The first time he does it, he apologizes and means it, even. He tells you how much he loves you and you believe he will never do it again. You rationalize something inexcusable because you don’t know better, yet. You think, he’s never learned how to get a hold of his anger, he was drinking, he wasn’t exactly unprovoked, he didn’t mean it, he just wanted me out of his way when he saw red.
But then, he can’t get a hold of you and he finds you out and about in town with your friends, piling out of another guy’s car, in a short skirt, nonetheless. He grabs you by the arm and when the two of you are alone he does it again. Only this time it seems less like an accident, this time when he pushes you to the ground and you skin your legs over gravel, he doesn’t stop there, he looks you in the eye before dragging you by the hair. You think, maybe the first time wasn’t an accident, maybe the first time wasn’t just a mistake.
You know what you’re supposed to do. You know what you should do. But seeing the pain radiating from his eyes hurts almost as much as your knees, legs and scalp. This is the exact moment that you learn one of the most difficult things there is to learn in life: just because someone does something to mistreat us doesn’t mean we stop loving them; there isn’t such a thing as an on/off switch.
As angry as you are, when he gets on his knees and wraps his arms around your waist and begs, he’s so upset you think he could cry, and you actually feel sorry for him. You love him so much that it hurts knowing it’s tearing him up inside. You reason that everybody is human, that most days all he does is make you happy, that he’s unequivocally in love with you, that all he ever does is put you on a pedestal.
You don’t actually have anything to compare this to because this is your first love, and everything you feel is an extreme of whatever emotion rises to the surface. When it’s bad, it feels like you couldn’t possibly survive it, and when it’s good, you feel like you can almost get high off of it.
You replace the word abuse with the word love. The word possessiveness with the word jealousy. Rage with overprotectiveness.
You don’t intend to do so, you don’t even notice it, but your boundaries disappear and you begin to exist only within his. You begin to abide by what and who he deems appropriate. It isn’t until the next time, when you’re thinking, I went out of the line, I screwed up, that you realize you’ve been living by his law.
This time when you’re on the ground he kicks you. Not once. Not twice. But four times. Your ribs ache, you wonder what color the marks will appear in tomorrow, but it doesn’t hurt as much as it does in that intangible place inside you.
He says “I love you too much, it overpowers everything.” And again it’s, “I’m so sorry.” This time the tears come. Not from you, but from him. Your eyes are dry and you feel too numb, you’re not even sure if what’s happening is real or if it’s some story you’re watching on some film playing out, something tragic happening to somebody else. He’s saying something, face wet, body shaking, and you can’t register any of it.
You hate him almost as much as you love him, and you hate yourself a little for feeling both things.
You blame it on his father’s temper. You blame it on the macho-fueled culture you both grew up in. Then the part comes where you step out and someone else steps in – you blame it on yourself, if even for a split second, if even a tiny bit. So when he comes to you all flowers and petals, and all dripping in honey, and all beautiful promises, to say he’s sorry again, you tell him you’re sorry too.
It isn’t until later that you come to learn you can fear the person you can’t live without, because the fourth time you feel relief. It was only a slap. And it was over so quick. So infinitesimal in comparison to alternatives and possibilities. He gives you some hours to yourself and then you don’t even discuss it. It could have been worse, or maybe this has just become the new norm.
The fifth time he has his hands wrapped around your throat. You’ve never felt as fragile. Between the words you can’t make out, and the breaths you’re struggling to take, you think about just how breakable we are as human beings. You think how easy it would be for him to end you. But he already has, hasn’t he? You think, this person loves me so much he could kill me. And when he tries to force your legs apart, he does just a little bit.
When you leave, you leave wiser than you should be at your age, you leave with your heart feeling older than it is, you leave without the last bit of innocence you had left. You leave swearing promises that you will never allow yourself to submit such control again. You leave and you don’t look back because looking back would hurt, because looking back would make you feel like a victim, because looking back would make you angry at yourself.
Another love, many years later. You think, he doesn’t touch me, he only breaks things, it’s only the wall, he’s really only hurting himself, what he’s throwing at me are only words, he’s only calling me names, he only lies, he only yells, this could be worse, this isn’t too bad. You’re wrong. Just because it’s a lighter shade of blue doesn’t mean it’s not blue. And just because you don’t know how to associate love without pain, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist without.
You leave because control and power come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. You leave because even though he doesn’t touch you, he still bends you with absolutely no concern over how far he would have to go before breaking you. You leave because clenched jaws and fists sound a lot like the kind of stuff from another life. You leave because you find yourself making apologies for somebody else’s behavior and you’re reminded of that young girl from your past who didn’t know any better. It takes you a long time, and it takes breaking a promise you made to yourself years ago, but you leave. And despite all the ways he tried to change you, you walk away knowing your core values and ideals could not be tampered with. For some reason, leaving him felt a lot like leaving the first man you ever felt anything for. Relief. Comforting. No regrets. No love lost there. Like finally hitting that on/off switch. The light bulb now gone, too. This is where you learn everyone has a limit, and you can keep pushing it back, or you can set your foot down on the line and say enough.
You wonder where he is now, that guy from long ago, that first love. If he ever tries to read between the lines of anything you’ve ever written. If he’s grown, if he feels remorse, if he looks back at your relationship and sees it differently. If somehow his mind is warped and maybe he’s distorted you into that first bitch who broke his heart.
You don’t talk about him, you don’t write about him. You don’t bring up your first love ever. You wiped out a whole part of and rewrote the history of your love life. You were almost ashamed. You hated him too much to leave him in it. In a way, ignoring his existence was almost like him still being there, still with that control, still with that power.
But here you are now, accepting what happened to you, accepting the things you’ve been through and have felt, unlearning to feel shame. Here you are, taking back your power. Here you are, using a voice that was once trampled on by two people you let make their way into your heart. Here you are using it to say to others, leave, please leave, anything is better than this, you are not alone, he doesn’t love you, loving you would mean letting you go, if only not to hurt you, it’s not your job to fix him, but it is his job not to hurt you, I promise you that you can do so much more without him.
Here you are being loud. Here you are being unapologetically you.
Here you are, the statistic, telling her story. Here you are, knowing that whether you ever find that mythical love sans hurt or not, right now you feel a little proud for coughing up the cobwebs. Here you are, loving yourself for it. And this, what you’re feeling for yourself, this is love. And this is the kind of love that is the most beautiful, with or without any of the pain.
Here you are finding love again.
Here you are.