When he was punched in the face, Denis-Martin Chabot understood that he’d passed the point of no return with his soon-to-be ex-partner. In his novel Escales parisiennes (Parisian stopovers) this Québec journalist and writer examines conjugal violence. In playing with what is real and what isn’t, he lifts the veil on a phenomenon that is often seen as taboo, and very personal: dysfunctional romantic relationships between same-sex partners.
By Mélodie Descoubes
This piece of autobiographical fiction, published in French by Éditions ND, tells the story of a chance meeting between two men at a book signing in Paris. The author, recently single, makes a series of troubling discoveries concerning his ex-husband.
“I really hesitated writing about this part of my life,” recalls Chabot.
“It was very tough. At times, I cried until I was dry of tears. It was cathartic for me,” says this author, who wishes to help other victims of conjugal violence. “I won’t say what’s true and what’s not true in the book. I knit around things that have happened to me, quite simply.”
For nine years, Denis-Martin Chabot experienced psychological and physical violence within his couple. It was the famous punch to the face that upended everything: “I lost consciousness, maybe for a few seconds, but it seemed like hours. And when I came to, I understood that I would die if I stayed in this situation.”
That’s when the author chose to separate from his lover. He changed the locks at his apartment, fearing that the ex would show up without notice. He also warned his employer that he no longer wanted to see his ex.
Denis-Martin Chabot started to think about all the events in his relationship that hadn’t made sense… instances of conjugal violence.
“I remembered each time he pushed me into a wall or tripped me, and the non-consensual sex. Those tantrums of his, when I saw the fury in his eyes, I was so afraid of those,” Chabot says.
“I remember the night when we fought on the street, in front of everybody. He grabbed me by the throat and lifted me up against a wall. I started suffocating. The marks left by his thumbs remained on my throat for several days.”
A Sly, Sneaky Love
Jealousy was also a part of his relationship. His partner knew the password to his cellphone. “I had no more secret garden,” Chabot says. “He constantly asked me who I was in contact with.”
In love, warning signals are often not easy to see. Looking back, the author admits that he shut his eyes to some awful behavior. “It always started with little things, like little tantrums, or passive-aggressive behavior. Then, all of a sudden, it got more serious. It was shaming, and violence: psychological, affective, financial and sexual violence.”
The author had taken steps with immigration so that his partner could move to Québec. The process was long and arduous. But eventually, Chabot chose to leave this toxic relationship.
“Why didn’t I leave earlier? I loved the guy,” he says. “I accepted everything that happened to me because I didn’t think I deserved better. I had a low opinion of myself. My emotional dependence led me to accept those sorts of things.”
The author says that the roles of bully and victim are sometimes interchangeable. “I was never physically violent, but I used manipulation. There’s not always just one bad guy, it’s much more subtle than that.”