CW: Mental, Emotional and Physical Abuse
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about my past. I’ve spoken of my Dark Time before, and how I was able to pull myself out and back into the light. That post centered mostly on myself, the bad choices I made and the path that I took that led me astray. I wasn’t the only one though. I had a partner at the time, a terrible, toxic partner, who I thought I loved.
It started off badly. I should have known, but I was so young and naive, I didn’t know what he did was wrong. He was a co-worker, older and sly like a weasel. He was a hustler, and he was good at it. I didn’t see that he hustled me just like he did everyone else in his life. We worked at a dingy bar in a college town, and I barely made enough money to scrape by. It was frustrating and disheartening, and I don’t know why I didn’t leave to find a better job. It had been another dismal shift, my fingers were sticky from handing out sugary shots to loose mouthed frat boys with wandering hands, and I’d had enough. I started taking shots too, the sweet alcohol quickly eased my sour mood and I soon forgot just how disgruntled I really was. At the end of the night, he offered to drive my car home for me. I should have seen this as a warning sign, but my hazy drunken mind just saw it as a friend doing a favor. He wasn’t my friend though, I barely knew him, and I had no reason to trust him. I said sure, drive me home. We can hang out for a bit and then you can sleep on the couch. It seemed reasonable enough to me.
We got back to my place and everything was normal. When it was time to go to bed, he told me he didn’t sleep on couches, a ridiculous statement and I should have seen right through it. What kind of a dude that lives in a college town doesn’t sleep on couches? Fine, I said, you can sleep in my bed, but no funny business. I meant it too. I put on my Sheepy Time jammies, a full body matching set of flannel pajamas printed with sleepy little sheep that any grandmother would approve of. We got in bed, a pillow placed strategically between us, and I turned over to go to sleep. I don’t remember how it happened. Maybe he touched my hand, maybe he stroked my back or my hair, but he was suddenly on top of me, kissing me. I didn’t hate it. I liked it even. I was drunk, I liked the attention, the kisses, the feelings. He kept asking me to have sex. I said no. No. NO. And then I didn’t say no. I said Okay. Just like that with a shrug of my shoulders. Okay.
I now know that he coerced me into it. There was no enthusiasm, but I did give consent. The couch, the pillow blockade, the giant pajamas were all forgotten. They didn’t work. I don’t remember the actual sex. It probably wasn’t that good, because it wasn’t that good for the next five plus years we were together. Five years of struggling, fighting, yelling, drinking, drugs, cheating, gaslighting, manipulating, abusing. I don’t know why I stayed. Why does anyone stay with someone like that? The statistics are frightening – it takes an average of seven times for someone to finally break up with an abusive partner.
I remember one night we went out with his best friend. The man had just broken up with a girl and was feeling down. He commented on how lucky my ex was to have a nice girl like me. I reached out to him and gave him a hug. I told him not to worry that one day he would find a nice girl like me. The wording was odd. I don’t know why I tacked on those last two words, Like Me. And, even now, fifteen years later, I’m finding a way to make an excuse for what happened next. As if it were my fault. We said goodbye to his friend and went inside our apartment. He was visibly upset, pale, jaw set. He told me I was a cheating whore. I had no idea what he was talking about. I searched my mind to figure out what I had done wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong, but the constant blame wore me down, it made me guilty. I always felt so guilty. He took my car and left the apartment, he didn’t say where he was going or when he would be back. I had no way of getting in touch with him. He left me alone, isolated, crying, hysterical, ashamed of something but he wouldn’t tell me what. Almost twelve hours later, I got the answer. Those two words. Like me. Those words made me a cheating whore. And even though I’d never cheated on him, I felt like a cheating whore. I felt awful.
The next year, we’d moved to a different apartment, but our demons followed. It got to the point that my family started to worry. I think my dad picked up on something, that I was flailing, I was in need. He offered me a break. Five weeks of vacation, a cross country camping trip to visit our family out west. I almost didn’t take him up on it. I didn’t want to leave my ex. I was worried it would end us. I’m glad I left. Getting away helped me to clear my head and organize my thoughts and feelings. I came back renewed and ready to repair what was broken between us. I waked into the apartment and everything felt wrong. The stale darkness contrasted against the fresh air and light I’d immersed myself in for the past weeks. He wasn’t excited to see me. The apartment was dirty. Everything was out of place, carelessly cast about. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, so I put those feelings in a box. I painted the picture of what I wanted to see instead of what was really there.
