mind I was a strange looking girl with big ears. I had this idea since I was a child. ‘I want you to come to New York and spend time with my family. We’ll send you a ticket. Really, you must come to New York.’
“I felt like Cinderella. This was my dream since I was a young girl, traveling to New York and falling in love with a handsome man. Paul was so good looking with green eyes and a strong body from the gym. And he says all the time he loves me. When the ticket came in the mail, I was shocked. This is my ticket. I’m holding it in my hand. I’m really going to New York City. New York was the city of my dreams.
“But other times I was crazy with doubts. What a leap I was taking. Would I have done such a thing if the shop hadn’t burned? To give up my job at the hotel and stop sending money to my parents, flying to New York with virtually no money, to live with a boy I hardly knew.
“When I stepped off the plane, I raced into Paul’s arms like a scene in a romantic movie. He kissed me for 10 minutes. Paul’s dad took photographs we would be able to cherish our entire lives.
“On the second night, I slept with him for the first time. I was so scared. I didn’t know how to do it. Should I help him with my hand? Maybe not. He was my first man. I didn’t know what to do. Oh my god, he’s in college. He’s had so many women. I don’t care. I’m going to let myself go and enjoy this moment. I felt so in love. It was the most beautiful moment in my life.”
The following morning, Paul was a different person. At breakfast he hardly spoke a word. Soon after, he rushed from the house to visit friends and go to a ball game. Gelsomina spent the day alone, trying to read, worrying. When Paul finally returned late that evening he avoided her. After two days he finally said. “I made a mistake. I’m sorry.” Nothing more. That was it.
“What’s wrong with me?” she asked herself. “Is there something disgusting with my body? Am I too fat? Are my legs too big? Do I smell?
“Here I was, finally in New York, living in a house with a boy who did not want me and his embarrassed parents. I had no money. I spoke little English.
“When we sat at the dinner table Paul turned his back to me. His poor parents didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t even a jilted woman. I was shrunken to nothing.”
Paul’s father, Steven, offered to buy Gelsomina a ticket back to Italy. But she felt too embarrassed to return home when she had just barely arrived. After a miserable week, Steven said he had friends who needed a nanny. Gelsomina had no working papers but the family was willing to pay her cash and give her a room to stay. She accepted the position with the intention of returning to Italy at the end of her 90-day tourist visa.
After two weeks on the job, Gelsomina happened to be strolling with the baby in a park and stopped to rest on a bench. Seated nearby was a well-dressed man reading The Wall Street Journal. They exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes, and when she stood up to leave, he asked for her number. Two days later Nolan called and asked her out for dinner.
Why not? He seemed like a gentleman. She had no friends here except for Paul’s parents, who had grown embarrassed to have her around. Nolan took her to a beautiful Manhattan restaurant, which cost more than she earned in a week. He asked what dreams she had for her life and she became emotional describing the loss of her business and the disaster with Paul. He listened intently and finally said, “What a young fool.” During this first date he never tried to touch her.
They started going out several nights a week. He paid for everything: cars, Broadway shows, fancy restaurants. He worked for JP Morgan. She guessed he made a lot of money. She felt protected with Nolan, who was four or five years older. He seemed to take pleasure watching her respond to things she’d never seen before.
After dating for a month he invited her to move into his house in Queens. “I’m falling for you, Gelsomina. You’re an amazing woman. I’m the luckiest man in the world to have met you.”
“This was moving so fast. Each time I saw him he brought flowers or some little gift. He was the only one who cared about me. I was grateful to him but I missed my parents so much. I told him my visa was up in a month and that I would need to go home. We could talk on Skype and maybe in six months I could come back again with a student visa. Maybe we could try then.
“‘You’ve gotten under my skin, Gelsomina. I’m going to miss you too much. I can’t wait six months. Meanwhile you’ll meet other people. That’s how life works.’ He made my brain spin with his passion.
“But I can’t stay here. My visa will expire in less than a month.”
