My freshman year at college, I slipped quietly and discreetly into a middle seat inside a packed classroom. I looked down at the notebook paper. I began scribbling notes about rocks and a science I obviously failed to retain as I can’t tell you what course it was.
Hiding my greasy, unkempt ponytail was a dirty white ball cap with bright red embroidered letters displaying an Ole Miss logo. I wasn’t sitting in a University of Mississippi classroom. Instead, my seat was at a college in West Virginia. There were almost 10 hours between Mississippi and me.
The night before, my then husband was angry. He was always pissed off, fired up, and ready to ram a fist into any open and unprotected part of my body. I remember the first time he impaled hurt upon my face.
He threw a remote and it crashed against my forehead. I cried instantly, not from the pain. I cried from the betrayal. My earliest memory of being belted was at the age of 5. I thought I had escaped those days. I hadn’t. My insecurity and need to have a home led me right into another kind of hell.
After the remote incident, a cycle began: hitting, making up, and a few quiet days, followed by another so-called injustice done to him. It was a repetitive pattern played out the same every time. Each penetrating hurt came with apologies.
I didn’t mean to. It won’t happen again. I love you. You make me so fucking angry. If you wouldn’t make me upset, I wouldn’t lose control. You make me this way.
When my first fall semester started, he was angry over economics — not our personal finances, but my economics class. He didn’t like that it was large auditorium style class, and he screamed about how I sat next to boys. He ranted that I was a whore, a slut. I dropped the class.
I continued working full time to support us. I hung onto my university classes because an education was the way to achieve a better life; I would get a good job and things would be better. We were married on New Year’s Eve of 1999. Our honeymoon suite had left us instructions in case “Y2K” actually happened. They said not to use the fireplace to cook food.
Our honeymoon lasted two days. And, for those two days, I was okay. When we returned, rage unpacked itself back into our two-story century old farm house. My spring semester began, allowing me to escape back to campus life.
It was on a cold day in March, shortly after my 19th birthday, and everything I did this night was wrong. He needed more money. The tips from my café job weren’t enough. I didn’t fuck him enough. Who was I sleeping with? On my way home that night, I had picked up Wendy’s for dinner. By the time I arrived home, the fries were cold. We lived 45 minutes from civilization.
In a similar fashion to the remote, he threw the French fries in my face.
I can’t eat this. They’re cold. You should have known they would be cold by the time you got home.
I fought back with my words. He shoved; I shoved back. Then a closed fist connected to my eye. Everything went black. I thought I was bleeding. It felt like blood was gushing from my eyelid. I never tasted or saw any blood. The sensation was from blood vessels being popped in my eye.
The force had knocked me down and I was pinned between him and an oversized green armchair. He swung again and hit the other eye. Both eyes were now heavy, hurting, and hard to see. I wanted to call for help. I needed help.
He grabbed me up by my hair and I covered my face. I pulled away and left him with a fistful of sweaty blonde hair. As I ran to our landline phone, he shoved me away and pulled the line out of the wall. Yelling, more hitting, and then he finally stormed out of the front door.
Right before he slammed the front screen door, he grabbed my keys. What he didn’t know was that a few weeks earlier, I was told to have a spare car key made in case of an emergency. I had hidden that key. I wasn’t permanently stranded because there was a lifesaver in the shape of a small Toyota Corolla silver key.
I knew he wouldn’t be back that night. Our house was too far of a drive and he was angry. He would deal with me in the morning. I pulled my aching bruised body off the couch at 4 a.m., and I layered Clinique concealer underneath two black eyes. I added more concealer and a heavy coating of foundation, followed by loose powder, pressed powder, and finally, I applied a small amount of blush hoping to even out the puffy purple eyes. You can’t really cover a black eye, much rather two.
I grabbed the only baseball hat I owned, an Ole Miss hat, and I drove to my morning classes. I wore that hat with the bill bent low around my eyes and I never looked up in my science class. Ashamed, embarrassed, and praying no one saw me — I didn’t have an answer I wanted to share to explain what happened. As I sat in that class replaying the previous night’s events, I decided to not go back. I couldn’t go back. I was three months pregnant. I couldn’t protect myself, much rather a child.
A decision was made and I called my parents. At their house, I knew how to fly under the radar. I knew to hide and read, and to never engage my father. I was trained to walk on eggshells. I filed for a restraining order and a divorce. I went back with a police escort to get my clothes and furniture. My child was never born because there wasn’t a heartbeat anymore after the last fight.
I never wore that Ole Miss hat again.
It took me 15 years to write these words. Fifteen years. I spoke about them for a few months with a domestic violence counselor. When I met my real husband, the one I am married to today, I told him about these events. After I told him, I buried these words, the pain, and the memories. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and in finally writing these words, it is my greatest hope that someone will not sit one moment longer in an unhealthy, abusive relationship.
I live with feeling my decision to stay with a man who hurt me physically and mentally cost an innocent life. I know had that child not come into my life, I would not be alive today. At what price should “love” cost? It should never hurt. Real love is patient. Real love is kind. If you or someone you know are a victim of domestic violence, please seek help. Don’t go back.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. If you or someone you know is a victim or survivor of domestic abuse, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence for a list of resources.