A week later, I developed some photos from a camera I’d left at the apartment when I was gone. There she was. On our bed. In my lingerie. Holding the paper Japanese umbrella I’d gotten on a class trip to New York my senior year of high school. She was smiling for the camera, shy and demure, sweet and innocent. The image was instantly recognizable, identical almost. I’d been that girl. He’d posed me on our bed. Smile for me. Turn here. Look up at me. My own snapshots were shoved somewhere in the bottom of a drawer. I confronted him and he denied it. Darren and his girlfriend stayed over when you were gone. They must have used your camera. I knew he was lying. I knew it. I knew it. I wanted so badly to believe him, so I did.
Years later, we moved to a different city. Things were different. We were older, more mature. We had worked on things. They were better. But, were they? No. It was just rose colored glass. It was flowery aerosol scent covering up the smell of shit. I’d swept the entire house one morning while he slept in. I left a little pile of dirt in each room to go back and get later with the dust pan. He climbed out of bed when the sun was high and bright and sauntered into the kitchen as I was sweeping the last bits of debris into a pile. I asked him if he’d help, if he’d go around and sweep up all the little piles. I didn’t make the mess. Why should I have to sweep it up? I was flabbergasted by that response. Well, of course you made the mess, you live in this house too. I was so angry. Was it really that difficult to bend down and sweep up four or five little piles and spill them into the garbage? I left the house in a huff. I was a smoker at the time, so I went to the store to get cigarettes. I only got my brand, though. I was mad, and purposefully didn’t pick up a pack for him. I returned to the house and started to get ready for work, still steaming over the earlier altercation. I was in the kitchen ironing my clothes when he came in to ask why I hadn’t gotten him cigarettes. I turned to him, hand on my hip. Because I’m mad at you! He hit the ironing board with his hand, angrily and violently lashing out. It hit me in the face. He was gone before I opened my eyes. He walked out of the house.
I went to work with a red swollen nose. And I felt guilty at first! He didn’t mean for the ironing board to hit me. It was an accident. He’d never hit me before. He wasn’t abusive. These thoughts swirled through my mind and mixed with opposing thoughts. He’s an asshole. That was inexcusable. I deserve better. It was his carelessness that finally did it. He didn’t care enough NOT to hit me. His anger was so deep that it didn’t matter that I was standing right next to the ironing board and that I could get hurt. I decided that was the final straw, and I am glad that I made that decision. It wasn’t easy. It had been coming for years.
The truth is, even though he never directly hit me, he was abusive. He hustled me from the very beginning. He lied to me, manipulated me. He showed me a pretty picture and told me it was us. We were meant to be. I believed him too. I believed in our love. I trusted him. I was blind. I was duped.
Leaving him wasn’t easy, and I almost caved at one point. He begged, he clung to me, he used all the tricks in his bag to try and hustle me one last time, but I was wise to his games. We had drinks one night, laying in the grass on a warm summer night under the stars. It was supposed to be a friendly goodbye. We talked about the good times, about the laughs and the fun. He began to pull the shades down over my eyes. Then he was between my legs, kissing me, kissing my neck and my ears. He pressed me into the grass and I could feel his hard-on through our clothes. It almost worked. Just like the first time, I almost said Okay. But I didn’t. I ran. I literally ran back to the house, my heart pounding and my breath heaving. I left for good.
The guilt still follows me. I wonder if it is just my nature or if he really did that much damage to me. I constantly feel as if I did something wrong. It’s a difficult feeling for me as I place so much importance on being good. My brain takes that guilt and chews on it, savoring it, making it bigger and stronger. I am still trying to rid myself of that guilt. And I never leave the little piles of dirt anymore. They get swept up as soon as they are created. The scars of his abuse are fading, but they are still there even though he never actually touched me.