I originally wrote the base of this piece in June of last year as part of a therapy assignment. I thought it was time to publish it under my own name in honor of Domestic Violence Month. Things are different now compared to when this happened to me. If you are a victim of dating or domestic violence, you can get help. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
I remember most of the times Sal* (*names have been changed) hit me as clearly as if they had happened yesterday. That’s the curse of PTSD, some memories have the clarity of your current reality.
When I have my worst days, I relive those moments over and over in my mind and it is exactly as it was all those years ago. I can feel all the physical and emotional pain. And during those weak moments — I can forget myself and go back to blaming the victim. Even when you come as far as I have, even though decades have passed in between, there are still those dark days when your mind plays tricks on you. You still have day-mares remembering how it felt to believe that you deserved everything you got.
The first time he hit me, I was in my mid-teens and it was the day I had the abortion. We were in my kitchen and I was devastated and not quite all there as I tried to absorb the day. I remember being angry at him and yelling at him…. something I rarely ever did to anyone other than my younger siblings. I was crying so hard. Silly details stand out, etched into my memory. I was standing on one side of the garbage can and he was on the other when his hand snaked out and slapped me across the right cheek. I felt the pain for a moment and then just as quickly, I slipped away into the deep recesses of my mind as I had learned to do in years past, during other abuses. I sat on the floor and made myself as small as possible. I remember hearing his voice… probably saying he was sorry and all that. But I couldn’t make out any words. I didn’t want to.
He left, but later that night he called. I could be braver on the phone and I told him I didn’t want to see him again. He began to yell and curse at me and I just hung up the phone. I didn’t tell my parents what had happened, but asked my father to answer the phone if he called again. The next day, Sal* went to visit family in Tampa.
When he came back, somehow I stayed strong and kept refusing him. The stalking started then. It wasn’t hard. He lived in the same neighborhood, so I would walk our dog and there he would be. I would go out with my friends and there he would be. I was at a gas station and he jumped out of a moving car to try to get at me. Every time he got close, he hurt me.
At the video arcade, it was one punch to the head that made me lose consciousness for a moment. At the movie theater, he stood outside my friend’s car trying to out-wait me. As a friend came in to try to comfort me, he pulled her out and repeatedly hit my head against the dashboard until all I could see were stars. Sometimes, he would just push me around and threaten me. Other times, he came close to killing me, like the time he had me dangling over the balcony backwards, head down while he held on to my ankles and threatened to drop me if I didn’t take him back.
I ran away once (a story that I’ll leave for another post). It was after the balcony incident. Once, I came back, he calmed down a bit. He continued to find me whenever I left the house, but stuck mostly to words… mixtures of begging and threats.
Until the last time.
The guy that I had truly been in love with for the last three years, my best friend – the guy that was completely in love with one of my closest girlfriends had come over. I guess he didn’t lock the door behind him. We had been talking and then drifted off to sleep on my couch. He woke up with tears streaming down his face. He had a nightmare that his girlfriend had gotten hurt or left him or something like that. I held him and comforted him. I think I kissed him on the cheek. And then the front door burst open.
Before I realized what was going on, I had been flung off the couch across the living room into the television set. I yelled at my friend to leave. LOL I don’t know why. I wanted to protect him from this somehow? I didn’t want him to see me like that? He was still freaked out from the dream, maybe not quite awake… I don’t know. But he listened and he left.
Once he did leave, I turned my attention back to *Sal. His eyes were dead, yet somehow alive with hatred. I think there were tears and I actually saw the anger build up inside of his head again. He grabbed me and threw me into the kitchen, hard. I remember the pain as I hit the counters. This time, I didn’t leave my mind. He pushed me again, but this time was different. I like to think I finally had some anger on my own behalf.
I stood up and I began to scream. I don’t think there were any coherent words… the sound that came out of me is the same type of screaming I now hear only in my head during my panic attacks. Anyway, my voice and seeing my anger gave him pause long enough to stand still. Long enough for me to hit back. It came full circle as I slapped him across his face just as he had done to me that very first time, months ago.
Then I got to watch as he broke in front of my eyes. He sunk to the floor, hysterically crying and curled up into the fetal position. My ribs aching, my ears ringing from my own screams, I think I was in some sort of mild shock. I picked up the telephone and dialed his home number.
*Sal’s Dad: “Hello”
Me: “You need to come pick up your son. He is crazy. He has hit me again for the last time. He is sitting on my kitchen floor crying. You need to come get him.”
*Sal’s Dad: “You are a filthy little whore! What have you done to my son? This is all your fault, you bitch. If you hadn’t opened up your legs to begin with, none of this would have ever happened.”
Me: :::laughing and crying at the same time – remembering how *Sal had taken me even though I said no::: “Just come get him.”
And I hung up the phone. I opened the door wide and went to sit in the living room. I brought my knees to my chest and tried to hug myself as I rocked slowly. His parents came and went without speaking to me. Eventually, I got up and closed the door behind them.
About two days later, I find out that when he got home that afternoon/evening… whatever happened between he and his parents had escalated. He went after his mother with a knife and they called the police.
As he spent a few days in the psych ward, my thinking got all warped again. I took on all the blame. I took on all the responsibility for his actions. I was overwhelmed in my guilt that because I had been so obviously in love with the other guy and my mind lead me to believe that I was the one who drove *Sal crazy. That his father was right. It was all my fault. To this day, that man’s words echo louder in my head than any kind thing anyone has ever said to me. It’s wrong, but that’s how it is.
In my guilt, when he got out I didn’t refuse him time with me. I let him talk to me. I am the one that drove him to therapy twice a week for a few weeks. I even let him have sex with me one more time. I let him rail and vent how much he hated me and blamed me. I took on everything I could and buried it inside as deep as I could. It was a new skill for me and I was perfecting it quickly.
I saw him and spoke to him a couple of times over the next few years. Nothing major… only things in passing. I was fine with it whenever it happened by chance.
Until I wasn’t fine with it. It took almost a decade, but a chance encounter at a mall during a week moment started the PTSD that I have to live with all these years later. But that’s another post for another day.
Part Two (hopefully being posted tomorrow), will be more general about dating violence, the aftermath and healing and even some level of forgiveness. I have been so grateful to those women who have been so brave to share their stories – I consider it a gift and I hope that I honor that in sharing a part of my story. Again, if you are dealing with domestic violence, please tell someone. You deserve so much more.
xoxo ~ Melissa
P.S. For those of you wondering… sometimes there were people around who stood by and did absolutely nothing when he would hit me. No, I didn’t tell my parents until years later. By the time *Sal had come along, I was an expert at hiding my pain from them. I didn’t want them to blame me like I blamed myself. And yes, I did go once to the police. It was the mid-80’s and the police officer literally… physically patted me on my head and talked me out of a restraining order. He advised me to just stay away from him. That didn’t work out so well though. Most of the time, I know that it wasn’t my fault. It was his choice to beat me. And most days, I know I didn’t deserve it.