Let me tell you a story about a girl. I’ll warn you now it’s a sad one, but there is a light at the end because her story doesn’t end where it begins.
She was fifteen when she met him. And some fifteen-year-old girls know it all. This one didn’t know anything. She was raised in a very religious household, sheltered and controlled. He was her first taste of freedom, of ‘real’ life. He was cute, popular, older in street smarts by about a thousand years.
She was shy and coy.
It took months, but she fell in love. And young love of any nature is strong. Little did she know just how consuming love is to her heart and soul. If she decides to love you, it is the deepest, most genuine and understanding love you will ever feel. She will accept you completely, forgive you consistently. She will do anything for you, no matter the circumstances.
And so she loved him. Year after year.
There were signs even early on, even when it was so innocent and fresh, but she was not wise enough to see them. Her friends saw them, her friends warned her, but young love didn’t listen. She excused and explained away his bad behavior, focused solely on the good moments.
She graduated and went to college. He started a career. They were young and had it all figured out, a future of happiness. A house. Kids.
He had a temper. When he got really mad, he was mean. Vicious even. If she pushed too far, he’d grab her arms and leave bruises. It always shocked her so much she didn’t react in the moment. He always apologized profusely afterward. She always felt like it was her fault that he got that angry because he told her that it was.
Then he moved to Atlanta. She followed. That’s when things really turned, though she didn’t really understand it at the time.
He started being cruel. She forgave him. Sometimes she believed the things he said to her, and she tried harder to keep him happy.
He stopped coming home. She accepted his excuses: it was a long drive, he made new friends, it was no big deal, they lived together, what was a couple nights alone?
He would tell her that he didn’t love her, then beg her not to leave when she said she was moving home. She wanted him to want her. She wanted it all to be worth the suffering, so she believed what he said, not what he did. One mistake out of a million.
She was alone. Isolated. No friends. No family, only him. She waited up for him and he never came home. For a month straight, she cried herself to sleep alone in the apartment they signed together, holding the puppy he bought her, praying tomorrow would be a better day. She bought pills to kill herself but didn’t take them.
He came home to shower one night. She was thrilled because he was there. She wanted to go get food, go to the pool, do anything with him.
He wanted to leave. Again.
She cried. She begged. She stood in front of the door so he wouldn’t go.
He ripped the keys out of her hand, and she shrieked because it hurt and it was so sudden and aggressive. The next thing she knew, he had slammed her to the ground. It stunned her senses. He got on top of her, screamed in her face, hocked a loogie and splattered it across her cheeks. While she cried he got up and stormed out.
She was shocked.
That was the first time.
Because she didn’t leave then, it wasn’t the last.
But it was the last for a moment.
Soon after, his side relationship fell apart. The other girl, someone he worked with, found out the truth. He came running home, convinced the girl who didn’t understand his actions that this other woman was crazy. Lying. Making it all up.
How silly was she that she believed him.
He was nicer. They made friends with another couple, moved into their complex, and had a blast. He was still mean, but not all the time. She always blamed herself. He was tired from working, she shouldn’t have bugged him. He was mean because of his childhood, it wasn’t really his fault.
She was driving down the fast lane of Highway 85 in Georgia. He found that the drive through had given them the wrong sauce. It was her fault for not checking, so he threw it at her. It hit her forehead so hard it exploded all over the car.
In public they were perfect. Behind closed doors, she tried really hard, and he was really selfish.
She tried to get his attention one day while he was playing Madden. Her interruption made him mess up. He turned, so suddenly it was like a viper strike, and shoved her as hard as he could. She fell, hit her head, and jolted her spine with an incredible intensity. She couldn’t move, it hurt her middle back too much, so she lay there and sobbed. He finished the game he was playing, then helped her up, told her it wasn’t that bad, she was fine and ushered her off to work.
Her back got worse as time went on. She went home for a visit, went to the doctor and was prescribed relaxers and steroids. She told the doctor it was a work related injury; bending over to pick up heavy things. The relaxers made her feel weird so she didn’t take them. To this day, nearly a decade later, that part of her back still hurts when it’s cold out or she overexerts.
But she went back. He was nicer, things were going okay.
He got mad at her one morning and dumped a large iced coffee on her as she pulled up to his work, got out and went inside. She drove home sticky and wet and sobbing, wondering what she had done to deserve his outburst. She didn’t understand that it wasn’t her fault.
When he got mad, she backed off so that she wouldn’t make him hurt her. When he got mad, their puppy would go in another room and cower. He ran the house with his moods, but the girl and her dog seemed to love him anyway. The harder you work for someone’s love, the more desperately you seem to want it.
They hit some financial trouble and moved out of their complex into an adorable two bedroom house in the woods. His car broke down so she drove him to and from work every day, a 45 min drive each direction. They got along because they were both working so much they didn’t have time to fight.
