You’ve read the story of the last night I allowed him to put his hands on me. I could write you a book detailing the events of the relationship prior to that night. I could tell you details about the very first time his large hand connected with my cheek. I could tell you about the first bruise that I attempted to hide, or the first set of holes in the wall. I could tell you about the financial damage and the incessant stealing of money, items of mine that he sold for cash. I could tell you of the never ending lies.
But I won’t.
I want to focus on the rebuilding of my life; the consequences of the decisions made that led to this relationship.
“How did you let it get so bad?”
I have heard this question so many times. And I know that even those that don’t verbalize this question, have it hanging in their minds. Those of us that have been in a relationship riddled with domestic violence always have to navigate this answer. Unfortunately, the answers are typically not satisfactory to our friends and family. Because the reality is, “I’m not sure.” is the closest to an answer one can really give to sum up the headspace that one feels during these relationships. For me, the relationship began in a time where I craved connection. My career path was progressing, I was working towards a semblance of post-college financial stability, and I had friends that I loved dearly. But I craved more.
And then I met him.
He was good at what he did. He knew what to say and how to say it to have you hanging onto every word. Looking back, it is astounding to me, even to this day, to recognize each and every lie he told–even from the first day we met. He claimed his mom had cancer which is why he lived at home–she did not; he just did not have a cent to his name nor a record that would allow for him to rent anywhere. He claimed he had just recently wrecked his car leaving him without a vehicle for the time being–previous criminal charges left him without the ability to possess a driver's license. He saw his kids from prior relationships all of the time–his ex was filing to have his name removed from their birth certificate. The lies were constantly compounding.
I recognize now that the guy I began dating that summer never existed.
This has been difficult to process. After the final night which I wrote about previously, I stayed with friends until I returned back to the house we shared together. As I cleaned up the remnants of that night, I found a packet of papers hidden in the back of the closet. He had applied for a job that requested a background check. He was denied and the packet was their reasoning; pages and pages of prior criminal domestic violence, larceny, and drug charges. I was angry with myself at that moment. How could I have been so blind to who this man really was!? The question of “how did you let it get so bad” is one I crumbled in a ball asking myself at that moment.
“But after he put his hands on you the first time, why didn’t you leave then?”
I remember watching shows and movies in which characters deal with domestic violence and having conversations with friends about how we would never find ourselves in those situations. We would get out the first time a red flag was shown.
Clearly, I did not do that.
I knew things were not adding up with him when he took me to meet his parents. Within the first 15 minutes of meeting them, they acted as if God himself had sent me–this did not add up to the awkward girl who was meeting a boyfriend’s parents for the first time. Their quick jump to a conversation about him and I moving in together struck me as inappropriate–I had only known him for a few weeks. But damn if they weren’t convincing. It was at that moment that I realized he had essentially been living with me already–that smooth talking son of a bitch had already found a way in. His parents were relishing in the idea that this man was not terrorizing them daily. Did I put those pieces together at that moment? Absolutely not. They continued to throw lines at me about “how happy” we looked, how wonderful of a path we were on and to the 23 year old they were speaking to, I ate it all up.
That’s where it all went so wrong. Between his lies and the further deep-seated affirmations from his parents, I was all the way in.
So when his hand connected with my face the first time, I chalked it up to the alcohol he had been drinking. When I caught him in his first lie, I thought it must have simply been because he was too nervous to tell me the truth. When he first stole money from me he lied his way out and blamed everything and everyone but himself.
There was a night that he held me by my legs and tipped me over the second floor patio of the house we lived in; had that been the first night things got bad, I don’t know that I would be sitting here writing this. But in my experience, and what I believe to be that of so many others, it is a gradual increase in the level to which they inflict their pain.
It starts so small, easily excusable. Then gravitates to acts that are not physical; emotional manipulation is interwoven at each step. Teaching you that you are inconsequential to the lives of anyone other than theirs. In my case, the financial abuse started first. Asking to “borrow” money in times of dire straits, certain at that point that this man has no reason to lie to you about paying you back. Then, brazen acts of theft. Money stolen from my wallet when he was the only other person in the house. My tv and electronics sold while I was at work; but it was “okay, because it was going to help with the bills”. Clothes and shoes of mine vanished when I was not home because they were being sold to feed his alcohol addiction. Each of these increased in severity as the physical acts did the same. I had a bad reaction to him stealing something of mine? Well, there would be an even harsher fate heading towards me through his acts of violence. You learn to keep quiet. Swallow your pride. Lose a piece of yourself each time you do.
