“Why are you fucking ignoring me?”
He reaches his hand inside my shorts, and twists the skin on my thigh, until I cringe in pain.
“Why are you FUCKING IGNORING ME?”
“Leave me alone,” I whisper. My only thought at this moment is that no one sees what is happening.
“You know I don’t like it when you ignore me and talk to your friends.”
This was my high school sweetheart. My boyfriend for three years. And he was, clearly, abusive.
We started dating our freshman year. He was attractive, charming, and hilarious. He asked me out, and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. At first, everything was wonderful. But very slowly, his manipulative and controlling nature started to take over my life. And I was completely trapped.
We were only 15. When I think about what happened, I cannot figure out how a boy that age, a boy so young, would get to the point where he would abuse his girlfriend. I was insecure, attention starved, ashamed, scared, and in love. He used all of my insecurities to turn me into someone I didn’t recognize.
It started with the skin twisting. I was unable to wear shorts or short sleeved shirts because my skin was so bruised. If he didn’t approve of my behavior, he would stand beside me at my locker, and twist or pinch my skin. This would happen for any number of reasons. If I talked to my friends too much, if I didn’t let him cheat off of my test in class, if he saw me talking to another boy in the hallway.
Once, while I was talking to a male friend in between classes, he walked up to me, yelled “SLUT,” and slapped me across the face. Hard. This was all witnessed by several classmates as well as one teacher. I remember thinking, okay, an adult knows what is going on, maybe something will change. The teacher did nothing but walk away.
Along with the physical abuse was emotional abuse and manipulation. Because I was overweight, he would tell me that I was lucky to be with someone as attractive as him. That I would never find anyone else to love me. I was too ugly, and too fat to ever gain the attention of another male. His method was to bring my self esteem to such a low point, that I wouldn’t think about ever leaving him.
I would break up with him constantly. At least once a month. He would cry on the phone and refuse the break up. He would simply say, no, you can’t do this, and when I went to school the next day, there he was. Standing at my locker, refusing to be broken up with, giving me more bruises. And so this pattern continued for three torturous years. I do not look back on my high school years with any amount of joy or happiness. They were the worst years of my life, truly.
Senior year, I knew I had to go away to college. If I stayed close to home, I would marry this man, have his children, and would be completely trapped. Or possibly end up dead. I secretly applied to a university that was about two hours away from where we lived. He thought we were applying and attending a local university together. I dared not tell a soul until I was officially accepted into the university, and enrollment for the year was closed. I knew this was my way out. And it worked. I sit here today, alive, and in a wonderful marriage of 16 years, because I went away to college.
We officially broke up when I went to college. I was done, leaving. The first few months of school, he would show up to my dorm, beg for me to take him back, and beg for me to come home. His manipulation and harassment escalated when I started dating other people. In complete panic mode, he started calling mutual friends and letting them know that I went away to college and became a whore. He even had his family members call me, and beg for me to take him back, to come back to their family.
I went home for Halloween weekend. He called me and we agreed that we would meet and have a conversation. This evening is a bit blurry to me because for several moments, I feared for my life.
“Marry me. We can make it work. I’ve changed. I love you.”
At this point I was thrown to the ground, and repeatedly kicked in my head and chest. My shirt was torn, my arm bleeding.
“Get in my car.”
He had recently lent me money for a purchase I needed to make at college, and he was forcing me to go to an ATM with him to make a withdrawal.
Speeding towards the bank, my eyes were on the side of the winding road, on the river. My fear was that he was going to kill me, and dump my body. This was before the cell phone era, so I truly had no way of getting help. I remember feeling like my best chance at remaining alive, was to hold my breath and not say a word. I safely withdrew the money, he took me home, and we never saw each other again. With a torn shirt, and marks all over my body, I went into my mother’s house, collapsed on my bed, and cried.
Thinking about my teenage self, why didn’t I tell someone? I had a huge network of support. I had my parents, grandparents, sisters, and friends. The shame I felt over the entire situation was extremely heavy. I was a very smart, straight A student, with a good head on my shoulders. How could I let anyone know what was happening to me?
I carry this baggage with me as an adult. The self esteem blow of being in an abusive relationship as a teen seems impossible to overcome. I still struggle with hatred of my body, shame over the abuse, and anxiety. I hear his words in my head. “You are ugly. No one will ever love you like I do.”
Looking at my teenage sons, would I know if they were abusing the girls they are dating? Did my boyfriend’s parents know? The only thing I know how to do is to keep an open line of communication with my children. I make sure to ask the hard questions, and speak up if something seems off.
I wish my teacher would have interfered in some way. I wish I would have told someone. And most importantly, I hope that his long-term girlfriend (of 21 years) is okay.