He was everything I thought I wanted. He was tall, handsome, smart, and funny.
He said the things I wanted to hear; he promised me forever, with a big house, and four kids, who I could stay home with while he worked to provide for us. At fourteen, it was a fairy tale.
He didn’t let me talk to other guys, but that didn’t matter to me, because I believed him when he told me that he was the only man I needed in my life. As he told me once, after seeing me hug one of my best friends (a boy), “The next time you touch another man, besides your dad and your brother, will be at our wedding, and it will be to shake his hand and thank him for coming.”
He quickly drove a wedge between me and almost every one of my friends, male and female alike. Instead of spending our free period with all of our friends, we spent it together in secluded corners of the school, having intense conversations about our future together. In our minds, we lived in a world where nothing mattered but our relationship.
One day, we went to lunch with his best friend. He told an offensive joke, and I play-slapped his hand. It was barely a tap; it wouldn’t have hurt anyone.
He didn’t pause. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t think it over. He just slapped me, hard, in the face. I was in shock, and my ears were ringing, but I remember hearing his friend say, “I cannot believe you just hit her.”
My mother was an advocate and case worker for victims of domestic violence. She was (and still is) married to my father, whom I had never even seen lose his temper. But for some reason I just accepted it.
I also made no protests the time he punched me in the shoulder in the school stairwell, for reasons I can’t even remember.
And I didn’t question him the time he picked me up and slammed me against his truck, then dropped me on the pavement because I teased him about something he said.
Not one time that he hit me did I stand up for myself. Only once did he acknowledge, to my face, that he had really messed up. All the other times, he bought me a Sprite, a toffee nut cream Frappuccino, or a pink carnation. He would hide it in my locker. Then I would find it, thank him for it, and we would never mention it again.
The relationship lasted an indescribably intense six months, during which I began to self-harm, because I felt I had no other outlet for all the angst and turmoil inside of me. When he found the fourteen straight-edged cuts on my wrist, his eyes filled up with tears. All he said was, “I forgive you.”
We looked at every trial in our relationship as a “growing experience” that would make us closer, and more independent as a couple. We cried together, a lot, and thought it was healthy. My parents didn’t approve of us dating, so every time I stood up to them on our behalf, it just made us “stronger” and more determined to stay together.
Meanwhile, he continued to hit me and slam me into walls for everything I said or did that he didn’t like.
On Friday, March 18, 2005, he sexually assaulted me. Being the master of manipulation he was, it only took a little bit of sweet talking to convince me I wanted it, even though my broken zipper and missing blouse buttons begged to differ.
That day marked the end of our relationship, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to be with him. He strung me along for months upon months after we broke up. Even after he met the woman who is now his wife, he continued to contact me on a regular basis. Twice, he cheated on her with me. He called me on several holidays while he was dating her, to tell me that the winter always reminded him of me. Tearfully, he asked me on New Year’s Eve, 2005 – 2006, “Why did I ever let you go?” He gave me hope for two years, and I couldn’t move on. Although I could admit, as time passed, that the things he did to me were not acceptable, there was not a single person who could have talked me out of my feelings.
When I was a freshman in college, working in a restaurant on campus, I met a girl in a relationship with a man much older than her. When she got candid with me and with our coworkers, she said enough to give it away; he was abusing her. Everyone we worked with told her to leave him, but her reaction was always to shrug, blush, and shake her head. I couldn’t let a girl as sweet as her get pushed around like I had been. I asked her if we could get coffee and talk.
I called my mom for a couple pointers from her days at the Safe House, but for the most part, I had no idea what I was doing as I walked into Starbucks that day. So I did what I do best–I talked. I talked for over three full hours. I told her my story. I told her about the way my feelings for him stuck around, even when I knew what he did to me was absolutely inexcusable. It was like reliving the worst days of my life. I got choked up. I fidgeted. My palms were slick with sweat. I stared at my feet and out the window. I repeated myself. I swirled my iced coffee around and around in the clear plastic cup. I said everything I could, and then some, explaining to her that I really did know what she was going through. That I knew I couldn’t talk her into leaving him. Nobody could.
At the end of our talk, I handed her a piece of printer paper, filled with copy-and-pasted names and phone numbers for local resources offered to women in abusive relationships. I begged her to hide it from her boyfriend and not tell him about our conversation, but more than that, I begged her not to get rid of that paper.
A few months passed, and I was sure everything I had said that day had fallen on ears that were simply deaf to every voice but his. I knew the feeling far too well. But one day, out of nowhere, I received a message from her. It was a short, simple message, in which she thanked me for taking the time to talk to her, and credited me for being the person who “changed her life.” I was speechless.
Through Facebook messages and late-night, broken-hearted text messages, I did my best to help her through the dissolution of her relationship. They are finally not together, and not in contact with each other.
It’s far too late for me to seek any kind of justice to be done to my abuser. I have to hide my identity and censor the details I reveal in order to avoid being accused of defamation of character, even though I was the one who used to get beaten. This doesn’t have to be the case for you, and it doesn’t have to be the case for anyone you know.
If my relationship sounds familiar, I pray you find a friend to confide in and lean on; someone who can help you find a way out of your situation.
If you, like me, are watching a relationship like this move further and further into the past, while the memories remain as vivid, and the scars remain as deep, and the baggage remains as heavy as the day you acquired them, I beg of you, speak up. You have no idea the power of your story until you share it with someone who needs to hear it.
If you are someone you know is in an abusive relationship, know you aren’t alone, and they are people waiting to help you.