“‘Don’t worry about the visa. Let’s give this a try. After four weeks, you can go back if you like or we’ll get married and there will be no worries about a visa.’”
“Married! I was shocked by this crazy offer. I hardly knew him. I’d been tumbling down a mountain and this good-hearted man was reaching out to catch me.”
Actually it was a two-family house and the new couple lived in a roomy sunny upstairs apartment. Nolan went to work and came home in the evening, once or twice a week returning quite late when he had business meetings. The month came and passed. There was no more talk of Gelsomina going back to Italy. They were living like a married couple.
She spent her days cleaning, food shopping, cooking his dinner, taking walks, waiting for him to come home. She thought about looking for a job in Manhattan but Nolan insisted the city was a dangerous place for a girl. Anyhow, she had no visa and wouldn’t find a good job.
Nolan was a fastidious man. Each morning he wanted his poached eggs and toast set out for him at exactly 6:30 when he emerged from the shower. Everything in the bathroom and kitchen had its proper place, towels not touching one another hung neatly on their racks, salt and pepper shakers set in place on the tiny Lazy Susan on the dining room table. He made a face when he noticed dirty dishes in the sink. Gelsomina had never cared about such things and found his bachelor habits amusing.
If she glanced at another man in the street, Nolan became edgy. This amused her as well and she decided he loved her too much. One time he was looking at her Facebook page and noticed that a boy she knew in Italy referred to a new photograph of her as “adorable.” Nolan smirked and said his remark was “inappropriate.”
She’d never before lived with a man. There were many things to learn. Nolan was insatiable for sex but each time they made love Gelsomina felt pain and couldn’t relax. She pretended to enjoy herself to make him happy.
She decided her problem with sex was because of Paul, who continued to gnaw at her. Why had she disgusted him so? She worried that the same thing might happen with Nolan.
“When I tried to talk with him about it, Nolan made a joke. ‘Maybe Paul didn’t expect you to be a virgin when you were 24 years old.’
“I laughed when he said it, but it stung.”
“My new life was on stall. I was an illegal immigrant and couldn’t even look for a job. I no longer had money to pay for my cellphone so I used his to call my parents each week. I was lonely and bored. When I asked Nolan about getting married, he said, ‘What’s the rush? We can do it in the spring.’ By then I’d learned not to argue. Once I asked how much money he made each week and he became furious. ‘You don’t need to know such things.’ Nolan didn’t like to be questioned. He’d given me a lot and I tried to do things his way. If he stayed out late, I didn’t ask him why or where. If he didn’t leave me enough money to do the week’s food shopping, I tried to manage.”
“One morning I was in bed feeling lazy. I had my period and didn’t feel like getting up to make his breakfast.
“‘When I don’t feel good I get up and go to work,’ he needled. ‘Just because you have your thing isn’t the end of the world. Just get up and make my breakfast.’
“You’re such an asshole sometimes,” I answered pulling the covers over my head.
“Nolan reached into the covers. I thought he was going to tickle me. But no, he grabbed my hair and pulled me onto the floor. I was shocked. When I stood up and started to say something he punched me in the back of the head so hard that I hit the floor and went blank.
“When I came to, he was standing over me enraged. ‘You never talk to your man like that. Understand! Never do it again. Now get up and make my breakfast.’
“That night Nolan brought home roses and he apologized over and over. He began crying in his hands. He said he’d been under tremendous pressure at work. He kissed my face where there was a bruise. ‘I adore you, Gelsomina. We will have a great life. I promise you.’
“It was hard to forgive this. But he wasn’t just my boyfriend and partner. He was my family here. I lived with him and gave so much of myself. I was feeling that I belonged to this man. I met his mother and sister and they were so nice to me.”
During the following weeks, Nolan catered to Gelsomina as in the early days of their courting. He held her hand and whispered endearments. When they went out together his manner was courtly and tender. One evening he brought home a large engagement ring that had been his mother’s. They would get married in the spring. He urged her to use his computer and start planning the wedding and not to worry about the expense. Nolan was so ardent that she could almost forget. Gelsomina had learned over the years to put things out of her mind and to move on.