When reality finally set in that things were bad, I realized I did not know how to get out. I had convinced myself that without him, I would never be able to financially survive–ironic, considering he had never paid a dime for anything since we had been together. But he certainly had convinced me otherwise. Slowly but surely, he had isolated me from everyone. It started with any male friend I had; because obviously it was a breach of trust with him to be communicating with them. Then, it was my friends. Friends I had for years. It started simple–my time was tied to his. If he did not want to do anything social with other people, I damn sure should not want to. If I attempted to go somewhere without him–well, I think it is clear to see where that “conversation” would lead me. Then, he would focus on how it was terrible of me to want to see anyone that did not like him, my friends included. His paranoia about the way others viewed him confused me at first–now it makes perfect sense. Then came isolation from my family. Although my family was 9 hours away, they were still a threat to him. If they found out what he was doing, even if I had not processed the gravity of his actions, they would, which would be the end for us; more importantly, the end for his life outside of his parents home and what he treated as a bottomless ATM. He would get angry when I would answer phone calls. I would get cursed at for texting family members. When the threat of a hurricane forced my evacuation back to my home state for a week, he convinced me that his only option was to come with me. I know now, it was his plan to do damage control for whatever was to be said about him to my family.
It was hell. My emotions were reckless that week. I was embarrassed, mortified really, at his actions. He tried to act “normal”; as close as he could get but everyone saw through it. The fights were never ending. I was too happy to be home, I would not let him remain drunk from the minute he woke up until the minute he went to sleep, I would not say or act the way he had expected me to. I look back on that week and much of it sits in a corner of my mind in which I have never allowed myself to remember. My stomach turns at the thought of that week. I allow it to stay as an untouched memory. It was one of the worst.
I stayed with him for another 2 months.
“Why didn’t you leave?”
“Why didn’t you leave?”
“Why didn’t you leave?”
The question loops in my mind even years later. I can verbally tell my story in a matter of 30 minutes; an hour or so if I include as much detail as I can remember. But what no telling of my story really can encapsulate is what this did to my mind. I was a different person. I was not me. And he was not who I thought he was. That’s why I didn’t leave.
“Are you still affected by that relationship today?”
This question is typically asked with loads of sympathetic undertones but it is never sympathy I want. When these conversations happen and the, at times, morbid curiosity of others has been curbed, people always want to know if I have “moved on.” I find it important to say that within a couple of days, I stopped crying and mourning the loss of the relationship altogether. I attribute that, above all else, to the fact that my experience with this man was never a true relationship. I was a means to an end. A way for him to fill a void. In respect for radical honesty here, I am admitting for the first time (other than to my closest friend) that I ended up seeing him twice after the night that the police were called. Someone that embedded themselves into all areas of my life was now removed. As much as I knew that no amount of sanity could have been left in my mind at that point if I was making a decision to see him again, I wanted answers. So 3 weeks after that night, I made my expectations clear, no alcohol, no coming to my house, and someone else had to be around.
That would protect my safety and security, right?
I picked him up from a bar. (Listen, he told me he was not drinking and we have already touched on the loss of sanity. Lay off and cool it with the eye rolling, okay?) This was not my smartest moment and I am fully aware of it. We went to the house of his friend that he was staying with–couldn’t tell his parents what the problem was, which meant he could not move back home. Man, let me tell you, he laid it on thick that night. Apologies were endless. I stayed very briefly and went home. A few days later, I went back over, ready to ask the big WHY question. I needed the answers. I had been there for less than an hour and excused myself to the restroom. Something told me things were wrong. (Hello, of course they were) When I got back to the living room, I reached for my purse and could see his body language shift ever-so-slightly. I had money in my purse from my birthday. $100.
Plot twist and one that I am sure is going to completely, totally, and utterly shock everyone reading this…the $100 bill was gone. (*gasp*)
His friend was in the room so I had a sense of security. I felt the anger that had been boiling for months hit a breaking point but with a fear so deeply embedded in my being, I felt as if I had to keep it at bay. I stood up, grabbed my purse and my wallet, looked him dead in the eyes and told him to give it back. He acted as if he had no idea what I was talking about. I remember cursing at him and yelling about all that he had put me through to think that he was still stooping this low was disgusting. I turned for the door and as I opened it, he shoved me with force that sent me stumbling onto the landing and slammed the door. I all but sprinted to my car, fearing that he was right on my heels like the night in November. I peeled out of the parking lot and sped home. As I ran into the house, I immediately stacked the bar stools from the kitchen in front of the door, a habit since I had been living back in the house. I knew it was not much in terms of defense, but my theory was that I would hear them fall if he found a way in, buying me some time. I checked my night stand to make sure my knife was still there, sat down and sobbed until I fell asleep. I woke to a sundry of texts and phone calls alternating between anger at being “accused” of stealing, apologies of admittance for his theft, and promises that he would pay me back. (*Haha–now you may laugh).