His friend moved down into their second bedroom. She was once again discarded in favor of more fun. They were 21, she wasn’t. They went out where she couldn’t follow. But she kept the house clean, fridge stocked and did everything she could to keep them happy. She drove them both to and from work, sometimes getting home at 3 am and leaving again at 9. They weren’t grateful, but then again she worked part time so she deserved to slave away for them.
Their fights weren’t often physical there. They were verbal warfare. Where she was sweet and understanding, he was vicious. He knew exactly where to aim his blows to hurt the most. Their roommate heard the fights. More than once he sympathized with her, talked to her while she cried. More than once he heard loud noises and wondered if it was her body or a piece of furniture hitting the wall.
It wasn’t furniture.
Things started to unravel. She wanted to go home, go back to school, see her dying dad more. He wanted to escape. They all moved back to Maryland into a house.
His abuse became intensely physical. Hands on. Slamming, shoving, pinning her. She fought back verbally, begging him to have some sense, be fair. It never worked.
Their roommate overheard these fights but didn’t intervene. She doesn’t hate him for it. They were all in their early 20s and it was his best friend hurting her, it takes a lot of courage to step into that situation.
But then there was a big one. She can’t remember what it was about, but it was in the morning. The roommate was showering. He started in on her, and she went to the kitchen to get away. He slammed her so hard into the old refrigerator it tipped backward, hit the wall and then tipped forward.
She was scared for her life. She screamed for the roommate. He didn’t come.
Her “love” picked her up by her shirt, ripping it to shreds, and dragged her into another room. The rest is a blur. He took her phone, her keys. She finally got out back and found their roommate sitting on the steps looking shell shocked. He gave her a cigarette, let her use his phone, and sat in silence as her jagged breathing punctuated their smoking.
Her best friend showed up. Her “man” grabbed her, wouldn’t let her leave. Her best friend pried her out of his grip, shoved her in the car.
He chased them down the street, begging her not to go.
She got to her best friend’s house, saw herself and cried. Her clothes were ripped to pieces. There were red marks on her neck, welts, and bruises on her arms.
How could he do this to her?
She would never go back.
Except she did. Less than two weeks later. Somehow facing him was less scary than facing the unknown on her own. Better the devil you know. . .
Soon after, their roommate couldn’t afford rent and he made her tell him to move out. His best friend. It was hard on her.
Things got so much worse once they were alone.
She doesn’t remember the order of things, doesn’t remember why they fought. But things were bad.
She remembers being slammed into the wall a lot.
Pinned to the floor or bed so he could loom over her and scream in her face.
She remembers the bruises on her arms that kept her from wearing tank tops.
She remembers how he would take her keys and hide them so she couldn’t leave.
She remembers when he was in a blind rage, she would hide in the back of a closet behind boxes, praying he didn’t find her.
She remembers the time he locked her out in the cold, then threw an entire pot of water on her, then went back in and left her out there to freeze. She didn’t have her phone or keys, couldn’t go anywhere, so she stayed and shivered until he got bored and let her in.
She remembers the time she said she was leaving, went to her car, and he threatened to smash her laptop on the sidewalk. It had all of her words on it, her stories. She begged and pleaded, then finally resorted to trying to wrestle it away from him. She wouldn’t let go, so he punched her in the stomach. She dropped like lead. It hurt so much more than she expected. He snatched the laptop, left her in a heap on the porch, and went inside.
She remembers another time he wouldn’t let her leave. She had gotten smarter, hid a spare key. She was walking away from him. He grabbed her from behind and held a huge kitchen knife to her throat. She could feel the blade. She could barely breathe for fear of it cutting her, nicking her arteries. He held it there until she caved, agreed not to go, begged for mercy. He always loved it when she begged because then he had won another one.
She doesn’t remember every fight. She doesn’t remember the nasty words or the reasons for their arguments. Her memory is in flashes, moments, feelings. She remembers the way the sunlight was coming through the windows and the crazy look in his eyes that told her to roll over and play dead or else.
She remembers bits and pieces of things. Locked out. Phone taken. Bruises. Fear. Frustration. Helplessness. Confusion. Sadness.
She told no one.
She suffered in silence.
They moved again, closer to their friends, in a more affordable rental. She thought things would change.
He busted her lip. She went to work anyway, moments after it happened, but couldn’t stop crying and started throwing up from the sheer amount of emotional distress. She told everyone the dog headbutted her. She came home, went to bed. He played video games with their old roommate like nothing had happened.
He lost inhibitions against tossing her. He’d grab her and toss her to the floor, the couch, the bed, wherever. But she was working, going to school, taking care of her dying father. She pushed it out of her brain. She survived the day. If that meant keeping him happy for her own security, so be it. At this point, it’d been years of this. She was used to it. Their dog shook in the corner when he got mad. They were all used to him.
When it wasn’t physical it was verbal, emotional, psychological. She didn’t know that was abuse. She always felt responsible for his actions and moods. He convinced her she deserved it.