One night they went out to eat in a Manhattan restaurant on the Hudson. The table setting was beautiful, the food delicious. They were an attractive young couple enjoying a view of the river and sipping fine red wine. Gelsomina happened to glance at a woman across the room wearing a large unusual hat that looked like a fruit bowl. Nolan must have thought she was staring at the man seated beside her.
“He grabbed my face between his two hands and squeezed so hard I couldn’t see. I began to choke on food in my mouth. He wouldn’t let go and pushed my face into the food. Then he started yelling in a loud voice to eat the food he’d paid for. I couldn’t stop crying to chew the food. He grabbed my face again. ‘We aren’t leaving here until you eat every bit on your plate.’
“People looked at us but no one lifted a finger. They just sat there eating. I began to think, ‘Maybe it’s me. Maybe I do something to him like I did to Paul. Maybe I’m twisted and no longer know what’s right.”
“That night in bed, he said to me, ‘We should try not to argue, Gelsomina. It’s not good for us.’ I smiled at him and nodded gratefully.”
Nolan now controlled every facet of Gelsomina’s life. She no longer had a cellphone and could only call her parents on his phone while he was watching. If he didn’t like the direction of the conversation, or the tone of her voice, he cut off the call. He changed the password on his computer so she could no longer sign onto Facebook. He began doing the grocery shopping himself and no longer gave her any money at all. “Why do you need money? I give you everything you need,” he said.
“I was scared of everything. Scared I wouldn’t get up in time and he’d beat me. Scared I’d make his food too salty or he’d notice a little dust on the table. In the middle of the night I would jump out of bed to make sure towels in the bathroom were not touching one another.
“Even then I didn’t think I could live without him. I felt so small and irrelevant. I decided, this is my life, get used to it. Maybe his anger is my fault. Maybe I can improve myself so he won’t be so angry. I would try.
“But if I disagreed about the smallest thing, or if I even looked unhappy, he would grow silent and his eyes would bulge. I was terrified when I saw those eyes. Then after ten minutes he’d bolt at me, begin slapping my face or punching the back of my head. Or he’d kick the backs of my legs. Or if I fell onto the floor he became enraged and screamed at me to get up and kicked my ribs until I did. He never punched me in the face—he didn’t want me disfigured. But the pain in my body was terrible from beatings. I’d plead with him to take me to the hospital. Then he’d yell at me, ‘You can’t go to the hospital, idiot. You have no insurance. You have no Social Security. You have nothing. You are nothing.’
“I was living illegally in this country. No one else would have me. If I went to the hospital, they would throw me out like a beggar in the street. If I went to the police they’d lock me up. He told me these things and I believed him … All of his anger was my fault. I believed everything was my fault. This was my life and there was nothing to be done.
“I didn’t want sex with him so I would go away with my mind and let him do whatever he wanted. I had to pretend I was enjoying it. There was always pain in my vagina. I could no longer stand to look at him. I’d turn my head to the side. ‘What are you doing?’ he’d shout at me and he’d grab my neck and strangle me until I couldn’t breathe. He wouldn’t stop until I was staring at him and smiling with pleasure. I was feeling disgusted and ugly and trying to look happy and beautiful so he would let me breathe. And then after he finished screwing he’d say to me, ‘Look how fat you are. You are so ugly. If you left me, no one would have you. All you can do is cry.’”
Nolan began locking Gelsomina in the bedroom each morning. He left her a little food and drinking water and went off to JP Morgan. Many nights he didn’t return until 10 or 11. She was an animal in a cage. She paced the floor for hours, crying. She could no longer read or think clearly. There was a window looking down to a concrete walkway. She often thought about leaping from the window onto her head, like her grandfather. Or going into the bathroom and swallowing every pill in the cabinet. She went to sleep praying she would die.