That was the last time I laid eyes on him in person until his bond hearing. 2. Years. Later. His bond hearing was not just for the night I called the police. It was also a result of warrants for his arrest for domestic violence 2 other times since then. 2 other girls in addition to myself. You want to talk about confusing feelings? I was ELATED when I stepped into the room cordoned off by plexiglass panels and saw his face turn ghostly white when he saw my face there to speak during his bond hearing. I was insanely GUILTY at the fact that he had the opportunity to continue his tirade to other women. Had I called the police and let them know where he was, they would not have suffered the same fate as I had. What kept me from doing just that? FEAR. Yet another emotion fluttering within me. Fear that if I called, he would know and they would not catch him–again. If he found out, it felt as if my life would hang in the balance. He knew where I lived. He knew where I worked. There was nowhere to hide at that point. And the emotion that hit me like a ton of bricks was sadness. Sadness that this man–if that is what we are calling him–had lived 32 years of his life in such a devastating way. Sadness that there was not a single soul on this planet that could give him a reason to be a decent human being. My friends stood in support watching the hearing in the waiting room. They told me that after his list of charges were read, they heard the officer working the desk mutter, “what a piece of shit.”
That pretty much sums up my opinion on him to this day.
This man, faced with 3 varying degrees of domestic violence charges, is still roaming the streets today. Why he is not in prison is unbeknownst to me at this point. All I know for certainty is that he was never held accountable for my charge because the arrest warrant had the wrong date written on it. I don’t get to see my day in court. I don’t get to sit in front of him and his parents and tell them what he did. I don’t get to see him held responsible for a single moment in which his emotional, financial, and physical abuse broke me and turned me into a person that I, my friends, and my family did not recognize. I don’t get to see him held responsible for changing my life, placing fear and a lack of trust at the forefront of every relationship I have had since then.
A few years later, I started a relationship with another man. After a night of drinking and surrounded by friends, he verbally snapped at me-something that would have been inconsequential to most. I exited the room, went to the bathroom and sobbed out of the overwhelming, full-body fear he caused. I wanted to explain myself the next day. He said my past did not really matter to him so he did not want to hear it. I had a conversation with a friend of his a few weeks later, divulging the hurt that I felt at feeling that the guy I was really starting to like just openly shut down the thought of wanting to hear my story. Because to me, it was MY STORY. It is why I am the way that I am. It is why I react the way I do to situations. It is why my trust functions (or rather, does not function) the way that it does. Her response was that everyone does not need to know your past and to focus on the future. But for me…this story, this period in my life is something I carry with me every day.
The man at the root cause of all of this will never know that. It wouldn’t matter to him if it did. I constantly struggle with the feelings that my situation was not as bad as others. I had a hard time digesting that I was a victim of domestic violence. Not because I was ashamed, but because I didn’t feel worthy of that title. Women go through much worse, for much longer. I made it out in 6 months. But as I have talked with my best friend, as I have written this blog, and as I have reached out to those who have experiences similar to mine through WhiteFlag, I realize that there are no “qualifications” for this scenario. It isn’t a survey or questionnaire in which you have to reach a certain number of instances in which his hands were on you. It isn’t a numerical value assigned to the severity of injuries or damage that is caused.
Domestic violence breaks you in more ways than can be quantified and in more ways than can be written in the pages of a blog. One thing that remains constant for all of us that have lived these experiences is that there is a period of rebuilding. A period of finding yourself all over again and realizing you are not the same person you were before you met him. You are not permanently broken. Instead, your edges, fractures, and breaks are now refortified with something that no one can take away–strength YOU built for YOURSELF.
So to answer the question again, “am I still affected by that relationship today?”
Yes. I am stronger. I am more confident in knowing who I am and in my truth. Something that I will fight to keep every single day.
As I have gone through this journey of rebuilding, it has been a rollercoaster of a road. Seasons of my life have come and gone and brought with it the ugliness of that relationship. But I have fought. And continued to learn. When WhiteFlag was introduced to me, I felt the familiar pangs of guilt, fear, and a lack of worthiness to check the box that said “Domestic Violence Survivor”--but when I did, I felt another one of those fortifications within me being built. I am NOT alone. I thought to myself that through WhiteFlag, I would be able to speak my truth to those that are experiencing what I had but I quickly found that I was not just helping others, they were helping me. I was feeling heard, accepted, and understood. I was learning the power that comes in numbers–the power that is felt when you find someone that is able to put into words the feelings that you struggle to identify. WhiteFlag has been the outlet when I feel alone, to teach me that I am NEVER alone.
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