“It can happen to anyone,” they say. Anyone but me you think to yourself in reply. “You don’t even know it’s happening until you’re in too deep.” I’m too strong for that to happen to me.
Except it did. It happened to me, despite how abrasive, strong, and opinionated I considered myself. Worse, all the stories were true. I didn’t even realize how deep I was into an abusive relationship and I was too ashamed and embarrassed to admit what my relationship had become. How could someone so mouthy end up in such a contemptuous situation?
We met my freshman year of high school, and I pined after him from the day we met. He was cute, with a dry sense of humor, and a year older than me. He had little interest in me until that summer. The first time he kissed me, I swear I thought the sky was going to explode (you know how dramatic our feelings are as teenagers). I kept him at a distance for a while, but by September I accepted the idea of being in a relationship. Up until this point I had only ever been in mini high school relationships lasting no more than a few months.
As is always the case, everything seemed great in the beginning. We had mutual friends and we enjoyed spending time together. He drove me home from school every day and we began to spend most of our time together. For Christmas, he left Poinsettias on my door when I was not home, and remembered an item I had mentioned only once!
Then things got weird. I would wake up early in the morning to him sitting in a chair in my room—he had broken in through the basement and snuck into my room. I was encouraged to find this sweet and endearing.
By this time our disagreements had mostly become a conversation of what I was doing wrong in the relationship. If we were spending time together and my phone rang, I simply did not care about him at all if I answered the phone. When I made the tennis team, it was completely out of line for me to be excited. When I somehow finagled my way into hanging out with my friends, he would of course call and consume all of my time and energy rebuking my choice of activity. Since I had not worn skirts before I started dating him, wearing them once we started dating was completely out of the question.
Me: “But the whole team is wearing them tomorrow. We always dress up or do something special on match days.”
Him: “So you’re conforming to what other people want? You’re not even wearing it because you want to, you’re wearing it for your precious tennis team?”
Me: “Well I do want to wear skirts also, but that is why I am looking forward to wearing a skirt tomorrow.”
Him: “You are such a hypocrite.”
Apparently, once you take a stance on something in your life, you cannot EVER change your opinion on that—especially, if it means wearing a (long I might add) skirt to school. Many aspects of my choice of clothing were not approved, to the point where I basically wore pajamas to school everyday.
Another favorite conversation regarding attire was my tennis uniform. Yes, that’s right, my TEAM UNIFORM was out of the question and it was imperative I wear long green 1980’s wind pants during my matches, lest I freeze to death in New England’s April weather.
My friends, family, and teachers all tried to help me. “What are you doing with him?” my brother asked. “He’s a loser. I know guys like him, I know how they treat girls. You are smarter than that” (in the interest of keeping it PG, the expletives have been removed).
That’s the thing about abusive relationships: from the outside it seems so clear what is wrong, from the inside it’s impossible to explain why you will not leave. So after isolating myself from all of my friends, many feuds with my family, quitting tennis, sacrificing a significant amount of my self-esteem, family therapy, and several break ups, I eventually hit my breaking point, so to speak.
We had gotten back together and “decided” to keep our relationship a secret. We were supposed to go to his prom together, but I had done something that week that had upset him and my privileges for prom had been revoked. After he informed me of this, I lay crumpled on my bed, clutching a teddy bear, bawling my eyes out (this may seem more absurd if you know I am not a crier). My brother had made a trip home and found me like this. “Sweetie, what’s wrong?” he coaxed. “What are you so upset about? Let’s go for a drive.” Hearing my brother call me sweetie was all I needed to know that something was way off base. Before we left, I quickly tried to call my boyfriend to let him know we were heading out and would be back in a bit. He had wanted to drop off my corsage, which is just what every girl wants after she is told she is not going to prom.
When my brother and I arrived home, about an hour later, there were several voicemails illustrating my betrayal and informing me that my boyfriend had almost driven into a tree because he was so upset. I called him as soon as I listened to these messages, feeling helplessly caught between a rock and a brick wall. He immediately drove to my house and, with my brother standing in the window, screamed “GET IN THE CAR, OR I’LL KNOW YOU NEVER CARED ABOUT ME!!” To this day I will never forget the look in his eyes.
I timidly got in the car, and as he sped off down the back roads on which I lived. I screamed for him to stop. He hit 90MPH on a 25MPH, winding road. When he stopped I jumped out of the car and started screaming at him. He screamed back, louder, angrier. How could I treat him this way? How could I choose my brother over seeing him? I was coaxed back into the car one more time. After another roller coaster down the back road, I jumped out and walked home.
So that’s when I learned my lesson, right?
Wrong. I walked home, listened to everything my family said and genuinely listened for a few days. Then we got back together. At this point, there was no way in hell my mom was letting this kid near our house. Hell hath no fury like my mom pissed off at some loser guy who does not treat her daughter like a queen.
This particular afternoon she was at work and he had come over to discuss some misdeed I had conducted at school. We were sitting on my bed, and next to it I had an iron-back chair with a wooden seat that held a glass of orange juice and a bowl of old cereal milk on it. Once again I had set him off, and he booted that chair hard, knocking all of its contents onto the ground. I jumped up to clean the rug, and as I knelt behind it, clearing the evidence of my poor judgement, he yelled and kicked the chair directly into my head.
I found my voice in that moment. I screamed and kicked him out of my house (where he apologized profusely from the patio). I never got back together with him, but I did talk to him for a few weeks before severing all communication with him.
He had given me an ultimatum to apologize for my OPINIONS, or tell him that I no longer wanted to be friends. I wrote him a note addressing all of this, as any high school student would. He wrote back a scathing note about how I was a coward, with more grammatical and spelling errors than one should have to tally. After reading that, I realized that I could not take someone seriously who could not even tear me down in proper English. Maybe I wasn’t the one whose self-esteem should have been in question.
I was lucky. I was lucky that, even though I endured a lot of mental abuse, at the first sign of physical abuse I had the strength and support to get out of that situation. I was lucky because my friends and family never stopped trying, and because I could count on them in the months that followed. Not everyone who ends up in these situations gets to be so lucky. I was also lucky because all of this lasted just about a year from start to finish. I did not have to endure years on end of hell before getting out.
So where are we now? Well, after that I was a bit reluctant to enter into any relationships. Eventually, at the end of high school and in college I was in a couple relationships. I made it clear at the very beginning of those relationships that my friends will always come first, and that I have male friends so suck it up and deal with it. Of course, I was more selective by then so they felt the same and obliged. Now I am engaged to an incredibly patient, intelligent, and supportive man.
As for him: I don’t really spend much time giving a crap about his existence. From time to time friends from high school will update me on what he is doing. The last I heard, he was arrested for intimidating a witness. Too bad I missed out on that gem.