One morning Nolan left for work without turning off the computer. On the screen there was a chain of emails with a woman who had his last name. Gelsomina quickly understood he had been writing to his wife and that they had two small children. Some of the exchanges were explicitly sexual. Clearly, that’s where he spent his late evenings, although at this point the news hardly seemed important.
“About four weeks after he started jailing me, Nolan wanted to go out for dinner to celebrate something at work. I was grateful for the chance to get out of that house, to walk and smell the air. But when he told me he wanted to go to a fish restaurant I became alarmed. I can’t eat fish. Fish makes me nauseous. I was afraid there would be another scene in a restaurant and more beatings. I suggested another restaurant I knew he liked. He didn’t answer but those eyes became huge and crazy.
“‘I’m fed up with your bullshit,’ he said while we were going out. ‘You’ll learn to like fish.’ And then he shoved me down the stairs. I fell badly and my ankle was hanging at a strange angle. He rushed down to me and began kicking me in the ribs with all his strength. I could feel my ribs breaking. I thought he was about to kill me right then.
“I didn’t move. I couldn’t move. Then Nolan suddenly began apologizing. ‘I won’t touch you ever again. I promise. I know I have a problem. I’m going to get help. I’m so sorry. Forgive me. We’ll soon be married as I promised you.’”
“He carried me upstairs and put me in the bed. I was in such pain. My body was all swollen. I cried all night. In the morning he suggested that I call my mother—as if nothing was wrong and it was just another happy day. But she could tell. ‘Are you okay?’ she kept repeating. ‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ ‘I’m fine, mom.’
“Nolan was freaking out. He was trying to be good to me. Really, he was trying to save himself. He couldn’t risk taking me to the hospital. But what if I died. Then what would happen to him?
“I understood, this was my one chance. When he went to the kitchen I made it into the bathroom and took all the pain relief and threw them into the toilet. I got back into bed and called out to him, I needed to go to the hospital. I couldn’t take the pain any longer. He rushed into the bathroom to find something to give me. ‘I can’t stand it, Nolan.’ I started to cry like an animal.
“We lived really far from a drugstore, maybe a 15-minute drive. He was so nervous. He was afraid to say no to me. He kissed my cheek and said to wait on the bed. He brought ice for my ribs. ‘Just don’t leave from this bed,’ he said, kissing my cheek.
“As soon as he left I got off the bed. He’d forgotten to lock the door to the room. I was about to hobble down the block pleading for help but I saw that he’d left his cellphone in the pocket of his jacket. I called the only number I knew, Paul’s family, and the father, Steven, picked up the phone. I said to him, ‘Don’t ask anything. I’m in trouble, big trouble. Come here, right now.’ I gave him the address. ‘Please save me. Drive here as fast as you can, for my life.’
“I threw some clothes in my suitcase and pushed it down the stairs. I was waiting in front of the house when Steven pulled up in his sedan. He helped me with the luggage. ‘What happened? What happened?’
“I don’t have time to explain. Just get in the car.” We got in the car and I slammed the door. I looked behind us and I could see Nolan’s car turning onto the block. I said to Steven, ‘Now run as far as fast as you can. Now! Right now! Run! Run!’
In February, when I first met Gelsomina in the Italian restaurant, five months had passed since her escape from the monster, as she now called him. She had changed her name and blocked her Facebook page. She was trying to disappear into the city. She had managed to get forged working papers but increasingly resented her job in the restaurant, especially during hockey nights when drunken men made licentious comments and sometimes reached out to touch her.
Now Gelsomina has a new boyfriend. They fell in love very quickly. They plan to marry soon and she will no longer have to worry about a visa. But whenever they quarrel she falls into an all-too-familiar darkness, as though her world is shattered, and he needs to reassure her over and over that he adores her and their life will be beautiful. But it’s hard for her to hear this. Every day she remains afraid that the monster is tracking her down and the nightmare will continue.
Fred Waitzkin is a journalist and author of the acclaimed nonfiction bestseller Searching for Bobby Fischer, as well as the books Mortal Games and The Last Marlin. Additionally, he's an avid blue-water fisherman and is an Afro-Cuban drummer.