She says she’s leaving. Why? She can’t remember. But she tells him she’s leaving and actually does. While she’s gone, he finds her old spiral notebooks of writing and shreds them all over the living room. He knows how to hurt her even when she isn’t home. He knocks over her bookshelves, breaks her knickknacks and leaves the shards all over the floor.
She sobbed as she pieced together her stories, so old she barely remembers writing them, relics from a happy childhood full of imagination.
She still went back.
Their second dog attacked her. He visited once in her 3.5 day hospital stay and only because he was physically forced to go by her brother in law. He pressures her while she’s there, trying to get money out of her. He makes her come home and put the dog in the animal control van while he lays on the couch inside because it’s “too hard” for him.
She doesn’t want to smoke with stitches in her lips. He nags her until she gives in.
They move into her mother’s house because she needs to help with her dad more. Her dad goes downhill. He has a psychotic break, looks at her like she’s a demon, screams in primal horror every time he lays eyes on her. She goes down into their room and cries like never before.
He complains because she’s distracting him from Call of Duty.
He complains because she’s distracting him from Call of Duty.
She deals with many more horrible nights with her dad. She helps change his diapers when he is just the shell of a human being, emaciated like a holocaust survivor, lifeless on a hospice bed in the living room. Her “love” doesn’t really care. She is still expected to keep him happy, feed him, be there when he wants her attention.
Her father dies, he skips the funeral.
He keeps his hands off of her in her mother’s house. He’s smart enough for that. Or cowardly enough. But once her dad is gone, he starts to let his anger slip more. He knows her mother can hear him, but he berates her. Cusses, humiliates. She does whatever it takes to calm him- her mother is elderly, religious, and has been through enough with the loss of her husband, she doesn’t deserve this.
He finds a new way to win, simply raise his voice a little and she will bow down to stop him.
He loves to make her cry because she hates crying so if and when she finally does, that means he’s won.
Months fade into years. They are two humans in cohabitation with no real relationship, no love.
She prepares to release her first novel, a lifelong dream.
He doesn’t listen, doesn’t care.
She gets the image she wanted more than anything on earth for the cover.
He’s too busy arguing with their old roommate to congratulate or celebrate, and how dare she get mad about that.
She repeatedly tells him how she feels, tells him this is comfortability, not love, that if he loved her, being there for her wouldn’t be hard if he loved her he wouldn’t want to hurt her, but he never listens. If he thinks she’s really serious about leaving, he’ll buy her something expensive to win her over. She can’t be bought, but she stays because leaving is so hard. He always knows the strings to pull, the buttons to push to break her down.
Then she goes away to a wedding, sees real couples, real love, and decides then and there to leave. She starts building her energy, making a plan, and surviving until it can actually happen. She’s at risk of never going through with it. It’s hard and scary.
She makes a new friend, tells him her past, and his strength and encouragement help her more than anything ever had.
13 years after he found her, she leaves him. It’s an ordeal, but he doesn’t hurt her. Why would he? That would hurt his chances of getting her back. This time the torture is emotional/psychological. But she has her eyes on the prize and she makes it out alive. She actually goes through with it, she escapes.
She’s thrilled to be free. To be free to live her life, to be herself, to find love- the real kind.
Instead, she faces a year of psychological trauma. Nonstop anxiety. Random panic attacks. Her hair falls out, she loses tons of weight without trying. PTSD. She tells a few people about her past, a secret she’s kept like none other. They doubt her. That hurts her worse than anything he ever did to her. It tears her open, makes her question everything. She buys pills to kill herself but doesn’t take them.
For a few weeks, they are friends. What a horrible idea, but she is so low she needs the comfort. She constantly reiterates that they can never get back together. He says he understands, says he doesn’t care. It falls apart the moment she starts doing things he doesn’t like. His controlling side comes back out, except now she looks at him and wonders who he thinks he is to tell her what she can do. She severs ties and promises to never go back.
She’s lonely. She has no comfort zone anymore, but she endures.
She returns to her friends, forgives them their doubts — after all her ex is very convincing and manipulative. After all, she did hide it. She makes it to a full year. She feels like herself for the first time since she was fifteen. But her healing isn’t over. Not yet. It may never be.
Feeling 15 at 30 sounds like a silly movie. But it is her reality. How do you date? How do you know the good guys from the bad ones? When do you believe the guys who say they want to get to know you? They all seem to like her, but not enough to actually be anything. They like how she looks, this new thin, tan, strong, free girl, but none of them really like her. If she falls for it, and things go further, they always vanish. “Yeah, let’s hang out soon” then block her number.
She tries to take it in stride, after all, she has baggage.
It’s a lot to handle.
So she carries it on her own. Makes mistakes with boys who say nice things and don’t mean them. Breaks her own heart chasing a boy who doesn’t want her.
And she keeps going. She keeps trying, keeps getting smarter.
Her past is a sad tale.
But her story?
Now she can tell it.
It started with love.
It filled with awful nights and heartache.
It ended in strength.