Domestic violence isn’t always black eyes and busted lips. It isn’t always having to lie about falling down the stairs.
Sometimes it starts with yelling and a person turning livid in a matter of seconds over something very small. Sometimes the criticisms are playful, a “when are you going back to the gym?” after you put on a few pounds over the holidays.
Maybe you make an excuse, like, “Well I guess I shouldn’t have said that, I really do push his buttons,” or, “He just wants me to be healthy.” Maybe it’ll continue like that for awhile, alternating criticism and yelling with apologies.
Sometimes the yelling gets worse, until he’s right up in your face, yelling so loud your ears hurt and spit is landing on your skin. Sometimes he will ask “Why are you writing? You’re not making any money doing it.”
Maybe you’ll be able to block it out, be able to compartmentalize or pretend like it didn’t happen. Maybe you’ll sleep in the living room for a couple of nights, but go back to the bed when he says he’s sorry.
Sometimes he’ll push you into the dining room wall, your spine hitting the chair rail so your back hurts for two days. Sometimes you will be afraid for him to come home and ask, “What did you do all day?” or, “Who lives like this?” in response to a few dirty dishes in the sink.
Maybe you’ll move into the other room at that point, to sleep on the ugly couch someone gave you while he sleeps in the bed.
Sometimes he’ll hurl insults at you, he’ll tell you to “go to hell” or “go fuck yourself.” Sometimes he’ll keep you up all night because you dared to disagree with him about a political issue, and he is determined to show you the error of your ways.
Maybe you’ll look at him and sob, because you have no idea what else to do when you’re spoken to like that. Maybe you’ll ask yourself what you ever did to deserve a life that looks so unsuspecting from the outside, but is rotting to its bones.
Sometimes he’ll grab your arm so hard it leaves bruises, and your friend will notice and ask you about it. Sometimes he will say, “You’re not very sexual, are you? Why don’t you like having sex?”
Maybe then you’ll realize that the last six years haven’t been the life you signed up for, the life you have been dreaming about since you were a little girl. Maybe then you’ll realize you deserve better.
Sometimes you’ll tell him you want to leave, and that’s really when all hell breaks loose.
Maybe then you’ll understand that you have put up with this for entirely too long. Maybe then you’ll conjure up enough bravery to push through the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach and the fear of what will happen if you do – or worse, if you don’t.
Sometimes he’ll tell the therapist “I don’t remember any of this,” or he’ll scold you and say “Come on baby, it didn’t happen like that.” Sometimes he’ll say “I just black out when I get angry, it’s a problem I have.”
Maybe you’ll wonder if you’re actually losing your mind. Maybe you’ll be in such a dark place that you do things you never thought you would do, that surprise you.
Sometimes he will tell everyone that you cheated on him, even though he is dating someone two months after you leave. Sometimes he will text you “I will break up with her if you break up with him,” over and over.
Maybe you will feel guilty because of the way everything turned out, because of how much he claims he’s hurting. Maybe you won’t tell anyone what is actually happening, because you say it doesn’t matter, but you’re really protecting him – and you’re not sure anyone would believe you anyway.
Sometimes he’ll show up at your new apartment, your work, the bar where you are hanging out with your friends. Sometimes he will hurl insults at you like stones, sometimes he will beg to get you back, depending on the day.
Maybe then you’ll realize that no matter how hard it is, no matter how many people are telling you to “try to work it out, he’s a good guy and he really loves you,” that you’re never going back. Maybe then you’ll realize that even though it’s not over, that you still have a ways to go, that you’re now the one with the control, for the first time in six years.
Sometimes you’ll realize that what you should have done is left him, called the police, gotten a restraining order, told the truth to everyone you knew, and forwarded the text messages. Sometimes you’ll agonize because it’s too late to change the way that things happened, and the regret is suffocating.
Maybe then you’ll realize that you can’t change the past, and that there is only moving forward. Maybe then you’ll realize that the only way to heal the hurt that you feel is to talk about it, openly and honestly, to put it out into the light after it has been hidden for so long.