Trigger Warning: The following essay contains vivid language about physical abuse and abusive relationships.
My friends were shocked — to say the least — when I finally told them about this story. They said things like “But you’re so powerful and independent,” and “I see you as such a feminist though.”
But how this story played out wasn’t because of my stand on specific issues—it was a deep void of self-worth that I didn’t know I lacked.
In 2016, I was freshly back in the United States, experiencing reverse culture shock and overwhelming stress to find my first “real” job. I spent the past two years living around the world.
Now that I was back in America, I began my job search.
I landed a job doing marketing for a health food snack company in Santa Monica. The team was small, practically non-existent. I was the third hire. It was me, the CEO, and a sales guy we’ll call Smith.
Due to the small nature of our company, Smith and I quickly became close and eventually friends, even hanging out outside of work. Smith was 12 years my senior. He had a tall, semi-in-shape-dad bod physique with grey hairs speckled throughout his beard. Smith exuded confidence but almost in an egotistical way. That kind of demeanor bodes well for sales though.
I only lasted at this job for seven months before the position started to change and I quickly realized it wasn’t for me. By the time I made this decision, Smith and I were basically best friends; we got along exceptionally.
After leaving the company, Smith and I remained friends. Removed from our company though, the sparks began to fly. I remember the point at which I nervously told Smith I wanted him to be my boyfriend. He was surprised, replying in a coy manner with, “Me? Are you sure?”
The rest was history.
It’s pertinent that I note that our relationship was not rainbows and butterflies. Both of us had a dating history of people who were the complete opposite of each other.
We did have other things in common though, like our love for the outdoors. Weekend getaways to secluded mountain cabins were more frequent in this relationship than in any other I’d been in. I cherished this time we had together.
We started to plan one of our biggest hiking trips yet; a weekend in Sequoia, backpacking to a breath-taking spot called Jenny Lake. After that trip, we would meet up with my friends at one of the camping sites.
Our Jenny Lake backpacking trip was great. We bonded over pushing ourselves to such physical limits and finally beholding the beautiful lake as our reward.
After we hiked back in, Smith and I met up with my friends at the campsite. The night started out great; we went to one of the few restaurants inside of Sequoia, ordered food and got to drinking a decent amount of wine. I was lost in the moment and didn’t realize that Smith was steadily keeping up with me. Not something I should’ve overlooked since he was the one driving us back to the campsite.
The path through Sequoia is a cliff-side winding road that’s pitch black at night. My Prius was being swerved around the turns like it was a Tonka Toy steered by Smith. We got into a small argument before dinner — specifically about his feelings for me. I was wondering about our relationship and whether or not our feelings were on the same page. I brought it up again after dinner.
He told me to shut up, which felt disrespectful and to which I did the opposite.
Smith went from 0 to 100 real quick. To this day, I’m not sure what it was that I said that lit him up like this. He quickly swerved my Prius off the road, got out — at which time I did the same — and we began yelling at each other.
I was upset with how he was talking to me.
As for his reason, I had no idea.
Smith unleashed a side to him that I never saw up until this point, and he was not holding back.
His voice became a terrifying, deep yell.
He began talking to me like I was Satan’s spawn, throwing words like daggers straight at my heart.
I have a deep fear of abandonment though and quickly did a 180. I began balling my eyes out. I begged for our fight to stop — I cared for him and didn’t want this to ruin us. He threatened to walk out of Sequoia and find his own way home. Panic-stricken, I went after him.
As I approached him with tears streaming down my face, he turned around, came at me, and I felt his hands wrap around my neck as it became impossible to breathe.
Smith yelled into my ear as his grip tightened. He told me I didn’t matter to him, that he hated me and I would never see him again.
As what was happening processed in my brain, I suddenly was able to breathe again. A flood of awareness suddenly came down on me — what Smith just did was unforgivable. He hurt me. Tomorrow morning, he wouldn’t forgive himself.
We weren’t going to stay together; this incident was going to break us.
I lost all sense of myself. I tried to call out for Smith to come back, gasping in between breaths that I loved him and I was sorry.
That’s when his hands met my throat again; only this time, I felt the ground beneath my feet disappear. I was dangling from the hands of my once best friend, the person I lived with, the man that I thought I would marry.
I have no idea what he said to me this time because I was in complete shock. For a moment, I thought I was going to die out there. My friends were maybe 1/4 of a mile away, and they had no idea what was happening.
When Smith finally let go, he channeled his anger into throwing my phone charger and other belongings in my car out into the woods. He hurried back to the campsite and went straight to sleep. I followed in my Prius, phone dead and unable to contact anyone. I was mortified and couldn’t fathom what had happened. I entered the tent with Smith, attempted to get him to talk, and received a threat to punch my teeth in if I didn’t leave him alone.
That night, I didn’t sleep. I waited for the sun to come up so I could at least distract myself by going to look for my charger. Once a bit of daylight hit, I wandered off into the woods.
Upon arrival, empty-handed, Smith was packing up the site. Smith looked at me, said he couldn’t believe how he acted last night, and that he just wanted to leave. We packed up our things, said a quick goodbye to my friends, and started off on our five-hour car ride home.
I received a semi-apology on our drive home. Words of remorse that Smith laid hands on me were briefly muttered but were quickly followed by a statement that he didn’t want to talk. Dead phone in hand, we listened to an audible book during the four-hour drive back.
The rest of the narrative will sound quite familiar: He apologized, told me it would never happen again. I chose to believe him, and we continued our relationship. I told one of my best friends at the time but was embarrassed to talk to anyone else about that night.
I avoided bringing it up with Smith in the off-chance he became enraged in the same way again. I also knew I would never receive the full-fledge apology I believed I deserved.
Smith and I broke up about three months after that night in Sequoia. But to keep in line with his cowardly behavior, the break-up was initiated via text message. After all that we’d been through, I figured he would at least have the respect for me to end things in-person.
I didn’t beg for things to be different though, I accepted that this was my moment to leave this relationship behind forever.
At the time, I lacked the self-worth I needed to walk away. I lacked the confidence to know that I deserved better. I let embarrassment and self-doubt get the best of me.
But when the ending came, I didn’t question it. I couldn’t live with someone that I was scared of. I couldn’t worry that he would maybe, one day, do worse.
Our safety is our top priority. I am lucky that Smith and my story was short. But for others, that’s not the case.
Violence is never ok. Statistics show that one in four women have experienced extreme physical violence with a partner at least once in their life. And once a person is violent with you, the odds of them being violent with you again increases dramatically.
I know it’s scary to try to walk away, but the other side is well worth it. Your life is more important than a relationship.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from Domestic Violence, here is the hotline number you can call to talk to someone. These people are accessible to help you make an action plan if you feel unable to on your own: 1–800–799–7233.